Learning outside the LMS

George Siemens in his Connectivism Blog has posted about what can happen when learners find that an LMS doesn’t provide what they need and step outside:

Administrators, learning designers, and teachers are facing a new kind of learner – someone who has control over the learning tools and processes. When educators fail to provide for the needs of learners (i.e. design learning in an LMS only), learners are able to ‘go underground’ to have their learning needs met.

This happened in a program I was recently involved in as a learner. An LMS was the main learning tool (which was a good choice for the program – many of the learners valued the centralized nature of communication and content presentation). After a short period of time, however, groups of learners ‘broke off’ from the program and started holding discussions through Skype, IM, wikis, and other tools. Learners selected tools that were more tightly linked to the types of learning tasks occurring. When the learning was content consumption or simple discussion threads, the LMS was fine. As the learning became more social, learners started using tools with additional functionality. The learning required by the instructors – assignments, discussions – still happened in the LMS. But much more meaningful, personal, and relevant learning happened underground – outside of the course.

As George notes, when learners go outside they may loose access to some of the supports offered by the facilitator, or otherwise, inside the course. Everybody looses direct access to what happens in the alternative spaces although some of what happens may filter back.

Coincidentally, Graham Attwell on The Wales-Wide Web has posted some reflections on a presentation by Scott Wilson questioning why, when we expect students to provide their own word processors and other tools, institutions insist upon providing the LMS. He suggests that it is about institutional control and argues that having students provide their own systems might encourage them to take control of their own learning.

These are challenging thoughts for systems that mostly work by channelling learners through a tightly controlled series of learning activities within a series of courses.