A Learning Management System (LMS) is almost invariably thought of as a classroom tool. This is a limiting and problematic definition for several reasons:
- It creates the idea of a “void” between leadership and daily life. A learning organization —namely a school, university, college or any for or non-profit with learning, talent and professional development at its core— and the digital day-to-day of its community —teachers, students and everyone bound to the LMS on a regular basis—.
- It allows LMS vendors to downplay the Project Management needs of an LMS. While it is also a weakness that LMS with strong planning and flexible management capabilities do not properly communicate the message.
- Not the least of the issues, it absolves LMS and their vendors —commonly the recipients of significant financial, technical and human resources from an organization— from having critical flaws related to the decision making and management of resources in an organization.
You might think it is unfair for and LMS to be considered as a resource planner. However, many vendors seem set on promoting their product as the comprehensive solution they realistically cannot be. In addition, while separating educational and resource management concerns sound sensible, in reality they both overlap with critical consequences.
The latest “K-12 Principals’ Assessment of Education” by MCH is revealing in its obvious findings:
- Funding is by far the biggest concern, with over 60% considering it at least important (“most important” by 38%).
- However, lack of technology has nowhere near the same importance, despite its key role in making funds more efficient.
- Funding even trumps concerns about student readiness and behavioral issues.
But what if I told you…
The modern LMS have evolved to enable a high-scope view of a learning organization’s processes and dynamics. It might not have been deliberate, but the competition among the top LMS today has enabled a pace of innovation
In fairness, not every brand new announcement is equivalent to a step forward. As vendors make their case, marketing often falls into persuasion rather than enlightenment. Fortunately for them, its customers don’t know any better and seem willing, or resigned, to burden the costs of unrealized benefits.
But it cannot and should not be this way. Attaching core deliverables to an LMS in a way that align to institutional goals —hopefully in so doing, to global goals, perhaps involving development and sustainability— should realign the technological priorities of LMS vendors as well as its message. At the end of the day, comfortable margins and market shares lead to conformity, and there’s reason to believe the LMS space has not advanced to the best of its potential.
Modern challenges for modern leaders: Who reigns over the learning organization of 2020?
Which leads to a natural conclusion: Where are the leaders of the space? Where are they moving their organizations, and the world’s education on the aggregate?
It is worrisome that technology continues to be a traditionally hair-graying factor, along with ESSA —insert your well-intentioned national education policy here—, funding, and increasingly, student safety. It is also paradoxical, as technology is supposed to allow organizations to better plan and organize resources.
It would appear that there are educational leaders who expect technology to provide the answers. History is full of examples where such attitudes were perilous, and even fatal. Interestingly enough, the term “Industrial Revolution” could also be viewed as the unrewarded sacrifices by large swaths of society, all in the pursuit of technology itself. As we enter the fourth such era, it’s worth assuming a reflexive stance on the kind of demands we are making from key groups of people, including among others our students.
So what is the role LMS should be playing in the execution of a vision and a strategy?
An unfortunate commonality on leadership and management literature is to move directly from problem to technology. In my mind there is no doubt this is another manifestation of our general propensity for “mindless technocracy.” But whether I’m a conspiracy theorist or not, the takeaway is the same: Educational outcomes come first, and it’s the leadership’s vision who should define these. This is the only way a technology can be properly deployed to faithfully pursue the learning organization’s mission.
Turns out culture is more important than most leaders’ actions show. It could be the single most important element in the success and long-term sustainability of a learning value proposition. Leave to their own devices, people and technology —in practice, the engineers behind it— would end up building well-meaning and disastrous devices. Ask me for 100 examples of economic history in the comments.
Leadership features in an LMS: A step further
While there is general satisfaction on the role an LMS plays in a school, leaders of learning organizations should consider measures that would help them push things to the next level:
- From training and compliance to “morale management.” An LMS that is a reflection of a leader’s vision, as well as its concern for morale, could play a more effective role in the overall organizational strategy. Gone are the days where the LMS could be outsourced to the tech guys.
- From secure platforms, to security savviness. A holistic view of security, online and offline, and a more dynamic vision of security, risk and threats. The 2010s saw the death of the antivirus, among other reasons because they could never prevent a ransomware attack.
- From logs and analytics to evidence repositories. Do you need to apply for new funds? The LMS should be the place that justifies a given educational investment. If properly set up and automated, it could generate cost-effectiveness metrics on-the-fly.
- And of course, from apps to service ecosystems that take into account higher-level metrics and elevate the value of the learning proposition.