Strengths and Weaknesses of PLN/PLE & CMS/LMS

Jon Mott blogged about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the course management system (CMS, aka LMS or VLE) and a personal learning network (PLN, sometimes associated/equated with PLE). The LMS/PLE “dilemma” has been itching my brain for some time now, so Jon’s post was a timely motivator to begin to think the issue through in print.

To be clear, we don’t really know what a model PLN looks like, or how it works, or if it’s efficient; we may not even know what the difference between a PLE and a PLN is. It may be that the one thing we can say definitively is we don’t know what a PLN looks like, for any two are unlikely to be the same. It may be that we want a PLN to resist being reified. When I think of a PLN/PLE I try to keep it open-ended; I conjecture that it is shaped by habits formed in the accomplishment of daily tasks, is connected to resources for discovery of new information, and is fostered by social relationships that may be authentic and trusting or merely incidental, built by one-to-one/one-to-many communications. Many of the facets of a PLN–but especially the social aspects–are increasingly open to the world.

I think we know what a LMS looks like: it is typically a monolithic, institutionally-controlled system that provides user accounts and digital space for the tasks of teaching and learning. A LMS is likely to allow file storage and redistribution, private and public communication, user tracking and logging, assignment management, timed/semi-secure assessment, and so on. Even more so than a traditional classroom, a LMS course environment is nearly always closed to the world.

Jon hit most of the primary strengths and weaknesses of each already, but I wanted to add or expand the list a little, but really just take this chance to brain dump and play both sides of a still relevant issue:

LMS Strengths

  1. One-stop shopping. Not only do instructors build everything in one place, students can reach all aspects of the course in a single silo (except in the case of ePacks). Related: tools look and act similarly.
  2. Bred by educators. Features are based on feedback and requests from a community of educators (theoretically).
  3. Attention of ed tech market. Not only to CIOs attend to education-centric software products, third-party companies (textbook publishers to advanced communication tools such as Wimba) build content and products to work with the LMS.
  4. Many models of academic use are available as examples or objects of criticism, especially in fully online courses.
  5. Potentially greater latitude in using third-party materials under Fair Use or TEACH act. At any rate, many vague, fuzzy, or even illegal uses of third-party material by faculty are masked by closed system.
  6. A closed environment–the metaphorical “walled garden”–may encourage students to freely express themselves.

LMS Weaknesses

  1. LMS companies seem prone to buy-out, and thus may “pull the rug” out from adoptive institutions.
  2. Adoption often requires licensing, which may inhibit switching, or may impel adoption of new versions.
  3. Quality of third-party products and integration is often poor, inhibiting access and blemishing the experience.
  4. Improvements, features, and fixes are historically are slow.
  5. Design may encourage outdated, limiting, or less effective teaching practices.
  6. With the exception of Moodle and Sakai, most LMS are closed source (in spite of Blackboard’s claims to be “open”).

PLE Strengths

  1. Tools are based on “real world” needs, uses, and practices, and are more likely to be “authentic”.
  2. Tools are likely to be coded or scripted according to broadly adopted standards.
  3. Stability may be based on community adoption and support as well as financial viability.
  4. Students may engage with communities of practice—real experts operating in their profession.
  5. 50 Million Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong. Unable to rely upon corporate contracts or other adoption criteria, Web 2.0 tools rely on continued user support and expanded adoption.

PLE Weaknesses

  1. Few models or case studies to use as examples or objects of criticism.
  2. Tools often require terms of service agreements peculiar to the product company.
  3. Likely not designed specifically for education.
  4. For interoperability or data harvesting data must be both open and standardized.
  5. Related to institutional control of data, data may be impermanent.
  6. Some individuals may disdain open publishing or prefer to maintain privacy.