The benefits of social learning are well known.

  • Increased student engagement.
  • Greater perceived relevance of and satisfaction with the learning experience.
  • Deeper connections to peers, instructors, and the broader educational community.
  • More and varied opportunities for learners to reflect, generate, and apply what they’ve learned.
  • Higher rates of student persistence, retention, and completion.

Helping learners interact with one another and with the content and challenges they are tackling in varied and meaningful ways drives deeper, more durable learning, and teaches skills and builds habits of learning that yield success in the formal classroom as well as informal settings across a lifetime.

That’s why I read the recent Notebowl-Canvas announcement of an integration with mixed feelings. I find the research into the benefits of a social, engaged learning environment to be compelling, and it resonates with my own experience in education. Hearing about the market-leading LMS integrating Notebowl’s discussion board and community software is genuinely exciting. It represents a step in the right direction, moving beyond the often stifling environment within the traditional LMS. The LMS cannot deliver this kind of engagement that drives durable learning. What gives me pause, though, is the reality that it requires an integration, which essentially means the functionality that is considered so important to quality learning is essentially an afterthought: “Notebowl is now making available a seamless integration putting the social learning platform directly inside of Canvas. This integration allows users to access Notebowl at any time using the Notebowl button, and it also includes unique social features for discussion boards, classrooms and communities.

Beyond adding to every IT administrator’s nightmare of maintaining yet another integration, what is most frustrating is that the social learning, in this case, isn’t integral to the learning experience. It’s another click to another feature a teacher or student can opt to use. That’s progress, but only in a limited way. To transform learning, you have to transform the teaching and learning experience.

At Motivis, we started with social learning and built a student experience platform around it. It is baked into our DNA. Opportunities to interactwith peers, teachers, academic coaches, mentors, and so onare ingrained in the way our LRM (learning relationship management) system is designed. Engagement isn’t a click away in our platform. Engagement is our platform. Instead, discussion boards and feeds are an integral part of every assignment, learning objective, and community conversation. In fact, social learning is so critical that we’ve made the feed the first thing a user sees when they log into the system. If you’re serious about engaging learners and transforming their experience, a new button to click inside the LMS isn’t enough.

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Beyond that, the LRM maintains connections with one of the institution’s most valuable resources, its alumni. Alumni quickly become connections to a career and maybe, more importantly, to mentorship. A recent study conducted by SRI Education found that mentors for new teachers boost student achievement. What they concluded was that if new teachers are paired with high-quality, trained mentors and receive frequent feedback, their students may receive the equivalent of up to five months of additional learning.

Today, in systems like Canvas and Blackboard, once the class is over, it is over. That learning moment in time is closed up, your relationships gone, and sometimes you can’t even get access to your own work. When you graduate, you are removed from the LMS and if you are lucky, shuttled over to a new system built specifically for alumni. This precious resource, which institutions will now beg for donations from, is isolated. Isolated from people who are eager to help.

Much lip service is paid to creating lifelong learners but what steps are being taken to develop students that will come back again and again? Not only to upskill in the rapidly changing world we live in, but also to help current students move forward on their journey.


P.S. We agree with Notebowl’s original assessment last December, The Learning Management System is Dead.