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LMS, PLE, VLE, ILS & SCORM – Navigate the Acronym Minefield

We’ve always been a little acronym happy in the world of online learning. The inevitable explosion of web technologies has led to a mangled pile of nearly incomprehensible acronyms swimming around in many of today’s trendiest headlines and articles. So what is all this stuff about, and why all the hype / excitement etc. around the latest wave of acronyms? Below is a simple summary, along with a little context.

LMS: Learning Management Systems (LMS) are not new. In fact most recent speculation suggests that they are on their deathbed. The LMS is… one of the most profitable (expensive) technologies every thrusted upon education. (Content Management Systems are a close second.) Basically these simple data management systems are server side applications that make it really difficult to share information and files within a closed (often called silo’d) system.

The LMS has been the bane of existence for trainers and eLearning pros for ages. A data communication standard called SCORM (Sharable Content Object Model) was developed in response to a 1999 Executive Order under the Clinton Administration charging the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a standard format for passing information about assessments etc. into databases.

The end result was two-fold; 1. Most eLearning that tracks scores today reports to a SCORM compliant LMS. 2. Because the LMS was designed with an implicit allegiance to information delivery models of education (a behaviorist approach -think sage on the stage, PowerPoint lectures and quizzes at the end of every chapter) the LMS today is a terrible dinosaur. It reinforces models that run counter to cognitive theory based educational models (think exercises and activities, collaboration and creative problem solving) and generally provides a sort of kludgy, unattractive and awkward front end to assigning materials and tracking learner progress.

A seventh grade student explains her PLE.

PLE: The PLE (Personal Learning Environment) is definitely trending upward in today’s online learning consciousness. Simply put a PLE is any collection of tools (generally meaning cloud based applications) that are used commonly used by a learner to facilitate learner centered educational experiences. A simple example is a kid who learns what they need mostly from YouTube videos, Wikipedia entries, Skype calls with friends and family and via study groups on Facebook. Any tool(s) can fit into your Personal Learning Environment – mine would be heavily dependent on email. Companies and government agencies are naturally moving swiftly to build custom PLE’s as well.

In 1998 a Helsinki based Media Lab group developed the first PLE (named an FLE – Flexible Learning Environment.) The PLE is fundamentally rooted in Constructionist models of education and Learning Environments. This is fundamentally different from an LMS because it recognizes the learner as an active sense maker, rather than modeling them as a passive information consumer.

Ken Robinson explains the limitations of the Factory / Management Model of Education.

VLE: Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) are the dark cousins of PLE’s. They grew up in marketing tanks and went to school at a management factory. They are management centered approaches to controlling and perpetuating the didactic methodologies of information delivery systems of education. They will likely do very well in the current marketplace, but investment in these dinosaur descendants is ‘throwing good money after bad.’ While they integrate the concepts of social networking and various other 21st century mechanisms, they generally restrain them to tiny localized clusters, they effectively take the social out of the network. (I’m sure I’ll be corrected here, but I’m overdue for some excited comments.)

Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds from Eric Hackathorn on Vimeo.

A reasonable overview of ILS across various platforms (albeit plagued by a ‘dramatic’ score)

ILS: Immersive Learning Simulations(ILS) have had a tumultuous year with the bizarre changes in the never quite cool Second Life Platform. ILS is technically any platform that allows for an immersive learning experience in a 3D simulated environment. There are a huge and growing number of environments of this type, but until recently traction for academics was gaining fast within Second Life. When parent company Linden Lab eliminated educational discount pricing for virtual hosting, most academic institutions rapidly abandoned the space in favor of openSim and other popular similar (but much less expensive solutions.)

This is unfortunately cursed with the same problem as the VLE – absent the substantial Second Life user base, the Open Source alternatives are often lacking the social component of the network. There are literally hundreds (probably thousands by now) of these ILS environments to watch – so I wouldn’t write them off, but they are still maturing and a land of early adopters at this point. There have been a large number of early successes in the training field specifically – which makes sense because often the simulated 3D environment can provide a very strong parallel to real world conditions / situations and can therefore lead to very effective knowledge transfer when activities are simulated in the virtual space. They also make incredibly good meeting spaces, as spatially located sound and various communication tools can help convert the generally disengaging phone conference into a much more accessible and useful virtual meeting.

15 Responses

  1. In comment about LMS and how they’re becoming the dinosaurs of elearning. At CBS Radio, where I was employed for 4 years used many different types of LMS to re-iterate and re-train us in our environment. I can see how these LMS are very profitable especially considering the fact that there are over 120 CBS Radio branches around the country.

    • Definitely expensive dinosaurs – with many of them licensing for a small fortune and most of them requiring annual service solutions. It’s part of that legacy of systems that were all RFP’d and ‘customized’ for each institution – at least that’s the model that seems to prevail. I’ve never understood why simple database monitoring and management required such an expensive amount of backend support. Of course we’re generalizing here, and i’m sure the price points can be hugely varied, as can the implementation models.

      • Dr, Partridge, what makes the licensing so expensive with these as compared to others? It seems as if there are other opportunities out there for companies to investigate before they spend a small fortune on these programs for their company.

  2. I guess, ideally, any system would fit in with any other systems for the best teaching experience and learning development. From a school’s point of view, I would say adopting any new technology for a school is generally a decision after careful and through school community study regardless what is recommended.
    Most schools have their own central database systems, data exchange between database and the learning system would be mostly considered as a key element in any decision of management system purchase, adoption, technology support, general acceptance, transition, or training process other than cost concern. When a LMS such as MOODLE is a partner of the central database company, there is highly possible that the school gets a much better deal and have more extra features for essential information delivery and exchange. How the school will choose under this circumstance when they rely on various companies working together?
    Also, should we just fascinate about the attractive feature from those emerging formats? Or should we focus on what core feature has been effectively and frequently used for course management or focus on what has been mostly expected from learning system in terms of the characteristics of the school, the students, and the faculty team? Does someone say that teaching is art more than technology?

  3. I just finished reading the post and watching the video on VLE. There is a shared article on about LME and its benefits. It was very interesting to look at LME from a different perspective to realize how many flaws it has.We are so accustomed to a managerial didactic approach to learning, being controlled and limited in what we do. The company I worked for tried to track every number that could prove potential cost savings from the training, sent feedback requests to participants that added figures to their databases, but did not make any change or foster learning.
    I enjoyed the post: there is a lot to think about.
    Thank you!

  4. “. . . absent the substantial Second Life user base, the Open Source alternatives are often lacking the social component of the network.”

    this is truly not a compelling factor for educational/training use of virtual worlds. the “social” aspect is not a given inSL for past educational uses because the institution would have had their own sim and the average avatar count per sim maxes out at about two at peak concurrency times

    having a sim does not equate to having random traffic

    yes, you could go to social events on sims doing music or that have popular clubs, but that social interaction has precious little to do with most a ed use (unless it is to study avatars)

    i speak from 4 years inSL with 19 sims that i had (i am no longer inSL) and 16 sims now as a private OpenSim grid

    • Ener, – very true and in many ways i agree. To some extent i think those ‘events’ are one of the strongest reasons to gather in these spaces, but there is also a lot of compelling evidence that independent and small group work can lead to amazing knowledge transfer. I suspect we are just beginning to tap the tip of the iceberg that is applications for training and education in this space. I’ve explored several of the open options, as well as other non-sl based grids. Even some completely non-social options and there are a huge variety of choices here.

  5. Kind of a random thought, but at what level in a child’s education do you think these PLE’s, VLE’s, etc. be implemented into their way of learning? It seems more of an “advanced” (for the lack of a better term) way of learning. I would think that in early childhood education, there would be some “guidance” required in learning. I’m kind of looking at it at this standpoint: learners have to understand how these technologies work and what they’re for before they can think about using them in self-guided learning and at what age/level would this be? Or are these environments only pertaining to adult education? I may have missed something, but I am still curious to know what other people think about that.

    The “Changing Education Paradigms” video is really good! It is what got me thinking about this.

  6. Quite agree about the expense and futility of LMS/VLE. We spent ages trying to get a VLE to be used by both staff and pupils and the time we took doing it was much more than the expensive cost of the software. So we’ve just hit the reset button and gone back to basics. We saw a product called MOOPLE.NET (My Open Online Personal Learning Environment) at the BETT Show in January and we jumped on it. Only £100 to set up all our staff and students with accounts with single sign on to Google Apps for education. Best of all it does not impose any structures on us so the teacher who just wants a simple structure for their online tools can create it and those of us who want to use more complex apps and resources can go ahead and use them as well. It’s got some great features but best of all is how simple and easy to use it is, even some of our die-hard staff have started logging in regularly. These kinds of apps are what we want – easy – simple – flexible – treating individuals as important and allowing us to use the great tools that are already out tere rather than cludged together homemade tools that never get properly updated.

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