Use Your LMS to Move from Lag to Lead Measures in Student Success

Senior Analyst

Top of Mind: Use That LMS
Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

Learning management systems or LMS, for short, have become ubiquitous at the higher ed level. Due to COVID-19, even primary and secondary schools that didn’t have an LMS in place are probably using some software to help with course management, even if it’s just Google Classroom.

Let’s explore how you can get the most from your existing LMS, especially to support student success efforts, which begins with knowing the right metrics to monitor and measure.

What Is An LMS?

At its very basic level, an LMS serves as a glorified website for displaying lecture notes, and I’m afraid many faculty or entire institutions use it for little more. At its best, an LMS is a powerful software and data tool institutions can leverage to significantly improve student success. When used effectively, many LMS software can facilitate every aspect of the learning process, from course planning, administration, and delivery to student engagement and support. Between those two ends of the spectrum, there are plenty of advantages to an LMS, should an institution and its faculty wish to take advantage of all the features available.

Challenges with LMS Adoption

First, let’s acknowledge an important reality. Let’s refer to it as “faculty autonomy” for this discussion. Suppose you’re an ed tech leader, an educational technologist, an instructional designer, or in a similar role. In that case, you’ve undoubtedly felt the tension of knowing what’s possible and helping your faculty understand all the benefits of technology.

Some faculty are cutting-edge. They see the potential of technology for teaching and learning and know that they can leverage technology to evaluate students and their own instruction to bring about better student learning outcomes.

Some faculty want to be effective, and they care about student outcomes, but they’re either set in their ways or overwhelmed by the thought of doing more with technology.

Finally, there are faculty who only want to share their knowledge and have little concern about whether a student learns or stays at the institution in the long run.

I’m optimistic that this last group represents a distinct minority.

The Role of an LMS in Student Success

While some institutions aren’t facing enrollment and budget concerns, most are. These institutions are having conversations about attracting more new students and improving student success and retention—the other critical side of the enrollment coin.

Lag Measures of Student Success

For too long, we’ve relied on lag measures for student success, such as:

  • Midterm results
  • Final exam grades
  • Academic appeals
  • Faculty at-risk notifications, etc

In the earlier days of student success measurement, technology and meaningful integrations between systems, student success, and analytic platforms were primarily focused on pulling academic data from the student system. The problem with that approach was that any academic data extracted from the student system was a lag measure at best.

While these measures can eventually add up to a picture of an at-risk student, they do little to provide student success staff with real-time lead indicators that a student is struggling and needs immediate support to course-correct and finish the semester strong. When student success hinges on providing real-time support to students who are struggling, these types of lag measures won’t cut it.

How to Use Your LMS to Improve Your Students’ Success

Encourage Daily Engagement

First, give your students a reason to be in the LMS daily. I’m not just talking about online classes. Every modality—such as face-to-face, hybrid, online, and hyflex—needs to use the LMS in some way daily. Every single click and interaction a student has within the LMS is a data point.

If a student hasn’t logged in for weeks or has only spent a few minutes in a module, you may have a problem. For some students, these lead measures don’t always predict an issue—many students can walk into a test, perform well, and move on. But many can’t. For students who’ve struggled or will struggle, data points showing even baseline engagement can be helpful for those who are supporting them.

Track and use these baseline and active engagement lead measures to proactively monitor potentially at-risk students:

  • Logins
  • Clicks
  • Time spent on activities
  • Discussion participation
  • Assignment submissions
  • Messages between peers and instructors

Monitor Real-Time Academic Progress

Next, let’s talk about that grade book. Beyond the advantage of providing faculty with more efficient grading procedures, having data available to students and the institution regarding current academic progress in a particular course at all times is an absolute must.

Students deserve to know how they’re performing in a class. The days of lining up to see your final grade posted outside the professor’s office are over. Students should never be surprised to find out late in the semester or at the end of the semester that they didn’t perform as well as expected.

Advisors and other student success staff should also be able to see the current academic progress of every student in every class they’re enrolled in. Beyond ensuring real-time feedback and grades are promptly recorded in the grade book as the semester unfolds, linking assignments and assessments to learning outcomes using the LMS will only further enhance an institution’s ability to internally assess the effectiveness of its academic programs and prove it to accreditors when it comes time to be reaffirmed.

The Potential and Challenges of Risk Reports

What about at-risk reports? Yes, these are great … when they’re used. The obvious drawback of these indicators is that they’re wholly dependent on someone actually doing them.

Most faculty mean well and really care about the success of their students, but large class sizes, competing research agendas, “publish or perish” stress, grant writing, and just being human all lead to these well-meaning reports not consistently being filled out if and when faculty notice that a student is struggling.

As a former faculty member and dean, I have felt the pressure of trying to keep all the plates spinning, and as much as I wanted to support students and ensure their success, there were times when a student slipped through the cracks.

The Future of LMS and Student Success

I predict that most institutions will begin to make use of student success and analytics platforms within the next five years. These platforms are now starting to incorporate LMS data into their models. While this is a critical evolution for these systems and the student success practice as a whole, you won’t receive the full value of your investment if you don’t have data in your LMS that can serve as lead measures for student success.

Whether you’re making use of the latest and greatest student success platforms now or hope to one day, setting yourself up with lead indicators such as engagement and real-time academic progress will prove vital to giving students just-in-time support that historic lag measures could never have.

Making full use of your LMS to drive student success will require an institution-wide commitment, and helping faculty see the value and update their long-standing practices is a large ship that will take effort and time to turn. Don’t wait to have these latest tools available to start the conversation on your campus. Find ways to use your LMS to its fullest and capitalize on lead measure data to help your students succeed today.

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Senior Analyst
As a senior analyst, Dr. Matt Winn focuses his research initiatives on academic administration, LMS, and other teaching and learning technologies. He has led numerous modernization and implementation projects within the SIS, LMS, and CRM landscapes. Passionate about using technology to serve and improve education, he seeks to help institutions integrate disparate systems, create automations, and improve various processes across campus. 

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