Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Notes from "What's New in Digital Learning Environments" webinar

On June 28, 2011, the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) hosted presentations by Michael Feldstein (Cengage Learning) and Niall Sclater (Open University) in a webinar, "What's New in Digital Learning Environments".

I was hoping to learn more about Michael's work on the MindTap product and hear for the first time from Niall who is very well-respected in the higher ed LMS/VLE community. Turns out they didn't disappoint.

I jotted the following notes which I thought would be of interest to many. I apologize for the brevity. Please, if you have questions or comments, just post them below.

Niall's presentation discussed some future directions for the LMS/VLE.

The future is:
  1. Interactive - This includes more advanced quizzing technologies that provide feedback and options for adaptive learning.
  2. Mobile - Users will demand unfettered access to LMS on mobile devices and tablets. Niall said that a student "should be able to do a whole degree" via mobile device. eBooks and eReaders will continue to be important. eBooks are different than basic PDFs of articles, chapters, or books in that the student owns the book and likely views and treats it differently than an ephemeral document such as those we so frequently use online.
  3. Social - How will learning environments interact with Facebook? Should these systems even interact with Facebook at all? A survey of Open University students revealed that more than 50% reject Facebook use for their studies. (~30% accept.) Privacy is the biggest concern; students also want to separate their personal and academic worlds. Niall also pointed out a number of other online tools such as iSpot where learners can participate socially online for specific learning activities (without integrating with Facebook).
  4. Personal - Learners will likely want to continue to construct their own environments through tools like iGoogle. Learning environments should evolve so that they "push out bits" of the LMS for external consumption (example: course calendar, course news, other notifications). Niall thinks students would prefer to construct their own dashboard rather than use their institution's system (similar to how most of us use the Twitter service and not the Twitter web site).

Michael Feldstein, Cengage Learning, discussed the future of MindTap. MindTap is not a new LMS, rather it is a unique way to deliver content and learning activities. If I heard Michael correctly, he called MindTap "a meBook wrapped in a weReader".

He noted that the future of eBooks looks bright. In 2011 Kindle sales have surpassed paper books on Amazon.

  • Is a single purpose system (learning content that is personalizable, social)
  • Bidirectional with rest of Internet
  • Allows for the construction of "Learning Paths" (similar to table of contents), Units (chapters), and Learning Activities (readings, quizzes, flash cards)
  • Learning Path is not just navigation, but architecture; it allows a path to be constructed through some (but not nec. all) content; multiple Paths can be created for different groups or needs (cram session, remedial, or even personal)
  • The architecture is built so that future analytics can be built and leveraged
  • Interface: focused on doing one thing at a time well which works very well in a "post-PC world" where screen space is limited; device agnostic HTML5 eReader
MindTap's Features:
  • ability to highlight text
  • notepad
  • text-to-voice
  • integration with other services (Google Translate, Docs, blog service, perhaps EverNote, etc.)
  • discussions that can be added to the exact spot where you need it (back end integration with LMS)
  • Gradebook? No comprehensive gradebook (never will be); MindTap collects data on what/how students are learning; will eventually pass scores back to LMS gradebook
  • Basic LTI for AuthNZ

MindTap's relation to LMS:
  • Pulls aspects of LMS into MindTap…you only go to LMS for big picture management of resources
  • Kind of like Twitter…we use the service in a multitude of interfaces
I asked Michael how we (university IT) might first see MindTap appear on the radar of faculty. He said faculty might be exposed to MindTap when they make textbook purchasing decisions. He also added that Cengage would, obviously, love to discuss institutional approaches to leveraging MindTap. He also reiterated that the LMS landscape is in flux and is likely to change over the next few years.

Overall, I appreciated this well-coordinated webinar (thanks ALT). Niall and Michael confirmed many of the assumptions my institution has been making regarding the future of our learning systems.

It's an exciting field in which to work and learn, and I'm optimistic that the challenges we will be facing in the very near future will lead to some very interesting opportunities for students and instructors.

Sclater, Niall and Feldstein, Michael (2011) What's New in Digital Learning Environments webinar recording (made in Elluminate). In: ALT/ELN webinar: What's New in Digital Learning Environments, 28 June 2011.

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