24. Old Wine in New Bottles: Classroom-Type Online Learning

24.3. Courses Using Learning Management Systems

Learning management systems (LMSs) are software that enables instructors and students to log in and work within a password protected online learning environment. Most learning management systems, such as Blackboard, Desire2Learn, and Moodle, are in fact used to replicate a classroom design model. They have weekly units or modules, the instructor selects and presents the material to all students in the class at the same time, a large class enrolment can be organized into smaller sections with their own instructors, there are opportunities for (online) discussion, students work through the materials at roughly the same pace and assessment are by end-of-course tests or essays.

A screenshot of the University of British Columbia’s LMS, Blackboard Connect

The main design differences are that the content is primarily text-based rather than oral (although increasingly video and audio are now integrated into LMSs), the online discussion is mainly asynchronous rather than synchronous, and the course content is available at any time from anywhere with an Internet connection. These are important differences from a physical classroom, and skilled teachers and instructors can modify or adapt LMSs to meet different teaching or learning requirements (as they can in physical classrooms), but the basic organizing framework of the LMS remains the same as for a physical classroom.

Nevertheless, the LMS is still an advance over online designs that merely put lectures on the Internet as pre-recorded videos, or load up pdf copies of Powerpoint lecture notes, as is still the case unfortunately in many online programs. There is also enough flexibility in the design of learning management systems for them to be used in ways that break away from the traditional classroom model, which is important, as good online design should take account of the special requirements of online learners, so the design needs to be different from that of a classroom model.