Enterprise Learning Systems Considered Harmful to Learning

Not a new thought, but one I’m newly fired up about after talking to Jon Udell last night.

We don’t make enterprise purchases for students when it comes to spiral bound notebooks, pencils, or binders. So why do we move so quickly to consider e-learning questions “enterprise” questions? When looking at e-portfolio possibilities, why wouldn’t we just direct the students to sign on to a blog provider, perhaps even an ISP of their choice?

Students buy their own laptops and their own software for classes, they purchase required books and materials. There’s absolutely no reason from a student perspective that you couldn’t tell a student, here — go set up an account on Blogger and make yourself an eportfolio.

But there’s the rub. Enterprise e-learning is about classroom management and enterprise reporting. It is about the so-called measurement of learning. We force students to use enterprise systems, because like the email system we “give” them, it makes our lives easier and accomplishes goals that have nothing to do with the student.

What would e-learning look like if we started from the needs of the student, instead of the institution? What would it look like if the overriding question was “How can we use technology in a way that benefits the student?”

My guess is it’d look a lot like life. It would be a wonderful mess of different students and professors choosing different tools on an ad hoc basis. Their choices would evolve over time. And because the students worked with real tools (and possibly even on real problems) they’d graduate with bankable skills rather than detailed knowledge of how to use an LMS that has no analogue in the outside world.

I’m not saying it would be easy: it’s a hard sell to faculty, and there are certainly some institutional goals that such a bricolage would not meet.

But, if we started with the student, there would be no e-learning “system” in the sense of a single integrated application provided by a vendor. Instead of focussing on buying e-learning systems, we’d focus on building an e-learning culture.

If we started with the student.

12 thoughts on “Enterprise Learning Systems Considered Harmful to Learning

  1. Now I know some might say I’m conflating e-learning with technology education. So be it. Two remarks on that:

    1. To the extent that platforms like Blackboard provide forums, when you could be using a real forum somewhere, or provide e-portfolios where you could just be blogging that conflation is not unique to me.

    2. I think the seperation of these two things is not really a great idea anyway. It’s based on the idea that learning is something we fill the student with, and that instructional technology is the shoehorn we use to get it into them. Blech.

  2. The issue you describe is now not just in education. You can see the same in companies, healthcare and other places where creativity and productivity is held back by old-fashioned institutional systems. We need to figure out what are the real points of control that an institution needs and then get out of the way.

  3. @Bernard:

    Agree totally. There are some things that due to security, scale, stability reqs, or legal issues have to be “enterprise applications”.

    But it should never be the default choice.

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