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Effective Learning Design using LAMS

Christina Smart
Last modified 05 Jul, 2005
Published 31 Jan, 2005
A report from the LAMS (Learning Activity Management System) evaluation workshop held in Birmingham 11 January 2005.

LAMS is a learning design editing and play back tool that puts the learning process, rather than collections of content, at the heart of e-learning,. JISC is funding an evaluation study on the use of LAMS in the HE, FE and Adult and Community Learning (ACL) communities as part of the e-Learning and Pedagogy strand of the e-Learning Programme.

Some 30 lecturers, teachers and educational developers gathered in Birmingham recently to share their experiences and enthusiasm for LAMS. And there is a lot of enthusiasm. So I set out to find out what it is that tutors can do with LAMS that they can’t do with conventional VLEs.

The authoring interface of LAMS is a visual editor into which different activities such as chat, question and answer, sharing resources and polling can be added by simple drag and drop. Arrows are used to link activities together into linear learning sequences. Students then work through the activities in order.

At first glance that doesn’t seem revolutionary – but there are two key aspects of LAMS that make it very different to use. Firstly, some practitioners found that by focussing on the learning process they began to reflect on why they were asking students to do particular activities in a certain order. Secondly, because it is so easy to change the sequence of activities, practitioners were adapting sequences and fine tuning them after each session with students, something that is not easy to do with a VLE that has the major focus on content. Peter Miller a microbiology lecturer from Liverpool said: "I could create sequences of activities in LAMS that would have been much more complicated to do in Blackboard".

The LAMS evaluation project

Stuart Lee the project leader for the LAMS evaluation opened the workshop with an overview of the evaluation process so far. At the beginning of the project participants had completed pre- training questionnaires and attended workshops at Kemnal Technology College to learn how to use the system. The evaluation team is currently conducting a number of interviews and observations of tutors using LAMS with students and participants are completing design questionnaires. The final report is scheduled for May. The key evaluation question is:"Does LAMS support effective practice in designing for learning?"

Results from the pre-training questionnaire have been analysed by Liz Masterman from the project team. Liz reported that out of the 40 people taking part 6 are from the ACL community with the rest evenly split between further and higher education. In the survey respondents were asked a number of questions including their opinions on the benefits of e-learning and in particular the benefits of using LAMS. Development of learner potential emerged as a key benefit and tutors hoped that using LAMS would help students become autonomous learners. Respondents felt the most relevant benefit of using LAMS would be to enhance their own planning practice. It will be interesting to see whether the anticipated benefits match up to the actual benefits at the end of the study.

Group discussions

Workshop participants then worked in groups to discuss a number of key questions about using LAMS. This gave people a chance to talk about their use of the system and to compare experiences. Some of the issued raised are noted below.

How do people normally create lesson plans? and What effect does LAMS have, or could it have, on designing for learning?

People normally decide what content they would like to cover in a lesson and chunk up the material into activities. It was thought that LAMS encourages students to be autonomous learners. Its key advantage for teachers is that LAMS allows authors to VISUALIZE the learning process which is a huge advantage over other learning environments.

Why would you choose to use LAMS? What benefit does it offer?

Participants felt that LAMS offered big benefits for working collaboratively, especially within the ACL and FE contexts when tutors are often distributed around different colleges. Also because students work through sequences of short activities, it is easy for students to see how they are progressing and what they are achieving.

What are the possibilities and issues associated with re-using learning designs created by others? How might re-use be facilitated?

The main problem with re-use is the context in which the sequence was developed, particularly the size of the student group. Also, in order to reuse a sequence a tutor needs to go into each activity and make sure that there is nothing subject specific – otherwise it maybe just as easy to make a new sequence. People felt that a repository of LAMS sequences would benefit from an Amazon style rating system. But to be useable a repository would need good metadata, and that would rely on busy tutors to add it. Re-use of sequences is probably most likely between course teams.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of LAMS in terms of designing for learning?

LAMS is good because it focuses on sharing of expertise in designing learning activities rather than content. It is also easy to use and flexible in that it can be used for short sequences or longer sequences. One drawback of LAMS is that it doesn’t allow personalisation for different learning styles, but it should be remembered that LAMS is only one of the tools that tutors have available to them.

LAMS experiences

After lunch a number of practitioners demonstrated LAMS sequences that they had used with students. In two cases tutors had not only given students sequences of activities to work through – but had allowed students to author their own sequences. Simon Walker said that PGCE students at Greenwich had been very creative in the sequences that they designed. Overseas students on a Masters course in Education, Technology & Society at Bristol University had participated more in LAMS online discussions than they had in face to face discussions. Simon Wild from Bromley College had used LAMS on a Motor Vehicle Studies course for part-time students who couldn’t get into college easily, he found that LAMS was good at keeping students focussed on the subject. Finally Terry Russell and Tünde Varga-Atkins from CRIPSAT (Centre for Research in Primary Science and Technology) had been developing activity sequences for science teachers both as a learning tools and for them to use with students.

LAMS developments

Groups reconvened to discuss the kind of features that they would like from a VLE, mostly focusing on LAMS. The long wish list included a branching facility, tools for pedagogical design, the ability to edit sequences on the fly, an e-portfolio import facility, and interoperability with other VLEs. Many people also felt it would be good if students could also view the editing interface which would be particularly useful for revision.

James Dalziel, the LAMS project leader, concluded the day talking about LAMS developments for 2005. He reminded participants that his mission in developing LAMS was to make sure that pedagogy led technology and not the reverse. He began by demonstrating the new preview feature and the survey tool which are now available. The open source version of LAMS v1.1, which will be available on 25th February, has had major under the bonnet changes so that others can develop additional LAMS tools. The project team has a long wish list of features to work through and limited funding. However priorities for 2005 include branching to allow tutors to develop adaptive sequences. A LAMS wizard is also being developed to allow users to develop sequences rapidly. Being able to import and export data to other VLEs is also a priority.


So returning to my question for the day, what does LAMS do that conventional VLEs do not? Evidence from this workshop suggests that using LAMS helps teachers to visualise the learning process which enables them to design and reflect on the online learning activities they give their students. Given that sequences are so easy to change tutors are continually tweaking and improving the learning experience. It also links the design process to underlying pedagogical theory. Simon Walker from Greenwich University said: "Previously in a face to face tutorial I would have had a discussion, but when I added a discussion to my LAMS sequence, I began to question whether that was the best activity to have at that point."

It will be interesting to see what conclusions emerge from the evaluation project when it reports in April. A summary of the workshop and presentations can be found on the JISC site.


Presentations from the workshop and a summary are available at the workshop web site

Further information on the Evaluation of the Practitioner Trail of LAMS project is available on the JISC web site

LAMS is also being trialled in schools in 2004/2005 by the Specialist Schools Trust. Further information is available on the LAMS Specialist Schools Trial web site

Learning Design Inspiration is a good article on the launch of LAMS by Wilbert Kraan (5-11-2003)

Further information on the LAMS software can be found on the LAMS web site

A paper by James Dalziel on LAMS for the ASCILITE conference in 2003 titled: Implementing Learning Design: The Learning Activity Management System (LAMS) has an excellent overview of LAMS and its aims.Download

A report by Sandy Britain (2004) titled: A Review of Learning Design: Concept, Specifications and Tools provides a useful introduction to the concept of learning design and the tools that are currently available.Download


Supported by JISC Supported by CETIS
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