Big news this week when it was announced our university will be looking for a new LMS to implement in 2014.
While I am a great supporter of our LMS (Sakai), I have never been a big user. I’m not an academic so I don’t have any learning to manage and with a background in web development I never had a problem getting content online. It’s in these two areas that have been the big wins for our university – managing our complex enrolment profile and getting people and their content online.
So at the moment the question is what replaces the current LMS? Is it another LMS or should we be looking for something else?
Lets start by talking about the current technology landscape because a lot has changed since our first implementation:
- For starters the world of the web has changed dramatically over the last 5 or so years. The extensible servers of the Cloud and the anywhere, anytime access that mobile brings are huge shifts in how we build large scale systems and how we access them.
- At the same time our web ecosystem has broadened. So many new best-of-breed tools are now available that its hard to justify the centralised Swiss army knife approach of the traditional LMS.
- Finally, there is a push for universities to provide a more personalised and customisable learning experience. The traditional LMS does not provide that, instead it offers a cookie cutter approach that’s easy to scale, maintain, deploy and sell.
At this point I’d recommend some reading to understand that this is a big issue for higher education across the globe – first this article by David Jones especially the discussion in the comments. This series of articles from Canada a are extremely relevant. Finally this presentation from Whitney Hess on framing the problem.
OK finished? I hope that helps frame my thinking – let’s move on.
The dilemma that we face is one where we need to define what it is we are trying to offer in the online space: Are we looking for a Single System or an Environment?
Single System vs Environment.
TheSingle System approach continues the paradigm of the LMS. A centralised hub that provides a defined set of tools. There is limited customisation available to the teacher, the student or the pedagogy. It provides a management approach to learning and teaching where things are controlled, dtandardised, measured and scheduled.
The Environment approach instead looks to create a suite of seperate tools that operate as a cooperative ecosystem. This approach is highly customisable by both teachers and students and allows each subject or course to be developed and delivered to match the content and context. Rather than a structured approach the Environment provides organisation and a way to navigate.
The reality we actually find ourselves in is… even if your university has the latest and greatest LMS you’re probably still running a patchwork of separate systems to provide all the functions for your university. Despite best intentions technology moves too fast and there is no one size fits all approach. Yes, it would be nice to have a system that can do everything, but it’s not a reality. Despite what an LMS offers the reality is that it is a jack of all trades master of none. To get the quality and performance required you end up with is an patchwork environment of specialised tools and single systems.
So the solution? Well take it as a given and embrace the fact that whatever you deploy it is going to end up as an environment. So take the time to design and plan it properly, make sure it can talk to each other and use the best systems and specialised tools to provide the core functions.
For higher yields and healthier fruit you plant a garden that is symbiotic and complementary rather than throwing seeds to the wind.