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’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?