Our learning is more efficient today than a decade or century ago. We can only expect it to keep on rising. Many factors have taken us here. Technology sure is a big one. Part of their contribution has been its ability to streamline routine tasks. Platforms like Moodle have opened a new frontier, with many of its implications still hard to grasp. But they also make us better at the old grunt.
Learning industry veteran Andy Schermuly discusses automation in the context of the LMS. His lessons apply beyond systems and trades, thought. Being witness to the same customary processes over the years helps see them in a systematic way. It is, in short, the boring basis of experience. Mastery is a similar process, but with a key distinction. The experience must be meaningful. Which could clash with the reality of a repetitive trade. (I dare say with the idea of boredom too.) If a job asks to deliver the same end result again and again, how can meaningful learning arise? Thanks to technology, our modern times have an answer. Automation.
As Schermuly argues, professional development does not always involve new assignments. In fact, part of the evolution of a trade lies in the dependability of a task, taken to an extreme. Take his first case, featuring the State of Arizona. Its non-Moodle LMS, servicing over 63,000 students, is run by only three engineers. We may not know their “special sauce” but we can infer how they must deal with routing operations. Even new Moodle admins must have a list of duties they do by hand that they wish they did not have to. There are many popular ones. Signups, enrollments and adding members to groups and categories. Assigning courses and activities according to profile criteria, including past performance. Implementing basic adaptive and personalized learning practices. For marketing purposes, segmenting and micro-targeting, in ways as much privacy-conscious as possible. And of course, the whole rigmarole of server management and monitoring.
A couple of question arise along the way. What is the right admin-to-user ratio in Moodle or a similar, modern LMS? Is there a smallest number, or acceptable industry ranges?
It is not surprising we do not have reference points like this one. Schermuly, however, shares the case of Choice Hotels International. 1,000 learning assets, 58,000 learners on a daily (or rather, nightly) basis. All in four hands. How do they do it? By leveraging what should be another no-brainer. LMS Data. During onboarding, learners go through exhaustive questionnaires. Dozens of fields to fill out, each of them informing future segmentation and delivery. Each new semester, the duo reviews the rulebook and augments it. One data point sure does not a benchmark make. It does invite an informed conversation.
Despite its privileged position, Moodle has no explicit push towards automation. Issues about site management productivity are not prominent. Other than a few docs on scalability, its potential as a productivity tool is pretty much ignored. Large-scale management issues have been addressed by external developers through plugins or even custom Moodle editions.
The great AI beyond
Can you automate the automation? What if there is a way to make sense of the rule-making process, in a way computers can follow? And what if instead of a centralized operation, you have learners in all continents? Sure, you could set up a Moodle course to teach your Moodle admin new languages. It might take a while, though. Unless your system is able to “learn” how to perform the tasks in one language, and right then be able to do them in any one.
The promise of AI looms large. It explains the hype, both in terms on capital and on the sudden, gigantic scarcity of AI skills. Success is, naturally, all but guaranteed. We are only at the onset of a real AI revolution, a fact that is poignant nowhere so as in education. But in a few years’ time, chances are Avis Budget Group, Schermuly’s last case, has some interesting developments to share.