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The War is Over: LMS and ePortfolio merging

Posted By Administration, Thursday, April 26, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

April 26th, 2012

Having just gone through a 90-minute demo of Sakai OAE, my head is spinning. For more than a decade, the distinctions between LMS’s and eportfolios have been clearly defined:

  • LMS’s are course based; eportfolios are learner-based
  • LMS’s are faculty-centered; eportfolios are student-centered
  • LMS content disappears after the course; eportfolio content persists
  • LMS’s are owned by the institution; eportfolios are owned by the student
  • LMS’s support the status quo; eportfolios anticipate the future

And so on. In conversations I’ve been involved with, LMS’s almost took on the reputation of a "necessary evil.” Still, there was no sign of them going away. And eportfolios, it seemed, continued to hold the place of the minor player on the stage of educational technology.

Now, the distinctions just listed between LMS’s and eportfolios may be disappearing. One could almost say – though only as a reflection of bias in my case – that the eportfolio gestalt has won the day. LMSs may be taking on the characteristics of eportfolios:

  • In OAE, all users have equal privileges – students and faculty – except within the tiny "membership” category of a course (one can have dozens of memberships, all treated equally) where there is a slight tilt toward the instructor.
  • Still, the new architecture behind Sakai OAE ("Open Academic Environment”) is "learning centered” – that is, not course centered.
  • OAE easily incorporates "widgets” which might be better termed "apps.” Within rSmart Academic (based on OAE with extra functionality), you’ll find a kind of "app store” with technologies that can be incorporated into the institutional instance of OAE.
  • Content can be placed in a library that can be shared on campus to all or to a select group. The library persists over time and thus takes on the nature of a local OER repository (OER – Open Educational Resources).
  • Through one’s "profile,” users can create, now, an "almost-eportfolo.” The profile can in fact be used now for promotion and tenure documentation. New features are being added as OAE continues to be developed in the community that will flesh out the eportfolio capabilities.
  • OAE now encompasses life and all learning. It reflects the fact that the culture now owns learning.
  • Probably the most profound statement that OAE makes epistemologically is that "knowledge,” as in the libraries and in the Piazza discussion forum, is a continuing process. Knowledge is not a thing that can be chopped into segments as in the classic course structure but is a flow.

This is an architecture that eliminates the distinction between LMS and eportfolio. By enlarging the problem space almost infinitely (because it’s open to including apps from the Web), it is more than the sum of LMS and eportfolio, but something much larger.

OAE does not yet have the learning outcomes backend that Sakai CLE has. It is still evolving. That’s why NYU, University of Michigan, Indiana University, Berkeley, Cambridge, and Charles Sturt University (AU) still use CLE even while they pilot OAE.

What we see is a conceptual breakthrough in LMS thinking that brings LMS’s closer to the epistemology behind eportfolio technology. This new thinking – and I know it is not limited to the Sakai development community – is a watershed moment in the history of educational technology. We see both the influence of the social Web and of our accumulated knowledge about learning in this new architecture. ‘tis a consummation Devoutly to be wished.

Full disclosure: I was the chair of the board of the Open Source Portfolio Initiative, which produced OSP (which was inserted into Sakai) with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and from rSmart, and leadership from Indiana University.

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