How do we make digital learning work consistently for every course in the institution?

Improving course quality across the board depends on how we make the teaching experience simpler.

Anders Krohn

The current crisis has left universities in a race to identify and scale up great digital learning experiences at lightning speed. But improving course quality across the board is an age-old problem. The answer lies in how we facilitate the simplification of the educator’s teaching experience.

Within every institution, we find stand-out areas of great teaching practice. The courses that come out on top time and time again. The students who walk away having had an excellent university experience, while some of their peers will leave feeling frustrated, isolated and let down.

This pattern is not new. For years, university leaders have been trying to capture the brilliance of their most impactful learning experiences and bring some of that learning magic into every course they offer.

But it’s a battle that is often lost. With the acceleration of digital strategies everywhere, those gaps in the student experience have the potential to develop into chasms.

Why hasn’t it worked so far? What can we learn from our mistakes? And what are our options going forwards?

The trouble with faculty training

Most institutional leaders rightly start with their people; creating new opportunities for faculty professional development.

But it’s often the same keen academics who show up to sessions time and time again. Learning designers then focus their time on supporting this handful of highly motivated educators. The result? Institutions get pockets of very good courses but struggle to drive the broad culture change needed to bring every course to this level.

The failure of the Learning Management System (LMS)

As the Educause report on Next-generation Digital Learning Environments states: “The LMS has been highly successful in the administration of learning, but less so in enabling learning itself”.

Put simply, LMS, orVirtual Learning Environments (VLE), have done a good job of enabling the digitising of content, but they are not always effective at supporting meaningful learning communities and learning experiences.

Educators are left to patch up the gaps, with little explicit guidance on how to create a well-designed learning journey for their students. The majority will default to the lowest common denominator, using the LMS/VLE to house PDFs, collect assignments, and share grades.

Papering over deficiencies with digital communication tools like Slack or MS Teams might ease the problem for a handful of savvy educators, but it’s far from scalable and hardly a smooth learning experience for students.

Are OPMs the answer?

Online Programme Managers (OPMs) may offer a tempting solution, but their revenue-sharing model (upwards of 50% of tuition fees) and heavy cost to get started is limiting for most.

The cost factor means this approach can really only be used within a subset of modules — often those that the institution cannot otherwise provide due to a lack of in-house expertise, or modules with high demand and limited space.

Plus, for the most part, these courses are delivered on the same LMS platforms that failed to enable learning in the first place.

But perhaps there is an alternative.

Learning Experience Platforms (LXPs) — a new approach

A new category has emerged which aims to take the pain out of developing and delivering high quality digital learning experiences — the Learning Experience Platform (LXP).

The goal of the LXP is to create a digital space in which community-driven, active learning happens.

LXPs combine communication and chat technologies with necessary content and assessment capabilities — the admin capabilities of an LMS/VLE integrated with social, collaborative functionality.

They are designed to deliver courses that are relevant, active, community-driven and hybrid.

How fast can we go if we want to create a lasting impact?

Right now, speed is vital. The thought of facilitating a total paradigm shift within three months is overwhelming. Even ‘good enough’ may feel out of reach.

But at Aula, our philosophy has always been to transform rapidly and create a sustained shift in pedagogy towards active learning — putting impactful learning experiences at the core of our work. Efficient changes with lasting impact. We recently took 100 modules to the a model that is hybrid, seamlessly transitioning from face to face to online, embedding active learning approaches and a community-driven focus, in 4 weeks, including the training for academics. 76% academics across all of our 11 partners feel Aula changed their teaching approaches for the better within the first term of use. We are optimistic that, with the right planning and tools, it can be done.

Looking to the future.

Whichever path universities opt for over the next few months — whether they decide to implement a 10 year education strategy in 3 months, or just continue to patch up — one thing is for sure: How well we cope depends, on how well we simplify the educator’s teaching experience to facilitate impactful student learning experiences.

Take engagement to a whole new level

Easy conversations. Media rich learning materials. Integrations with your favourite teaching tools. It’s time to ditch those clunky LMS tools and discover simple, social learning with Aula.