Understanding the Four Critical Stages of LMS Technology Assimilation- A Case Study of a Pakistani University

At IoBM, we crashed into the use of LMS at a breakneck speed. However, our assimilation of LMS (Learning Management System) which is just another technology is following the well known critical stages of assimilation of technology [1]. We had started our implementation in Fall 2019 and by the time the lockdown happened we had around 50 faculty members who were using the LMS. However, the lockdown propelled us into cramping the 2-3 year roll out of the LMS implementation project into a 5 day roller coaster crash implementation. The adoption of technology happened vigorously and soon everyone was using Zoom and LMS. However, the stage of rapid growth appears to be barging into a saturation stage where the initial euphoria of early adopters and vigorous users of technology is transiting into a stage of fatigue and disillusionment. I can see many vigorous early adopters facing this. This post describes these stages in detail, and how to use this in your LMS dissemination strategy.  Individual emergencies and issues that were dealt with in going from 70 sections using LMS to 500 sections using LMS in 15 days, and adding another 430 sections in the next ten days. These will be part of another case study. This post is written for our faculty who are already aware with the happenings of the issues at IoBM, their resolution and the future plan of action.

The assimilation of technology is often described by a technology assimilation curve or the “S-Curve” which is also known as the Sigmoid Curve. See Figure 1 :

Learning S-Curve: Learning going from Growth to Maturity Phase. Adapted from [2]

“The S-Curve depicts the way many new technologies, new products, and new ideas grow in the marketplace; they typically begin slowly, and then if they are successful they reach what Malcolm Gladwell dubbed the Tipping Point, followed by rapid, almost out-of-control growth. Inevitably, however, even the most successful products/ideas eventually experience slowing growth, which is often followed by decline as even newer technologies and products begin their own new growth curves” [2]. This was seen by the social networking site Orkut starting in 2004 and reaching its zenith around 2008 and was thereafter overtaken by Facebook propelled by its savvy app starting in 2006 and eventually becoming the king in around 2010. Please see the following figure 2 :

Figure 2: Technology 1 being overtaken or replaced by Technology 2 (Eg Orkut being replaced by Facebook)
Adapted from [2]

As the original article [1] suggested, there are at least four critical stages along the growth curve:
Stage 1: Learning and experimentation
Stage 2: Rapid (and often uncontrollable) growth
Stage 3: Maturation (slowing of growth, often turning into decline)
Stage 4: Transition (the death of an old technology, accompanied by the adoption of a new one)

Stage 1: Learning and Experimentation

This is the beginning, where the technology is unproven, and there are aspects that provide an initial exhilaration. People often apply a simple technique to satisfy a more complex demand. This is what we are seeing with the use of Zoom or Google Meet  which are just online meeting applications that are simple to use and can be quickly used for conducting a synchronous class session. Some provide a classroom session experience much better than others. Given the emergency and the lockdown several people latched on to whatever they could find. However, as it turns out learning management is much more than conducting a synchronous classroom meeting session. 

Even an online class session requires facilities for tracking of assignments, quizzes, class participation, examinations, and grading. It requires quality assessments through course audit files, HoD supervision and centralized assurance of learning. This becomes necessary for quality inspections by regulators like HEC and CIEC; and national accreditation bodies such as NBEAC, NCEAC, NACTE and PEC; and international accreditation bodies such as AACSB and ABET. 
This is where the LMS comes in. Hence, users of Zoom/Teams/Meet would eventually have to move to LMS or use  LMS in conjunction with technologies like Zoom, Google Meet, MS Teams etc. The use of  the two technologies in tandem requires another S-Curve for LMS with Zoom as given in Figure 2 above. Learning requires management systems, and universities require elaborate subsystems such as registrations, add-drops, fee charging and receivables, scheduling, grading systems and progression systems and transcripts in addition to convening synchronous sessions. LMS enables integration with Campus Management Systems (CMS).

“The most dangerous aspect of Stage 1 is that organizations become accustomed to slow rates of improvement and a low return on their investments and effort. Often a new idea dies before it becomes successful, not because it’s a bad idea but because it is smothered by inappropriate monitoring systems, or because it simply takes too much effort to achieve visible success.”[2]

Stage 2: Rapid Growth

“But when things do succeed, and you reach Gladwell’s Tipping Point, the pace of change turns “north” quickly, and everything gets crazy. The ability to manage rapid growth often can’t keep up with the demand”  [2]. This is what we first saw with Big Blue Button, and soon it was replaced with  Zoom, and now with Google Meet or Microsoft Teams. However, the growth of alternate medium is also creating several problems such as the concern about security features, unauthorized access, integration with LMS, and automatic creation of classes from CMS and transfer of grades back to CMS.  
There is scrambling to obtain resources in terms of greater IT power and hiring of expert staff . This is what happened when we had to go to Google Cloud and obtain more resources. It solved the processor power and memory resources issue. If you are fortunate you may have some staff who already had expertise and they could be quickly put in position to leverage the responsibility. New resources from the faculty can be identified who are already techy and who can help us out of this crunch. We were fortunate in both of these areas and had wonderful resources already with us, who quickly updated their knowledge and latched on to this opportunity. Kudos to our team of experts. 
However, things get frantic as you launch one project after another to leverage the opportunity or fix the problems that are being discovered every day. The problems of this stage involve managing the growth through monitoring systems, and controlling systems. Satisfying the queries of the users, understanding their connectivity issues, and resolving their issues. This also requires flexible handling of the policies related to attendance, grading, examination, and conducting of class room sessions. At times new policies need to be designed and put in place quickly. This is how the higher management at IoBM is promptly responding to many of these changes and adapting quickly and adopting new policies and systems. Key determinant of this flexibility is the higher management’s ability to understand the conceptual differences and diametrically opposite assumptions underlying the synchronous approach and the asynchronous approach. See for example Ten Assumptions of Conventional Exam vs Assumptions of LMS Based Online Exam
Please note that in the growth stage budgets become almost irrelevant. 

Efficiency and Effectiveness  Sub-stages of Growth Phase

Figure 4 highlights that there are two sub-stages of the growth stage. These are efficiency and convenience stage  (doing the thing right) and the effectiveness stage (doing the right thing). Initially, the features of LMS may inspire people to use many of them and over use them. But, then when the requirement for assessments come in, the faculty may realize that they are now overworked. Their initial euphoria and exhilaration now over, many faculty members are now complaining that they seem to be working round the clock. They now need to understand that they need to select activities according to the learning goal. 
Copied from DDW article
Effectiveness stage is represented by the concerns of learning outcomes and assurance of learning outcomes. The activities and resources of an LMS are like a carpenter’s tool box. A saw is only good for cutting, where is a drill machine can only make a hole, and a hammer is for driving the nail in. We may be tempted to use a hammer for cutting with the help of a chisel, but it will do lesser of cutting but more of destroying. The saw is better for cutting (and of course the right kind of saw). Similarly, the faculty need to realize that forums are good for certain heavy duty discussions and chat is useful for smaller interactions. Assignment is good for reflections and homework but is not good for taking quizzes. Quiz activity is more appropriate for taking exams, it has all types of exam formats. One activity can’t be a substitute for another. 
The concerns for this phase relate to implementation of competences (learning outcomes) and connecting them with the activities in the LMS environment. Assurance of learning goals are met through attainment targets of competences linked to the LMS activities and resources. 
The issue to beware in the growth stage is that initial success breeds both arrogance and carelessness, and it feels as if the sky is literally the limit. There is a tremendous learning that needs to take place not only by the students and faculty but also the HoDs, Deans and in all the supervisory and execution departments related to operations of online learning. Past experiences may not be able to help to sustain the growth, unless accompanied by massive awareness and hands on training. 

Stage 3: Maturation

Stage 2 can be frantic, but it’s also energizing and fun and adrenaline pumping. However, inevitably, reality sets in. Limits of the existing systems and the tediousness of existing methods start taking a toll. Growth slows down. Suddenly your Adrenalin is no longer pumping. Drudgery starts setting in.

“If there isn’t a new technology sneaking up on you, Stage 3 can actually last for many years. However, it’s a much more stable, slow-growth period of time. Management systems settle down, but they often become ossified and bureaucratic” [2]. You need a different kind of managerial skills in Stage 3; where Stage 2 is typically filled with younger, high-energy, entrepreneurial types, Stage 3 requires more formal-training who understand metrics and are focused on effectiveness. This is the stage where HoDs need training, where the academic managers need training, where the examination department needs training, where all other ancillary departments need training. Policies would become more formal and move from more individual discretion to more systematic implementations. Assurance of learning through LMS competencies’ structure becomes the criteria for measuring the effectiveness of courses. 

Stage 4: Transition

This is the stage where we require immense flexibility, extensibility, and maintainability in the infrastructure. How soon one can adapt the product to different features, add new features, customize existing features, add new bespoke applications, connect to different clients and different target markets. Moodle LMS that we are using has been customized for schools, colleges, universities, learning organizations, training organizations, think tanks, consulting organizations, and in areas where the underlying system is hidden and the system only appears as a generic website. 
  • Declared Registered Sites: 161,000 (there are many that have not yet registered like ours)
  • Courses: 23,000,000
  • Teachers/Students/Users: 196,000,000
  • Course Registrations/Enrolments: 977,000,000
  • Forum posts: 406,000,000
  • Resources: 198,000,000
  • Quiz questions: 2,171,000,000
  • Countries: 238 
  • Ref: This data was pulled from https://stats.moodle.org/ on April 10, 2020
It is here that the versatility of LMS has proven itself since its inception in the early 2000s. Starting from a conventional web application it quickly morphed itself to an app based interface. It is an open source environment that allows for immense customization and extension testifying to its usage. It is also free, and allows integration with the other systems and customization.  If you can think of a feature, you will find that it is already there because of the open source contributions by thousands of very techy universities. There are currently 1678 plugins, 944 devs, and 429.5K recent downloads [https://moodle.org/plugins/]

We hope that the incorporation of new plugins and the promise of new generations and new versions of Moodle would provide for us a path for continuous improvement and customization due to its open structure. We have embarked in further development of our own LMS enhancement project and its integration with LMS to join the open-source movement and provide plugins that would help other universities. 


[1] See the now-classic Harvard Business Review article “Managing the Four Stages of EDP Growth” (January, 1974).
[2] Credit: This post is inspired by Jim Ware’s post on Understanding the Four Critical Stages of Technology Growth and has been completely rehashed in the context of technology assimilation and implementation of LMS Technology in the current context of Pakistan and our current requirements. Figure 1 and Figure 2 are a redrawing on powerpoint of the two pencil sketches from this Jim Ware’s post. 


  1. Assumptions of Conventional Exam vs Assumptions of LMS Based Online Exam
  2. How much time does it take to write an Exam in the LMS Based Online Exam Taken in Asynchronous Mode
  3. How to Design LMS Based Online Examinations in Asynchronous Mode – New!
  4. Understanding the Four Critical Stages of LMS Technology Assimilation- A Case Study of a Pakistani University
  5. Using Rubrics to Manage Anxiety Created by LMS Based Online Assignments
  6. Why There are so Many Assignments on the LMS

See Also: 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *