Category Archives: OLEs, VLEs, LMSs

LMS Tips – free book


I’m always a sucker for anything that is “free” – so when I saw reference to a free book titled 339 Tips on the Implementation of an LMS or LCMS from the eLearning Guild I had to have a look.

It’s a collection of tips and suggestions from professionals who have gone through the process of deciding about the implementation of an LMS or LCMS etc within their institution or organisation. All 339 tips are referenced to the person who made the comment, so you can easily distinguish the context that the person is making the suggestion from (eg education, business etc).

Probably not the sort of book that I’d spend a lot of money on – but a useful read to gain an overview of the considerations that need to be taken into account, and lessons learned from others who have been there before us. The Implementation tips are organised into ten major groups:

  1. Comprehensive tips: This is the largest single group. Each of these 105 tips addresses several key areas or best practices.

  2. Tips on change management and obtaining stakeholder buy-in.
  3. Tips on selecting and managing the implementation team.
  4. Tips on involving the IT Department in the implementation.
  5. Tips on project management.
  6. Tips on system management and configuration.
  7. Tips on testing and piloting the LMS/LCMS.
  8. Tips on training users.
  9. Tips on managing vendor relationships.
  10. Miscellaneous tips on a variety of topics: Some tips simply didn???t fit any category, but they are valid and worth considering.

These headings alone provide you with a useful framework for consideration when facing the task of implementing a LMS.

PLEs – the discussion develops

Amanda Rablin pose a number of questions to my previous post about MLEs and PLEs that I thought I’d respond to in a fresh post as they are questions of significance that I’ve not yet made clear in what I’ve written. Her questions and my responses are as follows:

Amanda Where does the concept of digital portfolios fit into your diagram?

Derek: Great question – and very topical. If you follow Helen Barret’s thinking, then the whole PLE is an ePortfolio. My thinking is still evolving on this, but here’s how I see things at the moment:

  1. when we are talking about ePortfolios were talking about two key components; (a)the repository(ies) of personal artefacts and (b)the means of exposing selected artefacts for a particular purpose.

  2. in a PLE, the aggregation of personal sites containing audio, print, video aretfacts forms that central repository (the key here is that they can all be searched, sorted, indexed/tagged etc for location and re-combining)
  3. The thing that is missing then is the tool for aggregating the selected items/artefacts and presenting/exposing them for a particular purpose – eg as a CV for a job, or as evidence for an assessment etc.

You’ll note that in my diagram there is reference to ‘portfolio’ within the school’s OLE – in my mind, this would be one of the equivalent of a personal repository, from which elements can be accessed to be exposed for a selected purpose. For another perspective on this see Julie Lindsay’s wiki.

It may be that at some stage in the future we’ll see an intermediate stage introduced (via a suitable piece of software) that allows all of the stored artefacts and items to be aggregated and indexed prior to being presented for viewing as a selection. (I think I have in mind something like my RSS aggregator, but with the ability to build up collections over time)

Amanda Do you think the school or system should provide protected (non-public) versions of web 2.0 tools so that students can explore them in a ‘safe’ environment? – as safety is often a concern if schools in some way endorse this environment.

Derek: Safety is a major concern, I agree – although our response can often be ‘alarmist’. That said, I think there may possibly be a place for the development of ‘protected’ versions of these tools that will allow educators to work with. Working with students to teach them the habits and accepted behaviours within these environments can be done safely before they venture out into the open world of the web.

There are already a number of such tools out there as I’ve blogged about earlier, and I know of some teachers who are using these as an alternative to the open environments.

In addition, a recent newcomer to the blogging scene, VOX, provides you with the opportunity of limiting both the viewers and those who can comment on your posts. This makes it an appealing product to use with young kids from a safety point of view. The good thing about this is that it makes it easy to migrate to other levels of access when you want to.

At the end of the day, however, we’ll need to acknowledge the fact that as far as a PLE goes, students are already working within the open environments, and are (often) ahead of their teachers in understanding the standards of behaviour etc of being a part of such communities.

Amanda In the development of a system, do you see that the items feeding into the PLE will be combined in a portal of some sort? Or do you see that a school would only provide an MLE with external links where appropriate?

Derek: The idea of establishing a portal as a PLE is something I’m keeping an open mind on. A couple of years ago I would have thought this was an inevitability – the only way to manage everything. Now I am persuaded to the view that a PLE is more a conceptual thing than it is a particular application or system.

My reason for thinking like this comes from looking at the ways in which young people are already behaving with these technologies. In some cases they have a blog which they have ‘hacked’ to the point where it acts as an aggregation point for their various other sites and communities. Others are using applications specifically set up to act as an aggregation ‘hub’, such as Vox, Mulitply, NetVibes, or PageFlakes for example.

A third option that is emerging now is the use of customisable browsers such as Flock or Firefox, which, with the addition of various plug-ins, can act as a central point of reference for the PLE.

Regarding the development then of a system, I think a school’s priority should be on the development of a MLE, and the components within it. As long as what they do conforms to open standards, and the principles of a services oriented architecture (soa) then it should be possible for links to be made with external systems as is appropriate – including the student’s PLE.

For some further reading on the nature of systems in this regard I’d recommend a paper by by Scott Wilson, Oleg Liber etc from JISC titled Personal Learning Environments: Challenging the dominant design of educational systems. They do an excellent job of explaining how current systems used in education follow a consistent design pattern that is not supportive of personalisation.

Amanda How do the PLEs of students link in to each other? eg. Would it be like a myspace or elgg experience or would they be making connections with each-other through the public tools and within the MLEs separately?

Derek: At the heart of a response to this question is our understanding of how the nodal network operates, with each individual having responsibility for their own particular ‘node’ etc.

In this regard, I see applications such as elgg and myspace as being useful models for how individuals may create their PLE, and the fact that these tools have quite powerful “community building” functions built within them makes them more useful still. However, the important thing will be the adherence to open standards and specifications (such as RSS) that will allow for the easy exchange of data and resources.

Hope that’s helpful?

More on MLEs and PLEs

Click image to enlarge

After receiving feedback on the previous posting I did about my thinking aroundthe relationship between a school’s Managed learning Environment (MLE) and a student’s Personal Learning Environment (PLE) I’ve developed a new version of my MLE-PLE diagram. The principle difference between this and the previous diagram is the placement of the Web2.0 applications in a position where they are “called on” or used by both the individual (PLE) and hte school (MLE).

The key things about this diagram are:

  1. the school’s MLE represents the various systems that lie within a school’s locus of control to implement and manage in order to manage the complexity of the learning process for students. – this includes such things as a student management system, a library management system and a learning management system.

  2. A national student index is included to represent the process of authentication and authorisation that is required to ensure the efficiency of access and data exchange among and between systems.
  3. The LMS is represented conceptually as an Online Learning Environment (OLE), the difference being that an OLE is regarded as an aggregation of selected components and functions based on an open standards architecture, as opposed to a closed, often proprietry, “out of the box” system.
  4. The blue cloud of the public access World Wide Web is where the various Web2.0 applications are hosted. These can be accessed and used equally by individual students, and by schools/classes.
  5. Individual accounts with Web2.0 applications can be aggregated into what is called here a Personal Learning Environment. The exact nature of this will vary according to the individual – in some cases the environment may be a blog, in others a social networking site such as MySpace, and in others it may some other sort of site tht allows for aggregation such as VOX or Multiply – or another not yet invented. Note the empahsis here on “myblog”, “my bookmarks” etc
  6. Other systems that schools may want to interact with and make interoperable with their MLE are represented as the external learning sites, LMS/OLE in another institution, and the various content repositories – preferably accessible through a federated search facility. These systems, along with the shool’s OLE, should all be accessible in some form from a student’s PLE. shown by blue lines>
  7. Features of some Web2.0 applications may be integrated into a school-based OLE as appropriate, for instance photo sharing and video sharing for content, or podcasting, blogging or wiki building tools for publishing. Note the emphasis here on “our blog”, “our podcasts” etc – emphasising the fundmentally different nature and purpose of use of these applications within the formal school environment.

I’m continuing to refine this thinking in order to assist schools with how they come to think of how Web2.0 technologies might be used within their school systems. In many cases this is being thwarted because of firewall and security concerns. In others, “safe” web2.0 tools are being integrated (or promised) in some of the “out of the box” solutions – which may be a good solution, provided consideration is given to how this may be accessed equally by the individual student from their PLE – given that they are the owners of the content.

I’d welcome thoughts and discussion…

Yet another LMS


I spent all of last week in Wellington, two days of which were spent exploring implementations of the e-Framework. The group included information architects from the Ministry of Education in NZ, and Dan Rehak from Carnegie Mellon University, James Dalziel (Director of MELCOE and inventor of LAMS) and Dr Malcolm Read (executive secretary) and Louisa Dale (partnership manager) from JISC in the UK.

Coming from these discussions, I was interested to read this morning an announcement of the formation of the Tetra Collaboration, who…

…will work together on projects that address the needs of education, research, technical infrastructure, service oriented architectures (SOA), federated systems, and application frameworks.

Tetra will demonstrate the potential of the JISC’s e-Framework, will be built on open standards and IMS specifications, and is committed to developing sustainable community source solutions for education

One of the first Tetra projects will be to continue the work of the Bodington open source learning management system to produce Bodington – Next Generation or Bodington NG. Seems like the focus of this endeavour will be on developing the Bodington product further with an emphasis on developing and implementing an SOA enterprise e-framework based on the Sakai standards etc.

Michael Feldstein expands on this announcement with his own thoughts on his e-Literate blog

Sloodle – Second Life meets Moodle


I had my first real look at Second Life earlier this year, and was impressed with the relative ease with which a 3D environment could be created as a context for online interactions etc.

SLoodle is a project to integrate the VLE platform Moodle with the 3D world of Second Life. Imagine a Moodle course that, if you wanted, could turn into a proper 3D interactive classroom with all your Moodle resources available to your students in the virtual world. As their intro says:

Two developer communities have come together to create entirely new teaching tools that motivate while offering hands-on exploration.

I’ve joined the community to keep an eye on what is happening – looks like one to follow!

PLEs and MLEs

Click image for full sized graphic

Several posts have been made this week about personal learning environments which led me to post my most recent attempt to diagram the way I see things moving.

Christopher Sessums started me off with his post on (re)defining blogs. In this he discusses the way in which blogs are being used for a variety of purposes other than simply an online personal jounral, and asks “when is a blog no longer a blog?” . His question is:

do we need a new definition of this space we have been referring to as a blog? Is it simply a matter of adding an adjective, as in this is my personal blog and this is my academic blog? Is a blog more a personal learning environment when framed in an academic setting?

A post by Helen Barrett takes this thinking further with her mash-up of different web2.0 tools which she considers could be combined together for a powerful ePortfolio system. While I’d concurr with the direction that Helen is thinking, I’m not sure that I’d see the portfolio as the centre-piece – rather, it seems to me that she’s described a PLE from a different perspective, with the digital archive and digital portfolio being important dimensions of this.

I have been working with an extension of these ideas, in particular, how the evolving understandings about personal learning environments relate to understandings about the ‘managed learning environments’ that schools and educational institutions are developing and working with. A managed learning environment is a term used by JISC in the UK, and is explained on Wikipedia as:

A {learning management system] can be considered a sub system of a MLE, whereas MLE refers to the wider infrastructure of information systems in an organisation that support and enable electronic learning on a wider scale.

My diagram is an attempt to describe the development and potential intersection of these two systems, ie

  1. Personal Learning Environment that is “owned”, managed and maintained by the individual learner, and

  2. Managed Learning Environmentthat is “owned, managed and maintained by a school or insitution.

Both of these systems have legitimacy – it isn’t simply a matter of choosing between one or the other. Schools/insitutions must develop systems that help them to successfully manage the provision of teaching and learning services to their students, while students on the other hand are increasingly choosing to “live their lives online”, and want to be able to integrate all aspects of their learning lives within a personalised interface/environment. In my view, this sort of environment will essentially be an aggregator of the various services and applications that an individual learner chooses to have in their PLE.

A paper recently released by Scott Wilson, Oleg Liber etc titled Personal Learning Environments: Challenging the dominant design of educational systems provides further useful insight/ This paper uses a design theory approach to argue for the evlolution of a VLE (virtual learning environment) into a PLE. This paper contributes significantly to the discussion around PLEs – although I am still wondering about the extent to which a school or institution-based VLE/LMS canbe morphed into a PLE, or whether we shouldn’t accept that, with modification, these sorts systems will be required, and that our efforts should work in parallel to develop the sort of PLE that I’ve tried to illustrate in my diagram.

No doubt these thoughts will continue to evolve…

“Safe” social software

With an increasing number of teachers and kids experimenting with the use of blogs and wikis there is a new wave of concern being expressed concerning the issues of privacy and safety of kids in these environments. And quite rightly too – the fact is that there is a lot of objectionable material that can be accessed on the web, and, unfortnately, there are predators who use these environments to connect with kids. This concern is being expressed now at the highest levels – as can be seen in the recent US debate over student use of “MySpace”. But with over 78 million users there is a bigger picture that needs addressing in a better way than simply banning it.


Fortunately there are a number of groups who are busy working on this issue – leading to the development of a range of social environments that offer greater levels of online safety and privacy. One example is WhyVille , an on-line community dedicated to learning through exploration and communication. This site has a funky kid-friendly interface, and is loaded with places inside where kids can participate in high quality, learner-centred learning experiences from across the curriculum. If you haven’t got time to create your own login and look around you can take the tour from the teacher’s page which is pretty informative.


Another example to look out for is Imbee which will go live later this year, is designed to offer a safe place for kids as young as 8 and 9 years old to create Web logs and chat with friends. Imbee will have a rigorous screening process to ensure that users are who they say they are, and will also be a closed site not accessible by the larger Web. Imbee is the creation of IndustriousKid , a company conceived of about six months ago by serial entrepreneur Jeanette Symons, a founder of two telecommunications companies in the US.

I’m sure other products like this will soon appear on the market – providing schools and teachers with safe alternatives for kids to some of the more “open” social networking environments. And it’s not only schools and teachers who are interested in these issues – parents are too:


The Family 2.0 site is worth a visit to see the sorts of things being explored and discussed as alternatives for our kids, while the News.Com article titled Here come the Family 2.0 sites is worth a read also for what is says about family networking sites – here are some they list:

  • is a free facial recognition site offering photos and genealogy launching this month.

  • Famundo is a combination free and pay site coming this summer that offers calendar sharing, birthday reminders and vacation planning.
  • Amiglia is a combination free and pay site in beta that offers photo sharing, dynamic family trees and kid photo games.
  • Ourstory is a free site in beta that creates timelines with life experiences, photos and video.
  • Zamily is a free site that launched in May offering all things social networking for the family.
  • Famoodle is a free site that debuted in May offering photo and event sharing, family networking and news.
  • Cingo is a free beta site offering private and shared calendars, to-do lists, news and movies.
  • Familyroutes is a free beta site that offers family blogging and photo sharing.

All of these sites aim to maintain the principles of the read/write web – sharing, collaborating, participation etc. No doubt we’ll see plenty of development of this sort of software to overcome current limitations – but the future is promising!

OLE – a school perspective

(NB – PDF link fixed now)


More from the work I have been doing to assist the NZ MoE in determining what an online learning environment might look like. In sharing the work I’d done previously (see Future OLE) I kept getting questions from teachers and principals about how this might apply to schools who, at the end of the day, are still charged with managing the complexity of learning for students, and are required to make decisions about the appropriate technologies to support this (eg SMS, LMS etc)

I’ve prepared a short paper titled OLE – a school perspective (pdf) which attempts to outline what a school’s response should be, and how this would relate to the personal learning environment of the individual learner as well as the various other systems and repositories that are ‘out there’. I should point out that the particular products and services I’ve used to illustrate the diagram are merely that, illustrations, and are not intended to convey any sense of exclusivity.

Your thoughts or feedback would be welcomed.

Personal Learning Environments


A most interesting podcast by Graham Attwell via The Bazaar in which he traverses a wide range of ideas behind the Personal Learning Environment. It refers to the origins of the PLE, in dissatisfaction with older forms of educational technology and concerns over institutional control. However it goes on to question whether the PLE is really the answer, suggesting the use of freely available Web 2 tools for learning might offer a better way forward. Well worth a listen!

(Thanks to Glen for referring this to me)

Making your LMS Dance

A great entry from the “Chief Learning Officer” by Elliott Maisie titled “Making Your LMS Dance”.Elliott describes his LMS wish list as a ??cheat sheet?? when you go in to talk to your system!
Elliott notes

    It??s time for learning executives to have a heart-to-heart conversation with their LMS. Ask them if they are ready to dance to the music of performance, profitability, talent management and extreme learning. Tell your LMS that your company is ready to have it step up from its early role as an enterprise database of learning activities. Now, you want it to become an engine to drive business and talent outcomes.

Written in a slightly humorous manner, it caputres the spectrum of things I think we need to be thinking about in relation to the emergent OLE! Thanks Elliott.