I have many "Aha" moments in the shower crying out for documentation.  I will also use this blog to document my new startup, "Going One to One", an online course for schools who need help doing three big shifts at once: purchasing computers for each student, promoting student-centered learning, and adopting Google Apps for Education.

- Bram Moreinis

Escaping the Iron Cage of the LMS: Moodle + Google

German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) was initially enamored of the Bureaucracy, designed to preserves authority based on rational and legal structures. After deep study of bureaucracies, however, he criticized them as dehumanizing, mechanical "iron cages", bleeding human values from organized activity.   The same can be said about the LMS.

The traditional LMS is a vehicle for delivering courses, and like a course, it exists in a limited time and space.  Resources and exchanges shared within an LMS are only available while the course is live, so that students who remember and wish to return to an article or a conversation from last semester have no recourse.  (F2F courses leave textbooks on shelves, and facilitate the exchange of contact information between students who made connections with each other).

Initially, the LMS seems a very attractive alternative to expensive textbooks and college settings, and seems to offer limitless options, from virtual classrooms to group wikis.  However, the fundamental time-bound nature is built in to the model, and while some products may emerge that attempt to create bridges to other applications, the "Swiss Army Knife" approach is a bad idea for many reasons.  For one, when one part breaks, all are broken; for another, when one component is inferior to the others, you're stuck with it.

I advocate for bringing different systems together with the LMS of your choice. The two most important of these for students are:

  1. Learning Content Management System (LCMS): Course resources are stored and indexed for students and instructors. Student resources can be found by traditional searches by content and author, but also by course title. Keying in "LMS101" will offer a hypertext bibliography that never goes stale - the same resources will always be available, because they are stored as attachments (in addition to having abstracts stored as text for searchability, and links to online copies while they persist).
  2. Social Learning Environment (SLE): When appropriate, student exchanges should be held outside of the LMS, so conversations can be searched and contact information found.  Facebook and Twitter are social learning environments, and instructors could send student there for exchanges, but collaborative environments like Google Apps for Education are better choices. Many schools provide Google Apps accounts to students, who can draw from Google+, Groups, Docs, and other applets to collaborate.

In the video below, I provide an overview of how Moodle and Google Apps can work together.  The same argument could be made for Blackboard and Office 360, or any other LMS / SLE pairing.