Learning Management Systems or Open Learning Environment?

There is a lot of discussion about the merit of using a learning management system (LMS) such as Blackboard or Moodle to facilitate online learning. These systems allow a course designer or instructor to upload or create content within the system, embed content from external sources, and then sequence the content along with activities, resources, and evaluations such as quizzes and tests, into a course. The “course content” is typically created by an organization or instructor and students have little opportunity to contribute.

One big criticism of the learning management system is that the “out-of-the-box” configuration that is used by a lot of course designers and instructors dictates pedagogy, which perhaps is not the best approach for learning. This however, can likely be overcome by the innovative use of the tools available within the system and by incorporating the affordances of tools from outside the system. A variety of tools such as forums, blogs, wikis, drop boxes, selected release dates, grade books, and intra-class email can be turned on or off, depending on how the designer or instructor wants to shape the course. These types of learning environments present themselves as a complete online learning solution that is, for the most part, only accessible through a password and by course participants, although guest access may be possible.

A more recent approach to online learning involves what might be called an “open educational experience.” This type of approach uses a variety of tools such as blogs, wikis, video hosting sites, photo hosting sites, social bookmarking sites, and other web-based tools to host the content of the course and to facilitate interaction. The biggest differences between the LMS approach and the open learning environment approach are that in an open learning environment:

  • A variety of delivery tools, including web-based tools, are utilized and are freely accessible to enrolled students, and to anyone else who might be interested
  • Building of a personal learning network, including people not officially enrolled in the course, is encouraged
  • Participants in the course, including the enrolled students and other participants, generate much of the content
  • Using an open license such as Creative Commons encourages sharing of course work
  • Access to the course content and interactions does not disappear for the student once official enrolment ends—students’ work can easily become part of their portfolio

Additional Readings

Lane, L. M. (2009). Insidious pedagogy: How course management systems impact teaching. First Monday, 14 (10). Retrieved March 10, 2010 from http://www.uic.edu/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2530/2303

Siemens, G. (2010, February 16). Teaching in social and technological networks. Message posted to http://www.connectivism.ca/?p=220

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