In an earlier blog about Blackboard buying out Angel Learning Systems, I dropped the throwaway comment:

‘I suspect that by the time all the legal issues over copyright and monopoly are resolved, LMSs will be obsolete anyway.’

Professor Wendy Kilfoil, of the University of Pretoria, South Africa, picked up on this and asked the following question:

‘I am interested in your assertion that LMSs will be a thing of the past in the not too distant future. We have been discussing this in our department but not too seriously as our immediate problem is to get lecturers to use the current LMS. I work in South Africa and at our university only 45% of the modules are on our LMS (Blackboard Vista). I don’t think that 10% of those are used effectively as learning environments: they are just information repositories – where they are updated at all after being created. I know you are familiar with the South African situation of limited bandwidth, disadvantaged students, etc. Given what you know about our context, how long do you think it would take for LMSs to become redundant here? What should we be working towards? We are experimenting with m-learning, podcasts, youtube, etc. but on a small scale.’

I replied:

‘I’m not sure that LMSs will become completely redundant, because they provide useful administrative functions, but I see them becoming less important or rather just one piece of a broader ‘personal learning environment’ that will include other tools, and over which the learner will also have some control with regard to tools and links. This personal learning environment is likely to be more like a customisable web ‘portal’ into which both academic designers and learners can add and withdraw tools as the technology changes. Indeed, the portal may vary depending on the device the learner is using. Thus a mobile phone with a limited screen size may have a different look (and different tools available) for the same course than a learner accessing the course through a high speed network.

What is changing is the idea that the LMS is the course container into which everything must fit. It is true that you can add web 2.0 tools as plug-ins, but it’s a clumsy way to enable learners to create their own multimedia project portfolios, for example. I don’t see content being the main ‘stuff’ much longer in LMSs, since more and more, learners will be encouraged to access content outside the LMS, and they will need their own tools for managing and organizing their unique collections of content.

The advantage of LMSs is that they allow academic and administrative functions to be easily integrated (e.g. posting student grades), and provide analytics on students’ use, and they provide a structure for academics who don’t have the knowledge or experience to design their own course structures. Thus the more flexible ‘personal learning environment’ approach is more challenging. However, I foresee PLE templates built around different approaches to teaching/learning being used, and easily adapted to a particular instructor’s or learner’s requirements. I don’t think these changes will come quickly so I see at least another five years of LMSs being the ‘standard’ approach to online learning.’

This is certainly not the end of the discussion. So here are some questions I have:

1. Can/will LMSs evolve into integrated personal learning environments, through the use of plug-ins for Web 2.0 tools, or will it be necessary to create new portals or software that will provide learners as well as instructors with the tools to manage, organise, create, and communicate?

2. I have found that you can use LMSs to teach in either a behaviourist way or in a constructivist way (or more often both), but they are certainly designed for teacher management and control. To what extent does an LMS influence the approach to teaching and learning?

3. Could/should we be building new software/portals/interfaces that allow for very different approaches to teaching and learning? And can/could this multiple teaching approach be accommodated within a conventional LMS such as Moodle or Blackboard?

3. Are these the wrong questions? Should we be approaching this from a completely different framework?

I am sure many of the people who read this post have addressed these questions. What comments, solutions or answers do you have?


  1. This is an excellent post and the questions you raise could be the makings of multiple conversation. I think the issue of economics has to be raised too. The evolution of the LMS is as much an economic issue as an evolution in how we teach and learn.

  2. Great response to Wendy’s question. Mostly in response to your 1st new question posted above, I do believe that LMSs can & will be able to adapt (at least the ones that will survive) to include plug-ins for Web 2.0 tools, in some cases, completely changing the LMS experience.

    Avilar’s already does this type of high level customization with its WebMentor LMS, in which some installations look, act, and perform in completely new ways. I think the tricky part for organizations is deciding which Web 2.0 tools to integrate and how they should interact with the LMS. Some big players integrate trendy plug-ins just to do it but it doesn’t provide any real value in the learning environment.

    I think as the LMS landscape evolves, user interfaces will look much less like they do today but LMS functions will remain present to manage and track learning activities, historical data, and training ROI. Without these LMS functions, we lose all ability to effectively and accurately make future decisions based on past successes or failures.

  3. I don’t think LMS will become obsolete in the near future, but I do think the way we use them will change.

    I work in Vocational Education in Western Australia delivering and assesssing General Education courses with low literacy levelstudents – mostly return to learn and/or adolescent at risk. I also work in a regional context so we have issues of bandwidth and remote students.

    The LMS provides a necessary structure for learners who have not developed (and realistically may never develop) independent learning skills. It also provides a “safe” environment in that it is password protected. Our current LMS (CE6) although very limited does enable students to collect/upload evidence to their own journal area, and to interact with other students through discussion posts and chat.

    We have all levels and units accessible through one LMS course to facilitate interaction and use the LMS as part of varying blends – these differ for almost every student.

  4. If I can speak in the voice of someone who otherwise would not contribute…

    My husband is an academic, as are many of our friends. They all have an LMS at the university they teach at, but not one of them uses it except for when they are actively forced too.

    They universally see their LMSs as restrictive, unintelligible, clumsy, and time-consuming. In fact, most of them hate elearning on principle because of their LMSs – I’ve tried to coax a couple into using different tools, but it’s a hard road.

    These are people who thrive in facebook and gmail. They’re not bewildered by their LMS because it’s too advanced for them. They’re bewildered because it’s not advanced enough – like microwave users trying to steam vegetables on an open fire.

    My point is – I’m not sure that, at least in the UK tertiary sector, LMSs were ever not obsolete (‘solete’?) Obsolete means ‘functional but unwanted’ – and I haven’t met anyone who WANTS to use their LMS.

    There were some expectations of user behaviour in the design of the LMS that were, basically, wrong. I think the first mistake was tryign to supply a one-stop shop: I cannot think of any area of my life where I use one tool to do everything, so why would I (or those academics) teach that way?

    I’d love to see institutions using different cloud based tools & repositories with interoperable elements (and single sign-on), but I don’t think that enough work is being done on standards and standards adoption for this to happen any time soon.

    (But maybe – just maybe – it could happen. Maybe the biggest threat to the LMS is OpenID?)

  5. Hi Tony, Just wanted to pick up on your mention of portals with respect to the use of LMSs. Interestingly, at Monash (this is not a plug – I retired last year) the technology with the highest student use is MyMonash (i.e. the portal). The LMS (WebCT/Blackboard) comes third, after the Electronic Library. All three are mature and well administered. To me it illustrates the way student use is headed (just as you say) – towards a flexible and useful portal, which learners use as their ‘home page’. The LMS is just a sub-section of their overall online educational environment.
    David in sunny Penang

  6. I believe, LMS will continue since it made a lot of work with other companies and institutions. The only thing is, it will surely evolve and upgrade because their are a lot of LMS systems nowadays. This is a very good article, thank you for posting this one. By the way, in connection with the article, i came across this website, you might want to check this out. This is just one link to prove LMS is not obsolete, there is still more LMS systems surrounding us.


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