Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4

Apples to Oranges

My web hosting service, Dreamhost, happens to have a one-click-installer for Moodle. So I installed one for my own personal sandbox. In looking at the available roles, it suddenly occurred to me…. Comparing any LMS to another is like comparing an apple to an orange. The industry is like the Tower of Babel. Each product has its own jargon covering much of the same ground in absurdly different ways. How could you have an Internet if all the servers talked to each other so differently? Yet in technology created for higher education every system has a different name for the person who teaches a class or even if the name is the same, the capabilities differ.

Sure, there are some commonalities, even apples and oranges are both fruit, but the developers had different conceptual models in mind. The same word meaning different things really is quite annoying. Another example is a course in Vista is a container for the type of place where learning takes place whereas in Learn a course is where teaching takes place. Teaching in Vista takes place in sections. So… Vista : section :: Learn : course.

These different conceptual models are why the faculty get so irate about change. It is hard enough to have to learn new places to click and how to accomplish what you used to accomplish. For some period of time they have to have two vocabularies and maybe even years later they still cannot call it the correct term. (WebCT CE/SE called where teaching takes place courses and both former and current coworkers 6 years later still call sections “courses”).

One would think standards organizations like the IMS Global Learning Consortium would help solve this. Every product adhering to a standard should end up adopting consistent terminology, conceiving of objects similarly, and conceiving of processes similarly. This make comparing the two easier. Except the standard adoptions appear to be in the integration components or database not the main product.

I really feel bad for the instructional technologist who has to support more than one learning management system.

Also, selecting a new LMS seems like an insanely difficult task when trying to learn a dozen vocabularies enough to ascertain whether it has what you need.


2 responses to “Apples to Oranges”

  1. Mike Deutsch Avatar

    Hey Ezra,

    We once knew each other (at least tangentially) as part of the Vista 3.x community, me at McGill U up on Montreal where I wrangled the integration between Banner and Vista. Good times… I came across your blog in a really roundabout way tonight and wanted to say hi. 🙂

    I’m astounded that IMS hasn’t worked this out, some 7+ yrs after my first exposure to the xml standard. Of course, the apple-orange problem doesn’t stop there — the SIS systems are probably all different, and the learning institutions themselves have a maze of real-life terminology apart from their SISes, and they probably bring their own preferences to the IMS working groups. Plus the LMS designers may just be software guys, and this time they’re designing a learning system, so why not call it X, cuz that seems kinda ok?

    Because of Banner and Vista, we settled on the Course-Section thing, and that seemed to make sense. The Course persists over the years, and each instance of teaching it is a Section. Worked for us.

    Great to see you again, and good luck LMSing!

  2. Ezra S F Avatar

    Thanks Mike.

    Good point about institutions having their terminologies. Whenever I talk to people in different projects, the jargon clashes make conversations kludgy until we all get on the same page.

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