Tuesday, May 13, 2014

3 Warning Signs That Your LMS Is Preventing Learning

Today, many schools and districts have opted to use a Learning Management Systems, sometimes called "LMS" for short. These tools serve as online hubs for teachers and students to share files, feedback, and grades. Examples include Blackboard, Haiku, and Edmodo. And while these tools can enable anytime, anywhere learning for students, they must be used carefully. In some cases, this tool can actually negatively impact the kinds of learning that students experience.

Here are 3 warning signs to watch out for:

1. All student work is posted inside the walled garden of the LMS.
In a personalized, transformative learning environment, the most important thing we can do is to provide students with an authentic audience for their work. If all of their work is privately shared inside the LMS, then you're significantly limiting students' engagement and motivation to tackle complex problems.

2. Every student has a list of linear modules to complete inside the LMS.
Learning isn't linear. When students are empowered to make choices, synthesize their ideas, and analyze real content, ideas grow in an organic manner. If every lesson is comprised of a series of tasks, videos, or readings, then you're likely overemphasizing the acquisition of content. Students who spend much of their learning time in acquisition don't acquire the competences required for college and career.

3. Content is scheduled to appear and students do not self assess their own readiness.
In many LMS systems, you can set content to be released every week. While chunking the tasks and ideas that students grapple with is important, it is critical for students themselves to be involved in making the decision to move forward. Students should be constantly reflecting on their progress and getting feedback from others. It's THIS feedback loop that should drive new actions, not a time release formula inside an LMS.

So, as you analyze the ways that an LMS can be used, remember to begin with your LEARNING goals, not your technology ones.


  1. THANK YOU FOR THIS. Agree agree agree. It is why I have cut my use of our LMS to bare minimum (gradebook). Very disappointed that at my school where we are going through a torturous process of reviewing/renewing/ending our contract with D2L, there has been no substantive discussion about just HOW this software does, or does not, the kind of learning people want to see.

    One thing I would point about Desire2Learn that has given me grief for years: there is no way to have a CHOICE of what students do in a given week. You can have "required" assignments or you can have "extra credit," but the idea that students would CHOOSE from a set of equally valid options in a given week is completely alien to Desire2Learn. So, in my class where students choose which reading options they do each week and the activities that go with them, D2L treats them all as required, which screws up the Gradebook, thus causing my students all kinds of unnecessary anxiety: the points total is ALWAYS wrong (because of the multiple choices) and I cannot even just SUPPRESS the display of the (wrong) total points.

    In short: I have no confidence in a learning management system where apparently no one even thought about the idea that students might CHOOSE what they do each week. Sigh.

  2. Hi Laura -- these are some great reflections and comments. Thanks for sharing them in the space. To be frank, I haven't really found an LMS that truly stimulates inquiry. And I wonder if that's because LMS systems are built on the premise of an old educational model. For example, wouldn't a tool like Trello actually manage personalized learning better? Just thinking out loud here... ;-)

  3. I would just love to have a good AGGREGATOR service supported by my school, something like what they do for ds106. I love the idea of people choosing whatever tool they prefer, provided that it has some kind of RSS-out feature so that it can be aggregated to create a shared class webspace with everybody's contributions streaming in, but also accessible via people-based streams.
    The fact that D2L does not have any kind of RSS-in tool is yet another blow against it. Blows my mind that I still have to use a third-party service like Feedburner just to get RSS feeds to show up on a D2L homepage. That's why I finally just ditched the homepage entirely and have my blog as the homepage.
    Anyway, I just learned about your blog today from a share by Doug Holton over at Google+. I'm subscribed and very glad to have connected with you! :-)

  4. Me too! ;-)

  5. I'm still waiting to see what the Google Classroom 'LMS' is all about. I've seen the announcement, but have yet to see how it will be different from the other myriad of LMS already out there.

    Beyond the trapping of content inside the walled garden, I think LMS developers really need to fix workflow for both the end user and especially the teacher/facilitator of the course. If it takes longer to do something in the LMS (assessing student work products) than that same task on paper, then how did the miracle of computing power make me more efficient and effective as a teacher?

  6. In Dallas's school district, none of these apply to non-LMS learning.

    I'm reluctant to hold LMS systems to a higher standard than the district itself uses.

    In many, many of our nation's schools, the struggle isn't to get the right technology functioning perfectly, the struggle is to get learning going at all, in any rational fashion, mostly without technology.

  7. LMS's by nature are big and focused on collecting too many functions that smaller, more focused applications do better. Schoology seems to have a more vibrant eco-system of these applications and are easier to work with than ones like Haiku and Desire2Learn.

  8. Learning systems via online are a great help.
    Very good initiative taken by the teachers.



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