The Death of the Learning Management System? (part 1)

First of all, I want to preface this with a reality check: I am only talking about ideal situations here. I realize that many educators are hampered from realizing the ideal due to budgetary constraints. I am a huge supporter of doing the best with what you can get. I love creative solutions. But I also love discussing what the best ideal is. This discussion will be in that realm.

I have been noticing a slight under-current theme at a few conferences and on a few blogs recently: people calling for the death of the learning management system (or the course management system or the virtual learning environment, depending on your favorite term for this tool). What is usually meant by this is dumping a centralized program – such as Moodle, Desire2Lean, Blackboard/ WebCt, etc – and using some free online tool such as a blog to administer your online course. The “free” part of this is gaining the approval of many educators on limited budgets, but the idea is also gaining traction with people that do have the budget for an LMS.

I love free tools online. I have to resist blogging daily about the free, great tools available at Zoho.com. But I personally feel that, instead of calling for the death of the LMS, we (the EdTech community) should be calling for specific changes to the LMS that fits our needs.

I get the attraction of sites like Facebook, Blogger, WordPress, pbWiki, etc in online learning. They are all social constructionist sites, and social constructionism is proving to be very effective in online learning. Even LMS providers like Moodle that are based on social constructionist pedagogy are slow to adopt social networking in to their program system (even though I suspect future releases of Moodle will change that).

But we need to consider that there are serious pitfalls to killing the LMS.

First, lets look at the issue that has caused the largest headache for people that have already killed their LMS: they are storing their content on someone else’s site, without the safety of a contract in their favor. If those sites go bankrupt, their course could disappear overnight without warning. Even though this is unlikely to happen, it has. Or, if the company decides to change their business model – they could start charging for usage per user, and now you and your students have to fork over money mid-semester just to get what was already yours. Once again: unlikely, but has happened.

Not to mention that some sites reserve the copyright for all content loaded on to their site. Yep – it’s not yours. It’s theirs. And that can lead to a whole host of legal problems – especially if you are storing any thing resembling a student record (like grades or feedback on why a student was given a certain grade) on a server that is not owned by your school or university. Yep – even a blog comment that communicates why you graded a student the way you did on a blog assignment could violate federal laws.

You also need to consider the fact that the decentralized nature of a course built after the death of an LMS can complicate the educational process. There is just more overhead in organizing the different pieces of the class at the beginning. Time is spent learning how to get to the pieces of the class instead of actually learning the content itself.

One of the arguments of using a blog for course content delivery is that students need to learn to engage the world instead of hiding in class. They need to get their course content out of the LMS and in to the world. They might also keep the blog going after the course is over – which is a good thing. I agree with all of this. But what if every course were like this? Students would have 50 blogs, wikis, or other sites to keep track of before they graduate. They would possibly even get burned out on it and just stop engaging the world at large online altogether. Clearly not a feasible system.

Course designers need to really think why they need students to do something – don’t just have students create another blog for your class because you want to look cool as an instructor. Is there a sound pedagogical reason within your discipline for having students publish to the world? If not, maybe look for other alternatives.

Many of the concepts behind the death of the LMS I do agree with. I just think we need to go about them in a different manner. Part 2 will look at how I think we should be taking a different approach to this issue.

Matt Crosslin
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

7 thoughts on “The Death of the Learning Management System? (part 1)

  1. Yes, the blogs and WordPress are free, but they simply are not the correct tool for presenting course materials. There is no timing, no testing, no transcripts, and no accountability for the student.

    MyiCourse.com has actually been described as a cross between eBay and Blogger. It is free like Blogger and allows an instructor to monitize their information like eBay. The site allows you to create a sub-domain site for your courses. There is no limit on the number or length of courses. No limits on students and no contracts. And yes, it times, tests, transcribes and provides accountability. This site was just mentioned on the EdTechTalk podcast and you can Google MyIcourse for other comments.

  2. Matt Crosslin

    MyiCourse looks like they have some good ideas, but I disagree with their use of accountability. Setting time limits and keystroke minimums really means nothing, and would penalize learners, like me, that tend to move faster through material that we are interested in. I have been on these types of accountability systems, and they are just as easy to cheat as any other ones. People learn at different speeds. Being one of those that can soak up information faster than average, I really worry about methods like this.

    In my opinion, it’s all based on a flawed educational model that values time spent staring at materials, rote memorization, and correct answers on a standardized test over actual real world application of knowledge.

  3. Matt has a good point about the accountability as some people do learn at a faster speed. However, he is incorrect that MyiCourse forces the time parameters on those who use the system. The use of course times and testing are all optional. Each site owner can choose to use or avoid these features as they see fit.

  4. Matt Crosslin

    Just to point out, I did not say that it forces anything. One of their selling points is that they offer ‘accountability,’ and the time parameters are one of the tools they say is accountability. My point was that this type of accountability is a flawed system, one that it is, of course, used many places in online education. I don’t think we are moving forward in online education when we use a flawed system as a selling point.

    Of course, I realize that this is a feature driven by market demand more than anything else, because I run in to people all over the place that want this kind of stuff in their classes.

  5. An interesting article Matt.I agree that the death of the LMS/VLE is exaggerated as you say. Universities are becoming increasingly hierarchical and bureaucratic and starting to look a lot more like corporations. This is not all negative – in theory the extra support staff and bean counters should ultimately improve the educational environment for all and make it more accountable and efficient. But the price is the increasing centralization of control. The increased obsession with tracking student completion and performance. The increased worry over liability and anxiety of colleges to exert control over any intellectual property generated by students or teachers.Also I think the critical mass of users required for web 2.0 poster boys such as del.ico.us, google page rank, flickr etc. will never exist even in a very large class. The real web 2.0 success stories rely on mass participation to create things that individuals couldn’t. I don’t think these crowds could really manifest in the classroom.

  6. Matt Crosslin

    Great thoughts there. What can you cay about the obsession and worry? We all wish it would go away, but probably won’t.

    I think what you say in your second paragraph there kind of highlights what can go wrong in instructional design when you get too carried away with the ‘coolness factor’ of a tool and don’t think in depth how to use it on a smaller scale in class. For example, setting up a blog for a class that would base success on people outside of class coming in and participating on your blog. I’ve talked to teachers about blogs as tools, and they see these successful blogs with in-depth extensive commenting happening every week, and wonder why that didn’t happen in their class blogs. ‘No one visits after class is over!’ Or, what about starting a class wiki that they want to be in-depth as wikipedia, and then lamenting over the fact that students don’t go that far. Bascially, they need to stop trying to be the next ‘web 2.0 success stories’ and start trying to just use a tool or website in a more appropriate context.

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