Monday, August 13, 2007

Learning management systems under fire

In my previous post, I explained the difference between a learning management system (LMS) and collaborative learning environment (CLE).

LMSs have of late come under fire from faculty and educational technologists alike.

Mike Caulfield asks whether LMSs stifle learning instead of encourage it:
Enterprise e-learning is about classroom management and enterprise reporting. It is about the so-called measurement of learning. We force students to use enterprise systems, because like the email system we “give” them, it makes our lives easier and accomplishes goals that have nothing to do with the student.

What would e-learning look like if we started from the needs of the student, instead of the institution? What would it look like if the overriding question was “How can we use technology in a way that benefits the student?”

My guess is it’d look a lot like life. It would be a wonderful mess of different students and professors choosing different tools on an ad hoc basis. Their choices would evolve over time. And because the students worked with real tools (and possibly even on real problems) they’d graduate with bankable skills rather than detailed knowledge of how to use an LMS that has no analogue in the outside world.


But, if we started with the student, there would be no e-learning “system” in the sense of a single integrated application provided by a vendor. Instead of focussing on buying e-learning systems, we’d focus on building an e-learning culture.

Mike offers a small round-up of others' feelings about LMSs here. He notes that much of the anti-LMS sentiment comes from outside the U.S. As an erstwhile scholar of American culture, I find this fascinating--I sense another blog post brewing!

George Siemens ferrets out the root problem of LMSs:
I have criticized LMS' in the past (Learning Management Systems: The wrong place to start elearning). I think they can be atrocious tools for learning - the control rests in the hands of administrators and software designers - not learners and teachers. I believe that learning happens in a networked manner (both in our brains and in the creation of external networks of people, content, and technologies). I don't think that LMS', in their current incarnation, are sustainable. However, I do believe they will continue to be a part of our future. I have yet to encounter an elearning initiative that was not heavily peppered with LMS talk. The decision makers like LMS'. The future, I hope, will provide a more balanced view of learning that includes teachers and learners.

In a post on his blog, Leigh Blackall posits that LMSs are roadblocks to "liberated information and knowledge." She asks about the personalized learning environment (PLE) and virtual learning environment ( VLE)--terms which are sometimes used synonmymously with LMS, and sometimes to indicate an analogous form:
Why do we need a PLE when we already have the Internet? The Internet is my PLE, ePortfolio, VLE what ever. Thanks to blogger, bloglines, flickr, delicious, wikispaces, ourmedia, creative commons, and what ever comes next in this new Internet age, I have a strong online ID and very extensive and personalised learning environment.

These are excellent questions. I don't organize my work or personal life in SmartSite, so why should I ask students to organize their intellectual lives in an LMS? I have used Blogger, YouTube, and Wikispaces in American studies courses, and I find them superior to the tools offered by the current version of SmartSite. I know I could cobble together a course out of several different online tools, most notably Blogger, Wikispaces, the Bloglines feed reader, the social bookmarking tool, YouTube, and Flickr's photosharing service.

Such tools, however, reflect my teaching philosophy and may not reflect yours. If you're looking for a way to manage your course, then SmartSite may be a simple solution for you.

In the face of such (apparently sound) criticism, why do so many people still find LMSs attractive? Because LMSs do have a place in course management--which is why I'm happier when I see them called course management systems. (I'm fine with managing a course, but I'm uncomfortable if I'm managing learning.) Because SmartSite also offers a wiki and forums, you can also use SmartSite less to "manage" learning and more to promote collaboration among students--to encourage students to ask questions and take more initiative in their education. If you want such tools all under one technological roof--without having to send students hither and yon to different sites for wikis, blogging, forums, photosharing, and more--then SmartSite is your solution.

Some resources advocating for at least some use of LMSs:

Dave Cormier offers a rebuttal to Leigh Blackall's post.

Terry Anderson delineates the distinction between PLEs and LMSs and lists the advantages of each approach to e-learning. He sees PLEs as individualized, lifelong collections of learning resources, while LMSs are course-specific and address concerns (students', faculty's, and institutions') about intellectual property, privacy, and security.

There's site packed with 20 pages of links to information about PLEs.

What are your thoughts about LMSs and PLEs?

1 comment:

AJC said...

My thoughts are: