In the seemingly endless talk of the relative merits of different learning management systems by faculty at conferences, online and on-campus, it’s often forgotten that the university is the actual client, not faculty. i.e. The university brass sign the cheque.
The significance of this simple distinction is that university interests don’t necessarily mirror those of the faculty (shocking, I know). In fact, the interests of the university differ in a number ways from the academic. And it is these interests of the university that will keep the LMS as we know it as a regular feature on campus for the foreseeable future.
The value of the LMS that are specific to the university include:
1. The core value proposition of the LMS is that it allows instructors with limited technical skills to create and manage web-based courses with minimal assistance. In this respect, the design of the technology mirrors and ultimately reinforces the organizational model of classroom education in which the Instructor serves as a one-person operation. For the institution, this ensures that the LMS does not disrupt the existing and deeply embedded organization of roles and responsibilities within the institution, which in turn reduces costly reorganizational changes, as well as blow back from academics that are accustomed to working with high levels of autonomy.
2. The LMS is designed to integrate with other school systems – student data, registration, finance, and so forth. This, in turn, places much of the responsibility for certain administrative tasks in the hands of the individual academic – thus reducing the need for additional administrative staff to manage and distribute data across the institution; for example, from the academic to registration. In this respect, the LMS is no different than online banking; it serves to reduce operational costs for the host institution by placing the control of certain processes in the hands of end-users.
3. The LMS places a number of important institutional activities under a single, consistent system – one managed by the institution itself, and according to its’ own logic and requirements. There are a number of benefits to the institution of a single, unifying system:
- It ensures that critical information, such as student personal information and the faculty’s intellectual property can be captured and managed according to the university’s standards.
- The university can be confident that it is adhering to regulatory policies and procedures.
- A single system allows the university to control the look and feel of course design.
- It provides the university with a vehicle for managing the university brand.
- It can reduce the cost of student and instructor support by minimizing the number of systems and configurations that it must be prepared to support.
4. Learning management systems also provide institutions with the opportunity to capture and report on its activities. While information about course activities is important to instructors, it can be used by the university to capture data that can be used to manage student appeals and misconduct or demands for data from regulators.
The different needs and interests of the university and faculty (not to mention, students) are becoming increasingly relevant as more LMS vendors market directly to individual instructors, rather than the institution, and as professionals in this space consider the future of the LMS.