Our Post-LMS University

Jeff Grabill, our Director, leads a discussion on the Radius project in the Hub's space. He is standing in front of a white board and talking to a group of seated faculty.

The second in a series of three musings, focused on Learning Management Systems.

By Jeff Grabill, Associate Provost for Teaching, Learning, and Technology & Director of MSU Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology

What does a “post-LMS” university look like? I asked this of a close colleague of mine who knows this terrain better than I do, and he said “we work at one.”

Michigan State is a decentralized place, even more so than many of our peers. With regard to LMS use, for example, we don’t force its use via policy. We don’t incentivize it either. And so the use of our LMS varies by culture and college on campus and is fundamentally still an instructor choice. As a faculty member, nobody ever made me use our LMS. As a department chair, I never made my colleagues use it either. The result is a campus in which our LMS has a use rate of somewhere around 40%, and the nature of that use varies wildly. Furthermore, we have a number of course-based technologies in use, some paid for and supported centrally, some by colleges and departments, and many more as a function of faculty and student choice.

It’s in this way that MSU is “post-LMS.”

It’s worth thinking about explicitly strategic answers to this question. That is the invitation of this post: What does/should a post-LMS university look like?

To be sure, universities spend lots of money on an LMS. I’m under no illusion that an explicitly post-LMS university realizes cost savings. Those dollars will be redirected to other uses, many of them technologies.

It seems that there are three dynamics for the next few years in the “LMS space,” by which I mean the space in an institution’s thinking about teaching and learning that is currently occupied by “the LMS.” We will likely see different versions and ratios of these:

  1. The status quo in some form, of course, or a continuation of much of a campus educational technology spend on “the LMS” with varying levels of instructor outreach and programmatic use.
  2. Increasing use “course in a box” from the big boys and girls. Think here of purchasing Econ 101 from a provider like Pearson Learning.
  3. A shift to a focus on courseware with attention to the underlying data layer constituting the strategic “platform.”

It’s the third path that is most interesting to me and largely what I have in mind when I think about “post-LMS.” Here the institution’s strategic attention is focused on three things: (1) ensuring the development and curation of a “data warehouse” that will (2) enable a strong learning analytics program, and also (3) pivoting to the identification and effective use of learning technologies (courseware) that can contribute to good learning outcomes and that will also feed data into the warehouse.
It’s not clear what the coordinating layer or technology needs to be here. The direction implied, however, takes considerable pressure off (and value away from) that which we now call our “platform,” which isn’t much of a learning platform in any case.

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