The LMSification of the Education Narrative

If you attended the Sloan-C Emerging Technologies Conference this week, you might have noticed an interesting debate emerge over the course of the first day. It all started during Jim Groom’s keynote speech on the Domain of Own’s Own project. The Twitter back channel started echoing the idea that “we could do all of this in a Learning Management System (LMS™) – why do we need this?” As I argued against forcing a constructivist idea into a behaviorist tool (go look at the research on the ontology behind the LMS™) – some one actually asked Jim that same question. You could see a good deal of annoyance in Jim’s face during his response, which basically boiled down to: why does everything have to revolve around the LMS™?

Additionally, just looking at the schedule of sessions, the LMS™ is every where: alternative LMS™s, new directions in the LMS™, join our new LMS™ boy band. Questions about the LMS™ came up in every session I attended and hundreds of times on Twitter. The entire education narrative has been LMSified. Every tool, idea, design, theory, etc now has to be filtered through the lens of the LMS™. Even when that idea does not require an LMS™ at all!

I try very hard to not totally vilify the LMS™. I realize that there is a very substantial need for many of the features that it offers. But I think that the LMS™ lovers out there don’t realize that those of us that push back against the LMS™ are just trying to bring balance to the Force. Maybe we go over board at times, but have you ever thought about how overboard it is in the other direction to do Domain of One’s Own in an LMS™?

But here is my biggest problem: we have turned the Learning Management System™ as we know it today into an imposter. Many, many, many people have pointed out that a computer program can not manage learning. There is a genuine learning management system in the education narrative that is quite often misused or even completely ignored. One that exists in every single learning occurrence ever.

Learners ARE their own learning management system

The individual learner IS the only system qualified to managed their own learning. The more that we force then to rely on the LMS™ to manage their learning beyond what the LMS™ does do well (store feedback privately, etc), the more we destroy their ability to manage their own learning. There is always a need for scaffolding and support from a system in some ways, but the LMS™ goes waaaaay beyond that into areas that become an unhealthy crutch.

We are outsourcing our student’s ability to manage their own learning to an imposter, and then scratching our heads when it doesn’t work.

Five years ago, Harriet Watkins and I presented at the Sloan-C conference in San Francisco about how it is time to dethrone the LMS™ (even though we snuck it in as a presentation on some emerging tech buzzwords). We don’t need to kill the LMS™, just dethrone it.

In one of my classes, we refer to the LMS™ as one of many “Technology-Based Learning Environments.” I think I like that terminology better. Systems are all encompassing to some people (no wonder the LMS™ rules the narrative). When you have a system, everything has to fit into. But an environment? We talk about the environment that we study in, how certain personalities change the environment, how we can create an inviting environment in the class room, etc. Environments can changed based on needs, context, desires, goals, etc. System just assimilate.

So, yes, maybe some of us are pushing back very aggressively against the LMS™. Our goal is not to kill, but to open up the conversation to other options. We want a paradigm that sees the LMS™ as one of many technology-based learning environments.

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.

6 thoughts on “The LMSification of the Education Narrative

  1. Interesting post, agreed that the LMS is being pushed too hard but support issues will most likely remain an important argument against opening up further to personal environments.

  2. Matt Crosslin

    Support is a good issue, but I would say that it is more along the lines of cutting support budgets than the support itself. Momst support teams I work with already support multiple environments of different sorts. As one support person put it to me once “we tend to support the person and not the product”. They explained that supporting a person through Blackboard alone or Bb,WorPress, Moodle, Drupal, etc all ends up about the same – its the person that needs the help and even if they are just in Blackboard, they will end up having the same problem over and over again in different classes even if it is all in one system.

    But, I know that’s not always the rule. You can support anything as long as you have enough people for it. So really, even in a broader sense, this is still more of an administrative problem than a support issue. At UMV, their provost regularly writes about his support for their open model – so that kind of top-down openness makes a world of difference.

  3. If you don’t like the name LMS, then don’t call it that. Of the various common abbreviations, my favourite is VLE, Virtual Learning Environment, but really don’t give it a jargon name at all. At the Open University we just talk about course web sites. As it happens those web sites are built in Moodle, becuase Moodle offers a lot of tools for building educational web sites, but that is not the point.

    As you say, the point is what happens inside the student’s head. The course web site just helps provide the guidance they need: Links to other web sites, some content, and some activities which they can engage in.

    While learners should manage their own learning, that is not an innate skill we all have. It is something that needs to be taught and learned alongside the main subject of the course. Hence we need scaffolding to help the students, withe more at the start of their degree, and less later.

  4. Matt Crosslin

    I tend to learn more towards social constructivism than relativism, so if society calls it the LMS, so will I :) But seriously, its hard to get away from the term and still have a conversation where everyone knows what you mean. I tend to like technology-based learning environment. “Virtual” as a word throws some people off… “the learning is real, not virtual!” and all of that area of misunderstanding.

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