Saturday, April 19, 2014

LMS - from red giant to white dwarf?

White Dwarf by dawe2k5, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License by dawe2k5

Learning Management Systems like Moodle, Blackboard and many others are the backbone of almost all universities' and schools' use of educational technology. However there is increasing interest among teachers and students in using free and open social media for discussion, collaboration and production. The LMS designers have responded by integrating social media into the platform, thus retaining the one-stop shop status of the LMS. This one-stop shop model (or walled garden in the eyes of its critics) has its advantages in that students get access to all the course resources in one place but despite this students still tend to discuss and collaborate elsewhere.

This is the subject of an article in eLearn Magazine, Outside the LMS box: An interview with Ashley Tan. Dr. Ashley Tan is head of the Centre for e-Learning (CeL) at the National Institute of Education (NIE) in Singapore and has been studying students' use and non-use of LMS. He sees a clear move by students away from the LMS towards social media and that this is tied to a need for more genuine interactivity and sharing than is normally seen inside the LMS.

However, both the instructors and the students seem to be unhappy with the LMS because it is a closed system and less user-friendly than other tools or platforms. Over the last three years, the use of the LMS for social learning has dropped to 50 percent among our serious users of the platform, and the more innovative instructors have moved to open social platforms like Google Sites and Facebook. The use of our LMS is mostly for relatively low-level tasks: content repository, basic online communication, and assignment submission.

 Tan sees the LMS model as focusing too much on content delivery, assignment submission and assessment and offering little to encourage interaction.

When blending learning with an LMS, instructors and eLearning practitioners often focus on content repositories or delivery. The didactic model is dominant. When blending learning with open and social systems, the focus tends to shift to interaction and negotiation. The facilitative model comes to the fore.

So instead of the LMS growing into a red giant offering everything under one roof the tendency is for it to shrink into a white dwarf, used for certain crucial functions and letting the more interactive activities take place outside. Although I agree with Tan's conclusions I don't see the LMS disappearing any time soon. Many students are certainly quite comfortable using a variety of tools and platforms and can certainly handle the diversity of the solution described in the article. However there are also students who appreciate the simplicity of having everything in one place and lack the confidence and digital skills necessary to use a variety of social media. It's a similar situation to the MOOC discussion; the linear and more traditional courses provided by the main MOOC providers appeal to students who need more order and structure whereas the connectivist MOOCs appeal to digitally proficient and self-sufficient learners.

I don't think the red giant model will apply to the LMS. Instead I see them as heading to the white dwarf stage, concentrating on what they do best; offering a secure administrative core for a course where sensitive data such as students identity and examination results are stored. The discussions and interaction can then take place mostly outside the LMS but all examination material must be linked or imported for archiving.

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