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.