The Most Important LMS Question is…

The Most Important LMS Question is…

Michael Feldstein’s Chronicle article on the failures of our Learning Management Systems and the procurement processes could not be more timely for me or my Institution.  Having completed a pilot in the Spring of 2014 with the decision that that we would stay put for a couple of years and re-evaluate in 2015-2016, we are now at the end of the second evaluation process.  Michael does an excellent job of conveying the standard process that Institutions use to make decisions about Learning Management Systems.  His analogies brought up conversations I have had over the last couple of years and the last few weeks.


On the same day, Ted Curran posted Murphy’s Mantras for LMS Evaluation as a comment on Michael’s post and an ode to Murphy’s Law, “anything that can go wrong will go wrong”.  As would be expected with such a title, Ted pointed out the common things that seem to go wrong and that one should try and keep in mind during an LMS evaluation.  Then he is simply brilliant with the last mantra:


And finally, don’t forget that people will complain no matter what you do. Understand your school’s strategic vision for student learning outcomes and err on the side of an LMS with the features that support the learning tasks that promote that vision.


What is your school’s strategic vision for student learning outcomes?  This is a question that needs to be asked more often at our Institutions. Is the goal to manage the students’ learning? or, Is the goal to developing creative problem solvers?  Do we want students who can be taught? or, Do we want students who can learn and teach us?


In discussions with my colleagues while building Open Courses for Janux, it became clear that the Faculty want the students in their courses to be independent, critical thinkers that could use the course as the starting point on a quest to learn for a lifetime and create new knowledge.  The Faculty often had a hard time listing the learning outcomes for their courses because what they wanted to accomplish was not easy to measure, it did not easily fit into a box.  I was elated that the Faculty had such high aspirations for their students.


What would I say is my Institution’s Vision for Learning?

Student as creators of new knowledge.

Student as collaborators in the learning process.


The right LMS is the one that most closely aligns with empowering students to create and collaborate.  This is contrary to most learning MANAGEMENT systems.  Managing learning is the last thing that is really needed.  Tasks and abilities are limited so that the process can be managed.  Learning is a messy process. Managing learning frustrates the learner and the instructor.


Facilitate is the word I use most often.  How can we help facilitate student learning?  Facilitate a student’s own quest for knowledge and wisdom.  A learning facilitation system would empower students by providing tools designed to help them create and explore.


Of course, There are some things that need to be managed, or at least protected.  Feedback on performance from a teacher to student needs a safe and secure place to reside.  Providing challenges and constructive feedback is important to the learning process.  If the student does not know how they did on the last assignment, then they can not improve on the next. Just like watching our Mother’s face to see if we said ‘Momma’ correctly, feedback is essential.  This feedback needs to be safe place to be communicated between the mentor and mentee.  Of course, a LMS that encouraged rich feedback and dialog would be wonderful.


Which LMS has the features that support the learning tasks that promote that vision? A short, specific list of tools that support the strategic learning goals is more important than the extensive list of features that is most often created.  In some cases, it is likely not a list of features, but a philosophy.  What tools are needed for the vision of student as creative collaborator in their learning?  Tools that are in the hands of the students.  A philosophy that empowers the learners, both student and instructor.


Until the Indie EdTech movement hits full stride, large Institutions will need a central Learning Management System, or Digital Learning Environment.  Imagine a world were students and faculty have the ability to choose or create the tools they need to develop a creative digital learning environment.  Create is a step towards this utopia of Indie EdTech, but the idea of putting the chalk back into the hands of the Professors and Students will take time to mature. Until then…


What is your Institution’s Vision for Learning?


Select learning systems that help facilitate this vision of learning on your campus. Or at least, takes a step in the right direction.


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