Cyco is not an LMS

Perhaps the best known learning management system (LMS) is the open source system Moodle. It lets faculty enter syllabi, give assignments, record grades, and do other course management tasks. Mostly, it helps manage the paperwork associated with courses.

True, faculty can create content as well. Lecture notes and the like. Even so, it’s the “management” part of Moodle that stands out.

CyberCourse (Cyco for short) is not an LMS. Cyco and Moodle overlap, but there are fundamental differences. The main one:

  • Moodle’s focus: managing course activities.
  • Cyco’s focus: giving students good learning experiences.

What’s the difference? Here are some examples.

Designing courses

Suppose Prof. Z uses Cyco to create the course “Programming for Zombies.” Cyco helps Z make a “blueprint,” a document about student goals, instructor goals, course outcomes, etc. You can see one in the demo. It’s in the sidebar, if you’re logged in as an author, instructor, or grader:

Cyco sidebar

Designing a course before you start writing is a Good Practice (GP, also gold pieces to nerds). Cyco helps Prof. Z follow the GP.

Moodle doesn’t have the blueprint concept. Moodle is not designed to help authors create good learning experiences, just manage whatever activities are in the course.

Patterns

Look at that sidebar again. You’ll see “patterns.” The concept is derived from research on expertise and task transfer. Patterns help students take what they’ve learned in one situation, and use it another. Patterns are key to problem solving.

Cyco helps authors create patterns. It helps students learn patterns, and use them in exercises. Why was this feature added to Cyco? Because research suggests patterns help students learn.

Moodle doesn’t have the concept of patterns. Moodle isn’t designed to give students meaningful learning experiences. Moodle just helps manage course activities.

Exercises

Moodle has many testing options. True/false, fill-in-the-blank, timed multiple-choice quizzes, and other things.

Cyco has one testing option: exercises. Research shows that frequent low-stakes formative assessment helps students learn skills. Cyco implements it, in a way that’s practical at scale. Cyco also has an exercise completion feature, to help with mastery learning.

If Moodle testing is a flashlight, Cyco testing is a laser. Cyco focuses on what we know works. Cyco helps students and faculty make the best use of their time.

(A note: Out-of-the-box, Cyco has just one form of testing. There are modules that add fill-in-the-blank, multiple-choice, etc. If you really want to.)

Content authoring

Most content put into Moodle is relatively ephemeral. This semester’s exams and quizzes, for example. You can add content that lasts across semesters. However, Moodle is not designed with content longevity in mind. For example, Moodle’s standard editor (TinyMCE) mixes formatting with the text. Formatting that looks great now might not look so good on tomorrow’s camel-mounted browsers.

Camel

Yes, in a few years, browsers will be standard equipment on camels.

Cyco is designed so that content typed in today can still be used tomorrow, without reformatting. Here’s an example:

Warning

There are no buttons for bold, font size, color, etc. There’s just text (except for special cases, like drawings and formulas). This is a “show-what-I-mean” (SWIM) editor. You don’t tell Cyco how to show the warning. Maybe it’s big red text. Maybe it flashes. You tell Cyco you want a warning, and let it figure out the details.

What happens when there’s new tech? Maybe you want a hand to reach from the back of the student’s phone and wag its finger. You don’t need to change the content. Just change how Cyco shows a warning, and all warnings change.

Cyco uses the markup language Textile. Suppose you want to switch from Cyco to another system. As long as the new system supports Textile, you can move your content across. Oh, and the main Textile parser is open source.

Cyco’s SWIM editor is specially designed for writing courses. For instance, the button with the person on it adds a pseudent, to help with deep learning. Don’t look for that in Moodle. Moodle has a general-purpose editor, not one designed specifically for course writing.

Cyco + LMS

It makes sense to use both Cyco and an LMS for a course.

  • A Cycourse replaces the textbook. The same Cycourse (e.g., Prof. Z’s Programming for Zombies) can be used across universities, although branded for each school.
  • The LMS helps administer the course. It grabs a student list from the enrollment system. It announces course events, like exams. It distributes grades to students.

Cyco runs on Drupal, a popular and powerful open source system. There are also LMS based on Drupal, like ELMS. Many universities already have Drupal Web sites (here’s a list, and another). There can be economies of scale.

The bottom line

  • Moodle helps professors do what they are used to doing.
  • Cyco helps authors and professors help students learn skills.

Cyco is not an LMS, as we have come to define it. There isn’t a ready-made category for Cyco. It’s a new type of beast. No doubt someone will come up with acronym.

Like what you see? Take a look at what you can do.