“Blow up the Learning Management System!”

By Robin Popow (Instructional Associate, Centre for Instructional Development)

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David Porter, BCcampus Executive Director

This though-provoking statement made by BCcampus Director, David Porter sparked an interesting debate at the 2013 Canada MoodleMoot in Vancouver.

Porter made the statement during a panel discussion suggesting that educators have more freedom using the rapidly growing community of cloud based applications versus affordances offered by the learning management system (LMS). In a followup interview Porter added,

“The LMS is about the “management” of learning, something I oppose in higher education. Don’t mind scaffolding, but dislike management. LMS are managed for instructors and students. I want instructors and students co-manage the learning environment. It’s a new literacy for instructors. It needs to be under their control. Most LMS are just labour-intensive, confining electro-gradebook environments. Instructors need to wean themselves from the electro-pablum of the LMS.”

As you might expect, Moodle founder Martin Dougiamas disagreed with this and presented a good case in support of the LMS but I thought I’d offer my opinion from a Vancouver Community College perspective – I think they’re both right!

I loved Porters analogy of the LMS (Moodle in our case) as a “Swiss army knife” of educational technology. In a very practical way, Moodle does offer a tool to accommodate every popular e-learning strategy to some degree as well as enabling consistent standards of development, delivery and e-learning process College-wide. Porter was keen to follow up on this as well adding,knife

“Swiss Army Knife (SWK): A SWK is a general purpose tool that confines its users to a limited range of very general activities. I’d rather pick the tactical blade to do the job I need. Cloud-based apps give us a whole range of choices for more targeted application and open-ended learning experiences. An LMS is an artificial learning environment, and Moodle represents Martin’s particular worldview, that I do not accept as an autonomous professional.”

To some extent I agree that some Moodle tools tend to provide only rudimentary solutions but I do feel that it generally provides a great platform from which to begin. By that I mean, both from the perspective of an instructor just beginning to use e-learning strategies as well as an instructor who establishes Moodle as a base and sends students off to cloud-based apps that provide more flexibility, advanced features, etc than those in Moodle (Porter’s point I believe). For example and as the later suggests, an activity that focuses on student collaboration to develop a webpage or document would likely be better served using an app dedicated to the purpose of being a wiki such as MediaWiki. Likewise, an activity focused on student folios may be better served using an app such as WordPress.

moodle-platformDuring the MoodleMoot I had a chance to further discuss this with Dougiamas who agreed that the “walls” that once boxed us into Moodle have been effectively removed with the additions of external repositories such as YouTube, MediWiki, Google Docs, etc.

So, I guess my point is that the LMS provides a practical, cost effective and convenient way to manage e-learning. That said, Porter really has a point and we should always encourage those innovators to venture into the clouds. Their explorations blaze new (safe) trails for all of us.

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One thought on ““Blow up the Learning Management System!”

  1. I think my major objection to the statement “blow up the LMS” is the all or nothing nature of it.

    No one that I know is saying an LMS will fit EVERY educator. No tool can do that.

    If you are a tech-savvy concientious educator who can blend 5 different best of breed free tools into one course (AND keep your students engaged and happy) then more power to you.

    However it’s irresponsible to suggest all teachers must do this. I know for a fact that a large proportion of teachers and students wants their courses simpler and integrated. They haven’t got time to be dealing with a wall of passwords, psuedonyms and not-quite-right interfaces. For many teachers the teaching is a part-time activity and same for students.

    The benefit of an LMS is the tight integration of activities. Grading in activities all ends up in one gradebook automatically and is secure and private. Every contribution throughout the course from a student can be seen on one page. Activities can affect each other, for example a glossary activity can cause those words to be highlighted in forums and wikis. Quiz answers can support math notation. “New” things to look at are all in one place, rather than all over the Internet. Etc etc.

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