One of the projects I have on the boil at the moment is finding a suitable Learning Management System (LMS) to launch as part of our digital learning environment.

My school has made significant leaps this year in the area of ICT, especially thanks to our fantastic IT Department who have managed to increase our wireless capability by 300%, amongst other things, thus enabling more students to engage in a 1:1 learning environment. Some argue that these nuts-and-bolts milestones are not significant when it comes to learning as it’s “not about the tool”, but I would challenge those people who claim that it is all about the teacher, their pedagogy, and the learning environment itself to try and use any kind of web-based technology within a faulty or sub-standard wireless network.

There are some pieces of technology infrastructure thats schools just need to have, and need to get right.

This will prove difficult in coming years with increased demand on wireless networks at home, at school and in between. As students have become more creative with technology, the need for upload AND download speeds and capacities, as well as cloud storage and consistent connectivity in almost every urban setting, schools need to rethink whether the Digital Education Revolution was actually about making schools into device retailers or about something deeper. I would like to think that schools are shifting away from mandating specific devices and particular tools into a more dynamic and student-centred approach to the use of technology.

But as more schools realise that a) the DER money is gone and Gonski (sorry, “Better Schools”) isn’t meant necessarily to help schools purchase devices in bulk and b) more students from all SES levels have access to their own devices, perhaps now is the time to ask, what exactly IS the role of the school in providing a digital learning environment?

I believe that schools will become a hub of internet connectivity, learning spaces and challenging experiences for students. Devices will come and go and schools are not built to cope with that rate of change, just like they shouldn’t need to cope with changing exercise book manufacturing patterns or the evolution of pen-based technology.

A teacher doesn’t say “take out your black Bic 2012 edition pen with the hexagonal wall structure and 0.05 friction rate..” they say “today we are going learn how to plan an essay.”

Of course, the big difference with most digital technologies is that to most teachers in classrooms around Australia they are new, constantly changing and often alien to our training and/or experience. This will change with time, and already is. Hopefully decision-makers and curriculum designers will allow teachers the space to do things differently, rather than do the same thing with new tools.

There is one element of a digital learning environment that is important and will be critical to the success of schools in the future: the Learning Management System. Part of me baulks at the idea that we need to “manage” learning even more than we already do (with heavily prescribed curricula for example). But I believe there is a critical need to recognise that we can now provide “anywhere, anytime” learning in a true sense, in so far as that is appropriate and not another stress on people’s busy lives.

By using an LMS to provide a virtual learning environment, and blending it appropriately with the expectations of a physical classroom, more students will be able to actively participate more often in making choices about their own learning. Some LMSs are quite highly structured and logical, whilst others allow almost total freedom in every aspect of the design, flow, information management, interactivity and interface. The trick is finding one that provides some common structure but has the option for our trailblazers to push the boundaries of pedagogy and learning.

Universities have been relying on blended learning approaches for years, and an increasing number of those from the “this lecture will be uploaded” generation(s) are becoming parents to the students in our schools. They know the power of virtual spaces to continue learning beyond the physical classroom when used well. They know that learners – especially as they get older – need flexibility and choice when it comes to how, when and where they learn.

I don’t believe that there will ever be a time when physical learning spaces disappear. Learning is a social activity and is best done when we are in the presence of others. However, especially in those classrooms and lessons where students have no choice, no voice and no responsibility for their own learning – which I’ll admit is my classroom sometimes! – the virtual reality is that they need a live space in which to interact, or they will disconnect from the physical space and it will all be done in FaceBook groups.

Some links to help you think about your LMS needs:

Lock Down or Loosen Up? by @pipcleaves via @darrenmurphy
Edmodo, Schoology, My Big Campus – OH MY! by Vicki Sedgewick via @darrenmurphy
Learn Moodle MOOC – via @largerama
Learning Management Systems – Wikispaces list