I have just returned from a Sun Microsystems sponsored conference-ish kind of thing in Sydney. One of the main things that struck me (again) was that in a world where you have a good portal system that can tie together all of a University's services the LMS is left with little to do except add up marks. My favorite portal demo was from The University of Notre Dame. The presentations don't seem to be online yet. I will link if they become available.
Then this continuation of Godfrey Parkin's LMS adventures came along talking about the way LMS vendors have fortified their positions with strong walls around their software:
Because a simple adaptation of most ERP systems could accommodate the access and reporting aspects of learning management, LMS vendors needed to differentiate themselves from the big enterprise providers like SAP and PeopleSoft (now Oracle). So they focused on becoming ‘platforms’ for the launching of packaged content, which was outside of the brief of ERP providers. And that became their unique selling proposition and primary function.
Only the most cynical observer would suggest that the collusion between the LMS vendors and ADL in the creation – and aggressive promotion – of SCORM was deliberately geared to creating the kind of barriers to entry that result from getting an industry to adopt a proprietary standard instead of exploiting more open web systems. But that was the net effect. In standardising course interoperability around a content-centric object model, they effectively shut out the wider world of process-centric or distributed web interoperability. In so doing they denied to their customers access to some of the real learning potential of the Internet. Learning experiences facilitated by peer-2-peer systems, social networks, just-in-time mentoring, blogging or RSS? Just because your LMS cannot “manage” these does not mean they should not be experimented with and exploited.
In the higher education space SCORM is not that important, but the LMS has done exactly what Parkin says, and walled itself off from the other university systems. The LMS has tried to create a walled garden. As I've said before these things are 'anti-web'. But a University-designed portal can basically do anything you want it to. So, you could drop in a good content handling application that knows about provide the right blend of organizational standards for structure and presentation with flexibility to suit the domain and the learner/teacher dynamic, maybe blogs, maybe wikis. You could replace the gradebook stuff; there would not be much left of the LMS.
Where does this leave us?
In some cases, it might mean either the LMS gets open enough to function as a back-end system behind a flexible front end (which I don't think either WebCT or Blackboard really are yet, but I would be happy to be wrong) or true components for quizzing and marking will appear, just wanting to be skinned (skun?) by your local portal.
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