Five course use patterns emerged from the research:

Supplemental (53 percent): Content-heavy with low interaction. Instructors adopting the Supplemental course design archetype use the LMS primarily as a way to augment a traditional face-to-face course. These environments see relatively little student engagement, as they are primarily used for posting grades and as a repository for digital course content.

Complementary (24 percent): One-way communication through content, announcements, and gradebook. The Complementary course design archetype has almost twice the activity as the Supplemental archetype, and is used largely as a one-way communication tool from instructor to students. In addition to using the environment as a way to distribute course content and grade information, instructors using the LMS in this way also make significant use of announcements. They may take advantage of discussion board and assignment functionalities, but the relatively small amount of time that students spend in each of these tools suggests that most interaction is taking place between teacher and student rather than between peers.

Social (11 percent): High peer-to-peer interaction through discussion board. The Social archetype finds students highly engaged in the digital course environment, spending an average of 17 hours in the discussion tool over the course of the term. Used in this way, the digital course environment begins to look a lot like an online version of a small seminar, with a strong emphasis on critical engagement with course content through peer-to-peer discussion. The small seminar feel is further supported by the fact that, at 25, the Social archetype has the lowest average class size.

Evaluative (10 percent): Heavy use of assessments. The Evaluative course design archetype is heavily focused on testing. Instructors using the LMS in this way appear to use the environment in such a way as to support content mastery through regular quizzing and testing. In fact, students in courses designed in this way spend nearly half of their time in assessments, which translates into about 19 hours over the course of a given term.

Holistic (2 percent): High LMS activity with balanced use of assessments, content and discussion. As with the Evaluative archetype, the Holistic archetype makes extensive use of assessments. In spite of the fact that the proportion of student course time spent in other tools is relatively low, 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.

Overall, Supplemental and Complementary courses primarily use the LMS to give students access to course materials. The evaluative and social categories use assessments and discussion forums frequently. The complementary, social, evaluative and holistic categories all have much higher levels of student engagement than the supplemental category, based on average student interactions.

The researchers also hope the study results will help illuminate how courses that fall into different categories can make the most effective use of the course LMS in order to boost student engagement.

“There might not be a single best way to make use of an LMS, but there might be a set of best practices that govern effective course design by type,” according to the study. “This work is an important step toward understanding how learning management systems are used in reality in order to support high-quality instructional design in a way that also embraces diversity.”

Researchers will next evaluate the relationship between use of the Learn LMS and student achievement, and will compare those results across the different course types.

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura

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