What’s wrong with Virtual Campuses?

farzad-nazifi-71686According to Wikipedia, a Course Management System -CMS hereinafter- is equivalent to a Virtual Learning Environment, and can be defined as “Web-based platform for the digital aspects of courses of study, usually within educational institutions” (Wikipedia, n. d. ). Nonetheless, if we try to find an alternative definition using Google
, it may show us the definition provided by Vanderbilt University’s website: A course management system (CMS) is a collection of software tools providing an online
environment for course interactions (“Course Management Systems”, n. d. ).

At least two differences between both definitions are relevant. Firstly, it changes from “a particular software” to “a collection of software tools”. Secondly, the first definition focuses on digital aspects of courses within educational institutions, while the last points to environments and interaction. Both differences exemplifies a shift in the notion of online learning.

The first CMSs were designed with enhanced functionality that makes things easier for teachers. Mott & Wiley (2009) explained that “the CMS was designed primarily to support and enhance traditional teaching” (para. 28). This statement fits with the data reported by Brigham Young University: Most Faculty Members only used the CMS of that university to facilitate documents, publish grades, make announcements and send e-mails. In other words, there have been a tendency to use CMS as a platform aimed to facilitate work to faculty (as cited in Mott & Wiley, 2009).

This first notion of CMS fits well with traditional teaching, but not with new learning theories. In particular, can be mentioned Constructivism, Connectivism, and Learning Communities, as well as other theories that advocates for a more comprehensive notion of learning that includes daily life informal learning. Though different, all these points of view share some core ideas: Learning is provided by experiences -activities- in which learners not only consume, but mainly create and interact with others, developing an active role, being the main character of her/his own learning. Actually, these key points are not suitable for a fixed platform mainly used to deliver information, likewise traditional teaching.

Quite on the contrary, the second definition fits perfectly well with modern learning approaches. Maybe, it could be named the modern definition of CMS. Overall, it has a main characteristic: flexible openness to as many applications as considered necessary. Like the receipts and the ingredients, CMS solutions may include cloud computing, social networks, collaborative edition software, collaborative reading tools, and/or any other application that may appear in the future. Moreover, this conception becomes extensive to devices other than laptops, like any handheld device.

Siemens (2004) also criticized the traditional conception of CMSs. He argued that “the underlying assumption is that if we just expose students to the content, learning will happen” (para. 2). Later, he denounces that LMS -Learning Management Systems, equivalent to CMSs- “are designed as a learning management tool, not a learning environment creation tool” (para. 7). In other words, the originary CMSs intended to make things easier to the teacher, instead of facilitate learning experiences to students.

Nowadays, CMSs tend to be more complete. This lead us to a new issue: complexity. Many teachers may prefer a set of simple solutions, one solution for one or a few functionalities. In addition, CMS continues being a prefixed software, no matter how complete it is. This closeness hampers changes in the design of flexible learning environments for students. Likewise, Downes (2005) advocated for what he called E-Learning Frameworks, arguing that “instead of using enterprise learning-management systems, educational institutions expect to use an interlocking set of open-source applications” (para. 36).


Mott, & Wiley. (2009). Open for Learning: The CMS and the Open Learning Network. Education, 15(2). Retrieved from http://ineducation.ca/ineducation/article/view/53/529

Siemens, G. (2004). Learning Management Systems: The Wrong Place to Start Learning. elearnspace. 22 November. Retrieved from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/lms.htm

Downes, S. (2005). E-learning 2.0 Retrieved from http://elearnmag.acm.org/featured.cfm?aid=1104968.

Course Management Systems (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved June 2, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Course_management_system&redirect=no

Vanderbilt University (n.d.). Center for Teaching: Teaching Guides. Course Management Systems. Retrieved June 2, 2015, from  http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/course-management-systems/

What’s wrong with Virtual Campuses?