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.