While virtual learning environments have been available in some capacity since 1960, “the PLATO system featured multiple roles, including students who could study assigned lessons and communicate with teachers through on-line notes, instructors, who could examine student progress data, as well as communicate and take lessons themselves, and authors, who could do all of the above, plus create new lessons” (Wikipedia, 2006a, 1960s section,). Learning management systems have only been available, in roughly their present form, since the 1990s (Vollmer , 2003), with Blackboard and WebCT being broadly adopted in universities and colleges by early 2000 (Online, 2006). Initial versions of an LMS focused on organizing and managing course content and learners. As with many organizations, higher education was unsure about the role of technology in the educational process. The rapid penetration of learning management systems as key tools for learning occurs in a vacuum of solid research as to their effectiveness in increasing learning—or even indication of best practices for technology implementation. Pedagogy is generally a secondary consideration to student management; some researchers attempted to bridge research from face-to-face environments to technology spaces (Chickering & Ehrmann, 1996)—a practice that may be convenient, but errs in assuming that the online space is an extension of physical instruction, not an alternative medium with unique affordances. Learning management systems became the default starting point of technology enabled learning in an environment largely omitting faculty and learner needs. Learning Circuits’ (n.d.) publication, A Field Guide to Learning Management Systems, revealed the nature of most LMS decisions at committee levels (an experience paralleled in academic environments): “an LMS should integrate with other enterprise application solutions used by HR and accounting, enabling management to measure the impact, effectiveness, and overall cost of training initiatives”. The value of an LMS is ensconced in language of management and control—notions that most academics would perceive as antagonistic to the process of learning. Most LMS options, features, and comparisons (LMS Options, 2006) focus on tools included in a suite, not on how to foster and encourage learning in relation to an organization’s definition of “what it means to learn.” Discussions of features are divorced from emphasis on learning opportunities. Learning Management Systems (LMS) are often viewed as being the starting point (or critical component) of any elearning or blended learning program. This perspective is valid from a management and control standpoint, but antithetical to the way in which most people learn today. Learning management systems like WebCT, Blackboard, and Desire2Learn offer their greatest value to the organization by providing a means to sequence content and create a manageable structure for instructors/administration staff. The “management” aspect of a learning management system creates another problem: much like we used to measure “bums in seats” for program success, we now see statistics of “students enrolled in our LMS” and “number of page views by students” as an indication of success/progress. The underlying assumption is that if we just expose students to the content, learning will happen. 2.1 SELECTION CRITERIA
Reviews of LMS selection criteria fluctuated considerably within the cases reviewed, often reflecting a lack of clear focus on intentions of an LMS as a learning support tool. These criteria were generally considered important: Ease of use by faculty and students
Integration with a learning object repository
Functionality and tools available
Transition ease and cost from existing tool
Integration with other enterprise-wide tools
Extendibility—configuration to the university or college environment Cost
Numerous factors impact successful LMS implementation....