Other information systems in higher education

The following is the next short, and still somewhat questionable, section of the Product component. A previous post discussesd the limitations of an LMS, this section talks briefly about the other types of systems necessary for learning and teaching. The next section will talk about more abstract alternatives to those most commonly associated with the LMS.

Other systems

A university makes use of a large number of software applications partly because creating a single application to run a business as higher education is virtually impossible (Jones 2004). Universities have multiple constituencies – including parents, students, government, industry and alumni – and a need to maintain relationships with individuals that are now lifelong (Lightfoot and Ihrig 2002). Paulsen (2002) perceives e-learning to consist of a chain of four systems: content creation tools, learning management systems, student management systems, and accounting systems. The implication being that the LMS is only component of the information systems ecosystem of a university. Institutions now have applications for financial management, human resources, admissions, recruitment, payments, procurement, research databases, course management, online library reserves, classroom scheduling, patient records, grant and contracts management and email (Lightfoot and Ihrig 2002). Over recent times many institutions have moved to enterprise systems that integrate students, financial and human resource systems (Duderstadt, Atkins et al. 2002).

It has been suggested that contemporary learning environments should integrate academic and administrative support services directly into the students’ environment (Segrave and Holt 2003). All too often the systems are not interconnected and present the user with a fragmented view of the institution (Lightfoot and Ihrig 2002). There is a general lack of integration amongst these systems (Paulsen 2002). The development of robust, institutional, technical infrastructure has become a major area of activity (Conole 2002). Large scale enterprise systems, while useful to the administrative side of the university, can work at odds with the academic activities and force teaching and research to conform to business IT systems (Duderstadt, Atkins et al. 2002). Some attempts to increase the level of integration between academic and administrative systems has been done under the label of a managed learning environment (MLE).

While there remains some difficulty in defining the MLE as a concept there is agreement that the MLE involves a whole institution approach that links systems and facilities that are already provided across the institution (Holyfield 2003). A managed learning environment (MLE) will include administrative information about courses, resources, support and guidance, collaborative information, assessment and feedback – essentially linking up to back-end office systems and databases (Conole 2002). Beyond integration with administrative systems, to fully reap the benefits of an LMS, it has been suggested that institutions must integrate them with other systems including: identity directories, internal and external web sites, portals, library catalogs, multimedia and learning objects repositories, e-portfolios, email, calendar, instant messaging, wikis, blogs, web conferencencing, and other collaboration tools. (Molina and Ganjalizadeh 2006). It is hypothesized that institutions implementing integrated systems will improve their chances of becoming successful, large-scale e-learning providers (Paulsen 2002).

Discussion of the benefits of integration bring us back to some of the limitations of the LMS discussed above. Integration through the use of monolithic solutions like ERP systems increase complexity, offer limited flexibility and are not designed to collaborate with other autonomous applications (Irani 2002). Based on this view, the very nature of most LMS – as an example of a monolithic enterprise system – would appear somewhat less than well suited to integration within a MLE. The difficulty of integration and how alternative product models may provide different capabilities is part of the focus of the next section.


Conole, G. (2002). "The evolving landscape of learning technology." ALT-J 10(3): 4-18.

Duderstadt, J., D. Atkins, et al. (2002). Higher education in the digital age: Technology issues and strategies for American colleges and universities. Westport, Conn, Praeger Publishers.

Holyfield, S. (2003). Developing a shared understanding of the Managed Learning Environment – the role of diagramming and requirements gathering, JISC.

Irani, Z. (2002). "Critical evaluation and integration of information systems." Business Process Management Journal 8(4): 314-317.

Jones, D. (2004). "The conceptualisation of e-learning: Lessons and implications." Best practice in university learning and teaching: Learning from our Challenges.  Theme issue of Studies in Learning, Evaluation, Innovation and Development 1(1): 47-55.

Lightfoot, E. and W. Ihrig (2002). "Next-Generation Infrastructure." EDUCAUSE Review: 52-61.

Molina, P. and S. Ganjalizadeh. (2006). "Open Source Learning Management Systems."   Retrieved 28 December, 2006, from http://www.educause.edu/LibraryDetailPage/666?ID=DEC0602.

Paulsen, M. F. (2002). "Online education systems in Scandinavian and Australian Universities: A Comparative Study." International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning.

Segrave, S. and D. Holt (2003). "Contemporary learning environments: Designing e-Learning for education in the professions." Distance Education 24(1): 7-24.

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