5 Ways I Got the Future of the LMS Wrong

Misguided thoughts from 2008 about how the learning management system would look in 2018.

March 28, 2018
 

My skills as a futurist leave much to be desired. A list of the predictions that I got wrong would include the wisdom on invading Iraq, the outcome of the 2016 election and the resurgence of fondue.

My worst predictions, however, have been about educational technology -- specifically the learning management system. If you had asked me back in 2008 (the year Instructure was born) how the LMS would evolve by 2018, I would have confidently provided the following predictions (all of which have turned out to be wrong).

Bad LMS Prediction No. 1: Google or Microsoft Will Buy Canvas, Blackboard or D2L

I was fully confident that the next big ed-tech acquisition was coming from Google or Microsoft, and that purchase would be one of the LMS providers. My guess was that Instructure would go to Google and Blackboard would go to Microsoft. I was wrong.

The reason that I thought a Google purchase of Instructure made sense was the Google ecosystem. If Google is willing to invest in offering free services such as Gmail and Google Drive (productivity tools and storage), it seemed to make sense to me to get today’s college students into tomorrow’s digital ecosystem. Deep integration of Google’s platforms with Canvas made sense to me.

Why did I think that Microsoft would by Blackboard? I don’t know. They just seemed to fit. Microsoft didn’t have much higher ed mind share. Redeveloping Blackboard from the ground up around Office 365 made sense, with both services moving towards a cloud-based architecture. Mostly, I thought that the data would be more valuable than the licensing. That offering learning platforms to individuals would do more to create lifelong sticky relationships than focusing on entertainment or gaming. That Google and Microsoft had the scale to get deeply into the educational world through the LMS for relatively small money.

Bad LMS Prediction No. 2: The LMS Would Be Free

Part of my thinking that the LMS would be free was intertwined with my belief that one or more LMS provider would be acquired by Google or Microsoft. Google in particular has a history of moving paid services to advertising/data-supported services. Think email, Google Earth or storage.

Not that I think students should see advertising in their learning management system. That would be terrible. And it would be worse if the student’s learning data were used to sell them things. The aggregated learning data, however, were (and are) of great value. Imagine what a company like Google or Microsoft could do with big learning data supported by a free LMS.

Even if an acquisition did not happen, I still thought the future of the LMS would be free. I thought LMS companies would make their money by selling services around the platform. Integration services. Analytics services. Program development services. My thinking was that LMS companies could take all the resources they now put into sales and put those resources into creating services that add value to colleges and universities.

Bad LMS Prediction No. 3: The LMS Would Open Up

Among the worst things about today’s learning management systems is how closed-off they are. Professors use the LMS to deliver digital materials to their students, and only their students. The creative output of learners is only accessible by those in the course. Any sort of larger conversation about learning is inhibited by the walls and silos of the LMS.

Back in 2008, we had dreams that the LMS would become less sterile. That a better model was one of small pieces loosely joined. Of integrating the best of open platforms, such as WordPress, with the capabilities to integrate with the student information system. From 2012 on there was this idea that the LMS would be part of the open education story. None of this has come to pass.

Bad LMS Prediction No. 4: Learning Analytics Would Matter More

The promise of learning analytics is boundless. Finally, we were going to make data-informed choices in education. We would identify at-risk students early. And students would be able to chart their own learning path based on data.

The reality of learning analytics has been underwhelming. Use of data to inform teaching and learning remains spotty at best. It is still a challenge to get aggregate data across learners, classes or cohorts. LMS data are seldom integrated with other campus data sources.

What is worst of all is that student-facing data are incredibly sparse. It would make sense that students should own and control their own data. They should be able to have visibility into exactly what data about their learning are being collected. And the data should be actionable. Today, we don’t seem that much closer to students being able to access and add value to their own data than we were a decade ago.

Bad LMS Prediction No. 5: The Learning Management System Would Go Mobile

Why hasn’t the LMS made the same switch to mobile as social networking, communications, banking and news? The learning management world remains largely a browser-based experience. Sure, every LMS has a mobile app. And they are getting better. But the mobile experience is still limited when compared to what one can do with a browser and a keyboard.

Perhaps the differentiating factor is the keyboard. Online courses live and die in the discussion board. The best way to contribute to an online discussion is to type. We may never overcome the tyranny of the keyboard for high-quality online learning interactions. I just thought that we would have made more progress by 2018.

Were my predictions about what the LMS would look like in 2018 too early?

Will we see a different sort of LMS in 2028?

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