10 LMS Questions From Kaplan's Rachael Hanel

This past week I was sent 10 questions from Rachael Hanel, who asked to interview me by e-mail for a course assignment in the graduate certificate program in Instructional Design for Organizations that she is enrolled in at Kaplan University. 

January 23, 2012

This past week I was sent 10 questions from Rachael Hanel, who asked to interview me by e-mail for a course assignment in the graduate certificate program in Instructional Design for Organizations that she is enrolled in at Kaplan University.  

Rachael is not only a student at Kaplan, but also works for Kaplan as a curriculum manager in Kaplan's graduate school of education.   

I thought that Rachael's questions were great, but that her best chance of getting some good answers is to share these questions with the IHE community.  Rachael agreed, so I've posted her questions below. I've also included my responses to Rachael's 10 questions.  

Curious to how you would answer Rachael's questions (pick your favorite).  

Q1. What is the most important consideration for an organization when choosing an LMS?

Answer: Not any single feature or fact will determine what LMS a school will choose. We look at a combination of the quality of the product, the quality of the company, and the size (and direction of growth) of the user community. What we would not do is choose an LMS strictly on features or look and feel, as technology changes very quickly.

Q2. How do you balance what the LMS offers to students with the cost? For example, what if the best-designed LMS is the most expensive? How does one go about justifying the cost to the administration?

Answer:  Cost is only part of the equation, in so much as academic applications (such as the LMS) are relatively inexpensive compared to administrative systems (such as the SIS - student information system).  What is very important is the total resources necessary, in both direct and indirect costs.  An LMS that requires a great deal of local system admin support and local training support will be a big negative, as we should be focusing on teaching (and research).

Q3. What is the most valuable feature of an LMS from a student standpoint?

Answer:  It is a good question as to whether we really understand what students want - and we know that there is a great deal of diversity in what students value in an LMS. My guess would be that the actual LMS is less important than that it gets universally utilized by all professors, and that the course designs are logical and consistent. An LMS that encourages faculty to do these two things will work best for our students.

Q4. What is the most valuable feature of an LMS from an instructor standpoint?

Answer: Depends which instructor you speak with. Some faculty want maximum flexibility, others value simplicity. Some faculty want communication and collaboration tools, others look for powerful (or easy) assessment and grade book tools, and still others want logical and simple ways to distribute material to students. What all faculty want is a robust system that does not go offline, as well as an elegant system that is intuitive and pleasurable to use.

Q5. Name some of the current game-changers in the LMS field.

Answer: This is a great time in the LMS business. Blackboard may have a dominant market share, but they are anything but complacent.  I've been very impressed with the leadership of the Blackboard team, and I expect Blackboard to make some significant advances on their user interface and mobile offerings, and for Blackboard to get some real traction with their analytics products. Blackboard has been spurred on, I believe, by the growth of open source alternatives (particularly Moodle), and the entrant of Instructure Canvas as a new player in the market.  Canvas is particularly interesting as they do not have to deal with legacy technologies, and therefore have been able to build their platform on modern Web 2.0 tools and deliver their LMS as a true cloud based service.   Pearson's move to offer a free LMS through their OpenClass platform could also be potentially disruptive, as there is a great opportunity to provide schools and individual faculty with a free platform, and monetize the investment through educational content.  This is also the stategy of Coursekit.   An exciting time.

Q6. What do you see as three important best practices for instructional designers when working with an LMS?

Answer:  1)  Put education first.  It is never about the technology, but about the learning.   2)  Solving the issues and problems of the instructor.  Understand the instructors joys and pain points, and work to make the LMS solve what they need.  3) Having an active learning orientation as opposed to a technical bent - while the technology is important and necessary, it is only a bridge.

Q7. What are some viable alternatives to LMS?

Answer:  The LMS is the glue that can help make authentic learning possible, but it should not be seen as a monolith.  I believe in the "small pieces loosely joined" theory….and think that the LMS is terrific middleware to connect student information (from the SIS) to learning, but is often not a great learning tool.

Q8. Name some of the biggest mistakes novice instructional designers make when working with an LMS. Are there any mistakes you have learned from?

Answer:  The biggest mistake I've seen is trying to do too much, too fast.  Be willing to start with simple designs, simple learning plans, and simple tools - and invest energy in a continuous relationship with faculty partners to constantly innovate and iterate.

Q9. How did you get into the field of instructional design? Do you have formal training in instructional design, or are you what blogger Cammy Bean calls the "accidental instructional designer"?

Answer:  My background is college teaching, with a PhD in demography/sociology. No formal training, and my role in online / blended learning has always been more of a player/coach - working in both hands-on course design and managing programs. I also have extensive experience teaching all sorts of college courses, from on-ground to blended to purely online (and I started on the faculty side before making the switch).  Today, I do almost no hands on course development or design, which is good because the best instructional designers combine a strong knowledge of how people learn with excellent design and aesthetic skills (and the latter is not my strong suit).

Q10. What do you see as the future of the LMS? How does an LMS stay relevant for 2012, 2015, 2020?

Answer: My hope for the next 5 years of LMS development is simplicity and elegance over features and tools. Whatever we think of Apple, they have shown the way on the design front, and in providing a seamless experience across applications and devices. We need to find a path towards this elegance in our LMS platforms.

Your thoughts for Rachael?


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