Using BPM to develop Learning Management Systems
According to the definition from Wikipedia, a Learning Management System (LMS) “is software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting and delivery of electronic educational technology (also called e-learning) courses or training programs”. These systems range from managing training and educational records to distributing online college courses; are used both by educational institutions and companies to deliver structured information in order to improve knowledge and skills.
Not any computer education system is a LMS. Providing structured instructional content or tutorials is merely of a form of e-learning and many systems are doing just that. A LMS is a framework that handles all aspects of the learning process, not just delivering the actual content. Its basic functions are:
- delivering a learning content to learners;
- tools for creating a learning content for instructors/teachers;
- course management;
- study administration;
- monitoring learner’s results, records keeping;
- social tools.
In general, LMS are web-based solutions to facilitate the access to learning content and administration. They are used by a diversity of economical and social entities:
- educational institutions (college, universities, schools, etc.) to support classroom teaching, to offer courses to a larger populations of learners, to enhance the learning experience or even to replace completely the conventional way of teaching;
- companies functioning in regulated industries where there is a need for compliance training (like financial services);
- companies to enhance the knowledge and expertise of their employees in specific technical areas present in the company’s activities.
As mentioned previously, besides the content dimension of a LMS, there is also a process dimension. In the general terms, a process is a sequence of steps (tasks, actions) with a clear beginning and end, that transforms a set of inputs into an output while using the available resources. Learning can be also seen as a process. Participants in a learning process are learners and instructors/teachers. A teacher as a process owner creates course content, a time plan and directs students to course goal. Support processes (user registration, learning monitoring, etc.) provide an additional functionality while managing the learning process. Courses are interdependent and proceed regularly and repetitively at a specified period of time. Through this description, an academic programme is just a long duration business process.
A process produces an added value at the end; in case of learning this can be gained knowledge, but also grades, certificates, etc. Therefore it comes naturally to implement an e-learning course using a workflow technology. In order to automatize this way the learning process, you need a set techniques and tools to analyze, model, implement, execute, control, measure and optimize the processes involved. This is in essence, BPM - Business Process Management. To give it a more formal definition, according to www.bpm.com, “is
a discipline involving any combination of modeling, automation, execution, control, measurement and optimization of business activity flows, in support of enterprise goals, spanning systems, employees, customers and partners within and beyond the enterprise boundaries”. Here, the term enterprise is seen in a larger scope, as any type of organization.
By implementing and automatizing the e-learning process through the application of BPM and using workflow technology at the technical level, a series of effects can be noticed:
- direct effects - clearly defined study tasks and duties including deadlines; easier information sharing and a knowledge base; sophisticated services and utilities;
- non-direct effects - reducing number of administrative tasks by their automation; instant overview of the situation status, completed and uncompleted tasks; possibility of continuous evaluation of the effectiveness and further learning process improvement.
One of direct effects, which we mention here apart from the list above, is the integration of time management into the learning process. Activities in an workflow are executed at specific moments in time, when some predefined conditions are met (i.e. a context is created). This is very important. A teacher creates some learning resource and publishes it to the students without considering a context (students must meet some prerequisites, other courses must be completed first, etc.) and this is not helping the learning process.
The content should be made available at the right time, when, according to the process flow, the student is in the context of receiving it.
A workflow enables various opportunities of choosing a learning path due to a didactical strategy, personal objectives and results of each student. Integration of a workflow technology into a learning process has the following advantages:
- eliminates administrative tasks by automating them;
- increases the motivation to study for learners (they are studying according to their preferences, pace, etc.);
- guidance for learners and instructors/teachers;
- possibility of tracking business process instances; each learner has its own instance of the business process, which follows different paths of execution depending on the context and the student;
- straitforward reusabiity of the processes and their optimization
- formalization of educational principles..
Implementations of LMS are using either just a workflow engine or a complete BPMS - Business Process Management Suite, which is a platform for designing, deploying and managing business processes. it allows modelling of business processes, the execution within an workflow engine and provides several other components for process monitoring and storing, statistics gathering and analysis. Platforms used are open-sourced (like jBPMS) or proprietary solutions.