Death of the Learning Management System? (part 5)

As I’ve been pondering the status of the Learning Management System in education, I’ve noticed something interesting. I seem to use the system differently than many people. Some refer to LMS programs as prisons that trap learning. Content is dumped in to a repository, and then all interaction with that content and other students is kept walled up in said repository forever and ever.

I know that happens, too frequently sometimes, but I always classified that as “bad instructional design” – even if I was the one that had to do that. (Just because I don’t like to do that doesn’t mean I can convince all professors not to. Most, yes. All – no).

I am coming to believe, however, that some LMS programs are starting to head off in the wrong direction, and also that our concept of the LMS needs to change. I used to be okay with the fact that many LMS providers were trying to incorporate new tools like blogs and podcasts in to their program. This week, I think I am turning the corner and deciding that is the wrong direction to go. Here is why.

Adding tools like that will head us in to the realm of the walled garden. We don’t want our classes to end up looking like this:

No matter how pretty it looks and how many windows we put in it, it is still a walled garden.

We need to start seeing the LMS as the control panel of a subway system. As trains go all over the place, the relay information back to the control panel so that the head conductor can know where they are going and what they are picking up on the way. In other words, use the tool to make the instructors job easier while also launching students out on to the web to learn:

(that’s a map of the Moscow metro system, in case you are wondering – I think it best illustrates the point, even thought its not in English)

Part of the problem is that we need to change our perception of the LMS program. I think they need to be called Course Management Platforms more than Systems myself. But we also need to change the direction of tool development for the existing programs.

Take blogging for example. Instead of adding blogs to an CMP program, why not create a function that draws RSS feeds in to the CMP and formats them for the instructor – maybe even connected to a rubric grader? Students can then choose any blog they want (and any security level they want), and then create a tag for their school assignments. Upload the RSS feed for that tag. There could even be a randomly generated “code” to insert in the blog, only displayed in the CMP, that lets instructors “prove” that students did their own work.

Or, instead of a place to upload Word Docs, why not create a place for students to submit a basic URL or embed code to display their project. Instructors then get a window that allows them to pull up student work in a window, scroll through everyone’s work, and then add a grade.

The technology for all of this exists and is pretty simple. In fact, I think I will start working on some plugins for Moodle :)

I think I am going to change the title of the series to “A New Vision for Learning Managment Systems.”

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

  1. Great post! As we are rolling out Moodle this year, this has been bothering me. After unwalled wikis and blogs of last year, i did not want to retreat. But I know I will have to use it someway. Unfortunately it is not ready for me to play with rss feeds to bring in assignments from students. You have given me much to think about and work towards. Thanks!

  2. Matt, I totally agree. The ultimate example of the closed box system is WebCT, at least in my limited experience. There’s something claustrophobic about being stuck in those boxes inside of boxes inside of boxes. Question is, do we really need any kind of LMS in light of everything else out there? The only reason to say yes, I think, is privacy concern, and creating protected channels for student-instructor interaction.

  3. One of the interesting things that Martin Dougiamas (the head Moodle guy just in case anyone doesn’t know) said when people were first demanding blogs was that he didn’t see the need for blogs in Moodle when there are so many other great blog products out there. I think that is also why you don’t see much push to improve the blogs they have in there – they seem to have been added in as more of a consumer demand thing than any other reason.

  4. Hey Chris – just be glad we didn’t make you use BlackBoard – it is more like multiple boxes inside of multiple boxes, hope you can guess which boxes to look in, opppsss! wrong one, go back to the start! I think the main reason we should want learning management systems is for the reasons you listed and really just to make the instructor’s job easier. With all of the push and embed technology out there – LMS programmers should be looking for ways to pull content in to the LMS to simplify the grading and interaction process. This can also help for students, as they can get a centrailized spot to stay connected with other student assignments. But they seem to be caught up in trying to add features to their tools to make them match the other tools that are out there – thus adding to the problem of keeping education behind the technology curve instead of in front of it.

  5. This is an excellent post. I personally agree with you Matt. That’s why one faculty member’s foray into blogging exclusively and then going to an outside entity for testing is exciting. He left the world of Blackboard forever. WebCT … same thing. Box within a box. So limiting and so…need I say it? B – O – R – I – N – G, unimaginative, banal.

    One thing I will say … people are creatures of habit for the most part and are very resistent to change. Which is why LMS’s like WebCT and Blackboard continue to thrive. It takes consistent out-of-the-box thinking to get folks to finally “see the light.”

  6. At my school we have been using a VLE (moodle) for a little over three years. Initially I used it like a CMS storing information, templates and resources but teaching ‘from the front’ The epiphany occured when I moved to a new topic and explained what we were doing and what was needed. Prowling around the room I found four of my weakest students had quietly gone back to the last topic. Now I am expected to get a ‘pass rate’ of 60% so they were eminentley expendable but initially I supported a ‘slower speed’ group but over a year I accepted that everyone worked at their own speed and I needed to alter how I taught and how I created content. My pass rate is a 100%. The truth is we collectively have only just begun with VLE/LMS there is a huge difference of approach little idea of what works with whom and how it works. We have reached a stage of preliminaty ‘maturity’ with our tools and now we set out to make them work. There are unlikely to be any ground breaking new technologies comparable to word processing or html in the near future. we are in a stage of consolidation and spreading the changes more widely. I really do not know of anyone who has begun to exhaust the potential of the VLE/LMS. we do not need more gimmicks we need useful, measurable change.

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