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Learning Management Systems | Viewpoint

LMS, Tear Down This Wall!

For the LMS to remain relevant in higher education, it must move beyond the classroom and integrate seamlessly with the learning opportunities presented by the web.

The LMS will change the nature of instruction and assessment in the same way a granite wall changes the flow of a river. Over the last 25 years or so, we have watched as the wall dammed the flow of learning and contained it. As pointed out in Glenda Morgan’s watershed study, "Faculty Use of Course Management Systems," the primary benefits of the LMS were in the area of classroom management. Many innovative and potentially transformative precursors of the LMS, such as Prometheus and the Speakeasy Café, were submerged by the LMS, which simply replicated online the classroom architecture and traditional model of teaching and learning. The LMS brought the convenience of online grade books, resource distribution, and a drop box for student submissions--the utilities of academic hygiene.

As small rivulets found leaks in the granite wall, we witnessed the second phase of the LMS. These rivulets coalesced as pioneering educators escaped beyond the wall to explore learning opportunities available on the open Web. Instead of the LMS, they used wikis, blogs, and emerging Web 2.0 resources.

Some were sanctioned. Some not.

There is an associated phenomenon transpiring in the world of assessment. At a recent ELI Evidence of Impact online forum, Jillian Kinzie of the National Survey of Student Engagement presented new sightings of assessment-guided improvement. (See Trudy Banta and Charles Blaich's discussion of the persistent challenge to "Closing the Assessment Loop"in the January edition of Change.) Though still rare, there is emerging evidence of assessment that effectively closes the loop with “high impact” practices. But a careful look reveals that these high-impact practices are mostly in study abroad, community service, and undergraduate research programs. What is notable is that these promising practices are flourishing among the co-curricular and outside the traditional classroom walls. Similar practices are emerging with e-portfolios and personal learning environments (PLEs) that engage co-curricular and community partners in transformative innovation that goes beyond classroom boundaries.

The relevance of walled classroom instruction will be increasingly challenged. Those who hire graduates of our institutions will increasingly engage our institutions in new ways (see the 2006 research performed by Peter Hart Research Associates on behalf of the Association of American Colleges and Universities), or bypass them in pursuit of talent. (See "Boeing to Rank Colleges by Measuring Graduates' Job Success" by Paul Baskens.) They will recruit students who demonstrate initiative rarely visible in ever-larger classrooms and who are made anonymous by the plodding assessments used today. Ten years will begin to reveal how deep the fissures in the dam have spread and, depending upon institutional and public response, how viable the old model will remain.

The future of the LMS can be summarized in four points.

  1. The most important issue facing the LMS is its relevance to the kinds of initiative-based and authentic learning that it will be used to support.
  2. For the LMS to be useful in the new world of PLEs and e-portfolios, it will have to be so seamlessly integrated into the World Wide Web that it will be difficult to recognize.
  3. Facebook has taught us that learning is fundamentally and irrepressibly social in nature.
  4. Educators must evolve, not as sages or guides, but as agents responsible for educational strategy, activity, and assessment design. Those who prevail will become mediators for learners brave enough to face today's many pressing and all-too-authentic challenges.

About the Author

Gary Brown was one of the many who developed online collaboration learning spaces before there was an LMS. He was lead developer of TLT Group’s Flashlight Online, and he has developed several online educational tools. He co-directs the AAEEBL ePortfolio organization and is a Senior Fellow with AAC&U working with the VALUE project. Gary and his teams have won best research awards from the National University Telecommunications Network 6 times, and he helped win an AERA award with his evaluation of FIPSE technology projects. Gary is now Director of the Center for Online Learning at Portland State University.

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