he thing about Learning Management Systems is that purchasing them is made difficult by the broad range of types available on the market, the features that they offer, and the kind of workload that you’re going to have to fit them to your specific purposes. For example, Canvas and Blackboard are pretty standard LMS used in higher-education, but the features that they offer aren’t entirely geared towards online learning (which is not to say that you cannot use them for such: I do so in the day-to-day job). They’re also very expensive.
Then you’ll have the opensource options like openEdX and the Drupal-based Opigno. They’re both great in their own way, but in this case required a virtual server (rather than the Managed WordPress that this hastily-thrown-together site is based on), and to get them to work exactly how you want takes some time.
Other options include the larger learning platforms used to manage MOOCs, or even those geared towards educational entrepreneurs such as Blackboard CourseSites or Thinkific. Again, they’re interesting selections, but some of the features might be lacking. (For example, while Blackboard allows SCORM integration, Thinkific doesn’t allow either SCORM or xAPI.)
So, I ended up with LearnDash…
So Why LearnDash?
The decision to go with LearnDash was based upon a number of factors:
- It was a WordPress plug-in, so I could integrate it with the Managed WordPress that this site is produced on. (This was a pretty big reason.)
- Low price-point. $159 isn’t a bad option for what I wanted to use it for: showcasing some of my courseware ideas within an operating LMS environment.
- Rich features. Not only does it come with SCORM and xAPI integration (the latter of which was really important to me), but there are oodles of other options up to and including selling courses. (I don’t think that’s going to happen here, but I like to leave my options open!)
- Social and gamified learning options. The standard out-of-the-box experience included simple PBL functionality (points, badges, leaderboards) and, while that might not be truly representative of what “gamification” is, it is a step in the right direction in terms of in-software support that can be hacked to make it what you want.
Gamification and xAPI
In a previous post, I had talked about some of the lost opportunities in exploring gamification in courses that I previously designed but then had to take in a specific direction because of the client. One of the reasons that I went with LearnDash is so that I can revisit some of those ideas. Here, I’ve found that modern tabletop RPGs might be a good place to start in terms of the way that they abstract realities to focus on narrative and genre simulation rather than earlier iterations of these types of games that were more “physics simulators.”
How to use them? Now that’s the question.
Earlier, I had talked how branching, scenario-based learning (SBL) could be integrated with game elements to explore procedural worlds in law enforcement. That’s fun, but the course program that I have been assigned at GWU is actually Homeland Security. Thus, while it merges in some aspects of law enforcement, it is more concerned with a higher-order of operations involving globalised threats such as terrorism, and the ability to effectively respond to such threats on a multi-agency level.
Now I’ve got to get my thinking cap on. While some of the courses might obviously lend themselves to SBL, gamification, and µ-learning, others do not. The capstone courses, for example, are 16-week courses that one takes at the end of the Masters in Professional Studies degree program and deals with SBL in domestic crisis situations (terrorist threat and natural disaster). That’s right smack-bang in the middle of the sweet spot for this type of approach. On the other hand, something like Methods in Security Analysis? That one is going to be a bit more of a challenge.
Of course, just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should do something. I’m not going to force gamification into everything, but it’s fun to see were it will align with the desired learning outcomes and aligns well with the assessment types.
For that, however, I’m going to leave it to another post after I’ve talked a little bit about how the MPS H-Sec course is organised.