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The Real LMS Failure (Hint: We Should Look in the Mirror)
April 28, 2011 - 9:15pm

We spend way too much energy thinking and worrying about LMS providers, features, companies and technologies. Blackboard or D2L or Moodle or Sakai or (now) Instructure? Open source or proprietary? This discussion board or that assessment engine? etc. etc. etc.

The real LMS failure has nothing to do with any of these questions. Whether you are a Blackboard or Sakai school matters only marginally to our success in what truly matters about the LMS; how well we are utilizing the LMS to improve, support and facilitate authentic student learning.

The fact is that it matters little to our students if the LMS is proprietary or open source, and the advanced features we spend so much time wishing for are useless without investments that result in good course design. If we want to get the most out of whatever LMS we have on campus we need to:

  • Invest in people to partner with our faculty to help design, develop and run courses. These people include learning designers, media specialists, educational technologists, and librarians.
  • Engage in systematic course re-design, particularly for our large introductory lecture courses.
  • Be willing to move to models of blended learning that invert the classroom, freeing up precious face-to-face time for discussion, debate and hands on work, and moving much of the lecture portion of the course to asynchronous platforms.
  • Utilize analytics from a range of learning outcomes to discover, reinforce and scale best teaching practices and methods, and to facilitate targeted early intervention for students who are at risk of having poor outcomes in gateway courses.

All of these efforts require resources, attention, and a culture dedicated to continuous improvement and student-centered learning. All of these efforts can be undertaken with any LMS. Bringing in a new learning management system will do little to advance these goals, and may run the risk of diverting resources and energy to manage the transition.

I'm not saying that there is never an argument for changing our LMS. Certainly, if our LMS is not stable or suffers from performance or up-time failures, a change of LMS makes lots of sense. A stable learning management system is a prerequisite for making advances in learning. Or if your campus is at a natural change point, say at the end-of-life-cycle time for your existing LMS, then it makes sense to examine all the options.

In evaluating the LMS choices, however, be sure to remember that the choice of the correct learning management system is a necessary but nowhere near sufficient investment when it comes to learning. In fact, the choice the LMS may be one of the least most important decisions, as even the best learning management systems are little more than content bulletin boards if not paired with robust investments in learning professionals, faculty training, and course development resources.

The failure of the LMS to transform teaching and learning in higher ed has little to do with the technology, and everything to do with how we have been using it.


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