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A Minimalist LMS?
March 24, 2010 - 8:56pm

What would an Learning Management System (LMS) look like that was boiled down to its essential functions and features? Why would we want a minimalist LMS? Who could provide such a minimalist LMS?

WHAT: LMS core tools would include integration with the SIS (student information system), a secure grade book, on-going enrollment management (drop/adds/auditors etc.) A system to collect securely collect and store assignments. What else? Maybe nothing. Our "kernel" LMS is focussed on meeting government regulations (FERPA) and on integration with other systems. These integration points include the SIS and other campus systems (such as the Library), as well as with Web 2.0 tools. The development dollars are spent on integration, not features, so the LMS provides single sign-on to a range of commercial Web 2.0 services. For instance, the LMS dynamically provisions a Google account (with access to Google docs and storage), a account, a VoiceThread account, a blog on TypePad, an image repository on Flickr, etc. etc. - all with one sign-on. The integration includes a way to automatically back-up any content from the integrated Web 2.0 services within the LMS using standard filetypes - so there are guarantees that the student/faculty work will not be lost if the Web 2.0 service goes away.

WHY: Under the minimalist LMS model, most of the development work get pushed into the integration points. The core LMS is expected to stay stable across time, as the LMS does not have many features to change. We begin to accept and leverage the idea that students (and faculty?) come to our campus already using sophisticated Web 2.0 tools for collaboration, authoring, and sharing. We "shape the path" to allow easier access to these tools (single sign-on), and automatic backup - but we don't try to replace the use of these tools. How could we ever hope to compete with the army of programmers and usability experts that Google can bring to collaboration tools? What pure play LMS provider can develop authoring tools that are as elegant and robust as a consumer service? This approach also takes some of the burden off academic technology groups for training and support. If the core LMS remains relatively constant it is easier to focus training efforts on targeted areas, such as encouraging more grade book use. Google does a great job of evolving its services, so change is evolutionary for the users.

WHO: Of course the incumbent LMS providers could offer a minimalist LMS, but this will probably cannibalize their full-function products. Yes, any existing LMS could probably be used as a minimalist LMS (by turning features off etc.), but why should schools pay for the whole meal if they only plan to pick and choose amongst the dishes? This seems like a great opportunity for Microsoft, or Oracle, or maybe even the SIS providers. Give the minimalist LMS away with other services - such as e-mail, database or the SIS. Make your money on the integration and service pieces. Offer options of local or cloud hosting. Make it all open source - if you give it away you don't need to worry about keeping your code proprietary.

What do you think?


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