Envisioning a LMS-less university

I’ve seen a lot of rumblings about the next gen LMS.  Both from a “look at this new product” side of things as well as decisions that are happening locally.  I love that in all these “new products” I still see the same thing: a single point, one overblown technical solution.

It’s a typical institutional reaction to large problems — buy into a large system and hope the problem goes away.  Organizational change is always harder to talk about from a political perspective then the notion of purchasing a system that mimiks your structure.

Here’s my bullet point slide of thoughts on the issue of what they’re all missing:

  • The internet is not setup as a one-stop-shop for everything and no one is diverse enough to get it all right
  • Great new services pop up every few months
  • The future is grassroots and collaborative (heard of twitter?)
  • Organizational structures needs to flatten in response to technological empowerment
  • Still in 2011, customization to these people is “you can change the color and add your logo” (wow thanks!)
  • There are no central hubs and we have many authorities
This is not to say the components of an LMS aren’t out there in this ecosystem, they’re just distributed.  Again, the breaking of any of these components doesn’t cripple global functionality.  This is Structured Anarchy as an LMS implementation philosophy and takes a few pages from Connectivist thinking
If i’m a student and I want to get to my grades, I shouldn’t have to think about what link to go to.  This is a major argument for having a one-stop-shop LMS.  The idea is to have a common skin on top of the website to get to the different LMS components.
Why is this such a different way of thinking?  Well, if we view the entirely university’s network of webpages as all being part of the academic experience, we can make the university’s web presense the LMS.  Treating the entire collection of university sites as being part of the educational package we provide can be a bit daunting.  After all, we’re talking about some high-level uniformity across sites.
The way of accomplishing this without making a lot of people angry is a common branding bar.  This can be implemented at a code level and pulled from a central repository to be cached locally to the site using it but it MUST be standard.  This is similar to logging into Google and getting the same options at the top of any Google website (or at least most of them conform to this).
So, I’m Student X browsing the college of music’s website because I’m looking at courses there.  I shouldn’t have to figure out where the website for scheduling is.  I should be able to click a widget at the top of the site (ANY SITE) and go to scheduling.
A few months later i’m on the college of music’s website again (by chance) and remember that I took a music class last year.  I’m thinking about taking another one and want to look up how I did in that course.  I click my widget, scroll to my courses, and select a previous semester which has my course in it.  Once at that course home I can jump to the gradebook and see what my grades were like in that course.
If I’m not a member of the university, I see nothing.  Just a widget indicating that this site is part of the University network and short-cuts to click to there.
“But that will never happen, it’s not politically feasible” — The longer we dwell on this statement the further behind we get technically.  Internet technology has very little in the ways of barriers to seeking information (increasingly at least).  The longer we wait the more irrelevant we become to the next-gen learner who doesn’t just live in the social-web, they learn much of what they need to know from it.


  1. Eric Aitala · June 9, 2011

    I like the idea, but I have no clue how to pull it off. Putting aside the political issues, do individual units have the technical ability to pull this off? Or the time/available cycles?


    • btopro · June 9, 2011

      I think a powerful model can be provided by technologies like Disqus. A central engine driving the commenting system for a large portion of the blogosphere right now. It’s a simple integration via js on the client side and then it’s propagated to all sites running that js include.

      So, one group creates the new “LMS” as a branding bar that can be rolled into any system. They apply the simple js code and it boots up and slides down from the top of the screen on any site running it. Site in use never needs to have access credentials bc the user’s browser silently performs this check as to “who they are” with the external requesting js call. It’s this technique used in a meaningful way to automatically look for webaccess sesssions but do it in a safe and meaningful way — https://grepular.com/Abusing_HTTP_Status_Codes_to_Expose_Private_Information

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