Monday, October 08, 2007

LMSs and PLEs - Friends Or Foes?

Most educators who have ever done any form of online, distance, or alternative delivery education are familiar with learning management systems (LMS). There are the well established commercial products such as WebCT and Blackboard and the more recent open source projects like Moodle and Sakai (the terms CMS, content management system and LCMS, learning content management system are also used, but I'm going to stick with LMS for the purposes of this post).

LMSs get used for all sorts of things - storing content, providing structure, learning outcomes, a common learning space for learners and faculty, scheduling, testing, learner progress, record keeping and more. LMSs have a place in education for delivering a common look and feel to learners, normally distance learners, and as a common location for all learners regardless of the delivery methodology to interact and learn together. LMSs are centrally administered and the course materials in them are traditionally created by faculty.

Then there is the personal learning environment or PLE. In a PLE learners take control of and manage their own learning including:
  • setting their own learning outcomes
  • managing their learning; managing both content and process
  • communicating with others in the process of learning

This can be done using a combination of tools and technologies - presentations, lectures, discussions, podcasts, blogs, wikis, video, audio, and any other tool, technique or resources that helps a learner meet their learning styles and golas. The key here is that a PLE is developed, created, and managed by the learner and faculty provide a supportive, facilitative role. With new technologies, Web 2.0, and devices like Apple's iPhone (coming to Canada one of these days), learners now have absolute control over their learning environments and when, where, why, and how they learn.

So at face value it appears that LMSs and PLEs are at opposite ends of the learning spectrum - LMSs are organized and managed centrally by the creators and deliverers of learning and they are content-centric. PLEs are learner-centred and learner-organized, no two looking the same as they are developed and customized by their creators and users (the learner).

I believe that PLEs are the learning tool of the future - they are learning-centred, customized and transportable - with the right tools and technologies learning can take place anywhere inside or outside of traditional learning spaces. But many learning institutions, mine included, have invested a lot of time, effort, and money into LMSs that to date have been successful in delivering effective learning environments. Is there a middle ground where learners can take advantage of PLEs and institutions can still get use from their LMSs?

I think that there may be. If a learning institution adopts the PLE approach with its learners, it doesn't have to abandon any of its existing learning methods or tools, including any LMSs in use. In fact I believe that there is a role for a LMS to play in supporting and enhancing PLEs. Existing LMSs would provide excellent repositories for learning objects, data, tools and technologies that learners could access as part of their PLE creation and development, particularly as they are beginning the PLE development process and need extra support and facilitations. Institutions could use their LMSs in place to support the creativity of learner-created PLEs. As learners become more comfortable with the responsibility of creating and managing their PLE, they could then branch out beyond the LMS to find those tools and resources that work for their learning, and deposit the resources that they discover for other learners to use in the creation of their PLEs .

This way institutions and learners can transition away from LMSs and towards the use of PLEs without abandoning the investment made in LMSs. PLEs will require institutional support that the framework of existing LMSs can provide.

So LMSs and PLEs - friend or foe? Hmmm...


Carolyn said...

Ian, I don't know how you did it in a single post but you've got to the core of where elearning is now, where it will go and how we will get there. (And I see you even snuck in the iPhone :-) I think you're right on! Thanks (as always) for the insight.

Ian H. MacLeod said...

Thanks for the kind words - it's just one of those things that seems so obvious to me - if we believe in being learning-centred (and I do), then PLEs are the way to do that - whether it be in a traditional classroom, online, distance alternative or any kind of delivery.

Mohamed Amine Chatti said...

Nice post Ian. You can see more about my thoughts on PLE here

Ian H. MacLeod said...

Thanks Mohamed. I love the models that you have developed. You have some great material on PLEs. As a visual learner I use models all the time to describe concepts and processes and yours make a lot of sense.

You make some great points in describing your 3P Learning Model. Learners have to be in the control of the learning. I love your term "knowledge-pull". Let the learner pull in the learning they need.

I'll be passing your blog on to some people here who are looking at PLEs. Good luck with your research.