The Death of the Learning Management System? (part 2)

This is the second post in a series examining this topic. See the first post for background and a brief disclaimer that sets the stage for this discussion.

As I mentioned in a previous post, there are several concepts in the “Death to the LMS” campaign that I agree with. Here is a list of some the ideas that I think all online instructors should use when designing an online course:

  • To truly learn, students need to get out of their LMS shells. They need to engage the world around them – publishing content for people other than classmates to read, and participating in the global discussion that surrounds the topics covered in class.
  • Students need to think critically and blog their experiences for others to read.
  • Students need to work collaboratively with other students in their class.
  • Students need to socialize with other students that aren’t in the same classes they are in.
  • Students need to continue learning on a particular subject beyond the last class date.

These ideas I agree with – mainly because they are all forms of active learning. But I don’t feel that these are necessarily reasons that we should kill the LMS. I feel that that these are reasons that we should push LMS companies to add some features and functionality to their programs, rather than dumping the LMS and using websites that offer these tools.

The main reason I fell this way is future scale. Dumping the LMS and doing stuff from the list above in a set of free Web 2.0 sites is great for one class. Your students will probably learn a lot and love the class. But what happens when more classes at your school or university begin adopting this? At some point, it will become too scattered and unmanageable for your students… and for your school. Social interactions will suffer. The web landscape will be littered with the shells of dead blogs and wikis, abandoned because students had too many to keep up with.

I think a better approach that can sustain a manageable future scale for active learning is to push LMS companies to add functionality to their programs that will allow educators to move students outside of the LMS when needed. Some of the things we could push companies to do:

  • Add a multilevel blog system. One that gives each user a blog, as well as course blogs, teacher blogs, group blogs, etc. Give users the ability to publish one entry to multiple sources. Give each blog the ability to be seen by the outside world with a short, simple url (but keep the ability to hide it behind the LMS password system for users that are still learning or need to limit access for whatever reason. And, yes, there are good reasons for that.)
  • Add a social network to your program. They are not that complex. Just look at the popular ones (MySpace, Facebook) for ideas. Even go so far as to give your networks the ability to interface across colleges, or even with existing social networking sites.
  • Create extension tools for classes that allow certain activities to continue beyond the course cut-off date.

However, once you get all of these tools in to an LMS, you could still run into problems. As long as courses are trying to interface with the global idea-exchange marketplace, while still operating as a lone ranger class – separate and not connected to other courses at their own school or university – you are going to end up with a different set of problems. Instructors will actually need to get together with other instructors at their school or in their program and map out what students will learn, as well as what tools and techniques they will use in those classes. Think about it: what if five classes in the same Spanish program all went to five random discussion boards over five different semesters to participate in the global discussion on Spanish culture? There would be a ton or repetition and scattered-ness. But what if all the Spanish instructors got together and picked two or three discussion boards that all students would participate on across all five classes? I hate to use a cliché word – but that would be synergy.

Next time I will look at specific suggestions that classes and programs can use to actually accomplish this kind of synergy and active learning, even if their LMS does not support it.

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.

5 thoughts on “The Death of the Learning Management System? (part 2)

  1. Erin Jennings

    Hi Matt,

    I agree with you completely — being stuck in an LMS shell without any contact with the outside world, and with no ability to keep up with topics or classmates once the course ends, really inhibits learning and socialization (not to mention motivation).

    I attended a Blackboard beta testing meeting yesterday, and some of the attendees brought up Blackboard’s Scholar social bookmarking application. Although it does not have all of the functionality that you discussed in your post, I think it is a step in the right direction. If enough schools and educators embrace it, perhaps BB will be encouraged to integrate more social learning applications into their LMS… and their competitors will, as well.

  2. Matt Crosslin

    Blackboard? Are you going to the Darkside? :) I’m not convinced that Blackboard will do that great of a job with that, but it is a step in the right direction. I have been hearing rumors of things going on with Moodle on this front that may be interesting, but I’ve learned never to count on anything in the open-source world until it is actually released. There have been projects that have integrated LMS programs with social networking tools – like DrupalEd (Moodle + Drupal). All of these are good signs – I just hope we see them come to fruition.

  3. Blackboard will do a godawful job of this — but I’m glad they try, because they make the rest of us look amazingly good in comparison.Bless their little hearts.The user-centric functionality you describe —

    One that gives each user a blog, as well as course blogs, teacher blogs, group blogs, etc. Give users the ability to publish one entry to multiple sources. Give each blog the ability to be seen by the outside world with a short, simple url (but keep the ability to hide it behind the LMS password system for users that are still learning or need to limit access for whatever reason.

    — will probably not be coming anytime soon from the major LMS players because these are *user* concerns, and not *institutional* concerns. BB/LMS systems are more concerned about selling to the the institution, not the user.

  4. Matt Crosslin

    Ha! funny. I hope you are using ‘Bless their little hearts’ in the true southern use of the word* :)

    Can’t expand on the truth of that any. But I do wonder – does anyone know of any smaller LMS players that might have something like this? I have been busy with other stuff recently and haven’t had any chance to look around.

    * the ‘southern way’ basically means ‘you poor pitiful thing’ :)

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