As students and administrators seek anytime, anywhere access to the cloud, higher ed IT teams must face their fears and get to work.
Historically, the learning management system (LMS) has been the primary (in many cases, the only) tool for extending the classroom. Commercially available as well as open-source software products offer comparable features that enable faculty and students to share class resources and continue class discussions outside of classroom hours.
There is a growing concern among users that the traditional LMS falls short when it comes to creating a truly interactive extended classroom that supports active learning. Instead, the LMS is often viewed as more of a class file storage system or an administrative tool for classroom management.
In response, a new breed of open-source LMS is cropping up. Many new applications are web-native (built for the web rather than packaged software with a web interface) and include social and mobile features. Some institutions are exploring new systems, and others are rethinking their overall LMS strategy.
While the LMS remains the heart of the learning ecosystem for many colleges, some are expanding their environment or moving away completely from the traditional, all-in-one LMS. There is not yet consensus on what will follow the current LMS model, but there is considerable agreement that the traditional LMS is an antiquated idea.
Institutions are increasingly calling for new models that leverage modular, open and interoperable designs to create a platform for accessing the wide array of tools available in the new learning ecosystem. Some suggest that the traditional LMS can be transformed to provide that platform, while others favor adopting the PLN model and provisioning Web 2.0 tools such as blogging or content management platforms as an alternative.
Still others are using a best-of-breed approach, combining elements of the traditional LMS with Web 2.0 technologies through a service-oriented architecture and federated identity management. Those universities have created portals that use web services, application programming interfaces and the new Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) standard to provide access to any number of applications to support teaching and learning.
While it presents an appealing ideal, developing an institutional platform that supports PLNs and the wide array of applications in the new learning ecosystem is no trivial task. Institutions must have adequate technical staff to develop and maintain the environment and train and support end users who may find the many available options overwhelming. In addition, the common challenges associated with the public toolsets — for instance, reliability and security — do not go away.
The LMS still provides a number of advantages for many colleges. As more move toward open-source or cloud-hosted platforms, the LMS provides a relatively low-cost, comprehensive environment for facilitating class activities and interaction.
Most feature an ever-increasing, robust set of tools that can be tightly integrated. For example, completion of an assignment is automatically noted in the grade book. As management systems, they are designed to be integrated with student information systems and provide a wealth of data — all in one place — that can be leveraged for learning analytics.
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