When Is an LMS NOT an LMS? (When It's Free....)
The Enterprise System Everyone Loves To Hate
If you’re in higher ed, you know what an LMS is. Not that you’re ever happy about yours.
Which is the problem. If there were an alternative, most people in higher ed would jump there in a heartbeat.
But I get ahead of myself.
An LMS is a “learning management system.” It’s an enterprise system–meaning the institution pays for it, and generally everyone has access. Examples are:
- more recently: inStructure.
- send announcements,
- share files,
- host online discussions,
- create quizzes,
- accept assignments,
- and similar things.
The Swiss Army Knife
The LMS is a Swiss Army Knife in which every knife is not quite so sharp, usually a generation or two old.
Nothing in the LMS is best-of-breed. But like a Swiss Army Knife, you're happy it's in your pocket when you need one of the things it has.
(These folks really need to create an architecture that’s more plug-and-play. People like to choose their own tools. But that’s a separate topic.)
In short, an LMS is a publication, collaboration, interaction and survey platform with permissions. (A test is a survey.)
So What’s the Problem?
Universities often pay million$ for the$e things–and no one ever loves their LMS. They accept. They work around. They do not love.
But now there are serious alternatives.
So what? The alternatives are free. Yes–
- free as in beer, not ideas.
- Zero cost.
Formerly, this was podcasting for education: users could subscribe to audio or video podcasts–lectures, for instance. And that was sort of it.
Now iTunesU is a hosted LMS.
Anyone, anywhere can publish audio, video, documents, iBooks (Apple’s propetary ebook format). There’s even something like discussion.
And it’s 100% free. Apple hosts it for you.
The catch? It’s for Apple’s networked mobile devices only–i.e., iOS: iPhone’s, iPads. So it’s free to publish, but it essentially costs $600 (for an iPad) to learn. Cough cough.
This is very powerful. An instructor can:
- organize students into a group (a “Circle”),
- give access to just that group–or the whole world,
- share all the normal document formats (text, spreadsheets, data sets, pdf’s),
- share videos from Youtube and photos from Picasaweb,
- create discussions around documents, videos and photos (comments, really),
- give surveys or quizzes,
- accept files into a Google Docs folder.
What does an LMS have that these systems lack?
- Restricted access.
- Connection to the student information system:
- only registered students can get in.
- Automatic course creation:
- a site exists for every course being offered and
- enrolled students have automatic access.
Yes and no.
In fact, classroom doors are generally unlocked. If you have a large class, anyone off the street can wonder in.
But LMS’s are a locked door. Only students, staff and faculty can get in.
Permissioning students into the Google-verse is mostly trivial. But it’s done by hand.
Should the Purveyors of LMS’s Be Afraid
Dear LMS: your days are numbered. Apple and Google are coming up behind you.
And do not look back.
–Edward R. O'Neill