Is the LMS useful on it’s own? Sure it is. It provides useful functionality that helps faculty and institutions perform many of the routine activities related to running a classroom. However, the main power of an LMS can be unleashed when integrating this base platform with an ever changing set of integration tools.
There are good tools that are LTI or otherwise certified for use with your specific LMS. But, this integration can create a disconnect between the behind the scenes staff who are making things work and the users who rely on it.
When that great plugin is working well, your users think, “that plugin is wonderful!” But, what if the plugin doesn’t have great integration? What if it doesn’t stay current with the LMS version? Or one of them has an upgrade that makes it incompatible? Then your users might think, “the LMS is broken.” What if the plugins have a poor interface? Or it becomes a critical part of a particular class or even an entire institution? Then your users might think, “the LMS is ugly” or “the LMS doesn’t work well.” There could even just be a network issue completely unrelated to the LMS! User perspective? “LMS isn’t working.” Insert issue here? “The LMS is broken.” It’s important to keep faculty using the LMS despite these misconceptions. As always with systems, the more external integrations, the more complex the environment.
From an IT perspective, there are few options that keep the LMS working perfectly and many more outcomes that lead to a perception that it is “broken.” It’s easier to make decisions for stability than it is to take risks to integrate awesome tools. Even if you have a great staff who writes a custom integration or designs a beautiful responsive interface, you’re in trouble when that person who knows how to fix “x” decides to move to another career. (of course one strategy is to adopt all the new shiny objects and deflect the frustration to the vendor). Support from faculty wavers when you allow use of certain integrations, they incorporate them into their pedagogy, and then, usually at the worst possible moment, they fail…
Of course, the important question to ask is, “is this decision good for learning?”
In reality, a balance has to be struck. Plugin suppliers need to commit to partnering with the LMS and their customers to ensure the cool applications and plugins integrated with the LMS do not become its demise. When a team commits to an integration, the vendor needs to ensure it works today and into the future because faculty and students depend on it. The shared responsibility for compatibility is ongoing on all sides. When this relationship is broken, ultimately the student suffers.
Geoff Cirullo, Deputy Chief Information Officer at Sonoma State University took time to share his perspective on the LMS.