Monday, July 14, 2014

LMS Futures: About the course, the instructor, or the student?

In my last blog entry, I argued that the metaphor of the online course has been the driving force behind the development of the LMS. In a thoughtful email, Casey Green offered an alternative perspective, which I quote with his permission:
With due respect, I’d argue that the focus of the LMS (or course management systems) has really been less about the course and more about assisting faculty. Admittedly, I know this will be a controversial claim, given continuing, almost two-decades long rants and rage of faculty about the design and functionality of various LMS applications.  But I think it is far to say that the  CMS/LMS emerged as a way to assist faculty, who had few technical/coding/HTML skills, to post course resources online.   We focused on "the course" because that was the arena of obvious and recurring need.
I can't really argue with that. There was certainly a sense that creating your own online materials was just "too hard for faculty" and they needed a "Web Course in a Box" as described in this lovely vintage page. But that was the goal, it's tough to argue we've been very successful. Nearly every educational technology conference I've been at in the last 15 years has included a talk about "How we convince our reluctant faculty to use the LMS." Typically, it seems to revolve around food and, sometimes, a little money. However, only rarely do those responsible for educational technology ask whether the technology they provide is part of the problem rather than part of the solution - see "It's time to stop blaming the faculty" for more on this topic.

Regardless of the intent, I would argue that the core construct of the LMS is the course. Look at the challenges and the hacks created to help instructors manage multiple courses, or migrate materials from one course or semester to another. A (traditional) course:

  1. starts and ends, and
  2. has enrollment - you're either in it or out of it
  3. has one, or perhaps a handful of instructors, with a special role that's distinct from that of a student
  4. students that complete a course get credit and a grade
These are essential features of a traditional course, and the very success of the LMS, as well as the greatest limitations, come from tightly integrating these features. The irony is that the LMS was built to support the very features of learning that could be irrelevant - or at least, much less relevant - in a web-connected world. The model of a course is based on scarcity of space, time, and information, at the moment that the Internet revolution has made all these factors less deterministic than ever in history.

(photo CC by stanfordedtech via flickr) 

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