The theme of this week’s Personal Learning Environments Networks and Knowledge (PLENK) 2010 online course was a comparison of the personal learning environment (PLE) to the learning management system (LMS). In the end I concluded that the PLE and the LMS are complimentary and not opposing. The LMS forms a part of a students PLE, and the PLE must be nurtured by the network which the university offers. Education must be about the recommendation of the best possible tools to maintain an optimal PLE for a particular discipline.
If you have been to university in the past 15 years you would probably have encountered a LMS in the course of your studies. In my undergraduate university we used Blackboard. Other examples include Moodle, Chisimba, Sakai, and Desire2Learn. The LMS is designed to support the administration, documentation, tracking, and reporting of training programs, classroom and online events, e-learning programs, and training content. It is anticipated that the LMS can bring about innovation in teaching by providing a space for teaching and learning to occur online thereby extending the opportunities for learning to take place outside of the classroom.
Historically, academic departments would each create their own solution to delivering content online resulting in a wide array of independently run websites with little standardisation or optimisation. We still see this happening on university websites as departments still maintain departmental websites. (At UCT I have seen a huge array of departmental websites which are often not aligned with the university main page and contain widely different colour schemes and layouts! – Ex 1, Ex 2, Ex 3.)
The LMS came to be part of the institutional offering of software as the internet blossomed. Centralizing the managing of content made perfect sense as coordinating all of the independent websites became a nightmare. The administration can better serve a centralized system and provide quality assurance, centralized support, staff development and knowledge sharing about best practice (Weller, 2010).
At the University of Cape Town (UCT) the uptake of the LMS Vula (based on Sakai) by both staff and students has been phenomenal. The centralized LMS provides uniformity of experience by both staff and students. Staff share experiences in using the LMS through workshops and seminars run by the Centre for Educational Technology.
The LMS is most often a protected space in which only staff and students of the university tread. These systems have been likened to ‘walled gardens‘, where content is protected and limited to only those enrolled in a given course.
A LMS, like any piece of software, has inherent affordances which allow for the possibility of certain learning and teaching activities to take place. LMS designers have been hard pressed to develop and provide a suite of tools which keep up with other innovations available on the net. Generally, the LMS has not been able to keep up with developments online, so it can be argued that when students access their LMS they leave their fancy tools behind (Facebook, Youtube) and adopt systems with limited functionality (Siemens, 2006; Weller, 2010) Researchers of the LMS have argued that this has happened due to a number of factors:
“Pedagogy is generally a secondary consideration to student management.” (Siemens, 2006)
Formal learning is very thoroughly entrenched in learning management systems. (Anderson, 2006)
Systems have begun to determine the available options available for faculty in an institution. (Siemens, 2006)
Universities assume that the online space is an extension of physical instruction, not an alternative medium with unique affordances. (Siemens, 2006)
Universities fail to first define organizational views of learning which results in an unanchored and misplaced model of LMS selection. (Siemens, 2006)
Despite criticism of the LMS I would hazard a guess that if you proposed it be removed, and all learning technology services be decentralized, you might face some opposition. The LMS has become a standard offering in the institution and is deeply entrenched as a core service. Just as the university community shares the library they so do share the LMS. Students help other students use the service, and academics share practice. The podcast discussion ‘Open complementing closed – PLE and LMS – why, what for and how?’ discussed many of these issues. How would our students react if we told them to go find their own tools to conduct online learning? Would we be excluding less tech savvy individuals from the learning experience? Would students get bogged down in all of the technology? A certain degree of hand-holding needs to take place to help students get acquainted with online learning and it helps if they have a homogenised experience in which they can turn to their peers for assistance.
So I do not think of the PLE as an alternative to the LMS. The LMS is in fact a part of a students PLE. The ‘tools are out there’ and part of the process of educating is to help students find and use the best quality tools. The LMS serves up the basics in terms of what is needed to support university learning, by ensuring students have access to the course content, other learners, and academics. It is up to the academics to develop the students PLE by recommending certain tools. We see academics suggesting students write and maintain blogs, subscribe to certain content, engage with social media, bringing in outside experts via skype, etc. and these activities are getting more exciting as we go.
It’s about innovative teaching which leaves the student with an enriched experience and enhanced PLE. My PLE shown below was not developed by me alone, but developed as a result of my time on earth as a learning individual. Many of the tools I use have been suggested by my teachers, friends and family. My PLE has been developed based on my experiences and understanding of what works for managing information.
Anderson, T. (2006). PLE’s versus LMS: Are PLEs ready for Prime time? Virtual Canuck, January 9, 2006. Retrieved online September 23, 2010: http://terrya.edublogs.org/2006/01/09/ples-versus-lms-are-ples-ready-for-prime-time/
McIntosh, E., Farmer, J., Beach Clint Smith, B., Higgs, P., Forsyth, F. & Murray, J. (2007). Open Complementing closed what what for and how? The Knowledge Tree e-journal Edition 13 Podcast. Retrieved online September 21, 2010: http://kt.flexiblelearning.net.au/tkt2007/edition-13/open-complementing-closed-ple-and-lms-why-what-for-and-how/
Siemens, G. (2006). Learning or Management Systems? Connectivism Blog. October 6, 2006. Retrieved online September 22, 2010: http://www.connectivism.ca/?p=243
Weller, M. (2010). The Centralization Dilemma in Educational IT. International Journal of Virtual and Personal Learning Environments, 1(1), 1-9, January-March 2010. Available via: http://nogoodreason.typepad.co.uk/no_good_reason/2010/01/the-centralisation-dilemma-in-educational-it.html