Learning Management Systems as Anti-Convivial Tools

  • Edward Maclin


The last two decades have seen an increase in the number of online university classes operating under any of several commercial Learning Management Systems (LMS). Online classes expanded dramatically in the US during 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students, faculty, and administrators frequently assume that LMSs are epistemologically neutral. These LMSs are designed to do exactly what they say on the tin: they are systems for managing learning. At the same time, they function based on implicit understandings of "learning," "management," and "systems" that privilege some knowledges, interactions, and discourses while de-emphasizing others. In this paper I argue that the LMS as a tool is not—in the terms of Ivan Illich—convivial. Rather, LMSs as designed enforce a technocratic perspective based on efficiency and replicability, making them actively anti-convivial. At the same time, problems with LMS-hosted classes are defined in technological terms, with additional improved software being seen as the main solution. I argue that employing a critical participatory pedagogy can begin to address these concerns.


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Special Section: Academic Automation, Machine Un/Learning and Artificial Non/Intelligences