Faculty Rising, the next 10 years.

I’ve worked in higher education for nine years now and finally found two blog posts basically sum up every experience everyone has had (but never wanted to write down). The first by Michael Feldstein is titled “What’s Really to Blame for the Failures of Our Learning-Management Systems“. Spoiler alert: The structure of institutions (committees, bureaucracy) is not conducive to purchasing innovative big box solutions (shocking).

The second is by Martin Weller in “IT services – we need to talk“. More spoilers: Faculty are treated like children by an institutional predisposition to IT being the only solution to problems, a stance that in practice is disempowering.

The important thing to get out of the way here is no one in the hierarchy is to blame directly and none is being placed (even if it sounds like it is). This is more a railing against the way systems of governance have manifest and not those that work within them. Think of it in the same way critics of the military industrial complex is blaming the system of people, not soldiers.

DDoSA

It is in reading these two posts that I feel comfortable publishing an idea I’ve had rumbling around that I’ve called DDoSA. Similar to a DDoS (distributed denial of service) in the technical realm, humans can use a a DDoSA to influence the usage of technology within organizations.

The thing I don’t mention in the DDoSA concept, is that it’s actually a better alternative to the lack of recognition that DDoSA are already happening. We just don’t want to admit it or know what to do. What if instead of discouraging “dissent” the better alternative was to encourage it?

Explain..

Right now, when faculty don’t like options provided by an institution (which is high) what do they do?

The IT establishment: Those damn faculty, we can provide them with what they (mostly) asked for and they aren’t happy so they just do their own thing.

“Rogue” faculty: Those damn IT people, we provide requirements and they don’t meet them so I’m just going to have to use ____ to run my course I guess.

The DDoSA is happening already at every institution in ways that can’t be easily quantified or controlled; it is random and diverse because the deployed solutions at the institution are minimal. Someone does a class poll on google, they use twitter to collect attendance, they require people submit things with an unverified 3rd party service. Why? Is it because they want to break *GASP* policy?! No! It’s because this is the path of least resistance while maximal gains (meeting pedagogy, hoping to improve learner outcomes through experience design).

When IT cedes this point, that they don’t have all the solutions is when we can meet in the middle and more securely encourage sustainable innovation. Currently, the human hierarchy and goals of the individuals are out of alignment with the structure of the organization. The humans are organized loosely in a distributed manner yet are “encouraged” to utilize singular solutions to problems. Because education encourages exploration, innovation and autonomy, autonomous educators pursue innovation which they view as everywhere the institution is not.

The future of institutional deployments

By leveraging automation, virtualization and the structure of our institutions we can start to put humans back into harmony with the organizational structures that have emerged.

today.png

Many people, many structures, few solutions

Today (and yesterday)

Let’s start with today. We’ve got a (simplified of course) 3 organizational / institutional checks and balances between the faculty and the LMS / VLE / tools of their choosing.

People at all levels of the hierarchy have had input on the decision and everyone needs to be made reasonably happy. Unfortunately, we’ve all got different (at times competing) visions of uniformity. This conflicts starts to become reflected in the masses being unhappy and turning to other solutions for much of their learner experience (in who knows where).

People are an endless sea of ideas all supposed to unify and rally around a singular solution. This is political parties as well; how’s that working out? Singular vessels for too many ideas.

tomorrow.png

Unification around college level solutions, few more solutions

Tomorrow (2-3 years)

Let’s remove one level of centralization and replace it with an IT solution; in this case, middleware. The top-level of the institution, in this case centralized management of a singular solution has been replaced with middleware.

In this LMS / VLE future, the solution is one level close to adoption to those adopting. In this future people coalesce around what makes the most sense for their college to use. This is probably in better alignment with the needs of their fellow faculty.

After all, do we teach Arts, Philosophy, Physics and Health all the same in a classroom? Are our classroom environments for these diverse subjects not different based on the needs of that topic?

This isn’t perfect, but it’s a better form of tool selection. By making the solutions college centric, patterns will start to emerge for institutional IT in charge of the middleware. They’ll notice that 4 colleges are utilizing 80% of the same applications and be able to craft automated deployment solutions that help with managing these diverse toolsets.

thenextday.png

Faculty cohort groups formed around technology selection, more solutions, less people, less hierarchy.

The next day (4-6 years)

People like control, and crave more of it. We’ve been able previously to meet people in ways that better hit their needs because we’re closer to their problem space. Now working groups for more boutique solutions can arise.

These groups start to break away even within colleges. Specific sciences may not have need for a virtual lab technology that another does. We may find that across colleges there is overlap in needs and that competing virtual lab tech exists.

Duplication, in this instance, is a really good thing. Because now we can have these groups review each other’s usage of the technology and figure out which is “best” (or if something actually is best). We may find that a WordPress vs Drupal dichotomy emerges (where better is in the eye of the beholder based on intricacies in the problem space).

Faculty are in greater control of the solution space because they are finding alignment with smaller teams of cohorts that also utilize the same technology solutions.

Institutional and College level IT can coordinate middleware and remote management solutions to automate much of the roll out and empower faculty to take things further then they could have alone.

future.png

Bring your own NGDLE, one solution per person if desired.

The future (7-10 years)

We’ve completely eliminated connotations of institutional, college or departmental “control”. Faculty are effectively LMSs of their own; just as they actually are. If they weren’t experts in a topic with need of tools to facilitate gaining insight into that topic, then what are they doing? They are the source of knowledge that people want, and they need technology for managing the learning to take place. They are the ultimate LMS; something beyond a simple LMS. They form the human side of next generation digital learning environments (NGDLE).

They have fully flipped the technology implementation to be in total control of the learner experience.While today, Hibbitts’ vision of a flipped LMS requires many steps to accomplish and knowledge barriers exist, the future doesn’t have these issues.

Department, Colleges, and Institutional level staff and instructional designers work with faculty to improve this army of LMS-of-ones-own sea of solutions. Powered by open source, and open automation platforms like Jenkins, “control” and order can still be maintained from the institutional side while faculty are at the center of technology selection. They are constructing their technology suite, we are supporting them.

It’s not scary though it is radically different from today. Think of us all more like a mechanic. Most people don’t know how to perform work on their car, that’s why they go to a specialist. Most people can’t improve the horsepower of their car, they go to a specialist. That’s where we fit in. Instructional designers and IT working WITH the faculty directly to create and improve solutions instead of taking the opinion of into account when making decisions. This eliminates the “They just do what they want” mindset because..yea… of course they do, WE want them to do their own thing. It’s no longer us vs. them, it’s WE.

As technology gets more powerful, more automated, more free, and (most importantly) more usable every year; this no longer becomes some absurd vision of what could be, it’s what’s going to happen whether you like it or not. By encouraging redecentralization and admitting that (because of technology) it’s already happening, we can have greater control than if we stand in the way. Allow decentralization to happen, foster it, and you’ll have a seat in influence all those that we empower as part of the societal shift.

It’s the linear and logical progression of things as society orients itself more to blockchain then legacy top-down hierarchies. We all stand to benefit greatly when we stop worrying and get all hands on deck!:)

Windows into the future

ELMSLN Tool Builder: Fully automated idea to sustainable, code based innovation, without humans writing code.

Flipped LMS via Grav CMS: Paul Hibbitts LMS managed via Git / version control to use static files and turn them into a site. Once setup, instructors can deploy changes with one click!

tsugi: Dr. Chuck Severance’s PHP framework for creating tools as part of NGDLE.

Spawn: ELMSLN project to automate the creation of a system for automating the setup and management of EC2 deployments.

H5P: A distributed interaction creation platform for engaging, free platform that has free, remixable items that are produced.

Open Curriculum specification: Git based open curriculum specification to allow for getting something more powerful than just OER but creating interoperable OER that can stand up items in LMSs and NGDLEs.

Project Stark: ELMSLN project to envision a wearable, self upgrading, personal, distributed LMS that the owner keeps on them to collect and organize their knowledge. Initial work pictured below:

WP_20160426_001.jpg

Project Stark Prototype: Hacked Google Cromebit + USB drive + ELMSLN = Distributed NGDLE of one’s own.

 

Who’s brand are you building on the “Radio”?

Let’s look at an idea through a fictional conversation

E: We need to market our brand and attract more long term clients?

B: I completely agree, let’s advertise more of the tv, “radio”, social media, everywhere. We just need to give the proper tease to get people to come ask for our services. What do you provide that people can’t get anywhere else?

E: Well, I have 30 years experience in the field, so I’ll be working 1 on 1 with clients to advise them on their portfolio. We could do a 30 second ad that shows the process you’d go through and has lots of great pictures of people happy with their families because they’ve had a secure “finance” situation thanks to talking with me and my team.

B: Hmm.. I’m not sure that’s the approach we want to take. Here, how about this. Instead of showing your services and saying how great individualized attention is with you, the expert, let’s instead have an infomershial. Yeah… I can see it now. People will be more engaged with it because it’ll be longer; AND, you’ll be able to help more of them because instead of putting it on multiple platforms we’ll only put it on “radio”! You know “radio” is the wave of the future and it travels REALLY far, almost globally. Also, people don’t respond well to that happy families thing, they want to learn about how to make more money so they can buy more stuff. So I’m thinking lots of smiling attractive people swimming in money because they listened to your infomercial and then came in to become clients!

E: err, So you want me to change the message to be a longer discussion of finance, in a more watered down way for more people? And just 1 place? Why would we only advertise on 1 location?? And besides that’s not the experience they’d get by coming in to see us, I don’t know how I feel about this plan. We’re about a lot more then just making people money.

B: Just 1 place; oh you make it sound so bad. No silly, it’s got millions of people on it. I don’t know if you know how technology like “radio” works, but you broadcast a message, people pay attention, at scale, and then the money just comes pouring in. And as for your message, we don’t want something representative of what 1 person’s experience is like; we want this to be eye catching, really wow the crowd to hold onto their attention. That’s the only way your going to make the final sale in the end, is if you present a product that blows people away; ignore the fact that it’s not really what you do, you just have to go with the flow.

E: Hmm.. ok, I mean I guess your right. We do things a bit dated around here and I am really worried that we’re missing out on potentially helping people and bringing ourselves more business.

B: Well, to make money you have to spend money; and the best way to do that is to partner with “Buy-in-large” to put your infomercial out to as many people as possible. Then, once the idea.. {cut off}

E: Wait, did you just say partner with “Buy-in-large”?? I thought this was OUR infomercial, why do we need them? And they don’t have experience in the “finance” industry, why should I trust them to get our my message about how great we are at helping individuals with “finance”?

B: You didn’t let me finish. Your clients are here to make money so that they can buy more stuff, “Buy-in-large” is the perfect fit. They sell stuff to people and provide a platform to sell more stuff upon them becoming clients of yours and “Buy-in-large”s.

Also, you can’t do it on your own. I mean this is “radio”, how are we ever going to put something on a “radio” without partnering with an organization of their size. “Buy-in-large” is exactly the kind of group that we want to be affiliated with.

Trust me, if you want this captive audience’s attention and to potentially turn this into a sale down the road, you gotta pair up with “Buy-in-large”.

E: But that doesn’t even make sense. And really, how captive an audience could “radio” possibly have? I mean I hear that there might be millions of people that goto “radio”s but that it rarely converts into paying business; isn’t “radio” more about just getting our name out there? That’s not what I need, we already have a name for ourselves in this industry, I’m just trying to attract a few more perspective clients and show them quickly how I can help them through personalized advise.

B: Ok, if your ever going to make this work you need to drop this notion that you know what your talking about. I mean, you’ve been at this for 30 years; times have changed. People don’t want personalization anymore, they want large, well presented arrangements that they get for free without any potential market applicability.

You have to trust me, I’m the expert and besides, everyone else is doing it. If your going to keep up the perception that you are also good at what you do, your just going to have to swallow your pride a bit and get on “radio” like the rest of them! It’s the only way to survive in the coming years when business is going to get tight.

E: But all I wanted was to put out a quick notice that we exist and that we’ve got great experience for them..

B: Ya well your perspective clients don’t care about that anymore; grow up. The dream is dead. No one wants the path to a better, more complete life; they want money. So just do this so that I can help you succeed!

Legend

E is Education

B is Big MOOC

“financial” = education

“Radio” = MOOC

“Buy-in-large” = Any silo’ed MOOC provider

Thoughts that prompted this:

  • When you give away a product that’s of higher quality then what you make people pay for; will that reflect positively or negatively on the institution?
  • When you associate your brand with a large bucket of logos of other brands, does that not say your all the same; forcing you to focus more on brand management then educating?
  • Don’t tell me this is about education. This is about creating an industry to “Appify” and replace higher education, especially faculty (see recent articles about the 
  • Which brand are you building? The platform? The faculty member? The field? or your own?
  • How long can this all last?

These thoughts do not apply specifically to anyone or anything. I’m sure there are great MOOCs out there taught by great instructors.

The LM-essest 1%: Death by IT governance

As with everything, I have nothing to back this up. But anecdotally from faculty and instructional designers I’ve talked to recently, I’d imagine that they love LMSs if they were allowed to change the 1% of the issues that bug them.

For example, if you don’t have the ability to import a rubric and have to enter it manually from a previous system. That 1% capability of the LMS may be so obnoxious that it sours your entire experience. This isn’t really a problem with the LMS, it’s a problem with IT governance and dated policies.

I’d be curious to see the stats on open platforms like Moodle and Canvas when deployed as large central instances vs distributed, smaller ones at college and department levels. I’d imagine that as you get closer and closer to the end users (as far as levels of governance) that perception of quality of the same tool would improve.

I’d do research, but in the age of Singularity, bloated research is dead and gut instinct is the only way to survive. Because structures and institutions won’t change, the LMS community is doomed to a fate of less customers, more requirements. Unless the larger LMS community adopts google-esk, distributed, app-ified, networked services approach to implementation via LTI or lightweight APIs; it will be in a continued state of decline much like the cord-cutters leaching users out of the cable industry.

I think right now the LMS community’s response will be much like cable: you need us, you’ll come back, you’ll never leave, we’ll just raise rates to make up the difference. 4-5 years from now though, they’ll still be saying the same thing and those that get off the sinking LMS ship (now) will be mas money and students ahead of their dinosaur counterparts.

Because they aren’t willing to change their governance or financial model, they will be in a state of staged collapse over the next several years.  The issue at hand is that technology has changed the nature of the way new businesses and ideas can be disseminated and they are still living in the days of brick-and-mortar style buildings that are trying desperately to remain relevant in the “new”-new IT driven economy.

All it will take is a visionary “uber”-like disruption and the entire thing will be threatened; all because the people making the decisions are unable to step back and realize they are the problem.

Getting out of the LMS

I needed something to point to as a way of visualizing what’s in my head and then this post found its way on here.  I’ve been writing extensively about the philosophy that drives much of my decision-making though not always on this site.

I’m always one to snap at people who don’t put words into action so consider this my beginning to walk the walk.  How do we transform educational technology (and education through its usage) when we are typically locked into the FUD of large vendors.

LTI.  As I wrote about at the beginning of the year I see LTI as an increasingly adopted standard that will help bring about the death of the LMS.  So, now that I’ve started to get to test some stuff in Drupal with LTI, diagram and thoroughly war game a plan of attack, here’s what I see being the solution.

The traditional, monolithic LMS

So we have the LMS.  It’s a monster.  They all are, whether they claim to be new and innovative in an open source technology or not.  All present solutions are huge, one bucket representations of education.  This aligns well with the institutional side of education but poorly with the “boots on the ground” view of how education actually happens: completely messy, ad hoc, and organically tailored to each individual (at least when class size allows).

So first, let’s break out of that mindset of 1 system and users being confused by it.  As I type this in WordPress, which I had to login with its own account in an application called Chrome which had to be downloaded and installed on an Operating system that resides on a screen and associated peripherals that I had to figure out how to use… I think you get the point.  You are adapting to what has been presented to you even as you read this, it’s not a big deal.

What is a big deal is pervasive logins and the sharing of data that systems should already know about.  Which leads us to visual two.

Lots of services all talking to each other, knowing enough to keep the UX seamless

We use LTI to get a person over to a system where we have flexibility.  What is assumed by the LMS community is that this is a website / tool for someone to use and interact with in a specialized way.  More important in my mind is making this the new, eventual star of the show in a series of distributed stars.

In this way, you can effectively start to hollow out the LMS and pick up the entire learning experience / interaction and continue it across other services.  I’ll know enough about who someone is to be able to make the right decision or provide a series of options associated to the decision.  We can use LTI both to register new courses in the new system as well as ask existing ones what other services are allowed to be used.  In this example we have four other services that all talk back to the new center.

This methodology is fitting with the Structured Anarchy approach to systems development.  If the UX associated with our online studio tool is degraded over time (which is typical when new shiny things come out), we don’t need to throw out or mess with the service we provide that people like with our instructional flow, course creation tool.  This will also allow us to run different versions of Drupal on different sites and different services, sometimes in a mixed way, without a break in usability.

Data flow is critical to success of any new system once we get it up and running, hence visual three.

All services are separate yet equal in how the central service responds and delivers back to them

This falls somewhere between a Star and Mesh network topology in networked systems design.  We ultimately want to get things to be completely Mesh based where everything is a node and everything is a hub, but this is a good first step for now.

The great thing about using Drupal for the majority of these services is that once we write the connections for 1 type of communication, we have it across all services.  I’m currently building out the Course Information System distribution as the starting point to create your own “online” infrastructure for the new paradigm in edtech development.  I’m working closely with our virtual server contact to ensure that we can deploy each of these services in a well structured multisite’ed way (Drush is awesome).

From there, each subsequent service will be created off of a common core of modules (typically modeled from the Nittany Distribution).  The courses service for examples is being built off of the Massively Open Online Course distribution.  While we’ll use this approach / tool set to deliver to our students internally, we’ll also be able to open things up (a flexibility we currently don’t possess in our existing architecture).

The ELMS distribution is already running in several units.  It along with the related Ulmus distribution will appear as just one service with in this setup.  The nice thing about the way I was developing both of those previously is that much of the code / ideas have been embodied into all other systems I’m building.  This also doesn’t even cover the asset management system that we have serving up media to our courses currently.

As Drupal development has picked up at the university, my ability to scale has increased.  Already module selection and overlapping development efforts that help create better websites has been used to create new features within the platforms discussed previously.

Development in tangentially related projects / modules is always helping improve the user experience and feature set of our platform.  A couple of years ago I was annoyed that more people weren’t getting into the game and it would appear that call has just started to be answered (to tremendous results).

At several points earlier this year I wondered if 2012 would break us or define us; I’m gearing up for a hell of a free and empowering definition.

Earthquakes of a Drupal LMS

Based on recent events (and added traffic to my site through search term “Drupal LMS”) I think it’s fair to say that the rumblings of a Drupal LMS are a bit more intense then a year ago. First some other opinions on the subject:

Hack Education

Moodle Discussion board

Add in the fact that Schoology and GoingOn Networks have their own LMS entries that are Drupal based and you might see where this is heading.  Enter the main event and one of three major discussions to come out of Drupalcon in my mind (for education at least): The discussion board on Drupal.org that’s starting to heat up.

There were a lot of discussions at Drupalcon about what it would take to make Drupal a full blown LMS.  Many vendors and organizations in the past have mashed up Drupal and Moodle to get the best of CMS world and best of free LMS world.

The reviews in the room (about 20ish) were mixed as to the result.  It was ok but not great.  There also seemed to be the feeling that the moodle community might be in decline from an outsiders perspective.  Based on the last 24 hours, it would appear that Moodle is about to be at an inflection point in adoption.  Either BB will help bring about the death of Moodle on FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) alone; or the community will continue with an influx of passionate educators and edtech leaders taking the charge.

As some other interesting notes from the shake up worth mentioning:

  • Dr Chuck from Sakai is also going to be involved in getting Blackboard to be promoting that project.  I’m not sure what impact this will have on that project but I know there’s a lot of fear about a project lead of his clout “jumping ship”.  While I don’t view it that way, especially from talking to him in the past, there will still be that perception (FUD)
  • Moodlerooms had a bunch of ex-Angel employees; funny how now suddenly BB isn’t going to be sun setting Angel.  Curious to see if those Angel people who jumped ship once will do so again to other moodle shops.

I also mentioned that there were three important things for Drupal in education as a movement to come out of Drupalcon Denver 2012. The second one was that Drupal in Education Unconferences will now be a yearly thing thanks to FunnyMonkey.  Drupalcon is in Portland next year (Funnymonkey’s hometown) and so the Unconference should be epic!

The last point is something that’s currently in the works and has been active for about six months, just under the radar.  A Drupal in Higher Education UnConsortium which is currently in the process of adopting a charter and more official name.  This un-developer network was announced at Drupalcon Denver and has had about 10 active members that meet monthly and have standards they are working towards to the benefit of all of education.  I’ll have more information about that in the coming weeks.

What I’m really excited about..

I’ve been really excited about the progress I’ve been able to make with the ELMS distribution for the latest version.  To most, it will seem that this has to do with adding functionality and additional stability to the platform.  Those are great, but there’s something far more subtle that I’ve been able to establish in the platform with this version: Something not specific to education.

As I’ve written before, I believe fully that better technologies / frameworks breed better, more sustainable solutions.  As such, it may seem counter-intuitive to put all this effort into something that is inherently non-educational.  I’ve done this to maximize the impact and eyes that can get on the code at all levels.  If this was just something that worked for educators (like Moodle is) then I’d be more or less barring 80% of the community from caring.

While previous versions of ELMS were mired in the context of Courses and Offerings of courses, as of Alpha 6 I’ve been able to break free of these connotations at a code level.  Everything you see with ELMS that makes you think it is specific just to education has been abstracted.  Here’s how:

  • Install Cores – ELMS ships with two install cores as of Alpha 6.  This is mostly just to showcase that it is possible to install the system towards very different purposes off 95% of the same code-base. The Instructional CMS (ICMS) is what was originally being developed towards solely, this will now enable me (or anyone) to develop towards a more collaborative learning environment (CLE) while reusing almost all of the work I’ve done for ICMS.
  • String Overrides – All language that references Courses, Versions, Offerings, and things specific to the ICMS have been written back to a single variable in the database.  The module providing this is called String Overrides and essentially allows you to alter the context of the system’s language globally with a simple form.  ICMS alters this language a little different from CLE, and suddenly we start to have two very different systems.
  • No required Theme – This is a major difference between ELMS and all the current distributions out there. ELMS has no required theme. While it ships with a theme called Cube enabled for the system layer, this and any theme from drupal.org should be able to be used in the mini-sites that are created.  Most of what a system is to people is in the theme layer so this is critical in my mind.
  • Regions – ELMS as a system layer is more of a wrapper on top of traditional Drupal.  This wrapper (provided by a project called Regions) enables the user to do one very important thing: Never have to touch Drupal pages. I think this will take some getting used to for some devs but ultimately it provides much more consistent, touch friendly interface elements that keep people focused on the site without detracting from it.
  • Kit Compliant Features – if functionality works one place it works many.  That’s what Kit packaged Features in Drupal allow you.  It’s like modules and configuration of how to use them all rolled into a simple enable button.  Because ELMS features are kit compliant they will work in the various implementations of ELMS that are going to come down the pipe (ICMS and CLE are the beginning)

It is for these reason that I’m so excited about the potential for the types of systems that ELMS can create.  It also puts my mind to rest knowing that I can swap out the entire connotation of the system on install. This vision is of a picture I’ve had in my head for the better part of a year, driving me slowly to madness:).

I’ll be presenting at Drupalcamp Baltimore Friday on this concept of using one distribution to mutate into many. I think you could reduce the development time of many complex systems as a result of the ELMS code-base.  The code / feature set allows for anything that meets these requirements:

  • There is a wrapper of some kind (parent, or course) that has micro-sites associated to it
  • There is a micro-site (site, or version) that can function also to the same level of flexibility as a full Drupal site

Here are some concepts that I think could be built with ELMS pretty quickly:

  • Popular Blog site dot com – This web service has a User to Blog relationship (ELMS + blog theme + blog + simple aggregators)
  • Popular Survey site dot com – This web service could have a User to Survey or Organization to Surveys relationship (ELMS + Webform)
  • E Portfolio –  1 to 1 Student to slightly different kind of blogging platform (Popular blog site dot com + a few image views)
  • Rubric Management service — Course to Instructor relationship (ELMS + Rubric)
  • Student Club management — Club to website relationship (ELMS + a few themes + features from atrium / commons for collaboration)
  • Asset Management System — Organization to Project relationship (ELMS + few content types to handle media implementation)
  • Traditional LMS – While i wouldn’t recommend this, it’s certainly not far off (ELMS + Quiz + Gradebook + LTI)

I know a few people have asked if this is an LMS platform to which I say, this is about transforming the LMS model.

My 2012 Prediction for EDTech

Many others will give you their predictions for 2012. I am not many others, so I will give you one prediction.  In typical fashion, this will be probably seen as completely over the top, but I never could paint with pastels.

2012 is the year that Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) starts to hollow out the Learning Management System (LMS).

Last year—and flowing into this year—the groundwork and infrastructure has been laid that will bring about the death of the traditional, single point of entry LMS.  I believe that technology standard is something known as  (LTI).

What is LTI?

LTI works essentially the same way Twitter and Facebook do when authorizing other apps to share a login.  Using a standard called OAuth, FB and Twitter are able to generate a secure one-time login time of address that is only valid during the current connection.  In plain English, it’s a secure way of letting you login without creating an account.

LTI brings this same type of security standard to the LMS world.  Site builders can create trusted login relationships between the traditional LMS and toolsets outside the LMS.  This allows you to pass information about students and instructors (and other roles) between systems, creating a seamless experience for the end user. You can then pass someone multiple directions as needed.

LMS (e.g., Canvas) to LMS (e.g., Moodle or Sakai) and, more importantly in my mind, LMS to non-LMS.  Maybe you can understand the next heading when framed with the following context:

  • All major LMS projects (proprietary included) are getting behind LTI;
  • LTI is far less complicated to understand and implement than SCORM; and
  • LTI can easily be implemented in non-LMS systems to bridge them with LMS systems

The Trojan Horse

LTI is how we finally escape the pit of singular system that has boxed up educational experiences for so long.  Why do you think faculty and students always end up utilizing ad-hoc methods to manage and communicate knowledge?  We provide them with tools for drop boxes, they use Flickr. We give them email, they want light-weight chat integration.  We give them forums to structure content, they use Google Docs.

LMSs and the scale they need to be built to, combined with the pace at which universities adopt new systems is a perfect storm scenario.  We constantly are behind the needs of our users, off-the-shelf and custom solutions never meet needs for long or fully satisfy audiences.  It’s not because the tools are poor, it’s because the structure is wrong.

LTI allows instructional designers, instructors, developers and management to think differently about the way they plan and implement learning systems.

A Structured Anarchy Future

Many of my ideas for my original Structured Anarchy post were borne from trends I noticed in the non-edu space with regard to technology; ideas that have turned into my obsession.  LTI/OAuth is the solution to a problem that the corporate/Web 2.0 crowd solved many years ago — pervasive logins across multiple websites / servers.

Students don’t want to have to learn multiple interfaces, yet Google seems to have over a dozen services strung across different addresses and different functions and are very successful.  Have you ever not used Google maps because the interface was strikingly different from Gmail? I realize I’m just pinging on Google, but Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft and many others are doing similar things.

Ultimately, you need to make a focused Web service; do something REALLY well; create project teams to sustain development for it and then feed users to it; create a singular method of login; make the experience seamless or reduce it to a “click to connect to {XYZ};” and provide standard UX / UI elements.

Personal Learning Environments

A Personal Learning Environment (PLE) is the suite-of-tools approach to learning systems designed to minimize the LMS.  Look, we need an LMS/central system (at least until this gets wider implementation) —it’s just the role of that system needs to be far more minimalist.

An instructor wants to create a blog for their course. Let’s provide them with the best tool possible. Name the LMS that handles blogging well, please. (while I don’t support using this) WordPress comes to mind for blogging.

An instructional designer wants to create an e-text that’s separate from the LMS because it’s mostly static content. Name the LMS that handles content really well. Hence the need for an Instructional Content Management System.

An instructor wants their students to have a conversation around video / audio assignments.  Name the LMS doing that well.  I’m told they are getting better at it but will they ever be youtube or a youtube clone?

Students want to collaborative work in teams and manage their project.  LMSs project group spaces and areas for document management, but do they come close to Google Docs, Basecamp, or Atrium?

Now, rubrics, gradebooks, email communication…I’ll leave these to the LMS.  Social interaction on the Internet is changing at light speed, while university and college infrastructure was built to house knowledge in a similar form for decades at a time.  It’s time for a change.  Universities and colleges need to transform or fade away.

An old adage is that college is an experience, and that many people are paying for that experience.  As that experience becomes increasingly more digital, let’s build systems that can help provide the best experiences possible.

If only there was a system positioning itself as part of the learning platform revolution…