Managing Learning

As far as I know, most college and university courses currently use some type of web-based platform known as a Learning Management System (LMS). The LMS is a useful tool for managing administrative and logistical functions of teaching.

The name, Learning Management System, however, is a misnomer. A LMS is a communications platform. It is an institution-centric repository of course activity. The LMS is a teaching management system, and a course management system, but it does not necessarily manage learning.

Learning is personal. Newly acquired information doesn’t become knowledge until you can connect it to something you already know. Meaning is constructed or discovered by each person at different rates, and in diverse contexts. Learning is discovery. That discovery can be guided by teachers, but neither they, nor their LMS, have enough contextual information to manage a student’s learning.

Learning is also social. It happens between people, at unpredictable times, and in unpredictable places. It is true that a LMS might provide conversation, or interaction space, but that space is no more guaranteed to provide inspiration or insight than any other place, physical or virtual, that is occupied by an affinity group of two or more people. The space does not manage learning. It provides just one of many opportunities for relationship and sharing to arouse potential learning.

A LMS can certainly serve as a place to demonstrate evidence of learning that has occurred. That evidence should articulate reflections on how learners arrived at particular conclusions. It should describe the very personal, sometimes serendipitous process of learning that learners themselves have navigated.

The LMS has been widely adopted in part, because it appeals to every institution’s desire for standardization and control. Its knowledge management capacity is seen as a tool that will contribute to student success. Student success, and learning, however, are not necessarily the same thing. Short-term memorization, and test taking proficiency are frequent indicators of institutionally-defined ‘success.’ I don’t know if that is always an indication of learning.

Maybe student success measures are most valid when they are defined, at least in part, the students themselves. Learners manage their own learning all the time. Some of it in academic settings, some of it not. They should be able to play at least some role in setting their own institution-recognized learning goals. Assuming that level of ownership of learning outcomes takes place in graduate schools. Why not expand the concept across all of academia? Let’s trust students with some responsibility to determine their personal learning management system.