Sunday, June 29, 2014

LMS Futures: Evolution, Revolution, or Extinction?

I'm not sure exactly what prompted me to submit a presentation proposal with the above title to Blackboard World, and I'm not sure what possessed them to accept it. In any case, I'm going to be speaking at their conference in Las Vegas on the future of the LMS and describing three possible scenarios. My goal is to try to pull together, in a semi-coherent manner, thoughts that have been rumbling in and out of my head on this topic for the last couple of years.

To help me get my act together I'm going to try writing here about these scenarios, and I would really love to hear from you - what do you think? Where is the LMS going - or is it going away? Can the defects that many find with the current generation of LMS's be fixed, or do we need to start over with a new kind of LMS, or go a different direction completely? I'd love to hear your thoughts and, with your permission, incorporate them into my talk. In my next posting, I'll start with an idiosyncratic and incomplete history of the LMS and some ideas that I have about how we got to where we are today.

Photo CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 by Mikl Roventine @flickr 


  1. The LMS is dying, LTI started to process by which it will slowly die. As more platforms integrate with quality toolsets living outside the LMS, and usability of said tools improves and data usage polices fade from an issue; the iron clad grip that the LMS holds over most institutions will slowly fade. They will still be there and have a good run ahead of them, but unless they choose to disrupt themselves and their industry now, they will be a sinking ship within the next many years.

    How to fix? Break the monopolistic model apart. No more heavy handed knowledge silos that only pay lip service to concepts like open sharing of materials (so long as they all live in this bucket, follow usage policies and are ok with the export formats). No more marketing driven from the boardroom and not from the classroom. No more one-size fits all solutions.

    The fundamental shift over the last 10 years has been that LMSs largely have been the same type of system, working in vacuums while the internet has improved leaps and bounds, passing it further and further by with each release cycle of largely the same product.

    This isn't their problem really, I mean, they've pegs to massive institutions that largely only understand tradition and routine. Unfortunately for LMS vendors, the educational industrial complex is teetering on collapse. Any additional weakening of the overall economy, mixed with (still) out of control costs of education and a populous increasingly questioning the merits of that piece of paper.. well, it won't be pretty.

    How to fix it? "You have no chance to survive make your time." Personally I'm betting on open source and putting my "money" in non-educationally focused technologies. Hitch your wagon to a large open source community, bring the knowledge of your discipline and reshape the toolsets to the instructional challenges. This is the biggest threat to LMS and edtech vendors in general: architectures are getting easier to use.

    We don't need you to go build a blog platform, there are great ones already available, many that can be stood up locally and managed with ease (or one-click setup on cloud based service). We don't need you to go build a _____ it already exists as a SaaS over in _____ and there's an open source alternative called ____ if we really want to host. You can fill those blanks in with almost any FOSS framework, any non-education vendor, and any piece of functionality in the LMS. Stitch together the user experience with LTI, and in the near future the LMS of today is just the place you go to click the "start course" button.

    Disclaimer: I'm the project lead on a Drupal based network of tools that has a lot of the rationale above driving me. You are weak and painfully outdated LMS, and there are many more then just me coming after you.

  2. I'd say we are looking at an evolution, although it's an evolution not everyone will survive. We are well past the point where a single system can manage something as expansive and diverse as learning, but there is still a place for a place where a group of tools can be melded together in a single experience. Thus as we start looking at our options, we are becoming very intentional in saying that we are looking for a learning PLATFORM, not a learning management system.

    1. Kyle, I think I know what you mean by a learning platform, but I'd like to hear more about what you think such a platform might look like. Sometimes platforms are just systems of systems and even more complex.

    2. I think of it kind of like my old legos (the ones that came in the big box, not the little sets of predetermined things you buy today). In that box were some big green boards, and you could plug lots of different legos in to make most anything you wanted. The learning platform is a big green board, and all the tools out there are the various legos. LTI certainly makes it potentially possible to click things together, and we're trying to figure out if the spec is really there yet and if vendors are really supporting it.

      The platform should allow the institution to assign students and faculty into groupings (let's just call them courses and be done with it) in some automated way and integrate both institutional and tool authentication so nobody has to login more than once. The platform should also coordinate rubrics and outcomes between tools so that our assessments can be done in one place and used to either grade things (to pass back to the ERP) or use for reporting/badging. The platform in some ways becomes a data aggregator and conduit.

  3. Why does learning have to be confined to an LMS. Our learners are social and already connected with their peers and want that connection with their instructors as well.

  4. LMS's have tools that are supposed to support connection among peers (at least within a course) and with the instructor. I'm not sure they are particularly good at it...

  5. @Michael - I'm a recent reader and enjoying the topics. I look forward to seeing your final thoughts on the future of the LMS.

    I like Kyle's analogy of the Lego foundation and would agree that this is where I also see the LMS heading. Instructors, and to a degree students, may find tools for greater collaboration and learning elsewhere, but many instructors especially don't have the time and patience to learn these tools, manage them and help students troubleshoot as well. Having an LMS takes care of issues like enrollment and (to a degree) troubleshooting. Having a single point of access is also major.

    Currently though there is a lot of room for improvement. Just one example: the LMS is still very instructor-centric and it's difficult to get around the roles to allow for co-creation, collaboration and other 21st century skills we want students to possess. I'm hoping that an evolution will retain the necessary managerial elements that come with any institutional requirements, but remove the barriers to learning that currently exist.