I’m that age where I can say I’ve been working in ed tech for 15 + years.  Like many of us, my life in ed tech in higher education began more or less with the LMS.  Through the years I’ve witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly with seemingly endless tentacles that the LMS brings to our discussions about teaching and learning and especially online learning in our institutions.

Here’s the short of it. LMS’s do some things really well and are not going to go away.  We still use an LMS at our institution, and while I would really like the vendor to invest some of our hard earned license fees into making it a more user friendly tool, we still need an LMS.  However, I’ve tried really hard to make sure our online strategy does not start and finish with the LMS, and yes, it is an ongoing battle.

That aside, I’ve observed (especially in smaller colleges) that so much institutional planning around online learning starts and ends with an LMS.  Online learning strategies are an opportunity to get clear about what online is trying to do and resources required.

What if it started by imagining a time before your institution had any ed tech?   If I was leading an online learning strategy, I would want the people involved to challenge themselves on some questions.  Why does the institution want online learning? What will it let you do?  What do you know about the students that is driving the need for an online learning strategy?

Is the online strategy covering all technology enabled learning and teaching?  Is blended/hybrid courses your thing?  Multi-access?  Is it a combination of blended and fully online?

Consider the following:

  • If you want to do open courses, you might not need an LMS
  • If you have applied programs that work closely with industry you might need more than an LMS
  • If you are doing primarily distance education you might need an LMS
  • If you are doing multi-access you might not need an LMS
  • If you are doing blended/hybrid learning you might not need an LMS
  • If seamless integration with your student information system is needed and a locked down IT environment are your reality, then you might need an LMS (but ideally you would challenge this in your online strategy discussions)

Explore how the landscape, of educational technology has changed since your institution first got an LMS.  If you care about student data privacy or don’t have a lot of resources to sink into one tool, take a serious look at open technologies that aren’t LMS’s  but could support teaching and learning in interesting ways:  Mattermost (student discussions, online group work), WordPress with any combo of extensions that make it course-like (course content and open courses, e-portfolios), Pressbooks with H5P (interactive course manuals or textbooks, or self-directed learning), to name a few.  Consider what needs to be enterprise, and what can be loosely supported for a few programs and departments.  Build the need for flexibility and a tolerance for ambiguity across the institution as part of the culture you want to emerge from your online strategy.

Instead of sinking money into vendor products, invest it in people to support a new kind of ed tech ecosystem.