This Charming Man…?

April 19, 2010

The Learning Management System…Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.

Filed under: Uncategorized — ihaventgotastitchtowear @ 5:31 pm
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The Learning Management System/Virtual Learning Environment. One suite of applications I cannot get excited about. Really, and I have tried. Even the names, Learning Management System – a system that someone, presumably the teacher/facilitator can manage a student’s learning vs the slightly more palatable c.1992 sci-fi influenced Virtual Learning Environment. ‘So what are you doing today Johnny?’, ‘I’m going to my physical learning environment, mummy.’

The ongoing debate about which LMS/VLE is the best for an institution, is more akin to popping down to the coffee house and discussing the relative merits of the Handsome Carriage versus the Horseless carriage. Same design you’ve just replace the horse with an engine (and created global warming).

Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Moodle, Sakkai. Meh. They will all so what you want if what you want is a repository for you ppt slides and links to stuff somewhere else, oh and those quizzes, let’s not forget about those (dear God can we, the quiz should be left for Sunday nights in the pub in order to demonstrate what we were force fed at school – oh wait, yeah, I get it – quizzes). The choice isn’t even pedagogical, blackbox vs open source is the battle line these days. The calls of  ‘if we have to have a crap LMS, we may as well have an open source one’, ring out across Australia and New Zealand.

I’ve been an exponent for Learning 2.0; blogs, wikis, low cost, low res, high quality RLOs  but you know what?, ‘Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold’. The more choice we offer staff and students, all based on a needs analysis of course, the more fractured the learning oval becomes. Things are increasingly coming as packages rather than modular where you can build up. The ePortfolio that also has wikispaces and blogs; an Elgg instance that have groupings, RSS feeds and blogs; a stand alone wiki, the propitiatory lecture capture and dissemination technology whose picture you can’t make bigger. God knows academics are confused and run off screaming.

So once we were centralised. The black box that acted to monitor, and manage learning, or rather instruction. Versus the opensource/blackbox landscape we find ourselves in now. Is computer mediated learning any better than 10 years ago. I think we can say yes, but could it have been better? Yes.

Enter student, stage right. There is lots of evidence to show that the ‘student’ values the learning management system. What’s less clear is  why they value it. My guess, yeap, only a guess is that they value it in the same way as they value the locker and the post-box. Somewhere to store and get stuff and somewhere to post stuff. Which is useful for what it is, an expensive warehouse and post-box.

But the crunch point comes when we want students to be active partners in their own learning. Enter personalisation stage left. Personalisation has been knocking around a long time and the good people at CETIS have been talking about this baby for a long time. I love personalised learning, empowering students, and I’ve had a couple of projects to realise it. And it sort of works, but only because it’s a solution developed inhouse. Not entirely open source and not a black box either. It works because it recognises local learners needs. Now how do you do that if you have an IT department that is understaffed, uninterested, or non-existent? For me I like the OpenSource collaborative approach. We all have a common goal in this area, and we can pool what little resources we have to develop different flavours.

This naif view though has to be done through leadership. Without it nothing will happen, and the dream will turn to a nightmare very quickly. Professional groups also have a role to play in this. What about creating local Educause groups that can work collaboratively together? At the moment in Australia the Australian Learning and Teaching Council is very keen on collaboration, but the collaborative outputs seem to focus on, albeit interesting, big fat reports that we have already really read before from the US, UK, or the Netherlands. There have been no real projects around collaborative application/teaching tool development, that I can see. I guess I’m looking to teaching and learning groups to bring people together to create great things, and support local differences in a sustained manner. If we do this rather than relying on the remote company or organisation, we may get the learning structures we and our students want.

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