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Wendy Oliver, EdDMar 23, 2021 9:20:00 AM3 min read

The ’90s called. They want their LMS back

Traditional platforms fall short. Students need adaptive learning. You need meaningful analytics.

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The advent of modern learning management system was in the U.K. in the late 1900s with the birth of the Internet. “Modern” is a relative term. When speaking about technology, thirty years is ancient history. What other 1990s technology do you still rely on daily? Do you retrieve your messages from your telephone answering machine and keep your contacts and calendar on a Palm Pilot? Do you listen to CDs on a Walkman? Do you still store your data on floppy discs? If the answer is yes, feel free to skip this article.

As the LMS evolved, improvements were layered on the foundation to meet new demands. Yet these features were still on an old base primarily designed to deliver content in an unbending serial delivery. The LMS matured further, and some platforms layered resources to improve functionality – yet they could not track meaningful engagement. Learning remained unwieldy and sequential, without flexibility driven by analytics.

In recent discussions with education leaders, they are expressing frustration as they have reached the outward capabilities limits of the traditional LMS. Their traditional LMS foundations are cracking under the weight of new tenant demands. Clearly, this is a category that has long been demanding creative disruption and educators are now fully feeling it.

In the past five years, we’ve heard much about “adaptive learning”. While a number of apps that use adaptive have been released, few truly groundbreaking platforms have been developed to build a fresh technological foundation for learning. We need what many don’t know how to ask for: next-generation xAPI platforms that use machine learning to provide truly adaptive learning pathways to students.

Such advanced platforms would be designed from their genesis to leverage xAPI LRS (learning records stores) that fuel AI-enabled adaptive learning pathways. Using data of past engagement, performance and gaps in knowledge, adaptive pathways would provide two key outcomes: 1.) optimal learning – the most learning in the least amount of time, and 2.) improved teaching – providing meaningful data for educators to make important decisions about both their students and how to improve their teaching practice.

Specifically, we need learning platforms that can provide what older platforms and SCORM cannot. We need the next-gen platforms to offer:

- Extension of e-learning outside of the web browser
- E-learning in native mobile applications
- More control over learning content
- Tracking learning plans and goals
- Seamless cross-platform transitions (e.g. starting a module on a mobile - device and finishing it on a laptop)
- The ability to track games and simulations
- The ability to track real-world performance
- Team-based e-learning using communication tools for PLCs


Lastly, they need to be ready to easily integrate the past resources (course content cartridges) and future tools (augmented reality and virtual reality).

The difference in strategy and architecture between the traditional LMS and a true next-generation learning platform would be as glaring as telephone answering machines vs. smartphones. Such a rethinking of the LMS requires a collaboration between superb technologists, informed by the understanding of excellent teachers. While it needs to be a robust, scalable edtech solution it must provide students more than a platform: engaging, adaptive learning experiences. Otherwise, all our well-intentioned strategies, architecture, and efforts are just teachers and techies talking to ourselves in ivory towers.

Once that is achieved, our mission will be persuading edtech laggards to trade in their cassette players and Palm Pilots for solutions built within the lifespan of their students.


Wendy Oliver, EdD is a consultant who has dedicated her professional life to preparing children, parents, educators and learners of all ages to be competitive in a global economy. Find her book on Amazon: Not Your Mama’s Classroom: What You Need to Know About Your Child’s Digital Education”. E:

John Randall Dennis is a strategist specializing in education and speaks at edtech events. He serves as Chief Strategy Officer for FocalPoint ( E:

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