For, what seems the longest time, CQU has been talking about the need to evaluate and choose yet another LMS. We’ve sort of done this two times before, and from my perspective, both adoption decisions have been fatally flawed. Some discussion about those processes can be found, to a lesser or greater extent, in a variety of publications by CQU authors including: Danaher, Luck and McConachie (2005), Sturgess and Nouwens (2005), and Jones, Luck, McConachie and Danaher (2005)

I don’t think these flaws are unique to CQU. I’ve seen little evidence of other Universities having adoption procesess that are significantly better. They all seem, to a less or greater extent, seem to suffer from the same fatal flaws. The following is my attempt to identify and talk about what some of those flaws are and, because I’m an academic who has to publish, provide a “neat” framework to encapsulate them.

My working title is the “The missing/forgotten Ps of LMS adoption”

The aim is to give the people embarking on this sort of journey a bit of a pause for thought. To stop them from following all the other lemmings off the cliff. Or, at the very least, be a little more nuanced and informed about the implications of their decision.

To start the ball rolling I’m going to try and identify the Ps I want to talk about. The following is my working list. Hopefully, I will expand these out in separate posts.

The missing Ps include

  • Product
    The almost entire aim of LMS adoption processes is to choose a product. Typically they become simply nothing more than feature comparisons. So what’s missing?

    • A broader understanding of the limitations and future of the LMS product.
      The standard LMS product features are the result of very early experimentation followed by almost no innovation. They all follow the same model – now patented by Blackboard. A model that offers little or no support for learning.
    • Limited understanding of alternative models. e.g. You don’t need a single system that provides all services. You can have many software systems that are integrated. You don’t need to host all the software on University computers. You don’t need a system that is structured around courses, you can have one structured around learners. You can have multiple views of the system – course, learner, teacher, visitor – to represent competing requirements.
  • Process
    This also has many flaws

    • Over emphasis on plan-driven development at the cost of adaptive approaches
      This is the one I’ve banged on about in previous papers (e.g. an early one, and the most recent one). The on-going acceptance of agile development methodologies, the Enterprise 2.0 meme incorporating emergence and the idea of rapid incrementalism from the two Johns make pushing this view a bit easier.
    • Once implemented, a failure to recognise the need for process change
      Any information system encapsulates a certain way of doing things. A certain process that must be followed. If you purchase a system the current institutional approaches will have to change. Ever tried to get an academic to change how they teach?
  • Purpose and place
    If you accept the traditional IS development approach then the first step is to identify the purpose of the system you are trying to adopt. Many Universities don’t appear to do this. Then there is the problem of whether or not it is sensible to state that all academics that want to get involved in eLearning actually have the same purpose.

    Then there is the issue that there are competing sub-cultures involved in the use of an LMS and each will have a different purpose. e.g. Academic versus management versus technologist versus student.

    Place – you can’t generalise one approach to all organisations. Unversities are different, they have different purposes.

  • People
    LMS adoption decisions are made by people. LMSes are used by people. The nature of those people who they are, how they think and what they believe, amongst other characteristics, have a significant impact.

    • They myth that people are rational

      Extensive research shows that our brains have certain hardwired propensities that might be exploited. For example, our brains tend to register frequently heard facts as true, even if they are patently false. As a result, our memories and beliefs are highly malleable and unreliable. We also tend, if unchecked by the conscious reasoning mind, to focus overly on risk, inconvenience, hassles—anything negative. And researchers have found that we all carry around an innate hostility toward “otherness,” which means anyone not like us. (Herbert, 2006)

      An alternative is bounded rationality which suggests that people employ heuristics in decision making rather than strict optimization. This is in response to the complexity of the situation is to great and the individual is unable to process and understand all of the alternatives.

  • Perceptions
    • Perceptions drive adoption and use
      You purchase an information system in order for it to be used. The information systems research and literature identifies two factors as the most likely contributors to adoption of a system – perceived ease of use and perceived effectiveness.
    • Perceptions of IT
      Management of Universities, and most organisations, perceive IT to be a cost to be minimised rather than the value it provides.
  • Proof
    • Proof of assumptions driving selection of LMS e.g. LMS help learning, proprietary are cheaper, FLOSS is cheaper etc.
    • Proof that the claims made during previous adoption decisions have been achieved
  • Past Experience
    It’s important that lessons be learnt from past experience, both within the institution and at other institutions. Questions that arise include

    • What were the levels of use of various parts of the system? Why?
    • What problems did people face?
    • What is the literature saying about such systems and their implementation?