Learning Management Systems – the ‘location’ for educational book businesses

Learning Management Systems (LMS) are fast becoming the centre of the ‘learning experience’ for all tertiary students. School education environments are showing early signs of following this trend.

About five years ago we were given access to over 2,000 undergraduate student essay bibliographies. Less than half of the references used were conventional book or journal sources. Using non-‘published’ resources for acquiring new knowledge is both a product of students’ appetite for Google-ease and of lecturers’ need to use resources that are more current and timely than what publishers can often provide.

Whether a student is enrolled for on-campus or online courses, they are increasingly being provided course guides plus essential and non-essential reading materials (or links to them), plus a variety of other learning tools such as online tutorials and work groups, via the LMS.  In this environment, lecturers and students are strongly tempted to limit or even avoid using traditional book business products, because of various complexities it involves.

Blackboard is the clear leader in the Australian tertiary LMS market. Having one major vendor would seem to present a good opportunity for there to be an industry-wide approach for businesses to become involved in the LMS environment. Educational publishers, campus (and other specialist) book-sellers, campus (and nearby) printeries, all could benefit by developing ways to ‘locate’ their services within the LMS environment. University Libraries, who are usually managing the user interface of the LMS, also may benefit by facilitating a more seamless user experience.

Libraries are budget constrained and tend to steer away from activities that involve ‘selling’. Therefore, what better way for bookshops to pick up unmet demand where libraries do not have the materials readily available online to meet student demand, in either print or electronic formats. Publishers might try to sell direct to students in this environment also, and for smaller publishers this might be viable. But for the larger publishers, who need to still protect their printed textbook sales volumes, it would make more sense to work with the campus book-seller for this opportunity. And printers stand to pick up considerable on-demand printing opportunities if they can work with LMS vendors and managers to embed links to POD local solutions.

Here are a couple of industry-wide approaches that might be considered (or re-considered) on a national basis, to help make the LMS ‘location’ more accessible and viable for all book businesses. The second idea is not new and was part of the COLIS project that was discontinued around 2005.

1.     A national LMS strategic plan for all educational institutions.

This would provide guidelines for the management of the LMS environment and how businesses might provision relevant products and services such as:

  • Ebooks and electronic journal content
  • non-book or journal learning tools and resources
  • access to printed books and journals to purchase or borrow
  • print on demand services for materials copied under Part VB of the Copyright Act, and for materials to be made available commercially (e.g. custom publications complied by the lecturer or student)

2.     A national approach to the standards (that follow trends in international best practice) for handling online activities such as:

  • Learning object identification, importing, and use
  • Ecommerce in an education environment
  • Product information, price and availability
  • Print job ticketing

It might be argued that the LMS environment as we know it today will not exist in a few years time. Whatever is on the horizon, it is clear that students will be interacting with their lecturers, their institutions, their class-mates, their learning resources, through one ‘portal’-type environment. And they will be doing it on their iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, and a multitude of other devices, including print products. The more educational book businesses are embedded there now, the better chance they have of being a profitable partner in the business associated with that location in the future. 2011 is the year to start seriously negotiating what that ‘location’ means.

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