In my experience working with face-to-face faculty, I have observed a wide range of usage patterns regarding the Learning Management System (LMS). During the peak of the pandemic, usage understandably surged, with more faculty embracing LMS tools and features. Faculty were eager to learn out of necessity, and we were thrilled to witness double-digit participation in online trainings that would typically draw only a handful of attendees. It was a pivotal moment, and we were hopeful that LMS tools and strategies, which had spanned various instructional modalities during the crisis, would continue to be embraced.
However, in the post-pandemic era, it’s become apparent that some faculty have continued to implement what they learned to varying degrees, while others have ceased using the LMS altogether. This observation led my colleagues and me to reflect on the importance of maximizing the LMS’s potential (a belief that we held prior to the pandemic). We firmly believe that doing so not only meets the evolving needs of today’s students but also enhances the overall learning experience. Furthermore, it places both faculty and students in a better position to adapt, should the need for another rapid shift to remote learning arise.
Effective use of learning management systems is widely explored in terms of online and blended learning; however, there is minimal information regarding learning management systems and face-to-face courses, unless it’s about transitioning from in-person to emergency remote learning.
Washington (2019) studied the face-to-face instructor experience, and we already had anecdotal information, along with some survey data, from our own faculty regarding their use and preferences regarding the LMS. The varied use, however, got us wondering about the student experience. What’s it like going from one course that simply posts a syllabus in the LMS to another that makes more robust use of the tools and features? Given that the LMS is, in fact, a learning management system, it seemed important to seek student input regarding their experiences and preferences.
We sought feedback from our undergraduate students regarding their preferences for faculty use of the LMS. Their feedback yielded three major recommendations for how faculty can use the LMS to enhance the face-to-face learning experience:
1. Organization and structure
Students appreciate courses where assignments and course materials are organized and structured. The method of organization does not really matter as long as it is user-friendly. Clear labels and categories make navigation easy, and having everything accessible, especially the syllabus, lecture materials, and study guides, was a recurring preference.
2. Use of LMS tools
Students spoke highly of courses that harnessed the full potential of the LMS’s tools. They particularly appreciated the gradebook, assignment submission, and announcement features, which streamlined their learning experience.
3. Clarity and communication
The importance of clarity and communication cannot be overstated. Students seek clear and concise assignment descriptions, well-defined due dates, and transparent grading scales. Regular reminders and announcements about assignments and class information were also highly regarded. Easy access to lecture materials and study guides added to their convenience.
Making the grade: Recommendations
With these common themes in mind, here are some actionable recommendations based on student feedback to improve the use of your learning management system:
Organize, organize, organize: Structuring course materials in a clear and consistent manner is paramount. Use folders and course menus to group related materials, ensuring that everything is easily accessible. For example, some of our instructors have folders for each week with readings and assignments, while others choose to organize by chapters or units.
Post everything: Make sure all relevant course materials, such as the syllabus, grading scales, study guides, lecture slides, assignment instructions, and rubrics, are readily available on the LMS.
Clarity is key: Provide crystal-clear instructions for assignments and grading criteria. Avoid confusing instructions. For example, students expressed frustration with assignment details being posted in the LMS but professors requesting submissions via email.
Stay in the loop: Communicate with students by offering due dates, announcements, and calendar reminders. Timely and clear feedback on grades on the LMS empower students to track their progress effectively.
Support: Strategies for success
Instructional designers, instructional technology staff, and other campus personnel or groups related to supporting faculty in the use of educational technologies, including the LMS, can play a key role in implementing the recommendations. Here are some strategies that can be employed to enhance LMS usage:
Training: Instructors have varying needs and preferences, so offer diverse training options. Face-to-face sessions, online tutorials, group workshops, and one-on-one assistance are all great modes of delivery. Seasoned instructors who have successfully used the LMS can also offer insights from their experiences. We had one such instructor provide a walkthrough of her course in an online professional development opportunity.
Sample course: Provide access to a sample course that faculty can review and adapt to their needs.
Templates and checklists: Help faculty simplify course organization with customizable templates. We have a 16-week editable template that is available to our faculty, but we offer faculty and departments the opportunity to collaborate and develop templates tailored to their specific needs. Checklists for each recommendation ensure that the LMS course is user-friendly.
Peer review and sharing: Offer peer review opportunities where faculty can share LMS courses with colleagues and receive valuable feedback.
Ongoing support: Assure faculty that you are available throughout their journey with the LMS. Whether they need assistance with technical issues, creating effective course materials, or navigating the LMS tools and features, knowing that help is available (and how to get it) will go a long way in mitigating reluctance.
You may be thinking that these suggestions seem like they are geared toward online or blended learning, but they are not (although it’s true that the strategies can cross modalities). Students are used to having access to information 24/7 and the lines between online, blended, and in-person learning are blurring a bit. Although you might not be delivering instruction online, students like to have online access to their course materials, assignments, grades, etc. Being able to electronically submit an assignment is convenient and students find comfort in being able to see confirmation of their submission, along with the subsequent grade and feedback. In addition, the LMS can serve as a great spot to make sure that students are aware of, and have quick access to, any services that might be of assistance to them during the learning process (e.g., library, technical assistance, tutoring, scheduling office hours, etc.). Making the most of your institution’s LMS can help meet the shifting expectations of today’s learners and create a more engaging and accessible learning environment for all students.
Dr. Angie Fedon is the director for the Department of Classroom Innovation and Online Education at Concordia University, Nebraska. She also teaches graduate courses in instructional technology leadership.
Washington, Gloria Y. “The Learning Management System Matters in Face-to-Face Higher Education Courses.” Journal of Educational Technology Systems 48, no. 2 (2019): 255–75. https://doi.org/10.1177/0047239519874037.