Do you really need a Learning Management System?

I was reading a blog post from Jonathan Rees earlier – a Professor of History at Colorado State University – where he discusses briefly the usage of the Learning Management System (LMS) (‘An uncharacteristically subtle post for me’). It was accompanied by a chart showing the use of different components of their Learning Management System (I suspect this could be many LMSs, in many, many other institutions).

LMS Usage

The point I inferred from his blog post is that, most of the time, the data show that users are using their Learning Management System to do things that are basic features (like document sharing) and these are the things you don’t really need an LMS for, because you could achieve it on almost any web platform.

So if your staff are using a Learning Management System as a place to share documents, make announcements, and publish student marks, would you actually be better off just using the standard platform your institution probably has in place already and linked to your existing IT systems and identity system (like SharePoint or Office 365), rather than having a completely separate IT system dedicated to it?

Is this pattern created by a procurement mindset of “Let’s list all of the things we could possibly do, and they buy the thing that meets all of those needs”? The risk is that the focus becomes the delivery of the features, and not the use of them.

In the example above, if only 1% of your users actually use wikis within their course, does that justify the need for everybody to have it?

I believe that in the future we’re going to see people choosing systems that give them the core functionality as a platform to build on, and then adding the parts they need for specific groups of users; not specifying an all-singing, all-dancing system from day one which has absolutely everything you need built from the ground up before any users have started using the system and experimenting. We’re going to see the shift to more agile systems, and more agile developments to support the way that users use their enterprise-wide systems.

So, does that mean you don’t need an LMS? And if not, what do you need?

Comments (3)

  1. That's a very interesting blog Ray, thanks for sharing. It's the first time I've seen the evidence for something I've believed to be happening. What I find quite sad is that the powerful elearning tools such as wikis, reflective journals, discussions or blogs are being under utilised by teachers. Perhaps it's not the teachers fault but more a fault of SLT in not providing the appropriate ongoing training for staff in the effective use of this platform? The LMS is being mainly used an organisation and management tool, not a learning tool. An expensive platform if used just for sharing documents and sending head teacher announcments to staff!

  2. A very thought provoking blog – thanks Ray.

    There's also lot of truth in what Gartmor says: if 99% aren't using wikis, upskill them so a) they know how to use wikis and b) like the 1% they too understand what benefits this brings. Because the large majority may need this type of help, the fact all the tools are accessible to them in the same place supports wider adoption and embedding. Use of any tool (free or commercial) is only as good as the implementation process.

    There are definitely free tools that are better than paid for ones, and vice versa. But by looking for free stuff so you can ensure it's not an underused expense you're potentially admitting failure before you start, and in education I think kids deserve better.

    One might also consider value vs. use, which the chart above doesn't. I have a car which I mainly use to drive to work. There are probably more economical ways for me to do that if I got rid of my car. However, I also go on family holidays and my kids get the benefit of driving through Europe and experiencing stuff which could have a profound impact on their lives. That use represents no more than 5% of my overall annual use but does it represent more than 5% of the value my kids get out of having access to that usage?

    My caveat therefore is that there is more to value than frequency of use or mere cost.

  3. alexander says:

    Sharing this very creative and knowledgeable blog is my pleasure.

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