Think of a learning management system (LMS) as a central nervous system.
One of the things I love about my job is that I get the chance to share ideas with a lot of people who care about the future of educational technology.
Lately though, as the current wave of conversations take place about what the next generation of learning management system (LMS) will look like, I keep hearing a metaphor to describe a more open and disaggregated LMS, similar to how LEGO® bricks work.
Just like models built of toy bricks, all of the parts of an LMS and learning tools can be stuck together and still work seamlessly – right?
I don’t think so.
Before we get into my opinion on the matter, however, let’s go over the thought behind the LMS as LEGO® bricks metaphor.
The LEGO® bricks Approach
We see this metaphor used in the well-known research paper The Next Generation Digital
Learning Environment (NGDLE) by the Educause Learning Initiative (ELI). But the limitations of this metaphor are recognized even in this report.
Here’s the thinking behind the this approach:
The “walled garden” of the LMS as a “does everything” tool is over.
There are countless amazing learning and collaboration tools that should be accessible to educators. These are the tools that can be looked at as “building bricks.”
Standards exist today that enable these countless tools (including an LMS) to talk to each other. For instance, multiple people have the ability to sign in and share results and data. These tools, or “bricks” share some properties which allow them to fit together, and can be interchanged and swapped at will, with confidence that the learning experience will continue uninterrupted.
The Flaw in Building Brick by Brick
Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge LEGO® products fan. In fact, to survive the wait before the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, I think I built and re-built my Star Wars LEGO® scene at least three times.
However, the LEGO® bricks metaphor is flawed. Unlike building bricks, not all educational technology tools that are used as part of the student experience are created equally. You can’t just stick together different pieces and assume they will work harmoniously.
What we need to recognize is that learning is more complex than that – it needs a brain.
Learning isn’t simple, or complicated
Learning is complex. We need to intelligently orchestrate all these different “bricks” to serve the student. Instead of looking at the LMS and other learning tools as building blocks that need to fit together, we need to look at it as more of a central nervous system.
A central nervous system controls the activity of a body – it orchestrates many different moving parts into a singular purpose – surviving and thriving. For students to survive and thrive, they too need their learning experience orchestrated across all of its different parts.
Let’s back up to some arguable requirements for a next-generation student experience. Here are the important characteristics a next-gen solution must have, according to the NGDLE article:
- Cloud-based, always on, and mobile-compatible
- Enables each individual to be successful according to their own capabilities and constraints
- Uses data to let experts act in time to influence results
- Flexible ways to teach and engage students
- Accessible to everyone
- Standards-based, open, and extensible
To accomplish this, we purposefully design learning experiences. Each person, instructor, and program is different and require their own way to express and create learning experiences. It’s that simple.
The NGDLE report says that, “Instructors have historically failed to adopt the more advanced features of the LMS in favor of doing management tasks like posting syllabus and grades.” So if we accept this as truth, and we have no reason to believe we will be able to substantially change instructor behavior (as their motivations have not changed with regards to Recognition, Tenure and Promotion (RTP), etc.), then any next-gen attempt at completely re-working the pedagogical model and introducing a “mash-up of whatever tools you want” to fulfil this will fall victim to the same problems.
The ‘If This Then That’ Recipe
Much like how IFTTT defines its recipes, the LMS should function similarly.
IF [Student hasn’t read content by Wednesday] THEN [Send reminder to student with links to required content]
IF [Student chooses ‘Project Option’] THEN [Release assignment folder and project instructions, and schedule project draft review meeting]
Or more generally…
IF [ ] THEN [ ]
These examples are pretty basic, and are easy to set up and execute. Yet they are powerful in terms of the ability to impact the student and their behaviours. More advanced scenarios could involve a semantic analysis of content. For instance, this analysis could provide targeted recommendations for learners related to various interventions or activities by using predictive models. These models could be built from a variety of data sources, normalized and delivered via the central hub of an LMS. This would better enable the tracking of record completion of outcomes on a blockchain-enabled transcript, and then determine future learning goals by chatting with an artificial intelligence-enabled bot to assist in advising.
So how would this work if all we had to work with were the same rigid pieces?
Busting Out of LEGO® Bricks
It would be much harder to do, or impossible – if all the pieces involved were just “bricks” without anything to orchestrate and weave together in a meaningful way to achieve a personal experience with well-defined learning outcomes.
The process of articulating, nurturing, demonstrating and evaluating learning outcomes is far more complex than an IFTTT recipe of course, with learner preferences, accessibility, goals, and much more context involved.
But this is what the LMS is good at.
It can be a central hub in which a variety of learning activities and tools are used, bringing together and making sense of all the amazing innovations happening around it.
Let’s grow out of this building blocks mindset and into that of a central nervous system with a keen focus on using technology to bring out the best learning experiences for each student.
LEGO®is a trademark of the LEGO Group of companies which does not sponsor, authorize or endorse this post.