February 26, 2016 mgoudz

The LMS of the future is yours!

Originally published February 26, 2016. Thanks to the Way Back Machine this post was recreated after the original was hacked.

by Mike Goudzwaard

My first LMS was FirstClass.
Photo by Kevin Harber CC-BY-NC-ND

Do you remember your very first LMS (learning management system)?

When I started grad school nine years ago, my classes all had sites on something called FirstClass. FirstClass was not modern in appearance or function, but the bones were good. It had integrated email, file storage, a listserv, and course sites for files and messaging. Everyone in the university system had and used FirstClass. There were even such useful features such as chat, online status, and email recall (what a life saver!). During my two-year masters program, FirstClass was replaced by Gmail for email and Sakai as the learning management system.  The community mourned the loss of our beloved FirstClass. Now, early adopters were on Gmail, holdouts on FirstClass email. Some courses used Sakai, but there was no standard look or placement of materials from class to class. The listservs, once a vibrant spot for idea sharing and debate (my first exposure to this was “Blueberry-gate” in 2007), were now defunct and replaced by some bulky mailing lists filling up your inbox.

When I started teaching college, I was handed Blackboard. I had to quickly shift and adapt my LMS knowledge as a student to developing a course site as an instructor. This was more complicated than I expected, and I was a frequent visitor of “open office hours” offered by the LMS support team. Did I set up calculating columns correctly in the gradebook? After a few semesters, Canvas offered a free trial to any faculty. I jumped on the chance to try this new LMS that seemed more intuitive. My students agreed. My view of the LMS shifted a third time when I became an instructional designer and was asked to helped the college consider switching to a new LMS: the requirements of institutions, the concerns of administrators, and choosing a technology for the common good (and hopefully lowest cost). Before that transition was complete, I took a new job at an institution that was launching a switch to Canvas, only its second LMS in 244 years.

As much as I’d like to think I’m a tech radical, I, like most people, judge the new system based on my experience of the last one. There are minor swings of the pendulum between feature-rich complexity or minimal simplicity. Sakai was not an email system. Canvas didn’t have a blog or journal tool. Now we have several bloated softwares with tools no one uses (Canvas chat, anyone?). These unused features are not just an annoyance, they pre-determine how learning should happen, wasting too much time and brainpower on opting-out. In What’s Next for the LMS? (EDUCAUSE Review 2015) Brown, Dehoney, and Millichap offer a framework of five functional domains and call for a “Lego approach.”

What would this LMS look like? In my view, it would have three things:

1) a course roster with stellar SIS integration

2) a gradebook

3) a rock-star LTI and API

That’s it! Oh, except it would also be open source, students would control their own data, including publishing any of their work or evaluations to the block chain, and you could host it locally, distributed, or in the cloud. Never mind the pesky privacy laws (or lack thereof) in the country hosting your server, because the LMS is back on campus. Not connected to the internet? That’s okay too, because there is a killer app that syncs like a boss (like Evernote. Has Evernote ever given you a sync error? No, I didn’t think so.)

Who wins with the new LMS? Students because they own and control their data and it costs less to buy and run. Instructors because they have a solid core with the option to plug any LTI into a class hub. Institutions because costs are lower and the system more secure.
Who loses? The EdTech companies. Or do they? Without standard wiki features and discussion portals, startups and the old standard barriers can invest their R&D and venture funds in really great tools.

So what about all the content? Have you heard of Domain of One’s Own (UMWCI KeysDavidson)? We’d all have places to write online, host video, discuss, play games, build games, and code. We’d chose the platform that works for us, agrees with our privacy requirements, and is priced for value (sometimes and hopefully often open source).

The LMS of the future is yours. It is light, simple, secure, and gives you all the choice of plug-ins. The time for the LMS of the future is now!