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.
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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.