If We Ditch The LMS, How Then Could We Change Colleges?

Up until now, as I have pondered the future of LMS, I have been mainly focusing on the basic level of courses.  In the back of my head has been this swirling idea of how colleges could change if we had a better system for delivering courses.  This idea is very incomplete and I can already see a large number of “yeah, buts…” in it.  But I want to throw it out there and see how it shakes out.

First of all, I have to start by saying that this model will be based primarily on courses that have moved away from standardized testing and rigid assessment-based outcomes.  I know that there are some uses for multiple choice tests in some cases… but those are very few.  Definitely not in proportion to what we see used currently.  I also believe that many courses benefit when the instructors release some control (maybe even a lot of control) and let the students be more active and even chaotic in their learning.  This system is based on these assumptions.  If you don’t agree… you might want to look elsewhere.  It could get scary here in a minute.

Okay – so let us say that you adopt a social learning environment for your college.  This would basically mean that your students are now following instructors as they share resources rather than just enrolling in a course for lectures.  These resources could be lectures, research, or current events.  The idea is that students would now follow instructors as they research their topics rather than just get a set of preplanned lectures. Instructors would get to research more and get a larger set of eyes to help them keep an eye on the world as it constantly evolves.  Students would get current, up-to-date information with real world usage.

The next part is personalized projects or assignments instead of standardized testing. If you are now using personalized projects to evaluate how well students have learned the material, students could really take as long as they needed in a course and work through at their pace.  It also wouldn’t matter if new students were mixed with veterans, because the projects would be personal and the veterans could be a source of help. It would also save the instructor from having to read 100 essay papers that all say basically the same thing over and over.

When a student wants to take a course, they would sign up to “follow” an instructor in that instructor’s personal teaching environment (which could also even be a classroom in the real world for all it matters).  They would work through the material and assignments at their pace, moving quickly through what they already know and slowing down on the stuff that they need more time on.  Once they have completed the projects, the instructor could look at them and say “great job – you are finished and ready to move on.”  Or the instructor could say “you are not quite there – spend a few more weeks in class and see how that will change your project.”  Or maybe even “that is something I have never though of – you pass, but could you stay on a few more weeks and teach us what you have found here?”

So this would be a little bit chaotic.  Students would be moving through the material at their own pace, following the research that instructors add, adding their own research, and creating projects.  New students would be joining each week and interacting with students that are half way through and maybe even about to finish.  But since the projects are personalized and application-based – this is okay.  Students could probably even help each other – which is more like real life operates anyways. When students have finished the course, they move on to the next one.

Now this sounds workable for one course at a time – but most college students take more than that.  In a new system like this, students would probably have several “streams” of courses – they lay out a couple of different paths through all the courses they want to take, and then work through each path at the pace that is best for them.  Each stream could be moving at different paces, but you as a student would be in several streams at once.  The number of streams may even determine if you are half or full time.  A student could have, say, a “basics” stream, a language stream, an art stream, etc.

There are several things that could provide difficult in this system.  Vacations and holidays would not be that big of a problem – just like in real life, you pause for the time off and then pick up when you come back.  But what happens when a professor quits? Theoretically, you could have students following professors from all over the world and their “college” is the local place for them to interact, socialize, and do things like Science labs.  The logistics behind that is kind of crazy, but interesting.  However, there are times when professors just retire or quit teaching.  With no real end point for courses – what happens to the students that aren’t finished yet?  Or what about smaller courses that only happen once a year because only 6 students take them?  A lot of things to think about, but you get the idea of where this is heading. True personalized any time, any where learning.

Matt Crosslin
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

2 thoughts on “If We Ditch The LMS, How Then Could We Change Colleges?

  1. One thing I struggle with now is the different levels of interest in learning. Some students are just there to get a grade or a certificate, and don’t really care about learning. I think a lot would have to change about accreditation of learning, before a model like this would work. And for that change to happen, employers would have to change how they value education. As long as the degree is important to employers, there will be students who only care about earning a degree, and not learning.

  2. Matt Crosslin

    I do agree that a lot would have to change, but even if this model did happen you would still have student that are just there to get a degree. That will probably never change. You really can’t fully blame employers for that. I know a lot of people that would be considered “employers”, and they value the degree because they believe that there is a quality education behind it. But they also want to see portfolios, experience, references, etc. What I am also hearing from students that have just graduated is that a degree is no longer all that you need anymore.

    I tend to think that the lazy professors contribute to the degree factory mentality – if students see the prof doesn’t care and just uses multiple choice questions because they are easiest to grade, they will follow suit.

    But even in the most innovative schools out, you still have students that are trying to take the path of least resistance. I think that will always be the case.

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