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April 11, 2005

Back in the saddle, and into the debate...

Well, I'm back at CETIS, and starting to catch up again with the world. Apologies for the lack of posts, I've been hard at work coding a federated search system, and I seem to have difficulty coding and blogging at the same time!

I see one of my favourite questions in e-Learning seems to be making the rounds this year.

JWZ said: "If you want to do something that’s going to change the world, build software that people want to use instead of software that managers want to buy."

Bud replied: "Can you sell social software to the organization it replaces?”

And Teemu gives us: "Software should be stuff that gets you laid..."

Although the context is social software and groupware, these all seem to me to be articulating something fundamental in the e-learning world; I think one of the reasons why many people find LMSs and VLEs to be somehow a bit disappointing is that, in a sense, a commercial LMS is an attempt to implement some sort of technical innovation without requiring any sort of fundamental change in the process (except in the sense of being more managed and reported-on).

In a sense, an LMS is rather like an e-commerce application that gives you a really lovely template to fill in so that you can print it out and send your order through the post more quickly. Its not about changing the conversation, its about co-opting the tools of change, and adapting them to the organisational context to minimize the amount of painful change.

After all, LMSs aren't bought by learners or teachers, they're bought by institutions. Learners are not the customers. Which is why no-one goes out and downloads an LMS and uses it 'just for fun'. With notable exceptions, we generally end up having to bribe or coerce people into using the things (credits for posting x items on the LMS forum, for example). An LMS is typically not a tool to help me manage my learning, its a tool to help you to manage me.

Just as e-Commerce enables direct connections between buyer and seller, e-Learning can do the same between people wanting to learn. Just as e-commerce went pretty hard on some traditional intermediaries, so e-Learning has the potential to go pretty hard on institutions. Perhaps the behaviour of adopting a bland commercial e-learning system and letting it quietly fail has good survival potential...

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