Anyone who knows me, knows that I have a particular disdain for the perspective that e-learning within a university can be treated as an IT project and in particular as the implementation of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP system). i.e. the LMS is an ERP and should be implemented as one. Some previous rants can be found on this blog, including:

Another flaw in current practice

Time for another argument against the view that LMS implemetation and consequently the support and development of e-learning within a university should not be treated as an IT project and certainly not as an IT project implementing an ERP. Actually, the following is probably not exactly an argument against that. It’s probably better characterised as an illustration of just how disconnected institutional strategies around LMSes and elearning are from research about the implementation of ERP systems.

The LMS implementation will improve L&T and solve all ills

The implementation of new enterprise level software is really hard and expensive. In order to justify this organisations have to make all sorts of claims. Some examples I’ve seen include:

  • Adoption of {insert LMS name} will aid the institution in becoming a recognised leader in flexible learning.
  • This is an opportunity to improve e-learning experiences for both staff and students by planning for course redesigns upfront.
  • The transition can be utilised to establish quality check and reviews process and focus on producing quality online course delivery.

ERP implementation results in performance degradation

I’ve always thought that these sorts of views are just plain silly and ignore the reality of what people have to go through when a new system, especially when around something as variable and important as teaching, is introduced. Apart from personal experience, I’m also aware that this is one of the common findings from the ERP literature. In my thesis wanderings, I’ve come across a quote to illustrate this from Katz (2003)

In late 2002, the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research (ECAR) conducted research on enterprise systems in higher education, focusing on the big three administrative systems: student, financial and human resources. Among the many findings of the study is the observation that implementers of these systems initially experience a loss of functionality and a degradation of performance as employees grapple to come to terms with the new technologies and processes that these systems force.

Further down

In the context of course management systems, recent ECAR research suggests a similar socialization curve. The implementation of new software is often accompanied by a short-term loss in productivity as new tools, methods and processes are assimilated. Teaching and learning are inherently and historically social activities and, as such, are even more subject to dislocations associated with new techniques and technologies.

Katz goes onto report that ECAR findings that once the users and the organisation become familar with the new ERP system that productivity gains are reported. However, does this mean that the adoption of a new LMS will provide gains in terms of productivity or improvement in the learning and teaching experience?

You have to remember that the ECAR report focused on “greenfield” implementation of ERP systems. i.e. the institution had non-ERP systems and then implemented their first ERP system and consequently found productivity gains. By 2009, most universities have already implemented e-learning ERPs (i.e. an LMS). They are replacing one LMS with another.

I don’t believe the replacement of one LMS with another LMS will provide any significant increase in productivity. It is widely accepted that all LMS are essentially the same (and yes, I don’t think Moodle is all that different from Blackboard).

If the new ERP is essentially the same as the old ERP, then there will be no gains. Unless of course there were problems with how the old ERP was used or supported. And I don’t think implementing a new ERP is going to solve those problems.