Home > Features, Trends > Regarding the `LMS is Here to Stay’ Versus the `LMS Will Go Away’ Debate

Regarding the `LMS is Here to Stay’ Versus the `LMS Will Go Away’ Debate


Richard Nantel, Vice President, Enterprise Learning Solutions, Blatant Media | Absorb LMSLast week, Tony Bates wrote a Blog post titled “Why learning management systems are not going away.” He cited the following reasons for his conviction that LMS are likely here to stay:

  • Most instructors and students need a structure for teaching
  • Instructors and students need a private place to work online
  • The choice is not either an LMS or web 2.0 tools. Web 2.0 tools can be used not only outside an LMS, but also with an LMS (through links) and can even be embedded within some LMSs
  • …institutions are becoming increasingly reliant on LMSs … to integrate data from teaching with administration, to provide data on student performance, for appeals against grades, and for reporting and accountability purposesDodo

David Jones presented a rebuttal in a post titled “Why learning management systems will probably go away.”

David agrees with Tony that there’s a need for structure in learning…

 But there’s debate to be had around whether the LMS is the tool for this structure to be provided. The diversity of learning is going to push against the constraints of the LMS as we currently know it.

Regarding a need for a private place to work:

…the LMS is not the only private place on the Internet. Any number of spaces can be private.

Regarding the LMS versus Web 2.0 argument, Tony and David are in agreement but David believes that a LMS will no longer be a LMS once the learning technology has truly embraced Web 2.0:

Based on this experience, however, I do believe that when an “LMS” really starts to work effectively with Web 2.0 tools, then the very nature of the system and how it is supported also needs to change

Lastly, regarding the argument that organizations are increasingly reliant on LMS, David writes:

…there are just as good, if not better, methods for accountability/analytics available for use with Web 2.0 tools as with the LMS.

Kudos to Tony and David for their excellent analyses. Please read their full posts.

Here’s what I think:

First, we need to define learning management systems. Otherwise, we’ll in a few years be in a situation where Tony is saying “I was right, LMS are still around” while David says “I was right, LMS went away; replaced with new technologies.”

Removing the hundreds of bells and whistles, a learning management system is a software application that:

  • Provides targeted learning content and events to learners
  • Tracks learners’ interactions with learning content
  • Generates reports on those interactions

It doesn’t matter what the application looks like.  That’s important because we’re already seeing learning management systems that don’t look at all like traditional LMS. If you asked someone spending time in such an environment whether they are in a learning management system, they’d almost certainly say `no.’ But, based on the definition above, they are.

Reason # 1 LMS are here to stay: Collectively, LMS are not static. They are evolving, adapting to new trends, integrating with new technologies, embracing new ideas about learning.   

When you think of a word processing application, do you think of the latest office suites or do you think of text editing in reveal code view on a monochrome monitor as you did in the 1980s? Surely the former. And yet, many critics of learning management systems have a very static and dated view of the technology. LMS evoke images of rigid systems that became popular more than a decade ago. The reality is that LMS evolve the way other software applications evolve. Individual products disappear, but the technology changes.

Reason #2 LMS are here to stay: The needs driving the use of a LMS will not go away.

Managing a learning project using e-mail, keeping progress records in spreadsheets, printing and mailing transcripts is time-consuming and inefficient. It doesn’t take long before people working this way start looking for ways to make the process easier.  Consequently, there’s strong motivation for adoption of LMS technologies from people working in the trenches in learning and development.

Reason #3 LMS are here to stay: We continue to see an increase in the number of LMS available. The pace in which new systems are appearing doesn’t even seem to be slowing.

When I began writing about learning management systems in 2000, there were likely fewer than 50 commercial systems. The number of systems available today is much greater. Some analysts peg that number at more than 300. Every year, some LMS go away due to acquisitions, lack of resources, obsolete legacy code, etc., In the end, however, each year shows a net increase in the number of systems. This reflects growing demand for LMS technology, not a shift towards alternatives.

Categories: Features, Trends
  1. -
    April 13, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    Hi Richard, great post. I would suggest that an additional angle is the difference between academics and corporate regarding content creation. Here is my broad generalization about the two.

    In academics, at a 5,000-student university, there would be perhaps 300 professors, each developing content for their own courses. Most of those professors are likely to be providing relatively common content formats (e.g., journal article PDFs, PowerPoint), and wanting some common functionality (e.g., discussion board, assignment submission). Their LMS can probably easily handle this. But perhaps 5-10% of those professors (15-30 individuals) may be technologically adventurous and want to link to outside public Web 2.0 tools or have that kind of functionality within their LMS (or whatever). My guess is that those professors are sometimes (or often) told, “You can’t do that. Stay within the capabilities of the system.” They chafe at that, and that’s what “LMS” connotes to them.

    On the other hand, on the corporate side a 5,000-employee company would have perhaps 15 trainers, who are buying or building content from scratch (i.e., probably no textbooks or journal articles would be used). My hypothesis is that those trainers have full plates and are less likely to chafe under any constraints of their LMS. First of all, the training department probably IS management with regard to the LMS (who do they complain to?). Second, they simply tell their vendor what enhancements they’d like to see in the future. Third, (and I admit this may a stretch) an individual course may be less of a technological labor of love for a trainer (“I MUST have a wiki in this new-product training!”) The trainer may be more likely to simply adopt technology as it becomes available (“Learners can now rate and suggest edits to content, so let’s have them do that.”).

    Anyway, that’s my second-cup-of-coffee hypothesis. In a nutshell, the academic experience versus the corporate experience may be a big variable in the will-the-LMS-survive debate.

  2. August 10, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    On an entirely unrelated note, Tony Bates was an instructor for my masters degree. Since the degree was online at the University of British Columbia I did not have the pleasure of meeting him face-to-face.

  1. May 8, 2012 at 4:08 pm

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