Building an LMS is like Planning a Wedding

After experiencing many online course management ripoffs, and getting frustrated with losing half of my profits to open online marketplaces, I decided to build my own Learning Management System (LMS). As a result, I learned that building an LMS is like planning a wedding. It’s an exciting occasion that can easily turn one into a project manager-zilla.

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For starts, the couple must chose a date for the big day of the wedding. Likewise, I had to choose the date for the premiere of the LMS. Given the amount of time needed for building the LMS and loading the course content, I chose to give the site a year for planning and development.

Next on the list is the venue. Where am I going to host the LMS? I decided to start with WordPress.com. They offered hosting, domain name registration, and website support. The ease of it all was a relief and I did not have to hire a web developer, or so I thought. After struggling with the LMS theme, and watching hours of Youtube DIY tutorials, I decided to hire a web developer to assist me with building the LMS. We moved the site from WordPress.com to Hostgator.com and registered a new domain name.

After the LMS was built, I decided to share it with a few family and friends. Much like sharing the theme of the wedding. I got immediate interest in the LMS as folk were generally interested in its content. Still, the LMS was loading really slowly and I became frustrated with it, as I needed speed to capture and keep potential clients. I asked my web developer how we could speed up the site and he suggested that we compress all of the images. As a novice, I had been using public domain photos and downloading the highest resolution thinking that it would yield better quality. To my dismay, those images were adding lag to the loading of the LMS and this was causing the project manager-zilla in me to appear. It took two days for me to compress the images and after all of that energy and work, the site still loaded slowly.

I made an executive decision to move the LMS once again. It’s like moving the wedding from a church, to a community center, to finally a gorgeous beach front property. I settled with using siteground.com web hosting and oh my gosh! The LMS loads within a matter of seconds. If I only knew what I know now, I would have saved myself so much money and time on the venue selection.

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Assembling a competent LMS team ensues; quite similar to picking out a reliable wedding party. In addition to the web developer, I had to gather a team of content specialists. The LMS itself was a vehicle used to recruit content experts as well. I also used contacts on Linked In to get me started and I reached out to content experts on the Internet. I made plans to present the LMS at an international conference that I was attending and I tweeted out blog posts I had written to enlist content specialists. In the meantime, I created imitation courses to serve as placeholders on the LMS site just in case a user came to visit.

Finally, the time came to select the marketing strategy, much like picking out the wedding invitations. I had spent hours listening to Gary Vaynerchuk and planning out ways to promote the LMS. I used Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to bolster the LMS. As the LMS garnered more attention, I felt myself becoming afraid. Much like a doubting bride, I questioned what I was getting myself into. Am I doing the right thing? Am I making the right choices? But then Gary V’s words came to my remembrance.  “Legacy is greater than currency.” I realized then that I’m building a legacy, hence, my fear diminished and I continued the pursuit of building the LMS.

In sum, building an LMS is intense and at times scary. I must admit, I had to talk myself out of getting cold feet and leaving the LMS at the alter. However, I’m glad that I persevered through the project, as I now have an LMS dream and I’m looking forward to the honeymoon.

Reference:
Vaynerchuk, G. (2017). Crush it!: Why NOW is the time to cash in on your passion. New York: Harper Business, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

McDonaldization of Education is eroding under Personalization

As personalized learning is becoming more prevalent in education, the pedagogy of instructors is being altered. In other words, by including the learner’s voice, choice, and agency in teacher designed tasks and lessons, this disrupts the smooth operation of the McDonaldized classroom.

The McDonaldlization of teaching and learning views learners as human nuggets rather than individuals. In a sense, many school districts have adopted the characteristics of fast-food restaurants by focusing on efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control. How then has this phenomenon impacted student achievement?

  • Efficiency: The optimal method for accomplishing a task.
    By focusing on efficiency, the onus for learning is placed on the teacher rather than the learner. Hence, the learner becomes passive and unable to process content on a deeper level.
  • Calculability: Learning objectives that are quantifiable rather than subjective.
    Quantifying learning objectives helps teachers to measure the learner’s knowledge attainment and skills acquired. However, the results of these various measures are examined and used to direct learning pathways for learners without the learner’s input. Hence, the learner’s test scores and grades are fundamentally decontextualized for him or her.
  • Predictability: Standardized and uniform services that are highly repetitive, highly routine, and predictable. 
    By focusing on predictability, the onus for learning is again placed on the teacher rather than the learner. Hence, teachers religiously use routines to design learning environments and tasks that elicit predetermined responses. As a result, critical and creative thinking tends to be suppressed within the learning environment.
  • Control: Standardized and uniform practices that establishes routines.
    By focusing on control, the learner’s needs, preferences, and interests are not considered while the teacher is crafting his or her standardized perfunctory practices. Hence, the learner becomes an entity that needs to be controlled rather than taught.

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Personalized learning, on the other hand, views learners as the unique individuals they are. Instead of mass producing general lessons and activities for the K-12 agglomerate,  personalized learning begets lessons that are made to order for individual students. Personalized learning tailors the environment and learning experiences by factoring in the learners needs, preferences, and interests.  How then will this emerging phenomenon impact student achievement?

  • Learner needs: What the learner perceives as a weakness or areas for improvement; what the data indicates as a weakness or an area for improvement
    By focusing on learner needs, teachers and learners may co-design learning pathways; forging learner agency and promoting the learner’s voice.
  • Learner Preferences: Tasks and environmental affinities that the learner has.
    By focusing on learner preferences, tasks and environments may be co-designed with the learner; forging learner identity and promoting learner choice.
  • Learner Interests: Topics, concepts, and/or theories that the learner has deep interests in and passions for.
    By focusing on learner interests, teachers and learners may co-design projects that are relevant for learners; thus forging learner power, also known as productive power.

In sum, McDonaldization of education is eroding. Student nuggets are now unique individual learners who use choice menus to co-design their learning experience. This shift has educators now saying, “welcome to my classroom where you can have it your way.”

Blurred Lines: Is There a Difference Between Online Learning at University or Udemy?

Is learning from a hobbyist validated learning? Does one have to learn from a certified trainer, college/university professor, or coach in order to have validation for his or her learning? With the expanse and abilities of the internet, most people can facilitate authentic online learning experiences for a variety of audiences and purposes. Still, are those experiences valid or are they ineffective? In other words, a college/university degree or a DIY badge, that is the question.

First let’s define learning. According to McCarthy, “learning is the making of meaning” (p.6). How each of us constructs this meaning is based on perceptions and processes that are extracted from our experiences. Hence, the meaning that is made from various learning experiences is based on how we take in the things we learn (perception) and what we do with what we take in (processes). “So learning grows out of this natural rhythm of perceiving and processing” information from the environment (McCarthy, 2000, p. 17).

Now, let’s define valid learning. According to the Collins Dictionary, “something that is valid is important or serious enough to make it worth saying or doing” (Collins, 2018). Hence, valid learning can be defined as the outcome of what the learner has perceived and processed as important within the learning experience. Hence, it is up to the learner to determine whether the learning experience was valid or not.

With the proliferation of online courses and do-it-yourself training programs in the west, many courses are being taught by presumed experts. Actually, it’s never been easier to launch an online course then it is now. YouTubers,  Vloggers, Instagrammers, Podcasters, and other online content creation gurus are bringing the spotlight to online learning and creating a potential disruption to higher education.

The rising cost of higher education is forming new opportunities in edupreneurship. Many inquisitive learners are opting to create their own learning plans by choosing to take online courses from online content creators rather than from universities and colleges. What is more, the question of whether having a university or college degree still remains relevant has arisen.

As Couros (2015) argued in his book, The Innovators Mindset, “your degree is not a proxy for your ability to do any job. The world only cares about and pays off on what you can do with what you know and it doesn’t care how you learned it.” Hence, the future of learning may not solely be validated by college degrees, but by what the learner is able to create. In sum, if the learner perceives that his or her learning experience is valid, then regardless of the context, that learner has achieved learning. Therefore, through the lens of the learner, there is no difference between receiving information from a University or from Udemy.

Reference:
Collins English Dictionary (n.d.). Definition of Valid. Retrieved July 10, 2018, from https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/valid

Couros, G. (2015). The innovators mindset: Empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting.

McCarthy, B. (2000). About learning. Wauconda, Ill: About Learning.

What do Instructional Design Models and Early Childhood Programs in Reggio Emilia, Italy have in Common?

From birth to school age, learning is already personalized for preschool children. Especially in Reggio Emilia, Italy. As young children grow and develop, they explore their environments and develop natural interests for learning. They acquire “a hundred languages, a hundred hands, a hundred thoughts, a hundred ways of thinking, of playing, [and] of speaking…” (Malaguzzi, 2012). Then, as illustrated in the poem, No Way, The Hundred is There, the school and the culture kills ninety-nine. The school and the culture “tell the child to think without hands, to do without head, to listen and not speak, to understand without joy…” (Malaguzzi, 2012). The school and the culture help to force students to abandon the natural learning process and their natural learning interests, thus complying with contrived learning topics which may or may not feel relevant.

I liken the theory of personalized learning to instructional design models since instructional design models place students at the center of the design process. Students are encouraged to set goals and to participate in the design of their learning pathways. As preschool children design their own learning byway of following their desired interests, instructional design models also allow students to acknowledge and recognize their learning interests, learning preferences, and learning needs by way of their natural learning desires. This  promotes student voice, student choice, and student agency. Table 1 below compares curricular design models with instructional design models. I included this table because it supports my claim that the theory of personalized learning is strongly related to principles of instructional design.

My experience in Reggio Emilia, Italy has taught me a lot. For starts, expert pedagogists present reality, explore reality, and turn facts into conjecture for their young students daily, in order to increase critical and creative thinking. Expert pedagogists also reinforce the young child’s sense of the possible using their Zones of Desirability. Zones of Desirability is defined as the gaps between the young child’s knowledge and his or her desire to know. This gap becomes an irritant to the young child, creating a strong urge to fill his or her knowledge gaps with missing knowledge. As a result, the child seeks information and self designs learning experiences that can possibly fill those knowledge gaps thereby creating new knowledge.  Moreover, Zones of Desirability limits knowledge fragmentation within the young child and is a part of the knowledge building processes and the learning processes that the child gains.  Figure 1 below, shows the flow of knowledge within the Zones of Desirability.

Figure 1:

With the student being at the center of instructional design models, one can imagine that Zones of Desirability are embedded within instructional systems design.  As the student proceeds to learn what he or she desires to learn (based on learner preferences and interests), the instructional designer personalizes the learning experience for students by default.  Hence, what do instructional design models and Early Childhood Programs in Reggio Emilia, Italy have in Common? They both cultivate the curiosity and imagination of learners, and they both use instructional design practices that lead to the satiation of learner curiosity, desires, and goals.

Reference:
Edwards, C. P., Gandini, L., & Forman, G. E. (2012). The hundred languages of children: The Reggio Emilia experience in transformation. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger.

How is Personalized Learning related to an Ownership Quotient?

“Tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs and interests–including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when and where they learn–to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible” (Abel, 2016).

This quote is an excellent summary of all of the articles that I have read on personalized learning thus far. Embodied in Abel’s quote is the assumption that learners will take ownership of their learning, hence leading to greater self-efficacy, self-regulation, self-direction, and learner independence, which are all by-products of learner ownership. As a result, all of these by-products create high quality personalized learning.

Using the balance scale as an analogy, high quality personalized learning repositions the learner on the balance scale, thus placing equal weight of accountability on both the learner and the teacher. Therefore, high quality personalized learning enables learners to pursue proficiencies and competencies that are aligned to established standards while teachers create on-demand “instructional interventions and supports for each student” during the learning process (Abel, 2016).  Out of this dichotomy comes an ownership quotient. 

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In the world of business, the ownership quotient encompasses a degree or amount of a specified quality within an organization. Specifically, it is the quality of the linkages between employees, customers, and profits. These linkages create a service/profit chain.

This same concept is applicable to education, especially under the umbrella of personalized learning. Instead of the linkages being the employees, the customers, and the profits,  for a school district or educational organization, the linkages are the faculty, the students, and student achievement.

According to the Ownership Quotient (2008), there are 8 key links within the service/ profit chain that influences linkages. I’ve adjusted those 8 links to fit education, hence they are key links within the service/student achievement chain.

1.  The ownership opportunity (e.g.,opportunity for faculty and students to own the teaching and learning process).
2.  Build ownership into the strategic value vision (e.g., adding methods for achieving staff and student ownership in the both the district’s vision and the strategic plan).
3. Leverage value over cost (this principle is aimed specifically at district level leadership).
4. Put [students] to work.
5. Boost the [Faculty] Ownership Quotient (e.g., faculty feels like a co-owner within the organization).
6. Engineer ownership through anticipatory management (e.g., create buy-in from faculty and students by planning for possible learning difficulties or setbacks).
7. Build a strong and adaptive ownership culture (beginning at the district level and ending in the classroom, every individual associated with the district owns the teaching and learning process).
8. Sustain success.

In sum, the Ownership Quotient theory applies well to the idea of personalized learning. As students begin to own their learning, the quality of the service/student achievement linkages improve since the following elements show true ownership of learning and constructs each link in the chain:
a) self-efficacy,
b) self-regulation,
c) self-direction, and
d) learner independence

Reference:

Abel, N. (2016, February 17). What is Personalized Learning. INACOL. Retrieved July 02, 2018, from https://www.inacol.org/news/what-is-personalized-learning/

Heskett, J. L., Sasser, E. W., & Wheeler, J. (2008). The ownership quotient: Putting the service profit chain to work for unbeatable competitive advantage. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business Press.