Can Learning Management Systems Help Student-Led Learning?

You are a teacher. You are a teacher who loves to teach and innovate. And if you are lucky enough, you are a teacher who works in an environment where administrators, staff and students are all on board with your student-driven, learner-centric classroom. You are a free bird, reveling in creative liberties and thriving in the glory of your students’ successes.

This scenario is true for no educator ever.

Okay, so maybe there are a few of us privileged enough to work in future-forward spaces where support is abundant and student-led learning is all the rage. The truth is, most educators face an innovation stand-off between the naysayers who fear change, regardless of the latest research on the future world of work and personalized learning benefits. It is rare to find all stakeholders of any given institution 100% convinced that this train is the train we should all be riding. And even when given the space and freedom to implement personalized learning in your dream classroom, how does one navigate scaling implementation for the masses? We need good learning management systems and we need them now.

Rule # 1: Don’t let the deadlock of innovation get you down.

A learning management system is a centralized, online database that records student data related to their coursework, curriculum and performance. Without access to a good management system, most teachers rule out student-led learning simply because it can get messy and hard to track. As a long-standing PBL educator and curriculum developer, I know the struggle is real. For example, systematizing PBL work can be overwhelming, as real PBL requires student initiative in designing their own research and projects. PBL is also time-consuming in that providing a framework for teacher-student feedback loops is imperative for developmental growth. PBL also makes the tracking of matriculation standards tricky, as different students may be meeting different competencies at different times. And at the end of the day, WE, the educators, are held responsible for measuring student engagement and academic development. But in actuality, there are useful management systems which can make the implementation of personalized learning a seamless reality in your classroom.

As an educator at THINK Global School, the world’s first traveling high school, finding a learning management system was easy, but finding a good management system to track data in a truly learner-centric environment was one of the main challenges we faced as a mobile entity. Where other systems run into trouble most often is when students are given more freedom to plan their own learning. When considering different management systems, we would ask: How can we “streamline” learning when students are the key determiners of their own driving questions and individual project work? How can we track meaningful engagement and academic development? And how can we find and implement a management system that will help, rather than hinder student-led learning? A good management system is key for the streamlining of student, parent, teacher and administrator tracking– these systems have the potential to foster connectivity in an efficient and student-driven manner.

Rule #2: Find learning management systems to support student-led learning.

More and more schools recognize the benefits of learning management software for support in order to systematize curricular processes and track student academic growth. Finding a management system that caters to all implementers, whether administrators, teachers or students, is difficult to come by. We all know that some management systems, when implemented poorly, can lose steam or become just another district or school directive rather than useful and engaging tools.

Edio is an example of an innovative, next-generation learning management system we use to solve this challenge at THINK Global School. This software program allows students to organize and manage their own PBL work via the Edio app while collecting and curating personalized data aligned with school standards and required competencies. This software provides space for students to dream up their own projects and track their levels of mastery development, all while being held accountable to our TGS graduation standards. Feedback loops are built in by design, and students, with the support of teachers, are active participants in their own developmental monitoring. This eliminates the scaling dilemma of PBL while also creating a safe space for innovative teachers to engage in student-led methodologies.

Rule # 3: Always keep students in the driver’s seat.

While learning management systems are popping up due to the rise in student-led learning initiatives, not all are created equal. There are many shortcomings when actualizing the software, especially when attempting to stay true to student-led curriculum design. Todd Brunclik from Innovative Schools Network says “LMSes fall short in supporting the complex processes and documentation involved in practicing quality PBL. In fact, many LMSes work against the method altogether.” Many learning management systems out there provide curriculum and directives that, while seemingly beneficial, ultimately prescribes project work for students rather than enabling them to direct their own driving questions, track their own development and monitor their progress in completing required standards for matriculation.

By prescribing projects, we undermine the philosophy behind personalized learning methods, as students no longer are owners of their own learning, but mere passengers instead. So beware, and do your research before subscribing to any learning management system. None of us need a prescriptive software system that challenges the very essence of what we hope to achieve through student-led learning.

So, newsflash for all teachers who have ruled out personalized learning in your classroom because it is a nightmare to organize and track– it doesn’t have to be. While we are all teachers who love to teach and innovate, it is easy for us to want to be the heroes of our own classroom. The real heroes in ed, however, are the teachers who give students the space to be the heroes of their own learning. And that happens, and only happens, when students are in the driver’s seat.

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Breanna Reynolds

Breanna Reynolds is a teacher at THINKGlobal Schools

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