If you teach, you’ve probably heard for years about the revolution the Internet was supposed to bring to teaching and learning. As with so many promises of revolution, the changes haven’t materialized. Instead, there has been a slow evolution toward using the Web to enhance teaching and learning. A suite of tools called Learning Management Systems (LMSs) supports this new practice. You can use LMS’s to enhance your teaching by taking advantage of the Internet without replacing the need for a teacher.
What is a Learning Management System?
LMS’s are web applications, meaning that they run on a server and are accessed by using a web browser. Your Moodle server is probably located in your university or department, but it can be anywhere in the world. You and your students can access the system from any place with an Internet connection.
At their most basic, LMS’s give educators tools to create a course web site and provide access control so only enrolled students can view it. LMS’s also offer a wide variety of tools that can make your course more effective. They provide an easy way to upload and share materials, hold online discussions and chats, give quizzes and surveys, gather and review assignments, and record grades.
Let’s take a quick look at each of these features and how they might be useful:
Uploading and sharing materials: Most LMSs provide tools to easily publish content. Instead of using an HTML editor and then sending your documents to a server via FTP, you simply use a web form to store your syllabus on the server. Many instructors upload their syllabus, lecture notes, reading assignments, and articles for students to access whenever they want.
Forums and chats: Online forums and chats provide a means of communication outside of classroom meetings. Forums give your students more time to generate their responses and can lead to more thoughtful discussions. Chats, on the other hand, give you a way to quickly and easily communicate with remote students. They can be used for project discussions between groups of students or for last-minute questions the day before an exam.
Quizzes: Online quizzes can be graded instantaneously. They are a great tool for giving students rapid feedback on their performance and for gauging their comprehension of materials. Many publishers now provide banks of test questions tied to book chapters.
Gathering and reviewing assignments: Online assignment submissions are an easy way to track and grade student assignments. In addition to grading student assignments yourself, research 1 indicates that using an online environment for student peer reviews increases student motivation and performance.
- Recording grades: An online gradebook can give your students up-to-date information about their performances in your course. Online grades can also help you comply with new privacy rules that prohibit posting grades with personal identifiers in public places. LMS gradebooks allow students to see only their own grades, never another student’s. You can also download the grades into Excel for advanced calculations.
While you could find or write programs to do all of these things on your own site, a LMS combines all of these features in one integrated package. Once you’ve learned how to use a LMS, you’ll be free to concentrate on teaching and learning instead of writing and maintaining your own software.
Over the past years, LMS systems have matured rapidly and are now considered critical software for many colleges and universities. The LMS market is now a multimillion dollar market and is growing quickly.
Why Should You Use a LMS?
Good question. After all, we’ve run classes for thousands of years without the use of computers and the Web. “Chalk and talk” is still the predominant method of delivering instruction. While traditional face-to-face meetings can still be effective, applying the tools listed above opens up new possibilities for learning that weren’t possible twenty years ago. Currently, there is a lot of research into how to effectively combine online learning and face-to-face meetings in what are called “hybrid” courses or “blended learning.”
Hybrid courses combine the best of both worlds. Imagine moving most of your content delivery to an online environment and saving your course time for discussion, questions, and problem solving. Many instructors have found they can save time and increase student learning by allowing students to engage in the material outside of class. This allows them to use face-to-face time for troubleshooting.
Online discussions give many students the opportunity to express themselves in ways they couldn’t in a regular class. Many students are reluctant to speak in class because of shyness, uncertainty, or language issues. It’s a boon to many students to have the ability to take their time to compose questions and answers in an online discussion, and instructors report much higher participation levels online than in class.
There are a number of other reasons to think about using a LMS in your courses:
Student demand: Students are becoming more technically savvy, and they want to get many of their course materials off the Web. Once online, they can access the latest information at any time and make as many copies of the materials as they need. Having grown up with instant messaging and other Internet communication tools, many students find that online communication is second nature.
Student schedules: With rising tuition, many students are working more hours to make ends meet while they are in school. About half of all students now work at least 20 hours a week to meet school expenses. With a LMS, they can communicate with the instructor or their peers whenever their schedules permit. They can also take quizzes or read course material during their lunch breaks. Working students need flexible access to courses, and a LMS is a powerful way to give them what they need.
Better courses: If used well, LMSs can make your classes more effective and efficient. By moving some parts of your course online, you can more effectively take advantage of scheduled face-to-face time to engage students’ questions and ideas. For example, if you move your content delivery from an in-class lecture to an online document, you can then use lecture time to ask students about what they didn’t understand. If you also use an online forum, you can bring the best ideas and questions from the forum into your classroom. We’ll discuss lots of strategies and case studies for effective practice throughout the book.
You probably heard all of this in the early ‘90s. So, what’s changed? Today, LMSs are more mature and easier to use than they’ve been at any time in the past. The underlying technology is becoming more robust, and programmers are writing good web applications. In the past, most systems were built as departmental or even personal projects and then commercialized. The leading commercial package, Blackboard, started out as a small college project and has since grown to be a market leader.
However, market leadership does not automatically mean that a given application is the best or most reliable piece of software. Driven by the need for increased profitability, the market leader has struggled to manage its growth, and some would argue that product quality has suffered as a result.
What Makes Moodle Special?
I had tested a lot of LMS’s (Learning Management Systems) especially the open source ones but Moodle stands out at a tall height because of the sound educational philosophy, great community and the most importantly always eager to improve upon the mistakes based on the feedbacks by a lot of community members around the world.
Moodle is Open Source: So, what is the big fuss about the open source. There are a lot of other software’s available which are also Open Source.
The Answer is: Moodle is free to use for everyone and you needn’t to pay even a single penny for using Moodle on your servers. No one can take it away from you, increase the license cost, or make you pay for upgrades. No one can force you to upgrade, adopt features you don’t want, or tell you how many users you can have. They can’t take the source code back from users, and if Martin Dougiamas decides to stop developing Moodle, there is a dedicated community of developers who will keep the project going. So, it is always going to be an ongoing project.
Sound Educational Philosophy: Martin’s background in education led him to adopt social constructionism as a core theory behind Moodle. This is revolutionary, as most LMS systems have been built around tool sets, not pedagogy. Most commercial LMS systems are tool-centered, whereas Moodle is learning-centered.
While tool-centric LMSs give you a list of tools as the interface, Moodle builds the tools into an interface that makes the learning task central. You can organize your Moodle course by week, topic, or social arrangement. Additionally, while other LMSs support a content model that encourages instructors to upload a lot of static content, Moodle focuses on tools for discussion and sharing artifacts. The focus isn’t on delivering information; it’s on sharing ideas and engaging in the construction of knowledge.Moodle’s design philosophy makes this a uniquely teacher-friendly package that represents the first generation of educational tools that are truly useful.
Social constructivism is a sociological theory of knowledge that applies the general philosophical constructivism into social settings, wherein groups construct knowledge for one another, collaboratively creating a small culture of shared artifacts with shared meanings. When one is immersed within a culture of this sort, one is learning all the time about how to be a part of that culture on many levels. It is emphasized that culture plays a large role in the cognitive development of a person.
The set of important features that constructivist learning theory seems to be built around are:
- Knowledge construction and not knowledge reproduction is paramount
- Authentic tasks such as problem-solving are used to situate learning in a meaningful context are encouraged
- Reflection on prior experience is encouraged
- Collaborative work for learning is encouraged
- Autonomy in learning is encouraged
Moodle’s design philosophy makes this a uniquely teacher-friendly package that represents the first generation of educational tools that are truly useful. The essential constituents of Moodle’s philosophy are:
Constructivism: From a constructivist point of view, people actively construct new knowledge as they interact with their environments. All of us are potential teachers as well as learners in a true collaborative environment we are both.
Constructionism: Constructionism asserts that learning is particularly effective when constructing something for others to experience. We learn particularly well from the act of creating or expressing something for others to see.
Social constructivism: Social constructivism extends constructivism into social settings, wherein groups construct knowledge for one another, collaboratively creating a small culture of shared artifacts with shared meanings. When one is immersed within a culture like this, one is learning all the time about how to be a part of that culture, on many levels. We learn a lot by just observing the activity of our peers.
Connected and separate: This idea looks deeper into the motivations of individuals within a discussion:
- Separate behavior is when someone tries to remain ‘objective’ and ‘factual’, and tends to defend their own ideas using logic to find holes in their opponent’s ideas.
- Connected behavior is a more emphatic approach that accepts subjectivity, trying to listen and ask questions in an effort to understand the other point of view.
- Constructed behavior is when a person is sensitive to both of these approaches and is able to choose either of them as appropriate to the current situation.
Community Support: Moodle has the biggest community of developers, teachers, and designers working all around the globe for making improvements to the product named Moodle. They are more than willing to keep on adding new features, enhancing the existing ones, helping you to troubleshoot problems and the most basic in starting Using Moodle. The Moodle community has been indispensable to the success of the system. With so many global users, there is always someone who can answer a question or give advice. At the same time, the Moodle developers and users work together to ensure quality, add new modules and features, and suggest new ideas for development. Martin and his core team are responsible for deciding what features are mature enough for official releases and where to go next. Because users are free to experiment, many people use and test new features, acting as a large quality control department.
Great documentation: One of the basic things missing in most of the other open source LMS’s is the lack of appropriate documentation whereas Moodle is the winner in terms of the documentation also. You will find tones of documents on each and every topic related to Moodle and if by chance you are not able to find any relevant topic then you can ask the community members to help you out through Moodle forums.
Great Collection of Modules: Moodle has got a large database of Modules to enhance the learning requirements of each individual. You can find modules for changing the Course formats, Add different activities, Blocks, themes etc.
Language Options: Moodle is available in all of the popular languages so that you can teach students in your own language. Even you can also contribute to translate the Moodle into your own language. http://lang.moodle.org/. As on date Moodle has been translated into 126 languages for Moodle 2.7 Version.
Responsive Interface Design: Since the latest LTS version Moodle has introduced the responsive design of themes based on the Bootstrap framework which makes all themes are compatible on all devices. You need not to worry about the look and feel of your Moodle site on various devices used by the students.
If you are still thinking about the features then you should give it a try to delve deep into the vast sea of Moodle. In the rest of the book, we’ll discuss how you can use Moodle’s many features to enhance your teaching and provide your students with a powerful learning environment.
In this chapter, we’ve taken a brief introduction about the Learning management systems (LMS) and their usage. We’ve also become conversant with special features of Moodle which makes it the most popular open source LMS. In the next chapter we will take a look on the basics of Moodle like interface, creating an account on Moodle site and course formats etc.
J. Brindley, C. Walti & Lisa Blaschke: Creating Effective Collaborative Learning Groups in an Online Environment – June 2009 ↩