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Transcending the LMS


Godfrey Parkin (via Incorporated Subversion) says of Learning Management System vendors:

Learning software vendors still doggedly pursue their vision of reusable learning objects that integrate via a central standards-conformant LMS. Meanwhile, trainers who really want to encourage experience-sharing and dynamic learner-created content are scrambling to understand blogging, RSS, and peer-to-peer networks.


When your concept of learning is LMS-centric, you look for opportunities to implement “a solution” that conforms to that concept, and ignore or marginalize all else. An LMS is, of course, a relevant tool for certain applications. If you want to track learner activities, you need some kind of system. And if you want to make use of much of the available e-course content, you have no choice but to use an LMS – not because the learning requires it, but because the established architecture of the “learning supply chain” requires it.

I agree that these are important issues.

Now I and some collegues are asking ourselves how to blend the "learning supply chain" and a collaborative approach to learning, and yes it does mean we need to ignore the current consensus reality on what an LMS is and what an LMS should do. I'm working with USQ's Distance and e-Learning Centre, where we do have a supply chain. A good one. USQ is an experienced distance educator, with a large corpus of materials that are evolving from print to mixed-mode delivery. The evolution is nudged along by a constant collaboration between teachers and instructional designers.

Essentially USQ's materials are books, even when they are online or on CD. They have a beginning, a middle and an end and they are often organised in a linear one-week-at-a-time kind of way. And in my opinion there's nothing wrong with that as a starting point for online collaboration. These materials work in a traditional distance education mode, with more limited collaboration and interaction, so why not build on them?

The approach I think we should take is to start from the established materials which work as books, and use them to seed the collaboration that is a hallmark of Internet-enabled educational processes.

We need to allow learner-constructed tagging to re-orient the materials for a particular cohort.

We need to add browsing by structure, and interaction with the structure:

We need to add simple publishing tools to assist in collaborative elaboration of the base materials.

And we need to close the loop on materials development. There should be a short-cycle feedback loop allowing discussion and interaction in and around course materials, and a way of rolling the interaction back into course materials on a longer cycle.

Most importantly, we need to engage with the learners, even though this whole business would be so much easier without them. Talking to Cameron Loudon yesterday I was reminded that the evolution from book online to collaborative learning experience needs to be taken in small steps that are going to be good for the learners, the teachers and the administrators, strictly in that order.

Hey Cam, where's your blog?

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