The LMS and the adolescence of web learning

I am noting this semester that although our surveys still show a substantial preference among students for Moodle over Blackboard, more students than before are whining and saying they want just Blackboard.

The main reasons are that they’d prefer having all their classes in one system (convenience), and they don’t want to be confused by using a new system (ease).

I am concerned because I sense that the “one LMS to rule them all” viewpoint is getting more and more traction, and that the new argument (as opposed to administrative, top-down, management arguments) is going to be that students prefer it. Diploma mills like to standardize their LMS configuration for all their classes to control content and teaching, but they justify it by saying that it’s easier (read: better) for the students. This thinking is bleeding into public education.

While I understand the desire for convenience, I have long argued that when students take classes online, they are learning not only the subject matter but technology skills. Being exposed to more than one system means they are learning transferrability of those skills, which I think is important in the workplace. And it’s more important than the inconvenience of using a second log-in (which they do anyway because they have Facebook open at the same time).

On the issue of ease, there may be levels of web learning maturation at work here:

Childhood: people who are very new to using the web for learning tend to accept what is given to them, because they don’t really know what the options are. When online learning with the LMS was new, most people were in this category.

Adulthood: people who use the web a great deal and in varied ways tend to do better in online classes, and assess the worth of the LMS (or any tool) based on how well it works for the course.

Adolescence: in between are the adolescents. They know just enough to be dangerous. They have enough experience to want convenience and not enough to understand the larger issues of pedagogy, including the restrictiveness of an LMS on what the instructor wants to do. They can drive but have no sense of how traffic works.

And they haven’t been exposed to enough good online classes, or enough online classes that customize the system sufficiently. If you take five classes in Blackboard, and in each one the instructor has left the course menu items pretty much intact, than that is what you think a Bb class looks like. You know where all the buttons are.  The students don’t know this, but the way I would use Bb, my class could look just like it does in Moodle:

Well, pretty close anyway.

Why it’s important to deal now with the “teen angst” of web-adolescence:

1. Not customizing the LMS to suit your pedagogy implies that we all teach the same way. If we all teach the same way, then a computer can do our work instead. (I’ve been reading Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind – he’s pretty clear that if a computer can do your job, eventually it will.)

2. Instructors should use the tools that best create the environment they want, and that increasingly means web applications that require multiple log-ins. Students should get accustomed to using separate tools for separate tasks, just like in the real world.

3. Acknowledging the teen view means taking it seriously, but it doesn’t mean developing policy around it. Just as parents try to mitigate the excesses of the teen diet and habits, we owe students our wisdom in creating the learning experience that is most appropriate. (Oh dear, I’m starting to sound like Edmund Burke again.)

In a world dominated by look-alike online classes, the tendency will be to assume all classes should be that way.

In a world featuring variety and creativity, the tendency will be to assume these as part of learning online.

I’d much prefer to both learn and teach in the latter.

5 comments to The LMS and the adolescence of web learning

  • Hey Lisa,

    Nice post – I see this drive for generic, I mean consistent, courseware quite a bit, and it can be frustrating to try and promote flexibility and being ‘fit for purpose’ instead. I sometimes ponder the drive for consistency in the multitude of enterprise learning systems that are being integrated together in contrast with the myriad of inconsistent online tools that many students are probably already using and wonder if we really aren’t giving them enough credit in being able to cope with flexibility.

    Thanks for the post 🙂

    Mark.

  • Todd Conaway

    I love the comparison and you ask some great questions here.

    “In a world dominated by look-alike online classes, the tendency will be to assume all classes should be that way.” frightening.

    I was really inspired by Gardner Campbell’s “No Digital Facelifts” video early on in the ds106 class (http://ds106.us/2011/01/12/a-personal-cyberinfrastructure/)and I have been thinking about the need for and value of developing our own learning environments as teachers and as students. The LMS seems to play down that part, often pointing to the lowest common denominator, or standardization, of web based experiences. If the goal was to recreate the classroom the LMS would be fine, but I think we have recognized the danger in just delivering content. Just like there is the world outside the classroom, there is also the world outside the LMS.

    Awesome post.

  • Pilar

    This is right on, Lisa.
    Mark,
    In my opinion, we most definitely are not giving students enough credit for being able to cope with flexibility. In my online Spanish classes, I’ve asked students to go from Blackboard to Ning, to Voicethread to their online workbook to Skype. Let’s count em’….up to 5 different logins. I’ve never received any complaints from students, including on anonymous evaluations of my teaching. Variety and creativity are valued from an on-site instructor.
    What’s best for online students? Well, for starters let’s not short change them. Like their on-site counterparts, they deserve and appreciate creative approaches to teaching.

  • Lisa, thanks for this post. My campus is literally in its adolescence (established 1994) and recently went from Blackboard to Moodle. At the same time, we tried to solve the “single login dilemma” across the campus network– not quite there yet but it’s better. At the classroom level, which (ahem) is where the students are, this may be exaggerated as a dilemma by IT, students, and faculty. You’ve hit a point I have not seen discussed elsewhere:

    “…a second log-in (which they do anyway because they have Facebook open at the same time)…” [emphasis added]

    Students log in once for my class, at least once more (surreptitiously or not) for FB, chat, games, and should I mention on more than one device? Multiple logins are normal and we need to teach accordingly.

  • Julia

    Lisa, I really enjoyed your post, but I can’t help but to feel completely confused after reading it! I guess you could say that I am in the childhood phase; for sure, because I’m not even sure what a lms is. I guess maybe you can help me figure something out then….I am looking into an elearning conference this September put on by 2elearning.com. Has anyone heard of this?