James Farmer has started an excellent conversation on learning management systems and how new systems can be developed on a looser configuration of individual controlled nodes by using blogging software. The general theme is that less management is better, and that individual learners could write all of their posts, assignments and papers from their own site, and these could be directed to each class as web feeds. The classes would aggregate the feeds from all the students and instructors. The beauty of this kind of system is that each student keeps all of his/her content, and it does not get locked away in an inaccessible archive of a centrally controlled LMS.
Boris Mann and Will Pate add their comments, especially from the Drupal perspective, with Will pushing for a move away from electronic learning to social learning. I think that a shift of focus (and development effort) away from the management aspects of learning and more on the social aspects of learning can only be positive for the learner.
We have the technology to do this, and Drupal only needs a few more functions in order to be a "learning community in a box". It’s exciting to know that we are getting to the point of having a real alternative to the LMS. I have tried in the past year to convince some organisations to move away from the LMS model, but the alternatives have been a bit messy, especially for the IT department. Rob Paterson’s course at UPEI showed that an online course could work without an LMS. The development of an "off-the-shelf" social software tool, designed for formal learning interventions, could really kick-start a new direction for learning technologies.
Update – and the Drupal development community has begun to discuss the creation of a module for educational sites, starting with quizzes, but ending who knows where.