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POT Cert Week 18: whether to take an off the peg LMS or cobble one together, that is the question #potcert

Essentially, this week’s POTCert task is to learn about a course/learning management system (CMS/LMS) “with which you are not familiar”. Well, in my case that won’t be difficult because in truth I’m not really that familiar with any of them. Not as a learner, and certainly not as a tutor.

In week 2, when I set out on this journey, I was asked to think about where I was in terms of getting started. At the time, I wanted the focus of my teaching, or facilitation, to be on discussion and on group activities, so I offered the following comments:

I’m investigating the types of social learning platforms that are currently available to me. I’ve seen Buddypress in action and really like how this could be used to support my project but despite Ko and Rossen avowing that you don’t need to be a computer expert, I don’t have the skills or technological capacity to ‘self-host’ it. I’ve also heard of Instructure Canvas, which can be hosted in the cloud, but again it looks like it’s designed for a bigger project than the one I envisage. Therefore, I’m going to have to explore how I can make it all hang together using a combination of familiar discussion and collaboration applications like Facebook, Blogger or WordPress and Google Docs. Wish me luck.

At this point, Ted Major jumped into the conversation and offered me his positive insights of using Canvas. So, I investigated the platform and went ahead and signed up for a free tutor account. Since then, I’ve made a start at getting familiar with the platform, and outlining the course structure and loading content.

I made the point in week 3 that I wasn’t coming from the position of “converting” a f2f course and that I wanted my course design to reflect my pedagogical goals; I was keen to avoid what Lisa refers to as “insidious pedagogy“. That is, where the parameters of the technology influence the pedagogical choices available. So, in this respect the Canvas platform seemed to offer much of what I was looking for, everyday web tools readily integrated into the platform along with a philosophy that claims to support “flexible pedagogy”.

So, to get a feel for the platform in operation, I recently participated in a couple of open courses hosted on the Canvas Network, Mooc Mooc and Social Media. The classes were entirely different in their approach, indeed it’s probably not really fair to compare them. However, if I recall this correctly, it seems that one was designed to be perceived as operating on the open web with Canvas providing the underpinning  course architecture, whilst the design of the other promotes the Canvas platform in the first instance and then looks out onto the web. Like I say, it’s not really fair to compare them, and for reasons that I’m not totally sure of, the Mooc Mooc course, for me, wasn’t a total success. Maybe it was over ambitious given that it was only a week long course, which at heart sought to represent something of the freedom found on the web. On the other front, I found the Social Media course to be somewhat claustrophobic. It seems straight-jacketed into the LMS, and despite advocating the use of participatory social media tools and allowing for some group activities, it’s pedagogy is largely tutor centred.

At this point, I might add that since the start of the course I think my pedagogical goals have altered somewhat and become more wide ranging. Initially, I declared that I wanted my focus to be on discussion and group activities and that I was investigating a suitable supporting “social learning” platform. However, thinking more closely, what do I actually mean when I say “social learning” platform. It’s here that I recall Harold Jarche saying, “social learning is how work gets done in the network era“. I’m increasingly coming to think of social learning as learning in networks. It’s probably why the following tweet caught my eye this week, and resonates so loudly.

In addition, the terms that I initially used, “discussions” and “group activities”, don’t now seem to be as network facing as the terms “conversations” and “collaboration”.  Consequently, I’ve arrived back at my original quandary in relation to the optimum choice of platform and I’m wondering if I might be better served as Miguel Guhlin suggests by using Google Apps, or any collection of web based tools, and “cobbling together an LMS” of my own.

Cobbling together an LMS
Cobbling together an LMS

Although this sounds a bit daunting, I can appreciate how such a move would serve to facilitate the new set of pedagogy required for teaching and learning on the web as well support the principle of heutogogy that’s necessary for the development of self-directed learning, which Miguel Guhlin also refers to.

Image Source:

Valentyna Sagan (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


Lane, L. (2009) Insidious Pedagogy. How Course Management Systems Impact Teaching. Available at:

Jarche, H. (2013) Social Learning in Business. Available at:

Guhlin, M. (2013) Using GoogleApps as a Free #LMS. Available at:

Guhlin, M. (2013) Cobbling Together an LMS: Towards Self-Directed Learning. Available at:

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Published inProgramme for Online Teaching


  1. What a thorough post! I haven’t had a chance to work with Canvas yet, but I’ve heard some good things about the flexibility. In addition, looking to the entire internet as a LMS seems like the ultimate in flexibility. This post made me think of a learning in general and what it means to create a “course.” If we are as flexible as we can be, then subjects blend, professors overlap, and content moves forward. Thanks for making me think about cool stuff!

  2. I always seem to gravitate towards your post. I enjoyed what you shared. The BuddyPress website looked pretty cool too.

  3. […] Week 18: The course, or learning management system is a topic that I seem to have been thinking about almost every week throughout the POT Cert course.  What’s best, the institutional LMS, a self-hosted platform, or an assemblage of web tools cobbled together? Although I very much agree that “it’s time to think of the Internet, not the LMS, as our platform”, I still can’t fathom this question, and it appears that I’m not alone. See Lisa’s recent post on the subject. […]

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