Schoology: Challenges for the New LMS

I’ve posted before on Schoology, a Learning Management System (LMS) with social networking features. This post follows up by identifying some of the challenges facing the new LMS, and the startup behind it. I focus on Schoology as an LMS for educational clients (as opposed to enterprise clients) on the basis of its current testimonials.

The first challenge is awareness. Decision-makers, such as university information technology officers, need to be aware that there is an LMS called Schoology and that it offers social networking features. The LMS market is crowded enough that achieving awareness may not be easy.

The second challenge is articulating the importance of social media in an LMS. Students already have access to social media, in the form of Facebook, Twitter, etc. Is the LMS enhanced by including another set of social media tools?

The third is making the case that a new LMS is required in order to integrate learning management and social media. If those making the LMS purchase decision consider social media important, they are likely to communicate this to Blackboard and other incumbents. Schoology already includes social features, and hence has a head start, but the lead may not be insurmountable.

A fourth challenge relates to Schoology’s credibility. There are two aspects to this. Is Schoology, a new LMS, as well-developed in terms of features and robustness as established solutions such as Blackboard? Does it execute the basics, such as setting up courses and enrolling students, as smoothly as systems that have been used for these basics for many years at many institutions?

The other aspect of Schoology’s credibility challenge relates to Schoology, the startup, rather than to the LMS it offers. It is a fact of entrepreneurial life that many startups fail. Even startups that succeed often do so by being acquired, thus making their founders and investors money. But will the firm that did the acquiring continue to support the product, or did it make the acquisition in order to reduce competition or redeploy the talent of the acquired company? This is a concern often raised in the LMS market, especially in the light of acquisitions by Blackboard.

The above is rather unbalanced, as a list of challenges without discussion of how Schoology intends to overcome them. Rather than make this post longer by adding what I think Schoology is doing, or should do, in the light of these challenges, I’ll contact the Schoology folks to see what they have to say.

Social Learning Management Systems

What are we talking about here? Well, according to Wikipedia:

A learning management system (commonly abbreviated as LMS) is a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, and reporting of training programs, classroom and online events, e-learning programs, and training content.

The word social seems to crop up in connection with learning a lot these days. Maybe we add it to the stock term LMS to create a couple of new alphabet soups. I think that each of the terms is significantly different from regular LMS, and from the other, that the new abbreviations may be useful.

That the two terms mean different things is important. They differ with respect to the units of learning they emphasize. A SLMS emphasizes traditional units of learning: courses. It adds a social component, which may change the way in which learners engage with the content and with each other.

A NSLMS needs to encompass the units of learning content made possible by social media. This includes, to use an example from Bingham and Conner, short videos. It is interesting to note that their primary example of an organization using short videos, TELUS, did away with its existing LMS. It is also interesting to search the index of the book for LMS (or learning management system); there is no such entry.

SLMSs do not typically address the new social learning, any more than traditional LMSs do. SLMSs are more social because they add a social layer to the system for managing learning.

NSLMS, in contrast, are “new social” because they enable management of the new social learning. This means that they recognize smaller and less formal units of learning. To mix one of Bingham and Conner’s terms with one of my own, NSLMSs recognize microsharing as a means of learning.

To state all this is to raise questions about NSLMS. Can they enable the management of microsharing without becoming cumbersome? There are more units of learning, and many more combinations of those units, when microsharing starts to provide some of the learning formerly provided by more traditional learning. (Yes, I do mean “some of,” rather than “all of.”)

Then there are the more fundamental questions about NSLMSs. Who is working on them? How much do organizations need them? Which organizations have already developed in-house NSLMSs?

Perhaps the most fundamental question of all is: do NSLMSs exist?