Custom Courseware

Why I don't use Canvas, never used Blackboard, and what I aim to accomplish with my custom courseware tools


Morgan C. Benton

September 2018

...initial attempts to bring information technology to ... education follow a classic story of automating rather than transforming. IT is primarily used to automate the information delivery function in classrooms. In the absence of fundamental changes to the teaching and learning process, such classrooms may do little but speed up ineffective processes and methods of teaching.

Leidner, D. E., & Jarvenpaa, S. L. (1995). The Use of Information Technology to Enhance Management School

                     Education: A Theoretical View. MIS Quarterly, 19(3), p265-291.

Automation vs. Transformation


  • Attempts to be all things to all people
  • More worried about market share than improving learning
  • Supports status quo practices


  • Adopts an explicit theoretical perspective
  • Eschews functionality that isn't supported by the theory
  • Forces instructors to adapt to the software rather than the opposite

Learning Management Systems Fail to be Opinionated

My Theoretical Underpinnings

  • Sociocultural Definition of Learning
  • Social Constructivism (vs Transmission)
  • Mastery Learning (vs Performance)
  • Intrinsic Motivation (vs Extrinsic)
    • Self-Determination Theory
    • Expectancy-Value-Cost Theory

Definition of Learning:

From a sociocultural perspective, learning is perceived through changing relationships among the learner, the other human participants, and the tools (material and symbolic) available in a given context. Thus learning involves not only acquiring new knowledge and skill, but taking on a new identity and social position within a particular discourse or community of practice. As Wenger (1998) puts it, learning “changes who we are... by changing our ability to participate, to belong... [and] to experience our life and the world as meaningful.”

Moss, P. A. (2003). Reconceptualizing validity for classroom assessment. Educational

                Measurement: Issues and Practice, 22(4), 13-25.

Social Constructivism

  • Rooted in philosophies and theories of Popper, Vygotsky, Piaget, Wenger, Bruner, Bandura, and Moss
  • As opposed to having knowledge and skill transmitted to them (i.e. transmission theory), people re-create all knowledge and skill as they learn it
  • This is a fundamentally social process, i.e. knowledge and skill is virtually meaningless when divorced from a community of practice in which a person is known to be able to employ those skills
  • Therefore assessing the capabilities of individual students focuses on the wrong unit of analysis

c.f. Palincsar, A. S. (1998). Social constructivist perspectives on teaching and learning. Annual review of psychology,

           49(1), 345-375.



  • Desire mastery
  • Are capable of mastery
  • Learn at different paces
  • Have different misconceptions
  • Benefit most from tailored feedback


  • Flexible or non-existent due dates
  • Infinite do-overs
  • High-quality, real-time, personalized feedback
  • No partial credit
  • Coverage has a lower priority

Mastery Learning

Bloom, B. S. (1984). The 2 sigma problem: The search for methods of group instruction as effective as one-to-one

              tutoring. Educational Researcher, 13(6), 4-16.

Intrinsic Motivation

  • People learn better (deeper, longer-lasting) when they are intrinsically motivated
  • Extrinsic motivators (e.g. grades, points, and other rewards/punishments) undermine intrinsic motivation
  • When receiving less than the maximum reward there is a HUGE negative impact on intrinsic motivation
    (Cohen's composite d = -0.88, p < 0.05)
  • Even with maximum reward d = -0.15 (p < 0.05)
  • Therefore, focus on practices/techniques that have the highest likelihood of increasing intrinsic motivation: self-determination, expectancy theories

Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, R. M. (2001). Extrinsic rewards and intrinsic motivation in education: Reconsidered

            once again. Review of Educational Research, 71(1), 1-27.

Self-Determination Theory


  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness
  • Competence/Purpose



These components map really well to much if not most of the literature describing how millennials behave and think!

Expectancy-Value-Cost Theory​
M = E * V - C

  • Expectancy = subjective belief that "I can do this!"
  • Value = personal sense of "this is important!"
  • Cost = time/energy/money/effort required


Students will develop intrinsic motivation if they believe they are capable, find the content worthwhile, and don't have to give up "too much" to get it.

Kosovich, J. J., Hulleman, C. S., Barron, K. E., & Getty, S. (2015). A practical measure of student motivation:

            Establishing validity evidence for the expectancy-value-cost scale in middle school. The Journal of Early

            Adolescence, 35(5-6), 790-816.


  • Finger on the pulse
  • Automate the routine
  • Emphasize connection
  • Put 1-way communication online
  • Provide for choice and customization
  • Speed up feedback


  • Just me! (mostly)
  • Built incrementally during breaks
  • Many features failed or were only moderately successful
  • This is an ongoing iterative process...

About My Software

Custom Courseware

By Morgan Benton

Custom Courseware

These slides describe why I don't use commercial learning management systems, and the goals of the custom tools that I build myself.

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