Mott: Envisioning the Post-LMS Era: The Open Learning Network

Mott, J. (2010). Envisioning the Post-LMS Era: The Open Learning Network. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, 33(1). Retrieved from



Argues to bridge gap between LMS and PLE (Personal Learning Environments) via open learning network. Notes that "usage patterns suggest that the LMS is primarily a tool set for administrative efficiency rather than a platform for substantive teaching and learning activities." Cites Glenda Morgan: "Faculty use the CMS primarily as an administrative tool … rather than as a tool anchored in pedagogy or cognitive science models." Usage is more or less a "storage facility" for lecture notes/presentations (citing Milligan). Great quote by Lanny Arvan:


[T]he LMS serves as an affirming technology of traditional teaching. The instructor doesn''t challenge the LMS very much, and, in turn, the LMS doesn''t challenge the instructor. The student gets the convenience benefit from electronic distribution of documents (and grades) but little more.12


Even with OS systems like Moodle and Sakai, Mott identifies three issues:


  • organization around semesters, expiring/vanishing every 15 weeks or so
  • teach-centric
  • "walled gardens"--limited to students in courses, cannot share across courses, between students, etc.


PLE''s offer more open architecture; customizable. "Emphasizes participation over presentation, encourages focused conversation over traditional publication, and ''facilitates innovative explorations, experimentations, and purposeful tinkerings that often form the basis of a situated understanding emerging from action, not passivity''"...terming it an "''open participatory learning ecosystem''" (citing Brown and Adler).


Weaknesses (especially on institutional level): more difficult for training and support, FERPA concerns, "free" nature means little control. 


Author''s informative table:


Table 1. Strengths and Weaknesses of the LMS and the PLE


LMS Strengths LMS Weaknesses
Simple, consistent, and structured As widely implemented, time-bound (courses disappear at the end of the semester)
Integration with student information systems (SISs), with student rosters automatically populated in courses Teacher, rather than student, centric
Private and secure (FERPA compliant) Courses walled off from each other and from the wider web, negating the potential of the network effect
Simple and inexpensive to train and support (compared to supporting multiple tools) Limited opportunities for students to "own" and manage their learning experiences within and across courses
Tight tool integration (such as quiz scores populated in gradebooks) Rigid, non-modular tools
Supports sophisticated content structuring (sequencing, branching, adaptive release) Interoperability challenges and difficulties26
PLE Strengths PLE Weaknesses
Almost limitless variety and functionality of tools, customizable and adaptable in multiple configurations and variations Complex and difficult to create for inexperienced students and faculty members
Inexpensive — often composed of free and open source tools Potential security and data exposure problems (FERPA issues abound)
No artificial time boundaries: remains "on" before, during, and after matriculation Limited institutional control over data
Open to interaction, sharing, and connection without regard to official registration in programs or courses or particular institutions Absent or unenforceable service-level agreements; no ability to predict or resolve web application performance issues, outages, or even disappearance
Student-centric (each student selects and uses the tools that make sense for their particular needs and circumstances) Lacks centrally managed and aggregated group rosters (such as class rolls)
Learning content and conversations are compilable via simple technologies like RSS Difficult and potentially expensive to provide support for multiple tools and their integrations with each other and with institutional systems


 PLE is looser, non-institutional. Instead of waiting for vendors or developers, HE innovators ''create'' own architecture on web. Argues to find/use "best-of-breed" tools outside of LMS (e.g., Google docs for collaboration, SlideShare, Delicious).  Discusses some institutions embracing blogging platforms as alternative to LMS.


Delineates three criteria for Open Learning Network:


  • malleable ("modular, flexible, interoperable, and open")
  • leverages technologies not in existence when LMSs began in late 1990s ("ground up," "granular," rights management)
  • balances "imperatives of institutional networks and the promise of the cloud." Institutions maintain all info must be private and secure, though it doesn''t have to be. Cloud allows for some sharing/collaboration in much more free manner.


OLN should be "as frictionless as possible, transparently supporting authentic teaching and learning activities as they unfold." OLNs based on "service-oriented architecture" -- conceptual. Users log into portal and user''s i.d. integrated with SIS and instiutional ID repository, could also be melded with social networking registry (like FB, LI, Twitter, etc.). Provides image (Fig. 3) of full-featured OLN.


Discusses test plan for BYU. Uses syllabus builder which offers options based on program and course outcomes. Links to artifacts, blogs, etc. Split-frame option allows for artifact feedback. Key to all of this is the "loosely coupled gradbook" or "loosely coupled assessment"--


"the loosely coupled gradebook allows learners to author and publish content whre it is most natural and appropriate to do so in the learning process. It also allows teachers to provide secure, private feedback in an environment tied to applications and databases that support the programmatic and systematic assessment of learning." 


Again, argues for balance; need not be either/or LMS/PLE. Cites Campbell, arguing for helping students acquire "digital fluency."