LMS Metaphors

Blackboard/LMS is like a –

It seems there are whole papers written on metaphors for Blackboard.

I saw Jon’s LMS-as-training-wheels metaphor and Britt’s response– both as a result of Jim’s talk. I’ve been thinking about it a bit and I think it ends up giving the LMS the wrong kind of credit. It implies a temporary guide, a training ground to get you used to using the Internet to teach. I don’t think that’s the goal at all.

Ronald M.D.

It seems to me that the LMS is a fast-food franchise kitchen. It does exactly what it is meant to do. It is built for people with minimal skills to make cheap food quickly at scale. It isn’t meant to be a training ground so people can move up to gourmet cooking. These skills don’t transfer. You aren’t even meant to graduate to being a line cook at Friday’s.

The LMS reaches the minimum quality people will tolerate in exchange for convenience and low cost.1 The LMS focuses on making the very things I find most problematic easy. Blackboard tells you what it thinks is most important for teachers with their own lead copy.

Efficient Teaching Tasks
Blackboard Learn enhances basic teaching tasks like grading and creating assessments. And with an intuitive design, this is one LMS that will save you time in and out of the classroom. – love Bb

It’s pretty clear why Bb exists. Every bit of that language reeks of unpleasant things done efficiently at scale.

Now you can take fast food and do big campaigns about serving up some semi-healthy stuff. You even have people with energy and creativity using fast food ingredients to make gourmet food. But when it comes down to it, the ingredients, the hardware, the thinking behind the layout is focused entirely on a scale delivery of certain kind of “food” and that purpose drives most everything that will ever happen in a fast food kitchen.2

It’s also pretty clear that our society is perfectly ok with fast food. We eat liquid meat paste after all. Putting multiple hundreds of students in a class, the wild popularity of video/quiz MOOCs, certainly indicate we have a very low bar for education. Most people have not had much but fast food education and any move away is likely to create dissatisfaction of various kinds.

Zombie Ordering at McDonald's

Anyone can put content online now. I think YouTube comments prove that conclusively. If not, there’s always Literally Unbelievable or your 2nd grader of choice. So the technical threshold the LMS was supposed to get faculty over isn’t really there but the LMS ceiling remains. There’s no real bump coming into the LMS but be prepared to stoop the entire time you’re in it. It does make scale assessment easy. It does put the focus clearly on grades and an ever tightening feedback loop. It does allow us to scale faculty to greater and greater numbers of students.

The LMS tool shapes what faculty think they can and should do both online and off. It shapes how courses are designed,3 how assessments are designed. It shapes what students and parents expect. It shapes how Universities structure course loads and enrollment. It shapes far too many things in a reciprocal loop of “practical” choices and low bars. That’s a terrible thing to standardize. The LMS is a symptom of larger issues, a cause of larger issues, and a way of understanding these issues. That scares me. The “solution” that contributes to the problem it solves is a hard one to untangle when it’s enmeshed in the understanding of the problem like this. Yet we keep bringing more people into it, becoming more reliant while simultaneously limiting the understandings and aspirations that would enable us to do something different.


1 Choose your own cost metric.

2 I will opt not to explore the horrific things that take place in fast food kitchens.

3 Many sites built outside of Bb in other tools look just . . . like . . . Blackboard courses.

Comments on this post

  1. McD said on April 14, 2014 at 6:36 pm

    I don’t want to eat fast food! (What’s the solution….??)

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