by Boris Savluc
Currently we have a funded courseware redevelopment project happening, and I’ve been asked to articulate my views on a ‘post-LMS world’. The odd thing about this is that I should have a multitude of opinions on this issue but this post has languished as a draft for over a week now and I’m still not quite sure where to go with it. I think part of the problem is that I’m not one for ‘grand future visions’ and I’m also not a good use case for scalability.
So where to start?
Currently we (as in ‘higher education’) have a rather ingrained fetish with learning management systems, heavy emphasis on the ‘m’. @djplaner and @timklapdor both do a good job outlining the issues with this as well as potential solutions – here and here respectively. My main problems with LMS implementation are that it leads to a) focus on systems rather than design, and b) homogeneity. To the first point, discussions abound on features and what systems should and shouldn’t have. While I do agree with David’s point that making users fit the system isn’t a great approach, I also think that never getting outside of this features discussion is dangerous. The problem is that when you have a monosystemic (is that a word?) situation the features discussion has to dominate because there are no other options and we are stuck focusing on the system rather than design purely through lack of alternative. When you have something more like the ‘Environment’ Tim describes then you can take each system at face value and move between all of them to find the features you need.
This is why I find it difficult to answer the question ‘what would you change about Moodle?’ or ‘what features do you think Moodle should have?’. Because I’m a bit of an under-the-desk punk (in a nice, legit kind of way), I already operate within my own ‘environment’, of which Moodle is only a part. If it doesn’t do what I’m after I go find something else to fiddle with. To me there’s little point in changing Moodle or adding features to it when it’s just another part of the kit and if it’s not filling a need I’ll just grab another tool. But – I’m not a standard use case. I pay for my own web hosting and taught myself enough web dev skills to be able to install and admin stuff on it. I also know enough to be able to talk to IT guys and make rational cases for what I want to do, and when faced with a new system I’m happy to fiddle on my own until I know what it does and how I could use it to do cool stuff. Those last two sentences in no way describe your average academic, or even your non-average academic.
This is why I have reservations about jumping in and talking about a post-LMS collection of systems or environments that people can cobble together at will. It’s what I’ve thought would be ideal for years and it’s what is working for me right now. And in an ideal world, this would be the case. But. What do you do when your primary users consists of people who are largely not willing to approach new systems without training, who don’t have learning design as their primary directive, who are churned through casual contracts at astonishing rates that in no way correlate to required unit review procedures, and when your primary market (students) demand consistency and homogeneity across learning experiences? I don’t think the one-size-fits-all LMS is the answer but if you start building in choice and freedom something has to give in terms of how universities are currently structured and cultured. But then again – this is only an issue if we assume the centralised university model we currently have will still exist. If the harbingers of doom turn out to be right and the likes of Coursera et al *do* happen to disrupt universities out of business (chortle) then we’re dealing with an entirely different beast.
So at this point I have done an excellent job of not answering the question, which is what my vision of a post-LMS world might be. The upshot is, I don’t know. I don’t think a centralised management model, whether monosystemic or ‘environment’, is the answer, but it might have to be if ‘current university model’ is still the question. I think as long as universities stand in their current form we won’t have a post-LMS world – even if we do move to a more flexible environment model there will still be a focus on systems and management out of necessity. A post-university world, however – that’s the interesting question. I still don’t have an answer but I think it’s a better question to be asking.