Another dot in the blogosphere?

How LMS are like mops

Posted on: August 4, 2014

I may wear the pants of the house, but I also mop the floors of my home. I do this once a week and I have developed a system of cleaning. So I think I know a thing or two about the humble mop.

Mop heads wear out and get dirty so they need to be replaced. My latest purchase seemed like a good idea at the time. I thought I could get a mop head from a reputable brand and attach it to the handle I already had.


It was only after I bought it that I realized that the new mop head had an extra piece (in photo, left) that required it to be paired with the same brand of handle with a hollow end (right). I was forced to buy a handle I did not need.

That was not all. The handle was shorter that other handles I had. I am of average height and this handle seemed to be designed for a really short person. Perhaps the company had in mind who mopped floors and designed for them only. When I use it, I bend over unnecessarily to have both hands on it. Using it one-handed, I grip the very end because it is so short.

I prefer a previously purchased adjustable-length handle. It allows me to shorten the mop in tight corners and lengthen it when reaching under beds.

In short, the new mop package was from a reputable brand, made me pay more than I had to, and was one-size-fits-all. I think you see where I am going with this analogy.

I was until recently the Head of the Centre for e-Learning. I understand learning management systems (LMS) even better than mops. Most LMS are just like the new mop I bought.

Most LMS often have proprietary elements that are not driven by teaching and learning needs. Instead they are driven by profit and administration.

Instructors and students have to learn to use and live with the limited affordances of most LMS. If we are honest, I am being kind with that statement. I do not know of any organization that sings praises of its vendor-provided LMS. The exceptions are organizations that create their own so that it is highly customized and integrated to other systems.

Just like how the brand name handle came up short, so too do LMS providers in the e-platform world. They realize that they have to try to keep up with more social, open, or flexible tools. They also cannot exclude their more mobile users. But they tend to react to these changes instead of designing for them in the first place. The result is often a Frankenstein monster of mish-mashed parts.

Unlike a mop, an LMS is an expensive investment that tends to get more expensive to maintain over time. I can find a better mop, but an organization cannot just drop an LMS because it has invested too much money and effort into it. The inertia is just too great and it becomes greater over time.

What are solutions for this problem? Do not adopt an LMS in the first place. Understand the needs of teachers and learners and address those needs with a variety of meaningful platforms or tools. And listen to people like me who you can bring on as experienced consultants. Do not be penny wise and pound foolish by not paying for good advice.

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