Wednesday, July 2, 2014

LMS Futures, LMS Past: It's all about the COURSE

The Learning Management System as we know it is a relatively new phenomenon. There's a wonderful graphic created by Phil Hill (@PhilOnHigherEd) that's worthy of study as it recapitulates visually much of the history of the LMS in Higher Education.

Let me stop for a minute and rave about how great this graphic is. It's incredibly useful and I'm grateful to Phil for creating is as well as licensing it with Creative Commons so we can all share it. Thanks also to Casey Green ( and George Kroner (@georgekroner) for collecting the data.

A couple of things to note - with the exception of Canvas and eCollege, all the major LMS's had their original roots in universities. {Casey Green pointed out to me that Canvas started as a student project, so while it didn't last long in the academic environment, it did start there as well.} Looking at the names of the earliest systems gives you a clue about their origins: WebCT is "Web Course Tools", Blackboard was launched by the merger of "Web Course in a Box" and "CourseInfo". These were tools for managing courses and were commonly called "Course Management Systems" or CMS's at the time. Even the name "Blackboard" suggests a place to put information about a course - where the teacher puts next week's homework and the date of the midterm.  As more functionality was added, the name "Learning Management System" became popular, but if you consider what these systems are used for by most instructors most of the time, they are about managing classes and mostly not about managing learning at all. (Note, too, the not-so-subtle difference between a "Tool" and a "System".)

I researched EDUCAUSE's online resources to find their earliest references to "Course Management System". A couple of interesting ones are Julie Parmenter and Jay Fern describing Indiana University's "OnCourse" system in 1999, and a presentation by Fred Siff on the use of Blackboard at the University of Cincinnati from the EDUCAUSE Conference in 2001. The IU presentation is from CUMREC, which is a conference focused on "Administrative Computing", and there's that word "course" again. Siff's presentation is entitled "The New Core Business System: Course Management Systems" and includes the telling quote:
New course management systems are too important -- and too powerful -- to be relegated to academic computing.
You can see where this is going to end up...

I was surprised to find out that the LMS terminology had emerged by that time, and there's an interesting article from 2001 by Phil Long, Vijay Kumar, and Jeffrey Merriman on open frameworks for education that refers to "learning management systems." But my point is that from the beginning it's been all about managing COURSES. We even see this most recently in the term MOOC, where C stands for course. In my next installment, I'll discuss why the focus on the course was one of the most important decisions for encouraging the adoption of LMS's and simultaneously one of the biggest roadblocks to creative learning.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Michael. I wanted to say, first, how grateful I am also to Phil Hill for his CC-licensed visualization of the Campus Computing data. It's really helpful. From my perspective, as an online instructor, I have been (literally from the first year I taught online - 11 years ago) trying to infuse my online classes designed in an LMS with creative learning approaches and this has taken me deep into the tools available in the open web. For years, I resisted using the term "Learning Management System," because I could only relate to it as a system to manage my course materials. The most dynamic learning that occurs with my students is through the use of external tools and as social technolgoies become more integrated into society and the workplace, LMSs are not only barriers to creative pedagogy but they're preventing our ability to foster skills our students need need to succeed in the social era (creating a web presence, building a personal learning network, collaborating within a global network, developing relationships, and sharing knowledge). I look forward to your next post.