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Guest blog post at WCET

Today I had a guest post at WCET’s blog. WCET is a great organization that “accelerates the adoption of effective practices and policies, advancing excellence in technology-enhanced teaching and learning in higher education”. They have been leaders in sharing best practices for online education, including taking a leading role on explaining State Authorization regulations as well as others. You can read the full post here.

The topic of the post is how the changing LMS / Learning Platform market is, or should be, changing institutional decision-making.

We have seen a great deal of change in the higher education Learning Management System (LMS) market over the past year, as has been described in several blog posts. One of the biggest changes to the market that I’ve noticed is that we seem to be moving from an enterprise LMS market, with full-featured monolithic systems, into a learning platform market, with many cloud-based platforms that don’t attempt to have all the features in one system.

As Ritchie Boyd has described, the WCET LMS Common Interest Group (CIG) is recasting itself this year as “the ‘Beyond the LMS’ Common Interest Group. The idea is to not ignore the LMS, but rather to acknowledge that there is so much more going on in the broader academic technology ecosystems and their impact on our campuses, and that much of this activity often includes or is enveloped by the formal LMS.”

In last year’s WCET-sponsored Managing Online Education survey, 47% of respondents indicated they are reviewing their LMS strategy and 27% are planning to change LMS within 2 years. A key question arises, however, about how institutions should adapt their technology decision-making processes based on these market changes. It’s all well and good for the market to change and provide more choices and new approaches, but how should schools decide which system(s) best fit their specific academic and administrative needs? The emergence of new, often free, cloud-based learning platforms may require changes to our decision-making.

The article goes on to describe how traditional RFP processes can bias an institution towards legacy enterprise LMS solutions.

The traditional route of institutional decision-making is based on an extended Request For Proposal (RFP) process that typically takes 4 – 12 months. These RFP processes are subtly built on the same assumptions as the traditional enterprise LMS systems – focusing heavily on evaluation of a complete set of features delivered today, often at the expense of understanding the longer-term road maps of the different learning platform providers.

If an institution follows a traditional RFP process without adaptations for today’s market, then there are several risks inherent in the approach.

In the comments, Ritchie also had a great point helping to clarify how institutions might default to standard RFP processes.

As the primary author of one of those thick RFP’s bound to a 4-12 month process, I note that, in the absence of a deliberate, and frankly somewhat cultural introspection about the role of technologies in teaching and learning within the institution, the enterprise approach has a way of becoming the default path. And institutions should be wary of that – if you find, even when required by law, that the easy or obvious solution is to simply go forward with a features-based RFP, you probably haven’t had that serious discussion with stakeholders about the evolving role of the LMS and other personal learning tools in your school. What better indicator of the changing market than the fact that some vendors won’t even respond to an institution-wide RFP!

It is also convenient, though flawed, to look at this as simply an IT challenge. When it comes to these tools, an institution’s strategic needs have to be defined far beyond just their IT strategy, and be closely bound to the drivers of the broader academic affairs enterprise.

There’s more to the article that might be worth reading, including a call to not abandon RFPs, but to augment with strategic evaluations. I encourage you to both check out the full post and to spend some time checking out WCET if you are not already a member.

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