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I have argued for a while that the success of digital learning environments such as the LMS (Learning Management System) is based on a fine balance. This is the homeostasis between user experience and institutional design.
You probably know the story of the architect who was asked to design a university.
He created the blueprints for the buildings; the design was approved and then the construction commenced. As the buildings were nearing completion, the authorities asked the architect about the pathways between the buildings. He told them he was going to wait until the staff (faculty) and students had arrived. He wanted to see the user experience effects and how they played out. He wanted to watch the desire paths evolving. Like all the best architects, he was people centred.
The staff and students arrived, and after several weeks of walking between the buildings, several thousands feet had created pathways across the grass. He then sent in the builders and they paved over the pathways to make them safer. The desire paths had been established and were now bing supported.
The story illustrates the balance between what users desire and what the institution believes they need. It’s quite a difficult balance to achieve. When an institution invests in an organisation-wide platform for learning, they need to decide on a number of issues. Most important is what the learners will be doing on the platform. Will they require just access to content, or will they need discussion groups, access to other resources, and other tools. The answer to all of the preceding, is usually yes.
But what kinds of tools do they need? And will these be used inside or outside of the ‘walled garden’ of the Learning Management System? Often LMS are designed to keep people out, because the content and activities are in need of protection. But in today’s learning climate, is this still necessary? Should we be imposing restrictions on what can be learnt and how it can be learnt? Or should we simply be supporting students as they create their own desire paths? Are we people centred, or are we more interested in how the systems will work?
My conclusion: A lot of money has been spent by universities on tools they think students need, but often, students will choose their own tools, and only use university provision when they absolutely have to.
Desire paths by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.