The Death of the Learning Management System? (part 4)

As I’ve been reading more and more about the EduPunk movement and the related call for the “death” of the CMS/LMS/VLE/etc, I’ve noticed some interesting developments. Some people refer to the LMS as a “prison” that forces teachers to contain all learning in one small corner of the Internet. This is labeled as “inhumane” and “counter-productive” (because of the separation from the rest of the world).

Now the logical counter-argument to that is “what about the traditional grade school classroom?” Are they inhumane and counter-productive because they meet in a school building? Would it be more productive to have 4th graders meeting for class at the local park? Maybe high school English classes should meet at the local mall so that they can have more humane instruction? Well, of course not – the point being that having education happen behind closed doors is not always a bad thing. So why is it such a big deal to some when it happens in online learning?

“Well, some people do that for the entire class online and never take advantage of the resources on the web!” you might reply. True enough – but we have a term for those types of people in the instructional design world: bad course developers! Bad! Bad!

I think that is where I differ from parts of the EduPunk movement and those that hate LMS programs. I am not ever going to base my opinions or arguments on bad instructional design. I scratch my head in confusion at the notion of “LMS-as-prison.” Every time I design a class, I include massive numbers of links to outside sites. I sit with instructors to see how we can get students out on to the web, participating in the global conversation on their subject (even creating some of the conversation and content themselves). And I do this quite easily with older versions of BlackBoard, WebCT, and Moodle.

Most arguments against the LMS, and even studies about their effectiveness, are basically flawed because of this. They look at how classes are used in an LMS, and then based on what they see happening in that class they usually deem the LMS as useless. When I look at the classes they study, I usually just see bad examples of Instructional Design more that a tool that is lacking anything.

Also, I think the use of terms like “Learning Management System” and “Virtual Learning Environment” are misleading. The correct term should be “Course Management System.” These programs should really only be used for administrative purposes – class roles, grades, content repository (all classes need some content – even though it should be kept to a minimum), etc. Also, tools need to be provided for student safety when sensitive topics are discussed. Some topics should be discussed in a closed corner rather than out on the world wide web in some cases.

To say a program manages learning or is a learning environment will give the impression that it is a closed place where learning is imprisoned. It doesn’t have to be that way. Use the LMS program as an adminstrative hub for your class – and then insert a link to something else and get the students out there learning.

Of course, none of this is to say that LMS programs can’t add social tools to their programming. It’s all tools – so the factor that matters is what the instructor does with them… not the tool itself.

I guess that is my big point: stop focusing on tools so much! They are only tools – use them how ever you want!

This is also not to say that I love everything about CMS progrmas. When you really look at it…. there is really no reason why the CMS should cost as much as it does in some cases. And don’t get me started on lawsuits.

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.

2 thoughts on “The Death of the Learning Management System? (part 4)

  1. Matt, you can hardly have a movement, and I’m sure you can’t have a meme, without being outrageous. PowerPointImprovers.com is a domain name you can probably get cheaply.

    I like your argument for course management system, since an LMS is only incidentally about learning. Not to dismiss the presentation, tracking, record-keeping, scheduling — some people want that, which is why they buy the systems in the first place.

    Wouldn’t it be great to have some kind of portfolio site — a show-and-tell arranged not by software vendors but by people demonstrating what they’ve been able to do with particular tools?

    (Speaking of tools, any notion of tweaking your comment form so people can include a URL? You know, like http://daveswhiteboard.com)

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