Murphy’s Mantras for LMS Evaluation

Comment on What’s Really to Blame for the Failures of Our Learning-Management Systems by Michael Feldstein.

This post does a great job of summarizing the absurd challenges surrounding the LMS procurement process. It explains (without casting blame) why so many LMSes have such a similar set of features (at least when viewed as a bulleted list), and why institutions tend to be unhappy with the results.

I found myself nodding along, recognizing many of the unproductive circular conversations that happen during the LMS procurement process. By the end, it was pretty clear that this is a hard process, but I didn’t see a clear recommendation for how newbies can improve upon the pitfalls of the process (short of reading e-Literate front to back like I did, or hiring experienced consultants who know what they’re talking about!)

As I went through our first LMS eval process, I was struck by how complex an LMS is, and how imprecise our language is for talking about it. Even extremely highly-educated professionals would look at the hundreds of tiny features that make up an LMS and stay stuck at the most basic level of comparison — Blackboard GOOD, Canvas BAD. Even with detailed prompting to compare specific features between systems (“do you prefer the text editor tool in Blackboard over Canvas?”), it just felt like too much work for people who were doing this alongside their other duties.

I think if I were going to add something to this article, I would end with a set of mantras that people should constantly remind themselves of during the LMS procurement process. The first two come from Michael Feldstein’s  “Why all LMS’s are pretty Bad/Good” and helped me through my first LMS eval process.

Murphy’s* Mantras for LMS Evaluation

  • Most LMSes are pretty bad.
  • Most LMSes are pretty good.
  •  Most LMSes have all of the same core set of features, albeit arranged differently.
  • Most faculty do not use most of those features.
  • They probably won’t without significant training and/or incentives to do so.
  • Don’t believe vendors statements about LMS features. Test & compare them yourself.
  • And finally, don’t forget that people will complain no matter what you do. Understand your school’s strategic vision for student learning outcomes and err on the side of an LMS with the features that support the learning tasks that promote that vision.
  • A tip of the hat to Murphy’s Law, the bittersweet rule stating that “anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

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