LMS and Open: The false binary is based on past, not future markets

D’Arcy Norman has an excellent blog post up titled “On the false binary of LMS vs. Open” that captures a false framing issue.

We’re pushed into a false binary position – either you’re on the side of the evil LMS, working to destroy all that is beautiful and good, or you’re on the side of openness, love, and awesomeness. Choose. There is no possible way to teach (or learn) effectively in an LMS! It is EVIL and must be rooted out before it sinks its rotting tendrils into the unsuspecting students who are completely and utterly defenseless against its unnatural power!

While D’Arcy is a proponent of open tools, he rightly calls out the need to understand institutional responsibilities.

But. We can’t just abdicate the responsibility of the institution to provide the facilities that are needed to support the activities of the instructors and students. That doesn’t mean just “hey – there’s the internet. go to it.” It means providing ways for students to register in courses. For their enrolment to be automatically processed to provision access to resources (physical classrooms, online environments, libraries, etc…). For students’ grades and records to be automatically pushed back into the Registrar’s database so they can get credit for completing the course. For integration with library systems, to grant acccess to online reserve reading materials and other resources needed as part of the course.

This is an important point, in that the institutional LMS is important and will not, and should not, go away anytime soon. I have pointed out recently that the LMS is one of the very few technologies now used in a majority of courses within an institution, and the institutional responsibility described above helping to explain why.

In our consulting work Michael and I often help survey institutions to discover what technologies are being used within courses, and typically the only technologies that are used by a majority of faculty members or in a majority of courses are the following:

  • AV presentation in the classroom;
  • PowerPoint usage in the classroom (obviously connected with the projectors);
  • Learning Management Systems (LMS);
  • Digital content at lower level than a full textbook (through open Internet, library, publishers, other faculty, or OER); and
  • File sharing applications.

At the same time, the LMS does a very poor job at providing a lot of the learning technologies desired by faculty and students. There is no way that a monolithic LMS can keep up with the market – it cannot match functionality of open internet tools especially without adding feature bloat.

I would add that part of the cause of the “false binary position” that D’Arcy points out is that much of the public commentary focuses on where the LMS has been rather than where it is going. There is a significant movement based on interoperability that is leading, perhaps painfully and slowly, to a world where the LMS can coexist with open educational tools, with even end users (faculty and students) eventually having the ability to select their tools that can share rosters and data with the institutional LMS.

Below is a modified presentation I gave at the Apereo Mexico conference in the spring (with a few changes to explain slides without audio). The key point is that there are subtle changes to the LMS market that are significant, and the coexistence of the LMS with open tools will be central to the market’s future.

Will all LMS vendors move this direction? In marketing, yes, but in reality, no. There are different approaches to this coexistence issue from the LMS vendors, ranging from lip service to outright support, and several points in between. But the overall trend is clearing moving this direction, even if some solutions lose out over time.

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About Phil Hill

Phil is a consultant and industry analyst covering the educational technology market primarily for higher education. He has written for e-Literate since Aug 2011. For a more complete biography, view his profile page.
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18 Responses to LMS and Open: The false binary is based on past, not future markets

  1. allison390 says:

    Another great post, Phil. This has been our approach from day one with our specialized LMS. Can’t be everything to everybody… but you will open the doors to all those other ancillary solutions and keep data flowing freely back and forth if you’re really focused on solving problems for your clients. It’s astonishing to us when vendors aren’t willing to do that. They are writing their own final act and the curtain’s coming down fast.

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  4. Patricia James says:

    Thanks for this excellent post, Phil. I keep talking about creating an online learning environment rather than just the functions we find in course management systems, and it’s good to hear that you recognize that the concept includes institutional responsibility. The question for me is how do we achieve interoperability while staying within the legal requirements for student privacy (FERPA)? When teaching online requires you to notify students that they are being assigned to use a resource or tool that is outside of the institution’s secure space (LMS) and THEN you have to design an alternative assignment, it drives the teaching into the limits of the “box”. The solutions around interoperability have to include considerations about protecting student privacy.

  5. Phil Hill says:

    Excellent point, Pat, and this is part of the reason that “coexistence” in this context does not simply mean links and chaos. You are correct that FERPA and the limits of the box are big issues that institutions must address.

    I will say that early adopters (in terms of institutions and specific faculty) have addressed (or started to address) the student privacy issue when using open tools alongside the LMS. One way is some combination of A) expanding the allowable apps (e.g. allow Google Apps for Education) and B) providing policy / training / support on acceptable usage, which removes some of the openness, but does expand the universe of tools. See first ~8 comments in this G+ thread:

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  7. Don Presant says:

    Hi Phil:
    Do you have any compelling stats for industry acceptance of LTI? It’s hard to figure out from the IMS site, but you cite it as a major influence. And does LTI 2 break something that worked, or does it make something good better?

  8. Phil Hill says:

    Good question Don. My info on LTI acceptance is based on observation / participation in industry, but I don’t have numbers. I’ll ping Rob Abel to see if he can answer here.

    LTI 2 extends LTI in the functionality enabled by the integrations: http://www.imsglobal.org/blog/?p=184

  9. Don Presant says:

    Hi Phil:

    Thanks for reaching out to Rob. I’ll be interested in hearing what he says. I do think LTI is great in theory, I’m just trying to get a sense of market acceptance before I start advocating it with my colleagues.

    Re LTI 2, my phrasing was too cute: by “break” I meant “make too complicated”…I’m not asserting that, just asking the question of you and your readers.


  10. Rob Abel says:

    Hi Don/Phil: Please see the IMS LTI catalog of products here: http://developers.imsglobal.org/catalog.html

    These are just the products that have passed the IMS certification tests. There are many more out there using LTI. You will see on the left column 32 platforms (of a large variety across K-20) that are certified to be able to consume or “plug into.” We know of at least 2 others, EdX and Google Course Builder that are also LTI consumers but not yet certified.

    You will also see 80+ tools (things you can plug in) that have passed certification testing. We would estimate that there are at least double and perhaps triple that amount of applications out there that implement LTI at some level.

    Another place to look to see the acceptance of LTI is eduapps:

    This is a site developed by Instructure Canvas that shows a larger number of apps that use LTI specifically in Canvas. Other LMS providers have similar “catalogs” – they are just not as public.

    So, market acceptance is very good and accelerating from our perspective.

    Integration of an LTI 1 app generally takes a few minutes of administration time – versus 6 months of development for a custom integration. LTI 2 automates the integration process – enabling a 1-click integration – which will thus enable “app store” or “app catalog” type scenarios for institutions – such as we are facilitating with the IMS CASA (Community App Sharing Architecture) open source reference implementation lead by UCLA.

    LTI 2 is a very straightforward migration from LTI 1. We believe LTI 2 can be readily adopted by those that have already adopted LTI 1. We only have 3 certified LTI 2 products so far. But, that is sort of how the adoption of standards go. If you’ve invested in LTI 1 – in many are just beginning that phase – it takes a few years to evolve to the next version. In about 3 years LTI 2 will be the norm. But, expect to see some big moves soon to LTI 2 as it is a competitive differentiator in terms of what is allows institutions to do with integrations.

    A very, very important note to all this is that LTI 1 and LTI 2 share a common mechanism for “extensions” which are web services that can be added to perform specific functions like returning rich outcomes (gradebook). So, extensions can and will be written for LTI 1 (many are in progress right now) that will “just work” in LTI 2.

    IMS loves to work 1-on-1 with suppliers to help them devise the plan and strategy to move from LTI 1 to LTI 2. Just contact us. We have lots of open source software we can share to help with implementation – and that library is growing.


  11. Don Presant says:

    Thanks Rob, this helps a lot. It’s great to see Badges represented in the Edu Apps. I’ll share with my colleagues.

    I will point out what seems to be a discrepancy: the Mahara eportfolio logo is listed in the catalogue, but Mahara does not show up in the table. The link from the catalogue refers to a Mahara integration project with Moodle that is currently on hold, pending Moodle’s upgrade from LTI 1.1 to LTI 2. Update on mahara.org here:
    (I’d be thrilled if Mahara were already LTI enabled!)


  12. Don Presant says:

    Just reading more…Mahara is listed as an LTI EduApp for SSO and a bit more – not enough for excitement yet, but interesting.
    Thanks for the great feedback.

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  15. Lisa Mattson says:

    Apologies for the delay in responding. Details on the Mahara LTI plugin can be found here: http://sourceforge.net/projects/learningapps/files/Files/Basic%20LTI%20Integrations/Mahara/ We have updated the IMS Developers Catalog to reflect this change.

    Please let us know if we can help.


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