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Million dollar question: How many LMS are enough?

November 7, 2008

One key decision in design of an MLE is how to get the best return from the funding available? Is it to subsidise the move to an approved MLE (or LMS), as in the SMS activity? Or is there another, more suitable option, given the learning from the SMS work and the relatively low uptake of LMS by schools (2400 schools use one of 10 SMS and 460 one of 12 LMS)?

After much discussion and debate the decision was made that the Ministry would neither mandate nor fund usage of an LMS or MLE. Rather, the effort and investment would be on interoperability between application/modules and services that constitute an MLE, improving both the user experience and the value for money.

The learning management system(LMS) is a key component of the MLE (TKI holds an interest information sheeton why to use an MLE/OLE), core or central even for the foreseeable future. By this I mean that other services, modules and applications in the teaching and learning aspect of schools will ‘plug into’ or interface with the LMS.

Therefore, a key question is how many LMS should there be, or at least how many should the Ministry invest in? The lower the number the further the interoperability money goes, but the less selection for schools, the greater the risks if one/some prove unsuitable. The higher the number the more likely a school will find one they like, but the investment money gets spread further.

With a slight distortion of the economic concept of marginal utility, the first LMS would offer the greatest value, with each subsequent LMS adding less value than the previous one. However, having only one would represent a monopoly, at least in receiving Ministry funding (schools remain free to select and use any LMS they like). This introduces risks like higher prices, less innovation, a risk of failure and the costs associated with changing provider.

And what about the prevalence of open source software (e.g. Moodle), where in theory more than one vendor could offer competing business models (e.g. based on different levels of service and price) from the same code base. In this scenario the benefit of each dollar spent on interoperability could be appropriated by all the schools that were clients of the two vendors.

So, the million dollar question is how many LMS (or code bases) is ideal? And to get you started the view of the school-Ministry reference group is 2, 3 or 4.