Learning Tools in Higher Education: Products, Characteristics, Procurement

Back to the PhD today, probably will do a couple of summaries of papers I’m reading. The focus is on the product models and procurement strategies used by Universities to solve the technical problem of e-learning. I start with a paper with the title “Learning Tools in Higher Education: Products, Characteristics, Procurement” (Wild and Sobernig, 2007)


Uses interviews of 100 European universities from 27 countries to identify the tools they use to facilitate learning, how intensively they are used and what procurement strategies are used.

Gives some rough figures of types of systems used. Gives a longitudinal feel to some previous studies.

Seems to indicate that European institutions seem to find it “very important to have an institutional platform run by the institutions them-
selves, however, with strong connections to the open-source world”.

I wonder if the results would be the same in the US or Australia where commercial LMS adoption has been more predominant – though changing somewhat.

The reporting of the findings are, to me at least, somewhat confusing.

The greatest value for me is pointing me to the literature (Saarinen et al, 1994; Heiskanen et al, 2000) that proposes an optimal relationship between types of requirements, types of system and types of procurement strategy. I’ll be using this in the PhD and potentially some papers.


Most unis using some sort of LMS. 250 commercial software providers,40 open source products – large and heterogenous products. Some evidence (Pituch and Lee, 2006) that functionality and interactivity drive usage.

What tools are being used today?

Products in the market

Participants report

  • 182 distinct tools occurred 290 times: LMS, content management, collaboration tools
  • Moodle most used – 44 instances, but only 15 of these not running in parallell with others.
  • WebCT – 14 installations.
  • 15 pure content management systems in 20 installations
  • 18 pure admin information systems – 19x.
  • 22 different authoring tols
  • 14 learning object repositories
  • 10 different assessment tools
  • 32 different collaboration tools with 51 installations
  • Most heavily used systems identified by highest active number of users – WebCT (twice), .LRN (once), CampusNet (once), Blackoard (once) and eLSe (once).

References a couple of other similar investigations of tools

Since one – five systems have vanished.

Portfolio characteristics

What activities did the tools support:

  • text-based communication – 87 (out of 100)
  • Assessments – 81
  • Quality assurance and evaluation – 53
  • Collaborative publishing – 52
  • Individual publishing – 44
  • social networking – 34
  • Authoring learning designs – 31
  • Audio/video conferencing – 31
  • Audio/video broadcasting – 25
  • User portfolio management – 23
  • simulations/online labs – 21

Text-oriented predominant. Multimedia lacking support

Following table compares reports of courses sites from two previous studies and this one – some issues in comparison.

Categories Paulsen (1999) Paulsen (2003) Wild and Sobernig (2007)
Up to 15 courses 68% 38% 22%
More than 15 25% 50% 56%

This study also found – 36% more than 100. 5% more than 1000.

Tool usage: 49/100 delivery and 54/100 course management.

Report on problems with calculating number of users because of varios difficulties.

Procurement strategies

Procurement decisions based on 3 types of requirements

  1. Speculative requirements – organisationaly unique or involve uncertainty.
  2. Standard requirements – common to organisations of a particular domain.
  3. Routine requirements – invariant across domain boundaries.

Literature suggest that in optimal cases, organisational choices are driven by these requirements. Suggests this choice represents a combination of

  • Software type – custom developed, packaged and off-the-shelf
  • Procurement strategy – in-house development (internal procurement), contracting and acquisition (both external procurement).

Same literature suggests an alignment between requirement types and organisational choices:

  • Predominantly speculative – internal development of custom software.
  • Standard requirements – customised, packaged software where customisation external contracted.
  • Routine requirements – off-the shelf software.

At this stage, the explanation of the findings from the survey are really hard to follow – at least for me. I would’ve though this should be easy. Keep that in mind when you read the following.

  • 40% follow procurement configurations considered optimal
  • 44% reported mixed configurations of requirements and procurement strategy
  • 5% report external procurement from external contractors
  • External procurement, when it does occur, predominantly with speculative requirements.
  • Internal development equally distributed across requirements – 21% speculative, 19% mixed, 18% standard
  • There are other percentages reported, but I can’t follow it and/or make sense of it with the ones I’ve summarised above


Heiskanen, A., M. Newman, et al. (2000). “The social dynamics of software development.” Accounting, Management & Information Technology 10(1): 1-32.

Paulsen, M. F.: Online Education. An International Analysis of Web-based Education and Strategic Recommendations for Decision Makers. NKI Forlaget, Bekkestua, Norway (2000)

Paulsen, M. F. (2003). “Experiences with Learning Management Systems in 113 European Institutions.” Educational Technology & Society 6(4): 134-148.

Pituch, K., and Lee, Y.: The influence of system characteristics on e-learning use. Computers & Education. 47(2) (2006) 222–244

Saarinen, T. and A. Vepsalainen (1994). “Procurement strategies for information systems.” Journal of Management Information Systems 11(2): 187-208.

Wild, F. and S. Sobernig (2007). Learning tools in higher education: Products, characteristics, procurement. Second Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning. Crete, Greece.

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