Learning Management Systems

Report: How Instructors Use the LMS Influences Student Interaction in Class

A recent study by Blackboard examined how learning management system (LMS) use in courses influences student activity in the LMS as a kind of proxy for overall course design. More than half of courses (53 percent) were considered "supplemental," relying on the LMS as little more than a way to give students access to course materials, with a little bit of use of gradebook and announcement functionality. In that case the amount of time students spent interacting with the course was 15 hours on average with about 222 student interactions. On the opposite extreme were courses that spent the bulk of time delivering assessments through the LMS, among other activities. There, the average student class time spent in the LMS was nearly five times as long (70 hours), with an average of seven times more student interactions (1,596).

The research project examined anonymized data from 70,000 courses delivered by 927 institutions, encompassing a total of 3,374,462 unique learners using Blackboard Learn during spring 2016 in North America.

Researchers identified five course "patterns," based on how the LMS was employed within the courses:

  • Supplemental, which were content-heavy and had little interaction. These represented 53 percent of courses;
  • Complementary, primarily used for one-way communication for delivering content, announcements and grades. These represented 24 percent of courses;
  • Social, which featured high peer-to-peer interaction through the discussion board. These represented 11 percent of courses;
  • Evaluative, with heavy use of assessments. These represented 10 percent of courses; and
  • Holistic, delivering heavy LMS activity, including assessments, content and discussion. These represented just two percent of courses.

The first two course "archetypes" accounted for more than three-quarters of all the courses analyzed in the study.

The "evaluative" and "social" categories made far more use of assessments and discussion forums, on top of course content use. Those two types of courses showed far greater amounts of student interactions and time spent in the LMS.

The "holistic" flavor of course made extensive use of assessments (as did the evaluative type), with relatively low amounts of time in the other tools. But the sheer amount of time spent working in the LMS and the remarkably high count of student interactions suggested an association between the use of assessments and the use of other features within the LMS by students. As the researchers noted in a report on the findings, "the fact that students in this course archetype spend significantly more time in the digital course environment in total means that they also spend more actual time in course content and grades than in any other archetype. We also see more discussion board activity in this archetype than in any other except for social."

Based on the findings, the report offered several ideas for increasing student participation. A key one: "Consider adding assessments or discussion forums." Doing so, suggested the report, could leave instructors with more "in person class time for interactions with students and ad-hoc discussions."

The researchers also advised schools to "identify and investigate" those courses using "a diverse set of tools," as sources "for best practices and examples that can be adapted by other faculty in their courses."

A blog by lead researcher John Whitmer shares the findings. The complete report is available with registration on the Blackboard website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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