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 is currently an Instructional Designer II at Orbis Education and a Part-Time Instructor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Previously he worked as a Learning Innovation Researcher with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His work focuses on learning theory, Heutagogy, and learner agency. 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.