I’d like to argue – and yes it is perhaps a case of wishful thinking – that there are reasons to suspect that learning management systems (LMSs) will probably go away. Or at the very least, identify some forces that are pushing that way.
The post is mostly in response to Tony Bates post “Why learning management systems are not going away”, but it is also inspired by this post from “Music of Deskchairs”.
To some extent, as I’ll suggest below, this could become an argument about the definition of what an LMS is and just how long it, whatever it is, is going to stay.
But first, a word from Chris Dede (a Harvard Prof of education no less) to lay the foundation for an aspect of my argument. In this 1m39s mp3 Dede argues that the assumptions about learning that underpin “our best learning environments” are severely flawed.
Why the LMS may go
Bates’ lists four reasons he thinks the LMS is here to stay:
- Instructors and students need a structure for teaching in terms of topics, sequences etc, the LMS provides that structure.
Yes, based on my experience a vast majority do. But there’s debate to be had around whether the LMS is the tool for this structure to be provided. Whether the limitations of the structure provided by the LMS will be too constraining as more interesting and useful tools develop.
The broader question is what will happen as different pedagogical models – e.g. MOOCs, open teaching and other more social models currently being explored by a range of folk – become more prevalent. The diversity of learning is going to push against the constraints of the LMS as we currently know it.
- Instructors and students need a private place to work online.
I don’t deny the pressure on academics and students to modify their statements when in the open. No matter how much I deplore the need. However, the LMS is not the only private place on the Internet. Any number of spaces can be private. But the assumption that these places are truly private is just a bit mistaken. The ease and lossless nature of copying in an online world means that what is private can become public very quickly.
Frankly I don’t say anything in an online medium – public or private – that I won’t stand by because I’m aware that there’s always a chance what was private could become public.
- The choice is not either an LMS or web 2.0 tools
I agree with this one. I’ve been working on BAM/BIM since 2006 as an example of this trend. We also did some work around a “Web 2.0 course site” in 2007, see the image below. Based on this experience, however, I do believe that when an “LMS” really starts to work effectively with Web 2.0 tools, then the very nature of the system and how it is supported also needs to change. In particular, it moves away from the “you can only use what’s in the integrated system (LMS)” approach currently popular. This will be a challenge, just a few weeks ago I was told “not to use any non-ICT approved cloud services”.
Rather than be the central provider of all online services as it is know. The LMS will have to become the “glue” that binds web 2.0 tools and institutional requirements together. To work really well the task of choosing and integrating Web 2.0 tools has to start moving into the hands of the users, not the developers. This starts becoming a very different type of beast. See the argument below.
- Institutions are increasingly reliant on the LMS, especially for accountability.
The argument here is that administration is increasingly reliant on the LMS as the place to check on student performance, for appeals and accountability. Bates does not suggest this is a good thing, but states it is the reality.
Of all the arguments this is probably the strongest one in terms of creating inertia around the LMS. In reality, it is management that makes decisions about LMS selection. They may engage in democratic and open decision making, but in the end, if they want something…This perspective does ignore a couple of points, which I’ll pick up below.
One point I will make now is that this perspective seems to miss the post-LMS ideas of the loosely coupled gradebook that are tightly connected to the last point. With the rise of big data there are just as good, if not better, methods for accountability/analytics available for use with Web 2.0 tools as with the LMS.
VLEs and not LMS?
Which raises the whole question of what an LMS is. From an information systems perspective, the historically dominant product model of an LMS has been the monolithic, integrated product model. Everything you ever need for X is in the integrated product that is sourced from a single vendor. You don’t need anything else and in fact integrating it with anything else is really difficult.
But there is another product model – best of breed. Light, Holland and Wills (2001) perform a comparative analysis of the monolithic versus best of breed approaches. That’s where the following table comes from. If an LMS is going to effectively integrate the rapidly growing number of high quality external applications (including Web 2. 0 tools) then it is going to have to move heavily towards a best of breed model, not an ERP/integrated model.
But it doesn’t stop there. How an organisation supports and uses a best of breed model is radically different from an ERP/integrated model. For example, with a best of breed approach there is a lot more time and effort placed on being sympathetic to the context, rather than making the context suit the tool. The organisational units supporting a best of breed system require radically different skill sets.
we should be thinking more broadly than just the LMS. Instead we should be thinking about virtual learning environments
If we’re to think about more broadly about the VLE, rather than the LMS, then I would argue we’re having to think more about the best of breed approach than the ERP/integrated approach.
|Best of breed||Single vendor ERP|
|Organisation requirements and accommodations determine functionality||The vendor of the ERP system determines functionality|
|A context sympathetic approach to BPR is taken||A clean slate approach to BPR is taken|
|Good flexibility in process re-design due to a variety in component availability||Limited flexibility in process re-design, as only one business process map is available as a starting point|
|Reliance on numerous vendors distributes risk as provision is made to accommodate change||Reliance on one vendor may increase risk|
|The IT department may require multiple skills sets due to the presence of applications, and possibly platforms, from different sources||A single skills set is required by the IT department as applications and platforms are common|
|Detrimental impact of IT on competitiveness can be dealt with, as individualism is possible through the use of unique combinations of packages and custom components||Single vendor approaches are common and result in common business process maps throughout industries. Distinctive capabilities may be impacted on|
|The need for flexibility and competitiveness is acknowledged at the beginning of the implementation. Best in class applications aim to ensure quality||Flexibility and competitiveness may be constrained due to the absence or tardiness of upgrades and the quality of these when they arrive|
|Integration of applications is time consuming and needs to be managed when changes are made to components||Integration of applications is pre-coded into the system and is maintained via upgrades|
The Blackboard ERP/BoB approach
Reflecting on the Blackboard purchase of some open source service providers, Music for Deckchairs points to this video from Blackboard which starts by asking “Where does the educational experience need to go?” And closes with the very “best of breed”-like quote “And it should build on everyone’s best”.
At the same time it’s showing how the broad range of Blackboard’s tools and systems can invade the entire educational experience, at least in terms of a formal university experience. When I watch this video I am very much reminded of the Kaplan University video showing the brave new world of education and the “TPACK” mashup video pointing out how this wonderfully exciting view of the future is mired in the practices and assumptions of the past.
Diversity, complexity and disruption
Which brings me back to the Dede quote from above. Too much of the past decision-making around education within universities is based on the assumption of sameness and ignorance of the diversity and complexity of learning and the context surrounding learning.
Sadly, I don’t see much evidence of organisations that are grasping the increasing importance of this fact. So I’m guessing to some extent Bates is right, the LMS is probably here to stay.
But I also think that a range of factors are providing those interested in this diversity and complexity with the capabilities to route around the on-going sameness underpinning universities. So the LMS may well go away, eventually.
Light, B., Holland, C. P., & Wills, K. (2001). ERP and best of breed: a comparative analysis. Business Process Management Journal, 7(3), 216-224.