Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Learning Impact 2010 and LMS Criticism

Moodlerooms President, Lou Pugliese, wanted to provide some more commentary after participating in the panel discussion entitled, "From Course Management to Digital Support for Learning Platforms," at the IMS Global Learning Consortium's yearly conference, Learning Impact.

The Learning Impact conference panel explored the idea of LMS criticism and whether or not existing learning management systems are really enablers of new models of teaching and learning. As a whole, I believe the LMS should be subject to massive criticism in the interest of influencing positive change. However, I also believe that the LMS is ultimately capable of championing new ways of teaching and learning. In order to provide more detail, I wanted to highlight a few different considerations to take when contemplating the overall question, such as:

• Structure vs. Unstructured Environments
• Factoring in the Consumer

• People Factors
• Access
• Analytics and Information
• The Need for Nimble and Feral systems

Structure vs. Unstructured Environments - Traditional LMSs have been designed as a transaction system. I think we do a disservice to the future of online learning in creating a “transactional system.” The LMS environment should adapt to the art of teaching. Faculty should not be in a position to have to adapt to the technology but rather have technology adapt to their individual teaching styles or course strategies, learning objectives and outcomes. “Overstructuring” (as it is appropriately called by Stephen Downes) online teaching and learning is not conducive to the type of gains in online education we’re seeking. The faculty doesn’t challenge the LMS very much, and, in turn, the LMS doesn't challenge the faculty. Using cooking as a metaphor, it’s like the difference between a cookbook vs. a “chef book” – there are thousands of cookbooks that help you through a step-by-step process of creating a meal, but chefs are chefs because of their inherent knowledge and instinct to make a dish their own – thus, they have no need for a book. Teaching is as much an art as it is a practice and we’ve constructed our LMS environments for “add water and stir.”

Factoring in the Consumer - Although the current LMS has made significant strides in improving the student experience, it should have the capability to harness an expanding list of student-centered applications that give students greater control over academic content and their options for accessing it.

People Factors - Until we see institutions investing more money in people and less money in off-the-shelf software, students and faculty are stuck with LMS/CMS packages. Creating and encouraging the effective use and proliferation of online learning is a social science. We have to spend more time, money and energy on understanding social behaviors and adopting solutions that fit those behaviors.

Access - Online education, supported by enabling tools such as LMSs, is ideally about online teaching and learning, but it’s also about access. Back before the digital revolution, access to information was an issue. The size of the library mattered. One big reason people went to college was to get access to collections of resource and materials that didn’t exist anywhere else. Today, that access is worth a lot less and the information has turned into a commodity, only to be replaced by rich and growing sources of freely available content, digital primary source research, learning object repositories and transportable “course cartridges.” We need to focus on new LMS systems to better adapt to a more open teaching and learning process, but we also have to design for a future of access.

It is also about access to people. One of the really valuable and intangible assets people take away from college are interactions with great people – great minds that are foremost in their field and non-class activities that shape them as people. The LMS needs to make the intangible asset of people tangible. Past systems and designs for asynchronous and synchronous interaction will be replaced by a more dynamic, real-time capturing of discourse within the context of learning objectives and strategies. Online education programs that will thrive in the coming years are those that come up with efficient, dynamic and flexible ways to help their students interpret and apply that content to their lives.

Analytics and Information - There was a lot of discussion at Learning Impact 2010 about post-Spellings outcomes and the LMS being a centrifugal force for all that is data. In concentrating on access to a greater depth of data, supporting architecture, business intelligence tools and enabling technologies, we lose sight of the fact that we haven’t developed systems for interpretation and inference and how that is a natural bridge to intervention. Absent a “workflow” mechanism that enables faculty to create effective intervention, we’re still operating on a one-dimensional plane.

The Need for Nimble and Feral Systems - LMS systems are static by design, not fluid as they should be. That’s why we see significant push back from institutions that are forced by negative option to upgrade to the most recent software release. What does the vendor community need to do to create seamless transitions between improvement release cycles to instill excitement, trust, competency and innovation in continuous design and functionality of LMS systems? Why is it that some software communities salivate and count the days until the next OS upgrade is available in contrast to other communities who will avoid and sometimes loath, at all costs, an OS upgrade?

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