During yesterday’s K-20 learning platform panel at IMS Global's Learning Impact Leadership Institute (the panel that replaced the LMS Smackdown of year’s past), Scott Jaschik started the discussion off by asking “what is the LMS?”. As I have recently complained about our Saturn Vue that replaced a Chrysler Town & Country, the answer I provided was that the LMS is the minivan of education. Everyone has them and needs them, but there’s a certain shame having one in the driveway.
The Car Committee
It’s popular to gripe about minivans, but in reality they reflect what we (the family set with kids still at home) actually are and what we do. Sure, the minivan encourages us to throw everything in the car and continue soccer mom lives, but they do offer great seating, storage, smooth rides (on boring roads at least). Likewise, the typical LMS is in actuality still a Course Management System (CMS), which reflects how courses are organized and managed in large part.
We’re done with the boring minivan and have moved on to SUVs, but the SUV has morphed into a minivan with bad gas mileage and poor seating. It feels so nice to call it a different name, but it’s still a
CMS minivan at its core.
There are new innovations in the car market, like the Tesla. The risk we face in education is falling back on our RFP-driven habits. Great car demo, but the committee is using a family-driven process. Item #142 includes having more than 5 seats, with a place for little Kenny's sippy cup in each. You know what, let’s just make it taller and add a hatch in the back. Item #275 requires ethanol percentages (and we read an article that batteries are risky), so could you add in an standard engine? Two years later . . . “dammit, the LMS”.
Put it together, and the LMS is important and ubiquitous, but we all know we need better options. Despite this, take away the LMS and see if students like a different method to submit assignments or check grades for every class.
Pork Belly Futures?
The metaphor has limitations, of course, as the LMS market has matured over the past few years with new options, better usability and reliability, and the beginnings of true interoperability (largely thanks to LTI).
I also do not think that the LMS is a commodity.
Is the LMS a commodity? Do you have NO opinion which you use and is price your ONLY decision criteria? That’s defines a commodity. #LILI15
— Jeremy Auger (@JeremyAuger) May 6, 2015
My reaction to the observation of the 80/20 rule (LMS has too many features, with most getting little usage) is that we need a system that does fewer things but does them very well. Then take advantage of LTI and Caliper (more on that later) to allow multiple learning tools to be used but with a way to still offer consistent user experience in system access, navigation, and provision of course administration.
I answered another question by saying that the LMS, with multiple billions invested over 17+ years, has not “moved the needle” on improving educational results. I see the value in providing a necessary academic infrastructure that can enable real gains in select programs or with new tools (e.g. adaptive software for remedial math, competency-based education for working adults), but the best the LMS itself can do is get out of the way - do its job quietly, freeing up faculty time, giving students anytime access to course materials and feedback. In aggregate, I have not seen real academic improvements directly tied to the LMS.
- The LMS has enabled blended and fully online courses, where you can see real improvements in access, etc.
- John Baker from D2L disagreed on this subject, and he listed off internal data of 25% or more (I can’t remember detail) improved retention when clients “pick the right LMS”. John clarified after the panel the whole correlation / causation issue, but I’d love to see that data backing up this and other claims.
The biggest news out of the conference is the surprisingly fast movement on Caliper. From the press release:
Caliper has progressed through successful alpha and beta specification and software releases, providing code to enable data collection, known as Sensors (or the Sensor API) and data models (known as metric profiles). A developer community web site has been set up for IMS Members while the Caliper v1 work is offered as a candidate final release.
Michael has written about the importance of Caliper here.
We live in an appy world now. The LMS is not going away, but neither is it going to be the whole of the online learning experience anymore. It is one learning space among many now. What we need is a way to tie those spaces together into a coherent learning experience. Just because you have your Tuesday class session in the lecture hall and your Friday class session in the lab doesn’t mean that what happens in one is disjointed from what happens in the other. However diverse our learning spaces may be, we need a more unified learning experience. Caliper has the potential to provide that.
The agile approach that the Caliper team, led by Intellify Learning, is using involves the creation code first, multiple iterations, and documentation in parallel. There were several proofs of concept shown at the conference of companies implementing Caliper sensors and applications.
For now, Caliper appeals to the engineer in me, where I see the novel architecture and possibilities. But that will need to change, as the community needs to see real-world applications and descriptions in educational terms. But this should not diminish the real progress being made, including proofs of concept by vendors and institutions.
Can someone tell me why Freeman Hrabowski is not running for state or national office? Great work as president of UMBC, but he would make a great politician with national impact.