Learning management systems

I seem to have been spending a lot of time talking and thinking about learning management systems (LMS) lately – mostly as a result of participating a group considering an evaluation process for schools to use in selecting an LMS.

My problem is that I think it’s a futile exercise!

There are dozens of evaluations that have been done already, comparing the features and functionality of different LMSs and CMSs (Course management systems) – and most of the time concluding that the decision will depend on the context within which the management system will be used.

Further – I think that the concept of an LMS/CMS is an outmoded one, and attempts to evaluate them using criteria that may have been relevant when they were designed simply reinfoces the problems.

Fact is, we’ve moved on – gone are the days when a LMS existed simply to assist us with the management and distribution of course content. That’s now only a part of the picture – we’re also focusing on collaboration, interaction, participation etc., and with this emphasis comes a variety of tools that we might want to use – not all of which may be found in any one LMS.

The point being that we need to be thinking of more than the “closed box” solutions of the past – the enormous, monolithic, one-size-fits-all approach to creating systems that are designed to cater for any eventuality.

Scott Wilson is on the mark with the work he’s been doing, describing a Future Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) that is capable of incorporating any number of tools and features depending on the needs and wishes of the user. His old design for an eLearning Aggregator provides another picture of how the essential considerations of eLearning – people, context, communication, resources – may be catered for. This work is all consistent with the Services Oriented Architecture approach that is being promoted throught the ELF at present.

Reinforcing all of this for me is a recent Educause article titled From Course Management to Curricular Capabilities: A Capabilities Approach for the Next-Generation CMS . The authors do a wonderful job of identifying the limitations of the current LMS approach to eLearning, and their “uncritical acceptance of the traditional, classroom model of education” – resulting in what they call the “classroom on steroids” approach.

The article proposes an approach to eLearning based on the development of learner capabilities:(1) a critical thinking capability, (2) a self-confidence capability, (3) a peer-learning capability, and (4) a knowledge management capability. All of this is entirely consistent with the view of learner-centred-ness that I adhere to and promote in my work.

The article then goes on to describe what the authors call the ‘curricular capabilities’ of a CMS which are (1) a discovery-based learning capability, (2) a 360 degree out-of-the-course capability, (3) a knowledge asset capability, and (4) a teach-to-learn capability.

The common thread that runs through this discussion is the importance of thinking through the more profound pedagogical implications of the CMS for student learning ?? not being content with the traditionally cited gains in administrative efficiency and end-user accessibility.

For those who are still intent on evaluating existing LMS/CMS packages out there, a recent article on Godfrey Parkin’s blog is worth reading. Titled The LMS selection process in a nutshell , Parkin shares the approach he follows when asked to help a company decide which Learning Management System they should use. The advice is constructive and well considered – however, I couldn’t help but note one of the comments posted in response to the helpful advice Parkin offers. It reads:
“Good article, but when I showed it to a colleague who went through this last year she said:
…and after you’ve done all this work, ignore it and go with the vendor who takes the client to see Man United from corporate box seats.”

11 thoughts on “Learning management systems

  1. I would agree with most of this Derek. However, In the final analysis schools are still left with a decision to make, that is which LMS, SMS, OSS solution, free products offered by Microsoft, Google, or Yahoo, etc. to chose. This list is endless….. I struggle to see how we can help them make a considered judgement about what choices to make without some form of criteria against which to evaluate a product in their own context. Perhaps this is more a set of questions or considerations than an evaluative framework?

    Maybe a better starting point is to develop a process for needs analysis in relation to this kind of technology?

  2. Quite right, Stephen
    I think that’s where I was headed – before I ran out of time. In fact, it’s where the group considering evaluating LMSs have come to – focusing on guiding schools through their own analysis of needs so that they can then assemble the appropriate collection of tools and applications.

  3. I would agree with much of this Derek, but I also have some reservations. If we accept that evaluating technology that is designed to facilitate learning through interaction and the provision of relevant resources is a non starter, where does that leave us in our desire to help schools make these difficult decisions about which technology to use.

    I wonder if a better starting point might be to develop a process for needs analysis through a series of questions with a teaching and learning not technical flavour? Once you know what you want to do then it should be easier to find the particular piece of technology (Blackboard, MSN, Skype, etc) to meet your needs. However, I still struggle to see how an informed choice can be made without some form of evaluative process?

  4. I’m uplifted by the way you are still thinking about Scott Wilson’s future VLE model. Do you think such a method will ever be adopted by existing institutions or will new ones replace them?

  5. Andy
    I think there’s every chance that this approach will be adopted by existing institutions – however, it will take time. The area I’m interested in at the moment is at a national level, creating the infrastructural framework to encourage institutions, school etc to think about the future VLE approach instead of single, monolithic systems.
    The drivers for doing this are already there. Within institutions there is the complexity of dealing with multiple systems, LMS, CMS, SMS etc, all of which share common data (which is often entered separately into each system). A number of institutions I know have more than one LMS operating for instance. From a learer perspective this is hopeless – causing their online interaction with that institution to be fragmented between/aomong multiple systems – doesn’t do much for a learner-centric paradigm.
    From an external view comes the pressure to incorporate from or contribute data to national data sources. In NZ we are dealing with the issue of Single Data Returns from insitutions in order to trigger the funding for that institution. All of this requires (a)that everyone dumps what they have and buys into the same system, or (b)a high level of interoperability between and among systems.

  6. What really needs to happen for both the sofware applications and the people to move to a different elearning paradigm is a complete re-evaluation of the whole qualifications model that most learning operates under, particularly in the tertiary sector. While we continue to operate under the production line model of learning

    Institution + Learner + 3 years + x number of courses = qualified person

    it will be hard to make any real change in the way e-learning happens, and the way LMSs are designed.

    The majority of tertiary students (particularly undergraduates) currently want the quickest and easiest way to get through their 3 years and get their piece of paper, and the institutions want the easiest and cheapest way of getting them through and retaining them as EFTS for the full three years. Persig was probably right in 74 when he suggested that learning didn’t really enter into the equation. Until this changes, moves towards more learner centred LMSs will only happen on the outer fringes, (and in primary schools where learning is not qualifications focused!)

    All IMHO of course 😉

  7. I want to enter a note of dissent.

    I agree that VLEs are pretty unexciting when you compare them with what they could be and that most elearning out there is a boring lump of text which students are then tested on like rats in a maze with a multiple choice test.

    However, I disagree that novel teaching techniques are always good and that VLEs need to be ‘rewired’ to be more interesting. Firstly, students entering learning in most situations have been spoon fed learning before (its not desirable, its just what happens). Dropping them into (as an example) a complex problem based learning environment may kick the feet out from under them and destroy their self confidence. Problem based learning is great but students need to be introduced to the basics of their course in a manner they have recieved learning before and THEN have their PBL skills ramped up through the course. In terms of the video game analogy in the article, they can’t meet all the nastiest monsters on the first screen, they need to wander around an empty room and learn how to open doors.

    My second point is that VLEs are flexible enough as they are at the moment and they offer a format students are used to. Take Moodle, you can assign students to be teachers (if this doesn’t exist as a feature already you can program it yourself, Moodle is open source) and let students have the benefit of researching and teaching themselves as outlined in the article. You don’t need a special program, you just need to use your imagination, develop the materials and provide the support necessary. As for format, I have seen a lot of cases where the benefits of novel learning ideas were lost because authors forgot the energy required by students to learn a new system. Ever tried to learn a better piece of new software when you knew a less good old one? Its infuriating, more difficult than learning from scratch. In short, leave them with the VLE they know unless you have very good reason not to.

    In a similar vein I don’t buy the argument about powerpoint either, if a presentation is boring, pedantic and overly focussed on whizzy texts animations it is because the presenter is boring, pedantic and hasn’t realised that whizzy text animations are naff. You are almost unlimited in what you can do with powerpoint, I saw a presentation last week where a satellite image of a pristine rainforest in Paraguy in 1972 was taken through an animation to 1990, it melted off the screen to reveal a muddy desert. As absolutely unforgettable an image as Dali’s soft clocks and done in powerpoint.

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  9. The fast evolving of these new technologies are also the fast depreciation of it. In every second there is always a new technology being produced. nowadays, we are too concerned with the systems that sometimes we tend to depend on them, i mean that’s not a problem because somehow it help us to make our work better, just as long as we know the purpose and use them in the right manner. LMS has made a major role in the education system and i believe that even if a new system will come, somehow we will still go back to the old ones. This is actually a good article, and thank you derek for posting this one. by the way, you might want to check this website. eleapsoftware.com

  10. also, just wanted to share with you with the link that i included. It also has Online training software which a lot of companies prefer to use. With the technologies we have nowadays, im sure their will still be many gadgets and software will be produced.

    Online Learning

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