Updated: Apr 21, 2021
The attached document outlines my recently submitted capstone project proposal for the ID 375. Learning Management Systems course at Asbury University. I'll include an excerpt from the literature review section below as well. If accepted, I will spend the next eight weeks creating the course. Fun times!
In recent years, a confluence of important developments in technology has significantly impacted the way educators across various sectors create, administer, and deliver quality learning experiences. One of the most important and ubiquitous developments in recent educational technology is the emergence of Learning Management Systems (LMS). The most common definition for LMS one encounters is from Ryann Ellis’ 2009 Field Guide. Ellis writes, “A learning management system is a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting, automation and delivery of educational courses, training programs, or learning and development programs.” (Ellis, 1). This definition, while adequate and certainly accurate, could leave one with the general impression that LMS represent just one more milestone in the historical development of distance learning technologies. A brief survey along this line might be helpful.
The origin of the modern LMS is sometimes dated to 1906 when the University of Wisconsin established one of the first known examples of distance-learning. However, one can detect earlier instances of distance learning to the year 1728 when one Caleb Phillips placed an advertisement in the Boston Gazette. (Sleator, 320). Phillips wanted to instruct others in a form of shorthand writing, explaining in his advertisement “that any ‘‘persons in the country desirous to learn this art, may by having the several lessons sent weekly to them, be as perfectly instructed as those that live in Boston’’ (Holmberg B., 47-53).
Little else is known about the results of Phillips’ endeavor. What is known, however, “is that it wasn’t until the development of the modern postal service in the 19th century that commercial correspondence courses [i.e., distance learning] began to flourish”. (Sleator, 320). This last point is crucial for an integrative understanding of how distance learning has developed throughout the 20th century to the present day, particularly with regard to the mutuality of public infrastructure and private technological advancements present at each stage. Without the postal service, the success of correspondence courses would not have been possible. One notable example of such success is when in 1890 the Colliery School of Mines (CSM), a correspondence course designed to teach mine safety was opened. Thirty years later, “the CSM had evolved into the International Correspondence School (ICS), an enterprise which targeted iron and railroad workers as well as miners and… boasted over 2.5 million enrolled students.” Similar advancements in radio and television, and then again later in personal computing and networked communication technologies each had a significant impact on the development of distance learning. (Sleator 320-321). As technology and infrastructure advanced, so did enthusiasm for the new educational technologies. One early documented case of such enthusiasm can be readily detected in the words of Reverend Joseph H. Odell, speaking at a dedication ceremony at the ICS in Scranton Pennsylvania, who said of the correspondence mode of distance learning: “I do not know any innovation upon existing methods more radical and revolutionary than this.” (Odell).
The point of all this is not merely to indulge in the retelling of an interesting history but rather to highlight the situatedness of modern LMS within a certain trajectory and lineage of technology-assisted-learning that has succeeded in circumventing the traditional limitations of space and time characterized by in-person learning.
Curious forerunners to LMS such as Sidney Pressey’s early ‘teaching machine’ notwithstanding, the first identifiable LMS software application was launched by SoftArc in 1990. Since then, LMS have grown in functionality and popularity in both the corporate world and the academy, enabling educators and learners to access ‘on demand’ educational resources in a variety of formats. Indeed, LMS have become so prevalent, the LMS global market is predicted to reach a value of $28.1 billion by the end of 2025. Additionally, between 2020 to 2024 the global corporate LMS market size is expected to experience a growth rate of 23%. (Docebo).
Given the prominence and explosive growth of LMS across all sectors, it is not very difficult to imagine why any quality educational program would find it necessary to include some instruction on the subject. However, that instruction of this kind ought to occur is far more obvious than what the aims of such instruction ought to be. As perhaps is the case with any topic today, there is a seemingly endless supply of information about LMS available. Because of this superabundance of information, the point of departure for any educator must first bring the specific learning context into full view. It is only from here that one might depart from the realm of abstraction for more concrete territory. As the current project is one that will be approached from an instructional design perspective, the most important question to consider as an instructional designer, designing for instructional designers, should neither be concerned primarily with the ‘what’ of instruction, nor with the ‘how’ of design – even if such questions remain the horizon of the inquiry - but should instead center on the ‘why’ of LMS. Why do LMS exist in the first place? Why is it that the features of most LMS remain consistent across platforms? In other words, why do LMS appear materially as they do? It is only by beginning with these questions that one can then begin asking more pressing secondary questions, such as: which pedagogical principles are presupposed and/or made possible by an LMS? How can one apply a specific learning theory via an LMS to elicit a desired response or result? Are there specific environmental characteristics LMS learning enable? What unique learning challenges do LMS bring? These are far more salient, though somewhat more challenging questions that target the eliciting of critical thought from the student-instructional designer and ought to inform the development of more robust learning objectives. That is what this project sets out to do.
 The invoking of this bifurcation of public-private development, though true in a general sense, should be understood to be an historical shorthand and gross simplification for what is a far more complex and dialectical relationship between the two.  One area of further research to pursue might be precisely this aspect of LMS considered within the fold of distance learning and communication technologies in general, and as situated within the project of modernity where the enthusiasm around technological development has often been motivated by a utopian imagination that has been funded by Christianity’s millennialist drive and vision of the New Jerusalem. (Davis, 22).