Thursday, August 28, 2014

LMS Futures: You've read the blog, now see the movie...

Link to the video here

My talk at Blackboard World was not recorded, and a few people expressed an interest in seeing it. As a substitute, I went into our new Faculty Innovations in Teaching Studio and created a 20 minute narrated version of the talk. It's a little stripped down and of course doesn't have the interaction from the presentation in Las Vegas, but I'm happy to be able to provide it for anyone interested. You can find it here at our Cinema CI site.

I have also submitted a proposal to the EDUCAUSE ELI meeting to be held next Spring in Anaheim California. If it's accepted, I'll be presenting a 15 minute "TED Style" talk on "Imagining the Post-LMS World". It will build upon some of the same information but with the intent of being more forward-looking and focusing on the opportunity to begin moving on beyond LMS.

I'll be at EDUCAUSE 2014 in Orlando next month, and I hope to make it out to OpenED in Washington DC in November - hope to see some of you at these venues so we can continue to conversation face-to-face.

Thanks again for all the comments and tweets and encouragement - much appreciated!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

LMS Futures: Extinction?

This is the last entry on this topic (for now), and the hardest to write. My thinking has "evolved" rapidly on the potential for a post-LMS future.

When I started planning the Blackboard World talk on which this series is based, I decided NOT to predict what was likely to happen, but rather to do three thought-experiments about three different future scenarios, and see what I would find. But now that I've gone through this, I find myself yearning for - and helping to build - a post-LMS future. This is not a result I anticipated.

When I first put the dinosaur slide on the screen, someone at talk piped up and said I was telegraphing my conclusion. But the dinosaur is an ambiguous image - sure, they are extinct now, and they lasted a heck of a long time. And furthermore, we think that birds evolved from dinosaurs. So the dinosaur encapsulates all three futures.

After all, LMS's WILL be extinct... it's just a question of how long they have to run. Perhaps they will outlive email, or COBOL.

But it's not just a question of how long they will survive - somewhere, there's a school still running Lotus Notes. The question is how long they will dominate the mental model and the discourse around online teaching and learning in higher education. And now that I've worked through this in my own mind, I think we might be somewhat closer to a post-LMS world than I thought when I started.

For a moment, let's go back to my slide representing a student-centric LMS. If you look at the picture for a minute, and take out the word LMS, you'll see that what you've got looks a whole lot like the Internet.
If we can build connections by connecting learners and teachers and resources and tools using the Internet, do we need an LMS? Well, it's very useful to have some of the things an LMS provides, like:
  • a standard approach to authentication (a way for people to log in) 
  • a way to communicate between the learning tools we're using
  • perhaps,  a way to limit access to copyrighted materials
  • perhaps, a gradebook or other assessment tools
I'm sure you can think of many other helpful tools you'd like to have, but the point is that building every feature you want into a single system is an obsolete strategy for software. Yes, LTI helps, but it still starts from the premise that you have a core system and you want to plug tools into that system. What if everything was a person or a tool or a resource, and you could connect and disconnect them as needed? You'd have a very powerful learning environment that was not an LMS.

The question is, can you do it? The key observation that people such as Jim Groom and Brian Lamb and many others have made is that having your own virtual machine with Wordpress and a few other tools gets you a long way there. In other words, we may have been closer than we thought when we started down the LMS road, but we were seduced by the promise of the glowing system in the sky that could solve all our problems for us. The Reclaim Your Domain project launched by Kin Lane (@kinlane), Jim Groom (@jimgroom) and Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) suggests a strategy of moving forward into the past and giving students and teachers the tools to build their own connections that they can own and control. So perhaps by backing up a bit and moving in a different direction, we can begin to build a more flexible learning environment, one that is no longer closed in space and closed in time, and that can give the student a framework that can carry forward beyond the walls of academe. I don't know if it can work, but I think it's a journey worth taking to see what we can learn. We've embarked upon an experiment on my campus to explore the "reclaim" world with a few intrepid faculty and students, and in the future I'll be letting you know more about how we're doing.

To everyone who read and commented on these blog entries, THANK YOU! To everyone who came before me and put out the ideas that I synthesized/adopted/stole/reclaimed/repurposed/remixed - THANK YOU even more. It's been a fun ride and now I might even write a blog entry or two that doesn't mention LMS.

Photo credits:
Birds: Art Siegel via Flickr
Dinosaurs: Miki Roventine via Flickr

Sunday, August 10, 2014

LMS Futures: Revolutionary Change via Student-Centered LMS

There are many forms an LMS revolution might take, but I'm just going to talk about one - creating a student-centered LMS. As I've mentioned (harped on?) before, the standard LMS model is centered around the course or the class. One other fairly obvious alternative is to build the LMS around learning materials - but I don't find this all that interesting because you end up with something that looks like a Content Management System. CMS's are great but I don't see them as an LMS replacement.

Many of our learning institutions claim to be student- or learner-centric. Nearly everyone on my campus can quote the first words of our mission statement: "Placing students at the center of the educational experience..." And much of the time, we take that seriously. What would a student-centric LMS look like? It's a non-trivial design problem, but here's a few high-level thoughts.

In a student-centric LMS, the core abstraction of the LMS is the student. In the diagram, I'm imagining a student with control of connections to other entities within the system. These could be instructors, or other students, or learning materials. To create a course, you invite students to connect with a common set of resources, one or more instructors, and the other students in the course. When the course is complete, the student can drop the connections she doesn't need any more - but keep the rest. As the educational experience proceeds, the student collects, under her control, the connections that remain meaningful and useful and drops the ones that are stale or irrelevant. Furthermore, these resources could be local and within the LMS, or they could be external to the LMS or to the student's current institution.

If you start building the LMS from this perspective, you end up with something like the diagram on the right. I've just added a few connections to give a sense of where I'm going. Students can connect to students and to resources. Instructors would just be another kind of student, ones with perhaps some special abilities (like assigning grades).

The model is simple, but the change is important - if we build the LMS from the bottom up as a tool that connects students and resources rather than a tool that replicates the notion of a closed course, we'll get a system that's quite different from what we have now. But once I envisioned this model I started to question whether the LMS as a system really offers any value. Perhaps, if we created technology to support learner -to-learner interaction, we're on the road to not needing an LMS. And perhaps, this isn't really something new at all but a return to models familiar to the history of the Internet.