Coates, James, and Baldwin: A critical examination of the effects of learning management systems on university teaching and learning

Coates, H., James, R., & Baldwin, G. (2005). A critical examination of the effects of learning management systems on university teaching and learning. Tertiary Education and Management, 11, 19-36. doi:10.1080/13583883.2005.9967137



Argues that while LMSs have become ubiquitous, pedagogical research into LMSs in infancy-- not really addressed (19). Focus of paper: explores implications arising from incorporation of LMS then discusses four specific academic issues associated with implementation (loose para 20).


The Rapid Evolution of Learning Management Systems


An overview of online Learning Management Systems


Typical brief overview. International standards beginning to be developed (as of 2005). Typical tools: asynchronous/synchronous communication; content development and delivery; formative and summative assessment; class and user management. Allows for some structures/processes/online appearance to be customized. Lists most prominent systems (WebCT Vista, Blackboard, etc.).  Some open source (Sakai).


Global and Australian trends in Learning Management System adoption


In AU, UK, Canada, 70% of institutions hold licenses for products; ZA, Fi, NL, US, between 55-65% use WebCT or Blackboard. Demonstrate prevalence.


The Drivers Behind Learning Management System Adoption


"Clearly, there is something so seductive about LMS that, despite their complexities and risks, almost every university seems compelled to have one" (23).


Common reasons: access, cost, quality.


  • increases efficiency of teachers
    • Reduces course management overhead, reduce physical space, expedite info delivery
  • promise of enriching student learning (supposedly "reinforce and enhance...constructivist pedagogies" [24])--access more resources/materials; accessibility. 
  • student expectations of using advanced technologies
  • competitive pressure/perceived advantage
  • proposed as key to addressing massive/increasing demands for greater access to higher ed./ vehicle for reform
  • "culture shift" (25). control/regulation of teaching


The Educational Issues


limited research, usually focusing on specific technologies. Four general issues:


  • influence of LMSs on teaching and learning: "it is essential that discussions about LMS are informed by pedagogical considerations" (26). Diff between LMS on paper and in practice; seems that LMS "based on an overly simplistic understanding of the relationship between teachers, knowledge and student learning. In-built functions may not encourage awareness of or experimentation with sophisticated pedagogical practices" (27). Reliance on "corrected" assessment (multiple choice/short answer)--problematic for education.
    • "LMS are not pedagogically neutral technologies, but rather, through their very design, they influence and design teaching. As the systems become more incorporated into everyday academic practices, they will work to shape and even define teachers'' imaginations, expectations and behaviours" (27) 
  • uncertain effects of LMS on student engagement: little research done. How does this effect out-of-class interaction with universities? e.g., understanding higher ed community, self-identification, etc. Student interactions with online learning systems (call for studies of students use of/ attitudes toward LMS).
    • "LMS may influences students'' confidence with and motivation for learning, or their understanding of the significance of what they have learned" (29)
  • new dynamics in academic work and the organization of teaching: teaching has traditionally been primarily responsibility of academics, often working independently (close para 29). Often an "adaptive" process of interaction between students and staff. Traditionally, instructors ''make learning happen.'' LMS bring new structures/practices to teaching (29). Creates new relationships between academic and administrative staff--tech and admin staff more involved in the process. creating new/complex divisions of labor between admins/teachers (call for study). Again concerns about control, monitoring, etc. (30). Concerns over "academic-free" teaching.
  • possible corporatization of academic knowledge: opportunities and constraints. "It would be a retrograde rather than progressive step if the adoptionof an online learning system resulted in the overly systematised compression of different disciplines and styles of learning" (31). Concerns over restrictions on migration of content. Apparent goal of vendors: commercialization of content. Discussion of OS LMS development.
    • "Through making the internet a more seductive and accessible tool for teaching, LMS may also be homogenising the creation, style and ownership of pedagogical knowledge. Educational research might investigate how the parsimonies offered by LMS balance with a possible standardisation and ‘‘shrink-wrapping’’ of knowledge." (32)


Developing Online Learning Management Systems in Higher Education


Argues for need for "focused discussion and debate" (32). Don''t limit decisions to "checklist evaluations" (33). Need large/diverse of academic stakeholders. "It is important that institutions adopt and deploy LMS in ways which are open, inclusive and educationally informed" (33).