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Thinking about Learning Platforms vs. the LMS

A post last month on the Higher Education Management blog makes this observation regarding LMS adoption:

It’s often forgotten, though, that the university is the actual client, not faculty. The university signs the cheque.

The significance of this simple distinction is that university interests don’t necessarily mirror those of the faculty (shocking, I know). In fact, they’re interests differ in a number ways from the academic. And it is these interests of the university that will keep the LMS  as we know it as a regular feature on campus for the foreseeable future. [Keith's emphasis]

We agree that, for now at least, the economic buyer of the LMS and its services is the university or college administration, not the faculty or students – though next genration systems like CourseKit (now Lore), OpenClass and others are trying to change that model. Indeed, an LMS of some variety is likely to be a fixture on most university campuses for the near future. Experience Design Works believes that university or college administrators making a decision on something as classroom-critical as the LMS without taking into account a deep understanding of faculty and student needs and behaviors are asking for trouble down the line. It is critical for institutions making a choice of learning management system or a major ed tech adoption to engage with faculty and students and choose the technology – and plan for implementation and support – accordingly.

Given the ongoing  growth and development in standards and compatibility here is also a diminishing need for institutions to lock themselves into an LMS to gain many of the benefits that Keith attributes to the use of the LMS by the institution. For example, look at what BYU has managed to do with their Learning Suite project. By designing around an API architecture that allows for a modular approach to teaching and learning technologies, BYU is building the best of both worlds: a learning platform that empowers faculty and students to use the technologies that best fit their course needs while wiring this distributed architecture up to the university’s data systems to serve the compliance and institutional research needs of the university.

Creative Commons licensed by Flickr user Marshall Astor, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0), http://www.flickr.com/photos/lifeontheedge/3130573267/

Increasingly, thanks to standards and interoperability through APIs and web services, we will be able to think past the traditional conception of the LMS and look toward what Phil Hill (@PhilonEdTech) calls the “Learning Platform.” Services like GoodSemester, Helix, and Pearson’s OpenClass project are all looking past the traditional LMS (even while preserving some of its form) to appeal to the real needs of faculty and students. The key will be for these emerging platforms to forego the walled garden approach and integrate themselves as easily as possible into an institution’s data ecosystem and architecture, and for institutions to make certain they are adopting student information systems, CRM, ERP and social media tools that can “play nicely” with any future learning platform elements, regardless of vendor . In this way, the needs of all campus stakeholders can be met: administrators get the data they need, students and faculty get an optimal learning & teaching experience, and the campus community is strengthened rather than divided over a technology issue.

Remember: always start with the student and faculty experience in mind and you can’t go wrong, even if it takes building a platform to help you reach your goals!

 

The Transformative Institution Model

By now, we’re all aware that American higher education is at a moment of profound transition. The key question facing colleges, universities and edupreneurs is: to where is higher ed transitioning? What’s the end state(s) of all our efforts to reinvent higher education?

The partners at Experience Design Works care deeply about higher education. Having worked both inside and outside of academia, we’ve had the chance to look at the challenge from a variety of angles. In an effort to guide our work with clients as we help them transition to the next era of higher education, we’ve put together a model that we call the Transformative Institution Model.

 

 

It’s not enough just to change for the sake of change. Moreover, in increasingly tight budgetary times, it is paramount to make data-driven decisions about how we change student enrollment decisions, build student engagement using social media, structure advising programs to enhance student outcomes and how we think about technology adoption decisions, both in and out of the classroom. Experience Design Works believes two things about strategic decision-making in higher education:

  • Decisions must be based at their root level in a deep understanding and care for the student and faculty experience. This understanding must go beyond traditional self-reported satisfaction surveys; rather, a more rigorous model involving an integration of qualitative, quantitative and ethnographic methods must be used.
  • Higher education institutions – and the education technology companies that partner with them – must approach solutions from a systems-thinking and design-thinking perspective. All solutions must thoroughly integrate with each other to produce a holistic experience for all stakeholders that advances student outcomes.

We’ve put together our thoughts on how to transforms institutions and companies using these two guiding principles into the Transformative University Model. Over the next few weeks, we will be exploring this model on our blog by examining each of its levels – Traditional, Modern, Transitional, Social and Responsive – in turn, and how experience design can help higher education decision-makers and entrepreneurs make effective decisions at each of these levels of development that can transform their institution, programs, services and products. We would love to have your feedback on the model and our exploration of it in the comments section or by contacting us on Twitter at @ricetopher, @andydrefahl or @keithstefanczyk.

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