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      Categorizing and Comparing LMS Course Designs

      I read a lot of novels. I watch a lot of films. Sometimes I watch films based on novels (though never the other way around), and one thing I've learned is not to make the mistake of comparing a film to the novel it's based on. They are different media used by different artists and require different techniques. Sometimes what works on the page simply won't work on screen. This is why it's OK that Bladerunner's characters act differently from those in Philip K. Dick's novel, that Dr Strangelove is a comedy, and that The Hobbit is stretched across three really, really long movies1.

      Dr spendlove

      As technology-enhanced education continues to grow, teachers, administrators, and even students have access to more online data—data about course design, user interactions, and learning outcomes. Faced with all this data, it's really tempting to dive in and start making comparisons between courses: Do students have better learning outcomes in courses that use discussions? Does a course design that uses more features of the LMS predict student success? Do courses with embedded videos correlate with more time on task?

      Comparisons like these can tell us how technology is being used and help us ask better questions about teaching and learning so that we can test ideas about "best practices." But when looking at data from a learning platform like Canvas, there are a number of variables that can confound our comparisons. How a course is designed is a big one:

      • Are the courses fully online, blended, or primarily face-to-face?

      • Are the courses targeted at the same academic/cognitive level?

      • Are courses designed using similar instructional approaches?

      So before trying to make meaningful comparisons between courses, it's a good idea to categorize these courses into similar bins as much as possible.


      The Instructure Research and Education team is thinking about similarities and differences in course designs and compiling them into meaningful categories that allow for comparisons. We're excited to share our first iteration with you. And because it seems no one wants to read a novel these days, we're presenting the results as -- no, not a film -- AN INFOGRAPHIC!


      We'll continue to think about different ways to categorize and compare course web site designs, and we'll share more as we do. In the meantime, we'd love to hear your feedback about our research, the infographic, and whatever other ideas you might have through our course design infographic survey.

      Keep Learning,
      Jared Stein
      VP, Research and Education

      On second thought, bad example. Not OK.