Landing : Athabascau University

Why LMSs Aren’t the Answer « Educational Technology and Change Journal

I've just (this morning) given a talk making almost exactly the points mentioned here so, unsurprisingly, I like the points being made here. The LMS makes things easier by reducing choice - the result is a tendency to limited creativity and inspiration. Assembling tools using a pick and choose or mix and mash approach gives back the control, to some extent though, in this article, I think it leaves more softness in the technology than many would find easy or comfortable. Achieving the right level of softness and hardness in a given context is a really important challenge (and assembly is the right direction to find an answer)


  • I notice that the author chose an LMS/non-LMS mix in the end. That is probably the best approach for our students in unpaced courses. Many of the student evaluations I've read for the old boxed courses praised their clear structure. It was probably boring for those who designed and taught the courses, but appreciated by students trying to squeeze an education into their already full lives.  I try for a clear and simple LMS structure in combination with some excitment and going a little past the comfort level for some--where learning often occurs.

    Mary Pringle February 24, 2011 - 10:51am

  • Just a quick question Jon:

    When you say "...the result is a tendency to limited creativity and inspiration" do you mean for our course authors or the students? Or both?

    I would offer that the LMS doesn't really limit choice as much as some of us think it does (not you - others).

    Since our undergrad, self-paced courses are not teacher-centric but centered more on the information and activities that are supported/encouraged, students creativity and inspiration is limited more in the design approach than by the LMS interface options itself. 

    My vehicle always looks the same (closed design), and I know where everything is if I need to use it,  but it can take me to wonderful places if I want it to

    I think the LMS borders/boundaries have always been permeable to supporting creativity & inspiration for both our internal staff and our students (e.g., adding on the Landing as an activity, a link to a prof's external blog, a Moodle forum where students can share their aesthetic creations etc.).

    However, if a course author maintains a personal root teaching metaphor of linear progression marching through predefined, closed content, means-ends ("hard")  instead of supporting emergence/contingency/complexity etc. then the LMS will be a vehicle that can only move in one direction in a closed box and never go anywhere "interesting" (or "soft") for anyoneCool

    Basically, I think it's actually the people who create the courses that can be the root cause of the "border control" on creativity & imagination - not the technology.  Does that make sense?

    Carmen Southgate February 24, 2011 - 1:40pm

  • The dangers are definitely for course authors and teachers: students may be victims of their decisions, but it depends entirely on the way it is used and the learning activities are designed, and it fits into a much broader ecology of systems and processes. And yes, people are the ones that can make or break it and who can rise above any systemic constraints if they are creative, skilled and sufficiently time-rich.  

    The problem is not that great things cannot be done with an LMS - within limits they can, especially if they know a lot about how to use it - but that it comes with a set of expectations and assumptions that are determined first by the developers, then the policies and admins and only then the creators of courses. People, who are short of time and/or don't have enough skills to usurp predetermined structures, will tend to take the easier paths - it's not that they are lazy or unimaginative, it's just a feature of a world without infinite time to give. The LMS (including the surrounding hierarchies of control, not just the software) achieves its magic and improves efficiency by reducing the need to make choices, and that means the overall tendency is towards uniformity and away from innovative solutions. Personally, I like a few constraints (not *too* many) because they encourage problem-solving and creative solutions if you are willing to put in the effort and have the necessary skills to overcome limitations. But I am a geek and unusual because I have a strong interest in doing and researching such things, and I enjoy (and usually win) the fight with the machine. Observing a lot of LMS-based courses in many institutions, it is clear that this is not the overall tendency. In fact, people who have hitherto achieved innovative and flexible designs in face to face courses often fall into line when it comes to the LMS, parcelling amorphous topics up into separate units, separating discussion from content, formalising previously informal formative assessment practice, adopting a culture of announcement and control when formerly it was a dialogue, and so on. The details vary enormously according to LMS and organisational culture/structure, but the effects are similarly constraining whenever they occur.

    By assembling an LMS with other technologies (including pedagogies and other processes as well as other software and hardware) it can become a useful part of a richer technological assembly and I do not object to its use as a deliberately chosen toolset, any more than I object to lectures or exams (both of which are things to be avoided on the whole) as long as they are reflectively and intelligently chosen to fit identified learning needs and pedagogies, and not used as a matter of course. That's one of the big reasons I think the Landing is part of a more useful long-term strategy: part of the philosophy of the Landing is to create a space that is as constraining or unconstraining as you need it to be - it is about giving control to non-geeks and non-admins to create any process, soft or hard, rather than embedding structure in the software. It's very far from perfect yet, but that's the direction we are heading.


    Jon Dron February 24, 2011 - 6:43pm

  • Excellent!

    Reminds me of the National Park phenomenon that assumes that you can preserve nature and wildlife within arbitrarily demarcated boundaries.  A strange assumption that those created boundaries are impermeableWink

    Perhaps the Landing can be thought of as AU's National Park on the Web, with more freedom to roam and have some fun in the wilds of a more naturally structured environment than the "classrooms" in our LMS. Laughing  The group campsites seem to be popular so far....

    Carmen Southgate March 3, 2011 - 3:44pm

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