Educause just released a brief on alternatives to the traditional learning management system ,"7 things you should know about LMS alternatives." This short, serialized paper discusses how some institutions and instructors use tools like WordPress, Slideshare, podcasts, VoiceThread, and Diigo to "fill the gap" created by a conventional course management system. While there are certainly disadvantages to relying exclusively on third party applications--security, continuity, reliability, and integration, for instance--these tools are evolving more quickly than conventional course management systems. The Educause authors suggest that "the practice of augmenting a standard, centralized LMS is a trend that can be expected to continue among faculty members."
When course management systems first appeared in higher education almost 15 years ago, they represented one of the first points of entry to the web for many instructors. They offered a relatively easy way to put material online and promised the opportunity to create computer mediated interactions among students. Two recent studies (Griffiths & Graham, 2009; Lonn & Teasley, 2009) have suggested, however, that the vast majority of current CMS users (at Brigham Young and the University of Michigan) primarily engage the content delivery and broadcast functions of their course management systems rather than the more interactive tools. If these two institutional studies are indicative of a larger pattern of use, it might confirm the Educause assumption that instructors are seeking alternatives to the LMS for creating rich learning environments.
Griffiths, M. E., & Graham, C. R. (2009). Patterns of user activity in the different features of the Blackboard CMS across all courses for an academic year at Brigham Young University. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 5(2). Retrieved from http://jolt.merlot.org/vol5no2/griffiths_0609.htm.
Lonn, S., & Teasley, S. D. (2009). Saving time or innovating practice: Investigating perceptions and uses of Learning Management Systems. Computers & Education, 53(3). 686-694.
7 things you should know about LMS alternatives (2010). Educause Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/Resources/7ThingsYouShouldKnowAboutLMSAl/207429