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.

Iceland by Michael Schlegel

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.


  1. My first visit to this blog and the posting “The LMS: It’s Not All About You” really hit the mark. Not mentioned and, for me, trumping all other issues, is the need for disaster recovery and business continuity solutions. In an institution like ours that has a major commitment to its eLearning initiatives, the need to minimize its vulnerability in this regard is paramount.

    Marvin Weinbaum, Dean, CyberCampus, Golden Gate University.


  2. Good point, Marvin. Thanks very much for the insight.


  3. I wonder how many instructors are supplementing with resources outside the formal provider in order to better meet their needs and how many just cope with the confinement?


  4. Great question. I’m not aware of any research that provides data of this type, Deb. But in the course of my research, the answer appears to be – very broadly – “many”. Instructors that feel the need to use other applications such as WordPress, Ning, Twitter, Youtube, etc will typically use the standard LMS, as well; for course management activities, in particular.
    The LMS vendors have dedicated a great deal of resources over the past decade to incorporating these different types of applications and features into their systems. Sometimes, this involves adding applications that provide the same type of features (e.g. a blog feature to combat the need to use WordPress). More recently, we are seeing the development of LMSs’ that include a bridge to external applications like Twitter and Facebook (see Instructure, for example).
    I should add that the LMS systems have always been designed for flexibility. Because these systems are bought by the institutions, and most institutions now prefer to use only one system, they must accommodate a wide variety of users with very different needs.


  5. It’s ironical that it is called a learning management system when so much of it is designed and implemented to serve the needs of established roles and responsibilities, relationships, policies and procedures, and values. The complaints of faculty are often a result of the failure of institutions to address some fundamental challenges of this “disruptive” technology. Part of the disruption is due to the shifting of heretofore control of the learning space. I believe it can be argued that the onset and growth of distance education is a result of negotiations for the control of time, place and pace of courses. The antagonists have been students, not faculty. And just as some control has been wrestled from the guardians of education in the manner in which courses are conducted (online), and the length of time they run, other control issues are also being challenged. The OER movement is challenging access to content, an area traditionally the domain of the course faculty member. Social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, is challenging the traditional media used for education by not only its widespread use by the students but also by the insistence that it not be controlled within the institutional learning space. I smiled when I read “capture” in Keith’s description of the fourth value. That sums it up well. Some institutions will be able to “capture” their students and their faculty, others will not. It remains to be seen where this will lead us.


  6. Thank you Keith. We’re thinking in a straight line. Here’s my post on LMS Evals from Feb 10th:

    I’ve referenced your post there as well. Thank you so much. ~Laura


  7. Emergentdlearning
    Great insights, thank you.
    There’s one other struggle for control that I would add: the act of content development. The rise of digital introduced the need for other professionals to get involved in the act of creating course content. In the classroom model, it’s a one-person operation. Now, if done well, the process involves a number of people. That’s not an insignificant change for higher ed, and it’s one that has caused a great deal of tension in our colleges and universities.


  8. Thanks, Laura. I checked out your post (and subscribed to your site).


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