The CMS and the PLN
It’s a been a long time since I blogged. Between sending my son off on a mission to Brazil, celebrating my 20th anniversary with my sweetheart, working on some offline writing projects, taking some time off for the holidays, getting back into the swing of things with the New Year and the new semester, and launching our loosely-coupled gradebook at BYU . . . Well, let’s just say I’ve been a little busy.
During my blogging hiatus, I did manage to get aÂ paper published with my friend and colleague David Wiley. In the paper, we catalogue what we believe are the fundamental weaknesses of the CMS.
Writing this paper and taking some time away from blogging has allowed me to think some things through. As the title of my blog constantly reminds me, technology is only as good as the change and improvement it brings to teaching and learning. I have become supremely utilitarian when it comes to teaching and learning tools, applications and platforms. When it comes to the CMS and the Personal Learning Network (PLN), I readily admit that there are plusses and minuses to each. (For some thoughts ont the distinctions between PLNs and the PLE, see the references below).
I’m currently writing from ELI in Austin, Texas where I will make aÂ presentation aboutÂ open learning networks. As part of my preparation, I askedÂ my PLN via Twitter (see below for a listing) for sources that delineate the strengths and weaknesses of the CMS and the PLN.
Here’s my meta-listing based on the research I did with David for our article, my own experience, and what I’ve gleaned from the resources shared by my online colleagues:
- Simple, consistent, and structured
- Integration with student information systems (SISs) so student rosters are automagically populated in courses
- Private and secure (i.e., FERPA compliant)
- Tight tool integration (e.g., quiz scores populated in gradebooks)
- Supports sophisticated content structuring (e.g., sequencing, branching, and adaptive release)
- As it is widely implemented, the CMS is time-bound (i.e., courses go away at the end of the semester)
- Teacher, rather than student, centric
- Courses are walled off from each other and from the wider Web, thereby negating the potential of the network effect
- Limited opportunities for students to “own” and manage their learning experiences within and across courses
- Rigid, non-modular tools
- Interoperability challenges and difficulties (significant progress is being made on this front, but the ability to easily move data in and out of the CMS and to plug in alternative tools to replace or enhance native tools remains to be seen)
- Almost limitless variety and functionality of tools
- Customizable and adaptable
- No artificial time boundaries–remains “on” before, during, and after matriculation
- Open to interaction and connection with persons without regard to their official registration in programs or courses
- Easily sharable with others both inside and outside of courses, programs, and institutions
- Student-centric (i.e., each student selects and uses the tools that make sense for their particular needs and circumstances)
- Compilable via simple technologies like RSS
- Complex and difficult to create for inexperienced students and faculty members
- Potential security and data exposure problems–FERPA issues abound
- Limited institutional control over data
- Absent or unenforceable SLAs–no ability to predict or resolve Web application performance issues, outages, or even disappearance
This is far from a comprehensive list, but it begins to clarify the picture in my mind. If we persist in an either-or debate about the CMS versus the PLN, we will be falling victim to what Jim Collins calls the “tyranny of or.” When faced with difficult decisions, we often cast them–artificially–as dichotomies. We must do this *or* that. Collins argues that the alternative is to find ways to leverage the “genius of and,” to bring together the best of both alternatives and create a chimerical best-of-both-worlds solution.
That is the vision of the open learning network–to bring together the best of the CMS and the best of the PLN to create a learning platform for higher education that meets the broad and diverse needs of faculty members and students engaged in the teaching and leaning process. Doing so is what I get paid to do–to provide technologies that will help teachers and learners be moreÂ effectiveÂ without having to worry about technological complexities and navigating the swirling waters of apparentlyÂ contradictoryÂ paradigms.
Please comment with your suggestions for improving my listing of strengths and weaknesses and I’ll edit the lists (with attribution). If you have additional resources to add, please share those as well.
More fun to follow soon . . .
Alec Couros: “What is a PLN? Or, PLE vs. PLN”
Steve Wheeler: “It’s Personal: Learning Spaces, Learning Webs”
David Hopkins: “Pedagogical Foundations for Personal Learning”
John Seely Brown: “Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0”
Edublend: “Cloud Learning Environment – What is it?”
grazadio_elearning’s PLE Bookmarks on Delicious
Things I’ve written on the subject …
Mott & Wiley: “Open for Learning: The CMS and the Open Learning Network”