How people actually use Blackboard, according to Blackboard

How do instructors and learners use learning management systems?  Blackboard shared some interesting stats about what people actually do with their LMS.  The results confirm what many LMS critics (like myself) have been saying for a while.  It’s impressive that Blackboard is willing to confirm our observations.

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Key takeaway: the clear supermajority of LMS usage is, at least for Blackboard, just document management.  For nearly 80% of cases, people use the leading LMS just to share documents, plus announcements and grades:

Blackboard LMS usage breakdown

Some readers may recall my supposedly cynical definition,

LMS, n. 1) A document management system, whereby a faculty member can transfer a single document to his or her students. Curiously overpowered for this purpose, nevertheless universally deployed.

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…which is apparently simply true, at least statistically speaking.

One response to these patterns?  “To increase student engagement in Learn, instructors should consider adding assessments or discussion forums.

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”  Yes, pedagogical advice from the 1980s remains evergreen.

This is an especially interesting finding:

Courses making extensive use of Discussion forums have a substantially smaller enrollment than courses in other categories. This finding speaks to the need for advancing strategies for effective forum facilitation in large enrollment courses.

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I wonder if that holds true across other LMS tools (Moodle, Sakai, Canvas, etc).

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27 Responses to How people actually use Blackboard, according to Blackboard

  1. I found this report fascinating and depressing. I can confirm that my own personal experience is that the primary use being document delivery has been true whether the instructor has been using Blackboard, Moodle, or Canvas. Ironically, none of these systems do document delivery all that well – I’d rather have a Google Drive folder, Dropbox, Box, or whatever space in a heartbeat. The amount of time the faculty devote to uploading files into the LMS so that students can download them is ripe for efficiency improvement. Or, you know, we could just use library ereserve systems built for purpose.

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  3. Kelly Dempsey says:

    I completely agree with you, Lisa. We use Moodle at Colgate and have a few faculty who switched to Google Classroom for just the reasons you mention; easy document delivery. The student reaction has been very positive from the ease of use perspective. We will be keeping a close eye on this development.
    Brian, thanks for this posting. Very timely for me as I continue to take a look at LMS alternatives.

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  5. As a proficient web developer, using the LMS (for us, Moodle) for document delivery has never been compelling. But the ability for students to see their gradebook entry is invaluable. Students are constantly nervous about their grades, and for them to see the same gradebook view that I see is a huge value added.

    The group email feature is also useful; when I receive a student question, I can email the entire class with an answer.

    Even without seeing this survey, I would have thought that an LMS product that focused on the “Supplemental” and “Complementary” aspects from the survey, with a simple user interface and aggressively low pricing would be extremely appealing. In light of these survey results, I look forward to seeing a system that will fill the gap.

  6. I wonder if that holds true across other LMS tools (Moodle, Sakai, Canvas, etc).
    I suspect it does. We recently adopted Canvas and along with it came a command from above that we were no longer allowed to print syllabuses and instead were to post pdfs to Canvas. For most of us, Canvas is a really expensive syllabus (but hey, we save on paper and toner, right?).

  7. We use Moodle at Lane Community College. I have no idea what other instructors do with it, but as I actually teach online with the Moodle as my LMS, I use forums, gradebook, assignment dropboxes, Google linkage, and video posting.

    I find it baby simple to use, but students still get lost in it; primarily because there is no requirement to learn Moodle before entering the online classroom.

    In a simple exchange like messages twixt me and a student, Moodle can decide to hide the message string, so the user has to click on “All Messages” to see the string. This doesn’t occur to students, so unless I constantly remind them, they can lose important feedback on an assignment.

    Feedback that Moodle says it is notifying the students of from the assignment feedback function but that somehow never reaches half the students or that half the students don’t read because they don’t have an email reading habit.

    Need I go on? The problems aren’t just with the technology but with divides between generations, between assumptions about learners, between assumptions about educators and what education is or should be or could be, and the Digital Divide itself, so very much still with us. Our students are NOT savvy about tech, and most of our faculty aren’t either.

    Yet everyone stumbles around in the digital dark as if somehow it will all become so “intuitive ” they’ll suddenly gain tech enlightenment without actually having to focus and teach themselves.

    End of exasperated rant!

  8. I don’t think this would be more encouraging of we looked at courses using several features. The LMS is at fault, regardless of brand, for creating stifling platforms that have to be hacked and twiddled to make them into good learning spaces. It can be done for Blackboard and Moodle. I am struggling to do it with Canvas, an unrelentingly linear platform that allows little creativity – it is in many ways is the ultimate result of what we see here with Blackboard usage. But what it takes to force an LMS to do anything meaningful is continually undermined by the plethora of courses that don’t even try. These systems exist to make it easy for administrators to monitor things, gather data, and control teaching. At first, this made them uncomfortable, but we thought most faculty would bend them, break them, force the LMS to change. Instead, their continued development has made it even harder to adapt them to good use.

  9. I’ve little doubt that the stats would look the same regardless of the LMS chosen. But then, I suspect that you would find that this is how most of *all* e-learning courses look, regardless of the technology employed. There are exceptions, of course, but they remain outliers whether using an LMS or co-opting some other platform or creating one’s own or just doing it all manually. This is how e-learning courses have looked since the beginning of the web: announcements/news, sharing of documents first, then all else way down in a long tail. The gradebook, for obvious security/FERPA/paranoia reasons remains popular, as do auto-graded quizzes, both of which have been traditionally much more difficult to manage on one’s own, so they naturally find themselves more popular in an LMS. This feels like non-news about the LMS, but also non-news in general with online learning.

    • It is non-news to some of us, Chris.
      But it is noteworthy for a few reasons.
      First, people still sell the LMS as a pedagogical, rather than administrative, tool. So this is useful to use against them.
      Second, this comes from BB. Most previous studies have come from outsiders or other observers. It says something that BB is willing to come forward.
      Third, it’s historically useful to see that this trend continues, rather than breaks.

  10. I do find the article interesting, and the results are not unexpected. However, it seems to me the information is in a bit of a vacuum which makes it easy to blame the entirety of the issues on the LMS. From what I can tell of the study, it looked at general usage without consideration for the type of class (f2f/online/hybrid), and does not look at the general syllabus of each class in question. Thus I would question: is it a case that the LMS does not facilitate high level interaction and usage well, or is it a case that the faculty do not include that type of interaction in their courses regardless of using an LMS.
    My institution requires online faculty to work with an instructional designer and we are trying to make use of the SUNY OSCQR rubric, so I would say most of the online courses trend more toward the holistic level versus the generalized data seen here. But our f2f faculty have no such requirement, and I am aware of faculty (especially in large sections) who continue to do the equivalent of reading from the book during class and assigning test bank problems. If these faculty were to use the LMS at all, it would most likely be to post a syllabus, and possibly grades if so required by their department, and would never perform a group or other social assignment. While I do not think the majority of our faculty fall into that baseline category, I would not be surprised if overall our faculty profile would look similar to the data presented above. I’m not sure that we can expect high level of usage of “advanced” LMS tools when faculty are not practicing similar activities in the class room even when there is not LMS.
    My though then is that while there is unquestionable room for significant improvement in all of the current LMS offerings, we may be treating them as easy targets for issues that really stem from underlying pedagogy lapses.

  11. Those numbers seem pretty good actually. On our campus, each course has a presence in Blackboard. About 85% of our courses are face-to-face courses that use the LMS only as a supplement. So in most cases, Blackboard serves primarily as a document delivery system with a grade center and attendance tracker.

    Speaking as an instructional technologist/instructional designer/Blackboard admin, if 23% of our courses included Social, Evaluative, and Holistic elements, I’d be ecstatic. (But then, I’d also want to see some data on how those courses compared against traditional courses for student achievement of learning objectives.)

    The thing with the LMS is that by its very nature, it must:
    – Comply with FERPA and ADA requirements
    – Be capable of exchanging data with the SIS
    – Integrate with publisher resources (the bane of my existence)
    – Have the flexibility to accommodate the needs of every discipline
    – Provide grade and attendance tracking tools
    – Offer multiple tools by which students may securely submit work (in a variety of formats).
    – Deliver documents (see, I didn’t forget that point).
    – Be simple enough to use so that faculty and students only need a minimal amount of training.

    That’s a tall order, especially that last part, because if the system is too complex, we lose students (I’m in the community college sector, so our population is a lot different than a 4-year school). My goal has always been to make the experience as simple as possible for the end user so that the LMS is not an impediment to learning, and it’s a tricky proposition.

    So when I look at the report, it looks pretty promising overall.

    BUT!!!!! What I find most troubling is this line…..

    “We also filtered for criteria that indicated courses that could provide a meaningful educational
    experience and give enough data for statistical analysis: between 10 and 500 students, a mean
    course time of at least 60 minutes, and use of the gradebook. After filtering, the data set included
    601,544 learners (16.25%) in 18,810 (26.87%) courses.”

    So now, we’re not looking at 23% of courses, we’re looking at 23% of 27% of courses, which turns into 6% of all the 70,000 courses included in the original survey. My guess? Most of those were mostly blank shells with at best, a syllabus and a couple of supplemental documents.

    The system, for all of its flaws, is only being used to its potential in a small number of cases. The rest of the time, it’s terrible underused.

    I don’t think the LMS is the problem. It’s the usage that’s the real issue, and that issue stems greatly from faculty who either don’t see the value in the platform or are so technophobic that they’d never venture into the realm.

    Either way, we’re only a couple of decades into this whole online learning thing, and during that time, it’s evolved (and continues to evolve) so rapidly that even those of us who live in the EduTech world can barely keep up. Adoption will continue to increase, and the systems will continue to evolve to include a wider array of capabilities, and with the decline of enrollments, the number of courses that contain Social, Evaluative, and Holistic elements will continue to grow as schools expand distance learning programs in the hopes of capturing more students.

    Sorry… didn’t mean to go on so long, but i’m a bit passionate about this kind of thing.

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