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Learning management system usage: perspectives from university instructors.

INTRODUCTION

Over the last decade, learning management systems (LMSs) have become mainstream in higher education and are widely used across many universities to support teaching and learning initiatives (Coates, James, & Baldwin, 2005; McGill & Klobas, 2009; Weaver, Spratt, & Nair, 2008). McGill and Klobas (2009) stated that many universities invest in and use the LMS as an information technology resource to support on- and off-campus online education, including supporting face-to-face instruction, blended instruction, and distance education. Weaver, Spratt, and Nair (2008) indicated enormous growth in the use of LMSs in higher education, which has provided a rich learning environment for students, studying on campus or at a distance. Mehrotra, Hollister, and McGahey (2001) stated that distance education is not a future endeavor for the university, but rather a reality toward creating new opportunities beyond the physical campus boundaries for outreaching to a global student market (p. ix).

Westera (2015) noted that as distance education became more ubiquitous, the need for a single LMS became necessary for those universities offering distance education. He wrote, further, that "this was (and is) a delicate process because many people need to be convinced, if not sometimes forced, to commence using a single institutional system, one that they may not prefer" (Westera, 2015, p. 23). He concluded that a major challenge for universities offering distance education was the need to evaluate and implement new and emerging technologies without full understanding of the shelf life of such. Peterson-Karlan (2015) notes that a known weakness of the LMS used to offer distance education is adhering to web accessibility standards.

As technological advances continue in the higher education field, it will become vital for universities to take advantage of them to enhance teaching and learning. The higher education market is becoming highly competitive, and having an LMS that is highly adaptable and flexible to integrate with future technologies will prove to be a wise investment for any university. Quality education and research is the nature of business for the university, and technology plays an important role in providing this to the faculty, staff, and students. Listening to these users of the LMS and hearing the concerns and experience of using the LMS will be beneficial to achieving this goal.

Rogers (2003) noted, "diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system" (p. 11). For an innovation, such as a new LMS, to be successfully diffused and accepted, users must perceive that the new innovation is better (relative advantage) than the status quo. Additional attributes that must be accounted for in the adoption process include compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability (Rogers, 2003). Rogers (2003) wrote, further, that there are three types of innovation decisions: Optional, collective, and authority. In the case of LMS adoption, innovation decisions are often forced or authoritarian driven. Forced adoption is driven by a small group of people who possess the power and expertise to do such: adoption is required. While a variety of LMSs may be used by university instructors, universities typically select one that they officially support. Understanding instructors perceptions and satisfaction with attributes of a forced adoption may help decision makers evaluate the effectiveness of their decision. Dooley, Lindner, and Dooley (2005) noted that educational technologies, such as an LMS and its features, can add to, detract from, or not affect teaching and learning. Features that detract from teaching and learning activities should be minimized, and features that add to teaching and learning should be maximized.

There are arguments noted in the literature that identify limitations with the diffusion of innovation theory, specifically, in that the theory does not take into account user behavior and social influence toward adoption. This shortcoming led to the development of the technology acceptance model (TAM) and later versions TAM2 and TAM3 (Davis, 1986; Venkatesh & Bala, 2008; Venketash & Davis, 2000). Further arguments for using the TAM in research toward user adoption is the lack of consideration for user psychological aspects, emotions, and attitude toward user adoption of technology. In an attempt to encompass all of these constructs that can influence user adoption, Venkatesh, Morris, Davis, and Davis (2003) developed the unified theory of acceptance and use of technology model, which is widely used in technology adoption research today.

Understanding user perceptions and attitudes toward adoption of the LMS is important to secure buy-in from the user base in understanding that the LMS is a supporting tool for learning and teaching rather than a replacement for it. As an investment by the university, the LMS becomes another interface between teacher and learner in expanding delivery methods of content, knowledge assessment, practical exercises, and collaboration among users. This makes the LMS an important asset for the university.

The LMS provides many tools within the application itself that can prove useful for teaching and learning. These tools can be customized per specific teaching and learning methods and include items such as discussion threads, online chat, video conferencing, supporting resources, assessments, peer review, learning modules, e-mail, reusable learning objectives, and content repositories. The LMS allows for anytime access from any location that has Internet access. For controlled curriculums, the LMS provides a method of consistency for content delivery and evaluation. The LMS has the potential to provide a good return of investment for the university if administered properly.

The endeavor for a university to provide an enterprise level LMS as a technology to be used for teaching and learning is not an easy feat. The aforementioned technology acceptance models can help with user adoption of the LMS, but do nothing toward the usability of the LMS after adoption. Orfanou, Tselios, and Katsanos (2015) wrote that usability studies of LMSs are still in their infancy. Their research showed that while an LMS can be used to improve instructor effectiveness, more research is needed. Simonson (2007) noted that the impact of LMSs on learners and instructors is evolving. A content analysis of research reported in leading journals of distance education reported open education resources and mobile learning as leading trends in distance education research (Bozkurt, et al., 2015). LMS ranked in the middle of trends in distance education research.

PURPOSE

The purpose of this study was to determine LMS features that impact faculty perception of online teaching and learning. Specific research questions were:

1. What LMS features benefit or hinder online teaching and learning?

2. How does the use of an LMS impact the quality of teaching and satisfaction with the LMS in general?

METHODOLOGY

This study most closely followed the qualitative research paradigm with a content analysis of written comments regarding features of the LMS that benefit or hinder teaching online (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). This evaluative study used an online process to collect open-ended responses from faculty (N = 19) who were currently teaching courses using a newly adopted LMS. Patton (2002) discusses the purpose of open-ended responses as being "longer, more detailed, and variable in content; analysis is difficult because responses are neither systematic nor standardized" (pp. 20-21). However, open-ended responses also allow us to "understand and capture the points of view of other people without predetermining those points of view" (p. 21).

Faculty reflected upon the impact the LMS features have on student learning in particular. Data collected online did not include personal identifiers, which ensured confidentiality. Responses were reviewed in the order they were received and assigned a descriptor of P01-P19 (P = Participant). An open-coding analysis was used to determine emerging themes and patterns based upon typewritten reflections by the participant (archival data). Data themes and categories were interpreted by two independent researchers who were familiar with the LMS and teach online, but who were not part of the respondent pool. Each unit (idea) was initially listed, without placement into categories. Tacit knowledge was employed in making initial judgments for categorization. Colored markers were used to identify themes so that the data could remain in context and provide a visual indication of emerging categories (Dooley, 2007).

Lincoln and Guba (1985) provide techniques for establishing rigor and trustworthiness for qualitative research. Trustworthiness relates to the degree of confidence that the findings of the study represent the voice of the participants and their context (Dooley, 2007). Credibility in this study was achieved with referential adequacy (the written words of the participants) and peer debriefing (two independent researchers analyzing and coming to consensus on emerging categories). To ensure transferability, the researchers reported the findings using quotes from the participants. Data were also traceable to the original data sources, using an audit trail for dependability and confirmability (Erlandson, Harris, Skipper, & Allen, 1993).

FINDINGS

LMS Features that Benefit or Hinder Online Teaching and Learning

The first research question focused on what LMS features benefit or hinder online teaching and learning. As shown in Table 1 (audit trail), respondents indicated many features as both a positive and a negative in regard to the use of online teaching and learning. In fact, all items listed as a positive were also indicated as a negative. However, one respondent noted that "It does not benefit teaching; simply student management services. That is not teaching because it is not directly related to learning" (P13). Each category is supported by a narrative description with representative quotes.

Gradebook. Respondents revealed that the "gradebook" was a useful tool in order to manage assignment submissions. Multiple respondents (P03, P07, P09, P11, P13, P14, P17) specifically indicated the gradebook as a feature that benefits teaching. Providing grade updates to students (P17), the ability to collect assignments (P07, P13) and the ability to run course reports (P14) were specifically mentioned as benefits. At the same time, some respondents shared issues related to the gradebook that they felt hindered teaching. Use of the gradebook was described as "cumbersome" (P07) and "hard to use" (P10). Suggestions for improvement to the gradebook included "warn[ing] the instructor if a grade is missing" (P09) and adding the ability to view all students' grades as a default rather than requiring extra steps (P16).

Assessment Tools. Assessment tools were reported by many respondents as beneficial to the teaching process. Specifically, quizzes and tests (P01, P02, P03, P04, P11, P12, P14), rubrics (P09), and Turnitin (P03, P11) were noted. As shared by one respondent, "I liked that you can load quizzes for different sections of the same class to be available at different times" (P02). At the same time, this respondent noted that students may be able to maneuver the assignment submission process by "choos[ing] a different section in order to be seen as 'on time' even though they are late" (P02). At the same time, respondents noted that improvement is needed within the assessment tools. The ability to "reus[e] questions from previous semesters" should be easier (P09). Item analysis features are limited, especially the sorting feature" (P04). Improvements are needed "regarding calculations of statistics in gradebooks [and with] search functions within gradebooks (P05). Further, SCORM compliance is needed for embedded questions in videos so that answers can be recorded in the LMS (P17).

Course Materials. The ability to post course material for student access was indicated as a benefit to the teaching process by many respondents (P02, P04, P05, P07, P10, P12, P13, P14, P15). Examples such as the "sharing [of] video links with students" (P06), providing students with links to online resources (P10), posting of "lesson plan slides" (P08), sharing of "test review slides" (P08), providing supplemental content to lectures (P09), and reduction in paper usage (P12) were specifically mentioned. As shared by respondents, the LMS provides a "great way to share content and provide materials to students" (P14) and "students can view the class material anytime, especially graphics" (P15). One specific LMS feature was mentioned in relation to course materials as a benefit to the teaching process--the "Import/Export/Archive" tool (P11), but recommended that this feature needed improvement (P11). Further, additional respondents indicated the "content collection management [as] cumbersome" (P07) and need for the ability to "load multiple files at the same time to [the content area of the LMS]" (P09).

Communication Tools. Communication tools within the LMS were specifically mentioned as a benefit to teaching and were noted as allowing a "good messaging system" (P13). Tools listed included: online discussion boards (P04, P06, P07, P11, P14, P17), wikis (P03), blogs (P03), e-mail (P06, P09, P11), announcements (P03, P11), and groups (P03, P07, P09, P11). Specific examples of how these tools could be used included the "creat[ion of] discussion groups among students" (P07), the ability to "notify students of grades received on tests and projects" (P08), and to encourage "collaboration]" (P11) among "teams of students" (P09). As one respondent stated, "I use the discussion [tool] for students to post their work so that the class can peer review each other's work. This helps me create learning communities" (P06). However, one respondent stated, a problem is "the fact that there are too many messaging systems within [the LMS], one that goes to their university email, and one that is centered on [the LMS] only. Students are easily confused as to which one to use, and it makes communicating less efficient" (P02) and a separate respondent indicated that "direct communication to students" within the LMS was difficult (P14). Further, the need for the improved ability to share student presentations was also expressed. "I would like the students to post their presentations on [the LMS] instead of Dropbox or GoogleDrive" (P15).

Interface. The LMS interface was expressed as both a benefit and a hindrance. "Training" (P04) and "familiarity" (P04) with the interface were indicated as benefits. It was expressed that training should avoid "information overload" and "provide experiential training" (P06). It was reported as a "uniform system across courses" (P03) with "stable delivery" (P11) that was "relatively easy to set up for the first time" (P08). While some respondents indicated the LMS as "relatively intuitive to use" (P11), others reported it as not user friendly or modern (P07). "It would be beneficial to have a standard location and form to explain the organization of course content [within the LMS], since there are inevitably questions of how to find content throughout the course" (P03). The need was expressed that instructors require the ability to edit the course name (P11) and organize menus when one is teaching multiple courses (P11). Improvement to the LMS gradebook interface was also expressed (P02, P03) as a need. As noted by respondents, "Setting up the grade center spreadsheet is difficult" (P02) and "[The] gradebook is not very user friendly, for students and instructors, even after several semesters of use" (P03). Finally, a need was expressed for a "true impersonate student user view" (P11) so that the instructor can actually experience and view the course from the student perspective. As one respondent stated, "it varies from student to student. I think the interface is fairly intuitive for students of a technical ability to be able to access content so that is a positive" (P14).

Administration of Classes. The way in which the LMS could assist in the administration of classes was expressed as both a benefit and a hindrance. Respondents noted that the LMS could "help manage large classes" (P07), monitor assignment submissions (P14), keep students informed as to how they are performing in class (P09), easily use Turnitin assignments (P10), and "monitor student use and access to see if they are viewing content" (P14). However, respondents also noted that the "inability to distinguish between the classes for 'labs' versus 'lectures' is a hindrance to both teachers and students" (P02). Further, one respondent stated that "having to scroll through 400+ students to find a specific one is tedious, painful and time-[consuming]" (P05).

Student Engagement. Student engagement emerged as a theme concerned with lack of engagement. One respondent indicated the need for "more option[s] for student participation (P15). Another indicated that while "student engagement for fully online courses is always a concern" (P14), this is not specific to the LMS but rather a broader issue.

Technical Problems. Technical problems related to the use of the LMS were noted by some respondents as a hindrance to online teaching and learning. Slow system response time (P01, P05, P14), lack of integration of notification apps (P05), formatting issues related to the discussion board tool (P06), difficulty in managing video content (P07, P17), issues related to the submission of assignments that have a large file size (P07), not all features work in all browsers (P14), and the need for "instant chat" for help with LMS use issues (P14).

LMS Impact on the Quality of Teaching and Satisfaction

The second research question focused on how the use of an LMS impacts the quality of teaching. While some of the respondents noted that the LMS did not impact teaching quality, eight specifically noted that use of the LMS improved instruction and six specifically indicated the LMS was an asset to students. A requirement of this improvement was instructor familiarity with the LMS (P03). Aspects that allowed improvement of teaching included connection with students (P06), student access to course materials and grades (P09, P12), and the potential to "augment and enhance the teaching and learning experience" (P17). In general, respondents indicated that the LMS "improves the course immensely" (P04) by providing tools to use both within and outside of the LMS (P11), allows students "to study and prepare for exams" (P08, P09), and allows students access to material prior to class" (P08, P15) which can in turn help them be more efficient with taking notes (P15). Overall, "[the LMS] improves the learning through the rich variety of methods to provide feedback to students for improvement" (P11). The limitation of the time investment of the instructor was noted in regard to the use of the LMS (P07); however, the LMS was credited with assisting the instructor by facilitating the organization of course materials (P09).

One respondent stated that impact on teaching quality was "highly dependent on the individual instructor. Instructors well informed in online teaching can use it for a positive impact on teaching. For other instructors it can have a large negative impact" (P14). "More emphasis needs to be placed on teaching instructors online instructional design principles to solve this--it is not an issue with the [LMS] itself' (P14). As one respondent noted, "I'm not sure that [the LMS] impacts their learning. That seems to me to be more centered on the effectiveness of the teacher-student relationship and the efforts put forth on the part of the student" (P02). "At the end of the day, everything depends on each student. Those who wish to learn take advantage from the opportunities that are being offered, while nothing is effective for those who do not care" (P12). The impact of an LMS on teaching and learning "will depend entirely on how the tool is used by the instructor. It has potential for strong positive impact" (P10). "When used effectively, [the LMS] can increase student learning through greater engagement, especially in large classes" (P17).

The majority of the respondents indicated that they were satisfied with the LMS in use. In fact, only one (P07) of the 19 respondents noted less than moderate satisfaction. The current version of the LMS was indicated as "better than earlier versions" (P03, P06) and to contain features that might be helpful in course delivery (P04, P10).

CONCLUSIONS AND DISCUSSION

This study sought answers to questions related to the adoption and diffusion of a new LMS. The first question focused on LMS features that benefited online teaching and learning and those features that hindered online teaching and learning. The second question focused the impact of the LMS on the quality of teaching achieved through the LMS and the users' satisfaction with the LMS. The use of technology, in this case the use of an LMS, can add, distract, or be neutral in regard to impact on learning, teaching effectiveness, and student/ teacher satisfaction. There is no panacea to tools; rather, it is the way in which the tools are used that is critical. The goal is to maximize what technology adds while minimizing the aspects of technology that distracts.

Use of LMS Features that Benefit or Hinder Online Learning

Feature themes that emerged included both positive and negative attitudes related to gradebook, assessment tools, course materials, communication tools, interface, administration of classes, and student engagement. While positive attitudes to the new LMS features validated the selection of the LMS, the negative attitudes highlight challenges that should be addressed in the future to insure widespread diffusion and acceptance.

The gradebook was identified by respondents as enabling student management, which is different than instruction. Recording of grades, assignment submissions, and course reports were specifically mentioned as enabling student management; however, at the same time respondents indicated that difficulty with these items caused distraction from the teaching process. It was concluded that while the gradebook as a tool benefitted student management, it also hindered online learning when it did not function properly.

Assessment tools, course material tools, and communication tools were identified as beneficial tools to online learning. The ability to manipulate quiz type, structure, and delivery was specifically expressed as beneficial. The ability to share content with students in an organized manner was indicated as beneficial. And, the ability to use multiple means to communicate with students was indicated as a direct benefit to the teaching process. However, once again, respondents indicated that limitations of the tools detracted from the teaching process. It was concluded that when tools work properly and in the way expected by faculty, they added to the learning process; when the tools did not work properly, they detracted from the learning process. Each of the tools is housed within a specific interface. As indicated by respondents, understanding the interface and knowing how to operate within it is critical in order for the interface not to detract from the teaching/learning process. In fact, it was concluded that additional tools are needed to allow increased student engagement and improved class administration.

LMS Impact on Quality of Teaching and Satisfaction

Participants tended to be positive to neutral on the impact of the LMS on quality of instruction. The acceptance of online instruction as mainstream helped explain participants' attitude to the impact of the LMS on the quality of instruction. Participants who had more positive attitudes to online instruction also suggested that quality of instruction could be enhanced through the LMS. Participants who had more negative attitudes to online instruction also suggested that quality of instruction was not enhanced through the LMS. It was concluded that respondents believed that the LMS had a positive impact on teaching.

Regardless of attitudes related to impact on quality of instruction, participants were satisfied with the new LMS. This finding suggests that as distance education methods become ubiquitous, diffusion of new LMSs are readily accepted by educators as either an enhancement to instruction or as necessary for delivery of instruction at a distance. Regardless of the system, universities are adopting and diffusing LMSs to serve their students. Giving instructors voice in the opportunities and challenges associated with a particular LMS can help universities overcome barriers to adoption and speed acceptance of a new LMS.

IMPLICATIONS

This study sought to examine features and/or tools that could benefit or hinder teaching and learning when using an LMS. Also, the study would observe how the use of an LMS can impact the quality of teaching and overall satisfaction, specifically from the perspective of university instructors that use the LMS. Implications resulting from the research follow.

Implications for Training

The findings from the study indicate implications for training based on LMS features benefiting or hindering online teaching and learning as responses were both positive and negative in nature. Responses noted the LMS interface, mass number of features, course content storage, and student engagement as areas of concern in which training could be justified. The need for adequate training toward using a LMS and any features or tools within the LMS is apparent from the study. Instructors need training on feature and tool usage to support the online learning environment. Those instructors willing to devote time for training on such features or tools in the LMS can enhance the quality of teaching and satisfaction in a positive manner.

Implications for Faculty

Implications for faculty originate from two items: resistance to change and time constraints. As online learning grows in popularity at universities, LMS adoption will ultimately follow an authoritarian-driven decision process by university administration. However, this process does little in regards to LMS usability by faculty, mainly due to the resistance to change from traditional face-to-face teaching. Also, time constraints on the faculty can be a burden toward training. The LMS, as with any technology, requires change and time to learn and evolve with the technology.

Implications for LMS Content

The focus of LMS impact on quality teaching and satisfaction can hinge on the implications for content. The LMS must have the ability to sufficiently store course content for easy student access. To provide quality teaching, content must meet learning objectives, engage student participation, and meet accessibility standards for impaired students. As the use of the LMSs increase in the mainstream of online learning, the need for quality content will emerge as a concern for quality teaching toward meeting student expectations.

Implications for Entities Selecting a LMS

As the responses from the study indicate, there is no "one size fits all" LMS. The needs of LMS features and tools will differ from university to university. Implications for entities selecting a LMS on determining the features or tools needed in the LMS can become a barrier toward adoption and diffusion of the LMS. Understanding the features and tools mentioned in the study can provide a basis for a fundamental LMS and provide guidance for the selection process.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Recommendations for practice based on the study findings toward using an LMS for online teaching include overcoming the resistance to change [LMS adoption and diffusion], faculty training, time allotment for faculty to get the needed training, and programs to enhance the quality of content. All of these recommendations should be considered by any university that may be selecting an LMS for online learning.

As technology changes and new LMS features and tools evolve, additional studies are warranted in order to draw conclusions on the usability of the LMS by the faculty. Questions for future research could include: "Would a faculty training program related to feature and tool usage in the LMS lead to a more positive impact on the quality of teaching and overall LMS satisfaction?", "Would requiring a standardized rubrics for creating content improve online teaching and learning?", "Would quality content increase student engagement?", "Which feature or tools better fit particular circumstances or teaching styles?" Parting words for thought, the LMS is a tool, a tool that can benefit or hinder the quality of teaching depending on how it is perceived and used by faculty. This study presents a number of indicators on enhancing the usage of the LMS in hopes of improved learning.

Darrell S. Walker, James R. Lindner, Theresa Pesl Murphrey, and Kim Dooley

Texas A&M University

REFERENCES

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* Darrell S. Walker, Texas A&M University, Department of Instructional Technology Services, College Station, TX 77843. Telephone: (979) 458-3384. E-mail: dswalke2@tamu.edu
TABLE 1

Features Indicated as Positives and/or Negatives of
Using an LMS for Online Teaching and Learning

Positives                   Negatives

Gradebook                   Gradebook
Assessment tools            Assessment tools
Course materials            Course materials
  (content collection
  management)
Communication tools         Communication tools/issues
Interface                   Interface
Administration of classes   Administration of classes
                            Lack of student engagement
                            Technical problems
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Author:Walker, Darrell S.; Lindner, James R.; Murphrey, Theresa Pesl; Dooley, Kim
Publication:Quarterly Review of Distance Education
Date:Jun 22, 2016
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