From time to time people ask if UQ has considered alternate Learning Management Systems (LMSs). While always keeping a close eye on alternatives, updating comparisions, the current strategy is to standardise the student eLearning experience around one of the four roughly equal LMS platforms (in our case Blackboard), adding  best of breed advanced capabilities through external tools connected using the Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) standard. This is believed to be the fastest and lowest-impact way to enhance our blended learning experience, and was endorsed by the Technology Enhanced Learning Strategy Committee. The key arguments informing this strategy are:

  • While there is occasionally support for moving to one new system or another, there is little actual advantage and far greater resistance to unnecessary change. The top four systems are virtually indistinguishable in features and look and feel. The LMS only provides 'entry level' tools. UQ plugs best-of-breed tools into the LMS which is effectively just a portal. This means the LMS itself has become a relatively small part of the overall virtual learning environment (VLE) so an LMS change will be expensive and not provide a valuable improvement, diverting funds from higher impact options. UQ will still have Turnitin, Echo, Kaltura, Ed etc.
  • In order to provide a basic level of consistency and quality for students, the main trend in Australian higher education LMS movement has been away from fragmented customised environments towards 'vanillarised' off-the-shelf (OTS) environments, that are centrally provided and supported. Once Universities have achieved this they typically don't change LMS, because the change cost outweighs any advantage.
  • The type of competitive advantage that attracts new or better students have been achieved at a layer above the LMS technology, in the way the LMS is used. For instance some universities are offering more flexible study options in their post graduate programmes.
  • UQ is always evaluating the opportunities, and would have no hesitation in changing LMS for the enterprise's benefit. The provision of an LMS system is a substantial undertaking requiring significant application of professional skill and attention. The UQ LMS is an integral core part of the learning environment for many courses attracting 85,000 logins per day. There are many issues to consider. Both proprietary, and open source LMS's, have pros and cons.
  • A university needs to be careful to fully leverage the system its on. There will always be a new LMS platform around the corner. If a university spends too much time waiting for the next big thing it will always fail to leverage its current system.
  • Change-over costs are extremely high for little advantage. Any new system would have to be sufficiently better for long enough to justify change, not just better in one small area, and not just for a short time. Changeover costs include retraining 3500+ staff, and rebuilding 3,000+ courses and would conservatively amount to $10-20M. The top four LMSs are virtual on parity with look and feel and functionality. That makes $15M that will not be spend improving areas of the VLE that will have a positive impact. Any advantages of an alternate system would have to justify that cost, and be expected to remain better for a significant number of years. There are many new systems emerging on the market. A large enterprise can't change LMS every 3 years.
  • LMS functionality is far from the most significant eLearning issue for higher education. Leveraging functionality through training and design support is a much larger capability gap that requires attention. The main opportunity is to provide better support for coordinators that want to embrace the technology that is already available. Changing LMS would set a university back by 2-3 years compared to adding support services for their existing LMS. 
  • Most universities choosing alternate LMS's have only been able to do so because they had not yet achieved a broadly adopted central and consistent eLearning environment. There are no clearly better systems available, and any university with a broadly adopted LMS changing its LMS would be set back 2+ years when it should be a) procuring and adding new LTI based capabilities, and b) gaining ecconomies of scale in content development to reduce cost.
  • Its not plausible to say our current LMS is not an excellent choice for delivering high quality programmes if the largest supplier of courses to Open Universities Australia did that using our current system. The current LMS is a well proven platform for delivering online fee-paying accredited degree-earning courses, with high levels of student satisfaction. G08 universities have been winning awards on versions of Blackboard dating back to 2005.
  • History has shown that a centrally provided system will be upgraded more regularly and deliver more new functionality at a lower cost than multiple custom systems (e.g. personal/school level/faculty level). Trying to support disparate systems is suboptimal. Supporting multiple LMS’s is unlikely to be cost effective or affordable. Three  UQ units have attempted to run supplementary LMS's (including Moodle and Canvas) and discovered it to be unsustainable, and disruptive to undo.

The look and feel and functionality for Blackboard will be updated next in the upgrade to Ultra. Also in the next few years UQ is likely to change the way it hosts Blackboard to Software as a Service (SAAS). To the course coordinator this will have no more impact than a typical upgrade, but its expected that Blackboard will offer more capabilities more quickly over time under this hosting model.


A number of different surveys indicate that staff and student satisfaction with the UQ LMS is quite high, and that: a) staff need more training on the systems we have, and b) students want the staff to engage with the systems we have. Examples of broad feedback on the LMS include:

  • Regular Student Experience Surveys show very high levels of student satisfaction with the UQ virtual learning environment (87%), significantly higher than most Go8 universities and higher than our score for teaching and support services. 
  • Eleanring random sample surveys (every 6 months) that consistently show most staff are satisfied with the tools provided, but want more training.
  • Independent reports like the one from Niche Consultants (Sept 2009) that said “From the students’ perspective, Blackboard is an effective and essential learning tool….  Their key source of frustration lies in Blackboard not being used  in  all  courses  and  not  being  used  consistently  between  courses.”  Research into Perceptions of Blackboard at the University of Queensland” (Niche Consultants Sept 2009)
  • Advanced users who say “I hear lecturers listing off things you can’t do in Blackboard and the other tools and for every one they mention I know how it can be done. They just don’t know how to use it” (Winner: UQ Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning 2011 (individual award)