These Considerations can Help Schools Make an Informed LMS Selection
Educators sorting through the vast number of learning management systems (LMSs) currently on the K-12 market have to deal with the fact that different systems offer different features and to different degrees. That means that purchasing an LMS is a matter of deciding which one has the components that best suit your district's objectives and instructional philosophy.
After a process of evaluations and comparisons, Design39Campus opted for an LMS that, not unexpectedly to us, won the 2014 CODiE Award for “Best PK-12 Personalized Learning Solution.” So, here's what we learned from our buyer and user experience: No matter what else you opt for, there are five concerns that you should always take into account when selecting an LMS:
1. Facilitated Personalization
Few teachers, if any, have the time to continually adjust their instruction pacing, methods, and content to the needs of each student. But the computational power of an LMS can support personalized learning with little extra effort required by the teacher.
An LMS that supports personalized learning should ideally automatically recommend standards-aligned resources and activities for students. Those recommendations should be tailored specifically to a student's learning style while still allowing teachers to choose which activities are most appropriate. Finding the time to do something like this manually is a tremendous challenge, so while this is not a common feature among LMSs, our district finds it invaluable for instructional remediation, acceleration, and review. Additionally, it gives students the power to decide how they learn as the LMS automatically adapts to their learning styles.
Another excellent personalized learning support tool to have is a personal learning plan generated from a student's performance across all courses and containing goals developed specifically for that student. Such a plan allows students to reflect on their own progress with the help of mentors, teachers, and parents. And having a deeper understanding of their learning further enables students to take ownership of their own studies, which in turn, increases their motivation.
2. Collaboration and Sharing Tools
Research shows that effective communication among teachers, students, and parents fosters positive relationships, which in turn strengthens academic performance. So, among the communication tools that an LMS provides should be dashboards that allow teachers to easily share things like assignments, announcements, lesson outlines, resources and activities, learning objectives, and assessments with both students and parents.
And this sharing approach should extend to external publishers. Nowadays, practically every teacher has had the experience of moving back and forth between online silos of resources to get the material they want for a lesson. Over weeks and months, that wasted back-and-forth time adds up to a pretty significant loss of productivity; teachers may run out of time they needed to create the lesson in exactly the way they wanted, settling for “it'll do” instead of “they'll love this!” Making sure that any LMS you choose accommodates publisher resources compliant with IMS Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) specifications heads off this problem. With LTI, districts that have subscribed to publisher content can make their LMS their sole repository for all digital resources.
An added benefit of one-stop, built-in digital resource storage is that teachers can more easily share resources they've developed and collaborate on the creation of new ones. They can even create new versions of each other's previously-created lesson content (with the original author’s permission, or course), doing more with less.
3. Parental Access
Educators, policy makers, and researchers have cited parental involvement as critical to students’ success. For that reason, I would also recommend that an LMS have a parental portal, that makes it easy for parents and caregivers to stay updated about their child's school life.
To effectively keep the lines of communication open between home and school, ideally parents should be able to see their children’s calendar, daily lesson planner, individual learning plans, behavior, attendance and progress reports. It will ensure there are no communication gaps and support the positive teacher-parent relations that I mentioned earlier.
4. Real-time Standards-Based Reporting
An LMS should help teachers, schools, and districts move beyond traditional grade book reporting and tie instruction to relevant standards. Therefore, the reports generated should include state and/or Common Core standards in order to guide instruction and create a strong connection between curriculum, standards, and assessment.
An example of a standards-based report may be a standards mastery report showing a student’s performance on assignments, activities, and assessments, showing teachers that areas of the standards are not yet met or mastered. Another would be progress reports that give a clear indication of where a student is with regard to standards.
5. Ease of Use
Of all of the LMS attributes I've mentioned, ease of use is last but definitely not least. If the system's not user-friendly, teachers, parents, and students will resist using it. So, look for a login page that allows quick, easy access to coursework, instructional materials, notifications, personal learning plans, and so on by all types of devices. It's also a good idea for the system to include the option of an interface designed specifically for use by younger learners. This ensures that all users enjoy the benefits cited above.