The Antecedents and Consequences of Adopting Learning Management Systems in Selected Australian Universities

The Antecedents and Consequences of Adopting Learning Management Systems in Selected Australian Universities

Jonathan G.M. Pratt (University of Technology Sydney, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-874-1.ch006
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During the mid to late 1990s, many Australian universities adopted innovative learning management systems to support online learning in their teaching operations. A recent investigation into the adoption experiences of three selected Australian universities revealed significant diversity in the ways in which this technology was conceived, evaluated and adopted. A fear among Vice Chancellors of falling behind their peers in other respected universities proved to be significant in each university. Although catching up was a powerful catalyst for rapid organisation-wide change, the substantive educational outcomes experienced were somewhat underwhelming, despite an increase in external legitimacy following adoption. This chapter discusses the antecedents, processes, and consequences associated with the adoption of learning management systems in three selected Australian universities. The influence of a range of various internal and external factors on key individuals is identified. This chapter concludes with a number of implications for policy and practice.
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Various public sectors in Australia were transformed during the 1980s under the belief that the State had to behave like a market player, maximizing returns from market forces in an international setting (Welch, 1996). In 1989, the Federal Minister for Education instituted radical changes to the Australian higher education system, setting in train the creation of a quasi-market system for higher education, with competition among universities for students, industry and public funding (Marginson, 1997). Although similar changes were introduced in other countries, such as Canada, the United States (US), United Kingdom (UK) and New Zealand (Slaughter & Leslie, 1997), the associated drop in fiscal support from government was faster in Australia (Marginson, 2001). In 1983, 90% of Australian university funding came from the government. In 1999, it was less than 50% (Manne, 2002) and in 2003 it was 41% (Nelson, 2005b). It has been estimated that since the election of the Coalition Government under Prime Minister Howard in 1996, over $3 billion was taken out of the system (Carr, 2002) based on cuts to the forward estimates of university operating grants (Carr, 2002). During that same period, student contributions towards their university costs increased by 85%, making up one third of universities’ income (Contractor, 2003), which is among the highest in the developed world (Productivity Commission, 2003).

During the mid to late 1990s, a number of alternative methods for delivering higher education utilising new educational technologies became more accessible to universities. A survey conducted among forty out of forty-three Australian universities in 2001 found that all universities employed the web to some extent among their teaching and learning programs, with twenty-three out of the forty universities offering university award courses that were fully online with no face-to-face component (Bell, Bush, Nicholson, O'Brien, & Tran, 2002). Assisting this online delivery of university courses were a number of commercial and in-house learning management systems, of which the most popular for institution-wide systems were WebCT and Blackboard (Bell et al., 2002). Similarly high rates of adoption have also been observed in Canada (Cuneo, Campbell, Bastedo, & Foye, 2000) and in the US(Allen & Seaman, 2004, 2005).

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