Thursday, July 19, 2007

Knocking down the LMS Walls

Institutionalized education has erected a series of walls around what was supposed to be an exercise in flexible and open learning accesss - that is the use of web based interactive communications technology to deliver distance learning. The predominant tool used to date has been the Learning Management System which primarily just recreates the controlled, enclosed learning environment called the lecture hall. Consider the terminology -LMS is a learning management tool designed for the institution not the learner. It is a confined space where learning events occur, assessments are submitted and grades assigned.
The learning events have no "life" beyond the box of the LMS. It serves a closed audience - students interact with a few other students, and a teacher and a few TAs and a limited amount of prescribed content. There is no linking to the world wide web, no connections to the world beyond the instruction in question. There is no continuation of learning. You register for a course, you get access to the LMS, you exit the course. No artefacts leave with you, no connections made are maintained, no history of learning is preserved, no eportfolio. Informal and nonformal learning, workplace experience, internships, cooperatives are not accommodated.
We are at the juncture where the promise of continuous learning, learner directed learning can be met. But not with an LMS, nor any other closed environment designed to aid the university in confining and controlling learning.

The virtual learning environment or personal learning environment is the next phase. How that environment is configured and presented is open to question. There will be greater autonomy. less instructor control, less institutional control. There will be continuity and persistence in learning. One example of this approach is the Elgg tool (see or

Elgg is a persistent user controlled personal learning environment that can be linked into WebCT or Moodle but can also exists by itself, beyond the course, beyond the program, beyond the institution. It's an environment with a set of tools and a a file repository designed to meet a students' needs as they move from course to course, to instituion to institution, to workplace to workplace, to community to community, etc.

I'm researching a number of applications of this tool - as a course delivery system that will morph into a community of learners; as a community of practice for in service teachers; as a community of reseachers for reserach activity; as a virtual home for 3rd age learners to share, connect and communicate. I see a lot of promise here that requires us to really reevaluate how we teach and how students learn - and this time we have to recognize that we are not in the business of confining learners, nor are we the owners of their learning experiences - it is our dutyto be stewards of the process and to free them up to explore the world with us and without us.

Sample apps of Elgg platform:

the primary educational application of Elgg platform; feel free to join and experience!

Emerge is the support project for the UK Joint Information Systems Committee

Rucku is Rugby's first dedicated Social Networking platform.

Myrichmondva - the concept behind the system is to develop a fully customizable community landscape.

emeraldinsight is a personal web space and hosting service that supports learning, networking and collaboration.

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