Analyzing Faculty Motivation for Using the Learning Management System

Concurrent Session 1
Streamed Session

Brief Abstract

Once considered innovative and used by few, the learning management system (LMS) has become a critical tool standard at most institutions of higher education. In this session, we will share findings from a study on faculty use and motivation for adopting the LMS, with implications for promoting other technological innovations.


Stephanie Richter is the Director of Faculty Development and Instructional Support for the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois. She consults with and provides professional development for faculty on integrating technology into teaching and supports the online teaching and learning initiatives at NIU. She holds a Master of Science in Education in Instructional Technology and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics Education, and is currently pursuing a doctorate in Instructional Technology at Northern Illinois University. Research interests include online learning, online course design, social media and networking, faculty development, and faculty use of learning management systems.
Tracy Miller is the Assistant Director of the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center at Northern Illinois University. At NIU she is responsible for operations, quality assurance, and compliance process and reporting for the center.
Jason Rhode, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Instructional Technology and Executive Director of Extended Learning at Northern Illinois University (NIU). In his role he serves as chief online learning officer, oversees NIU's Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, and provides strategic leadership and long-range vision for development and delivery of academic credit-bearing online and off-campus courses and programs.

Extended Abstract


The learning management system (LMS) has become a critical tool for nearly all institutions of higher education, and a driving force in online learning. According to a 2015 report by the Educause Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR), 99% of higher education institutions have an LMS in place. The same report found that 85% of faculty and 83% of students use the LMS, and 74% of faculty say the LMS is a very useful tool for enhancing learning.

This was not always the case, however. There was a time in the not-so-distant past when using an LMS was considered highly innovative. Understanding the growth and adoption of the LMS is a stepping stone to understanding how faculty may choose to adopt other technological and pedagogical innovations.

This study was conducted at a large, research-intensive public university in the Midwest. The university first adopted a learning management system in 2001, and has used the same system for 15 years. Adoption began as a small pilot with a few highly motivated faculty and has grown to nearly universal use. In 2015-2016, the LMS was used by 92% of all instructional staff (including faculty, instructors, and teaching assistants), and 96% of all students. This is clearly substantial growth, but LMS adoption at this institution has been entirely voluntary for faculty. There is no central university expectation or requirement that faculty use the LMS. This makes the university an intriguing site for research into faculty motivation and acceptance of technological innovation.


This study was conducted in two phases. For phase one, the research question was "What are the most used tools in the learning management system, and how has this changed over time?". With this question, the goal was to understand what LMS adoption looked like within the institution, and how it had changed. This has broad implications for assessing the depth of adoption, evaluating the ongoing health of the LMS, and coordinating appropriate levels of support for faculty and students.

The second phase focused on faculty motivation for use of the LMS. The primary research question was "What motivating factors impact faculty members' decisions to adopt, continue to use, or abandon the use of a learning management system?".


For phase one, the system administrator gathered usage data from the LMS for each semester from spring 2011 through summer 2016 using SQL queries against the open database, which was possible because the university hosts the LMS locally. The queries generated data files in a comma separated value (csv) format that listed all courses in a given term that used the LMS and how many instances of specific tools were used or created within each course. For example, a given course may have used 5 groups, 48 content items, 14 folders, 26 announcements, 6 assignments, and posted 136 grades. The SQL queries will be published publicly for other institutions to use.

We reviewed the data extensively by validating a sample of courses, verifying that the values in the reports matched the courses in the system. We recorded the results of this in a data dictionary that will also be published in conjunction with the queries.

For phase two, we surveyed faculty, instructors, and teaching assistants at the institution to gather information on their motivations for using the learning management system. The survey included Likert-type items as well as open-ended questions, and was based on instruments used in prior studies about LMS adoption. The online survey was externally validated prior to use and distributed to all instructors of record at the institution via email.


The data on LMS usage has shown what the most commonly used tools are. For example, in the Fall 2015 semester, 83% of courses used the announcement tool, 77% had grades posted, 29% had assignments, and 22% had discussion boards with posts. In addition, by using data from several years, it is possible to identify trends in usage. From Fall 2011 to Fall 2015, overall usage of the LMS increased from 78% of faculty, instructors, and teaching assistants to 92%. The majority of individual tool usage increased as well over the same time period. One of the most interesting findings is that the percentage of courses using tools like discussion boards, assignments, and tests increased markedly every summer.

The results of the survey on faculty motivation for using the LMS are currently being analyzed, but will be available to share at the conference.


Because the learning management system is critical to online learning, and in light of recent discussions of innovations such as next generation learning systems, we must understand how and why it is used by faculty. This knowledge will help to guide development of new innovations that are more likely to solve real teaching and learning problems, and ultimately to be adopted and used by faculty. This study is only a beginning at combining objective analysis of usage with insight into faculty motivation for adopting, using, or abandoning the LMS.

Further analysis of existing usage data can provide insights into tools that are commonly used in the same course to develop best practices or models of LMS use. This analysis can also examine disciplines and subject fields for commonalities in tools, to provide more targeted support where it is most needed. Both the usage and motivation studies should be extended to other higher education institutions, particularly those with unique characteristics such as private, small, or institutions serving primarily under-served populations.

In this presentation, participants will learn about the findings and conclusions we have been able to draw from these first two phases of research, and provide suggestions and inquiries for future research and analysis.