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Overview

This project was started to explore the existing state of learning management systems used throughout higher education and how that pertains to accessibility. Additionally, this project was to explore the potential of a new learning management system that focuses more on the overall experience students and instructors desire when creating and hosting online content. Through research and design, I looked to create a better experience for online education while also ensuring all students had universal access to their course’s content.

Research

The beginning steps were to learn as much as I could about learning management systems and why they were used in the beginning. Learning everything there is to know about the subject you are looking to recreate is critical in your success and this project was no different. This research came in the form of published articles/books, surveys to both students and faculty members, focus groups and informal discussions with colleagues.

It was key to me from the beginning that I needed to not make any assumptions on the existing products offered. Though I have used a variety of LMS products, initial assumptions can be quite costly down the road for a project. With the methods mentioned above, I was able to validate and invalidate any assumptions I had based on my prior experiences. Using all of the data, I was able to accurately inform my decisions for the next phase which was designing what a new learning management system could and should look like

Design

As mentioned, I wanted to take the research that I did over the course of this project and imagine what a learning management system that addressed the findings above would look like. I wanted this new platform to be simple, user friendly, interactive and most importantly, fully accessible. I have included several screenshots of the direction I have taken to showcase the consistent structure and the accessible features such as the “View Transcript” button on the content pages when videos are embedded.

Screenshot of the design for Axcess showing the all courses page Screenshot of the design for Axcess showing the individual course landing page

Outcome

From the research I conducted throughout the project thus far, several big outcomes that came to light. The first thing I will discuss is the level of customization that was currently lacking and that is desired by both students and faculty. It is no secret that every student learns differently. Even though this is almost universally known, it is not shown in the current learning management systems universities are paying for. Instructors are often forced into utilizing features the way learning management systems think they should and they have no luxury in turning on or off certain features. The same can be said for students. Features are displayed whether used or not with little ability to expand. For example, calendars are a big tool for learning management systems but are often not used by the instructor or the student prefers to use another method such as the calendar on their computer or a planner. If you’re not using the feature, why is it still there to clutter up your content?

Another major finding was the lack of training both for students and instructors. In a national survey conducted by Educause, 51% of students felt they would be more effective if they were trained on how to use the learning management system before they got to college. Yes, I do agree with that but I think the underlying finding here is that learning management systems are not intuitive to use. While I do think there is added value in giving a demo on the learning management system before the students are forced to use it, it should also be intuitive enough for students to be able to learn, especially when these are the same students who were able to navigate their way around an iPad when they were 5.

Continuing on, one big ask from instructors is more analytical data on their students and their course. Analytics are a huge resource for almost every company as a way to measure engagement, return on investment, traffic and a ton of other things. This ability is a huge missed opportunity with current learning management systems. Technology currently in use allows us to track how long in a video students clicked out, or how long it took them to get to the bottom of an article, or even how many times they changed their answer before submitting their quiz. I found that this information is extremely valuable to instructors and they would love for that technology to be built right into the learning management system.

The last finding I will talk about is the lack of accessibility throughout current learning management systems. The struggle with this is that students, disability or not, should be able to access the content. More often than not, they can’t and special accommodations have to be made on a case by case basis. Some big culprits are the lack of keyboard functionality, the lack of defined structure, inconsistent page formats and media not transmitted in different ways. While much of this falls on the instructor’s shoulders, there is a lot that I found can be done to help this process and better ensure all students have the same level of access to the content in the course.