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June 14, 2011

Rethinking Selective Release

Selective release in a learning management system (LMS) is an option to pre-schedule or conditionally release content for student consumption. The content may be a quiz or survey, an assignment or a folder of content. The selective release criteria may be related to a date/time, such as the release of a quiz on a Friday at noon, or may be related to instructional scaffolding, such as the release of a quiz after a homework assignment has been submitted.

Recently, in an LMS user list-serv, someone inquired about selective release options for a quiz. The option is not available in the quiz itself, but is available in a module. I wondered why the LMS developers designed it this way. Was it an oversight in that they did not see a reason to add the function to individual pieces of content, or was it intentional, in that they wanted to force course builders to re-think their content delivery methods? Regardless of why it's not there in every piece of content, the fact that it is in the module function is interesting and is worth consideration.

We know that a computer does not teach, although much can be learned by using a computer. We know that course content standing alone may be useful, but is much more effective when presented in a way that facilitates learning. Selective release may be considered a tool to deliver course content in a way that facilitates learning. For example: a document, an assignment, a discussion forum and a quiz delivered on a course website. Some students may skip the reading and the discussion, complete the quiz and turn in the homework while others may begin the reading, find difficulty with the material and never complete anything else. With selective release, the course material can be organized in a way  that guides students through the material and directs their experience in a predetermined way. The reading and discussion board could be released simultaneously; the assignment could be released after the student has participated in a discussion and the quiz could be released after the homework has been submitted and/or graded.

Selective release can be set, in most cases, for specific dates/times. However, with recognition for different learning styles it may be a better approach to release upon completion of a prior task. This way, students can move through content at their own pace. Also, the instructor can monitor student progress through LMS reporting tools to track groups and individuals progress. For students who need additional help, the instructor may wish to redirect individually, or present guidance to the group as a whole. S/he may wish to enlist the aid of more advanced students to go back and help the struggling students complete their modules. Again considering learning styles, s/he may wish to develop advanced modules for students who quickly complete tasks, providing opportunities for higher order thinking.

Because the LMS has designed their product so that selective release is only available in the module tool, the migration period from the old LMS to the new LMS is a good opportunity to revisit course content organization and delivery methods.

Questions:
  • In what ways do use selective release in your teaching? Or, for technologists and designers, do you advocate for use of selective release? If so, why and how?
  • If it could be determined that selective release does improve learning, do you think there would be a different approach for its use in traditional courses vs hybrid vs fully online courses?

Editorial assistance by Bonnie Greer, awesome proof-reader. Thank you!