February 25, 2020

An LMS Thought Experiment

The big Thoma Bravo acquisition of Instructure is officially underway today (details about the tender offer), and it got me to thinking about the way the LMS started and how it's become what it's become. Out of nowhere, I had this sudden thought: what if, back when the LMS first got going, we had not seen the LMS as an IT project but instead as something that we entrusted to the university library...?

Think about it.

University libraries are all about resources, information, research, studying... learning. Just speaking for myself, I did most of my college learning in libraries, cutting class to go to the library instead. I love libraries.

And technology: libraries have a strong IT infrastructure and they have always had a strong IT infrastructure. After all, the digital revolution has been transformational for the book world, even more than it has been for classrooms. Classrooms are still fundamentally physical places, very much about face to face experience. That is why, in so many ways, the LMS is a failure and disappointment for people who want to reproduce the classroom online; classrooms are fundamentally synchronous. But libraries? Libraries are deeply asynchronous; they take their very name from the ultimate asynchronous tool of academic life: books.

So just imagine if the LMS had evolved with the goals of the library world more at the forefront, rather than reproducing the classroom. What if it had been library IT departments that had driven discussions with vendors all those years, especially in the crucial early years...? Instead of central IT departments, with their focus on administrative and business services.

As someone who is pretty unhappy with how the LMS has evolved, I can't help but wonder how things would have turned out if people had said to themselves right from the start, "How can the LMS provide students with a supportive learning experience, like the library?"

Instead of like the classroom.

Anyway, as I keep pondering the LMS, its pluses and minuses, gearing up for the JHU book, I will keep pondering this might-have-been. :-)

When in doubt, go to the library!

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