No one is able to help me understand exactly what defines a learning management system (LMS). Common Sense Media has one of the better definitions that I’ve come across:
A platform for the administration, documentation, delivery, tracking and reporting of online learning activities.
Technology coordinators and curriculum directors are likely to have their own ideas, whereas many superintendents and principals simply know their district or school needs an LMS. Make no mistake, there’s a tremendous amount of ambiguity when it comes to learning management systems.
Often, higher education receives blame for the confusion. Vendors that have been successful creating learning management systems for college and universities often struggle to make a footprint in K-12. But the blame shouldn't necessarily be placed on vendors. After all, plenty of other companies, including the one I work for, have launched their version of a learning management system, likely leading to even more ubiquity.
Here are seven characteristics that help further define a learning management system. Hopefully, they’ll lead to a better understanding for you as well.
At the core of any learning management system is its tools for online learning. Discussion boards, email, chat, blogs, classwork management tools and calendars are only a few of the many applications that typically appear inside an LMS. These tools help students learn in new ways, save teachers time, and often differentiate one learning management system from another.
Can users access your LMS on smartphones, tablets and desktop computers? What about on Wi-Fi at home or even without an internet connection? A learning management system created only for mobile devices limits its potential for usage. Similarly, an LMS that doesn't provide the same standard desktop features on mobile devices prevents anytime, anywhere learning, which is a common objective of any learning management system.
A learning management system should play nicely with other technology. If nothing else, an LMS should support single sign-on, account provisioning from a school's student information system (SIS), and be able to include content and resources from other sources besides what the vendor provides.
Content An LMS should allow for the creation of coursework, assignments and assessments. Whether it's elementary math, digital citizenship or AP physics, the delivery of online content, including video, inside a learning management system provides opportunities to support new teaching and learning modalities such as the flipped classroom.
Many LMS providers will point to the creation of personalized learning plans as a result of LMS adoption and usage. While true, the use of student data is a hot topic, and schools listening to this vendor pitch as the reason to use its solution should proceed with caution. Plan on at least using your LMS to track more common student outcomes, such as progress throughout a semester or year and grades in an integrated LMS gradebook.
Most technology in our schools is underused. To get the most from your learning management system, make sure you receive proper training. A free LMS often will force you to watch videos and learn at the same pace as every other customer. In-person or online training should be customized to your needs. And don't forget to ask about live support hours via phone, email and chat and on social media.
Student safety is overlooked in most learning management systems. As mentioned earlier, the privacy and security of student data is paramount. Schools and districts should be assured that the LMS accounts they provide to students are monitored and used to protect students. These safety controls are either nonexistent in most learning management systems, are severely limited, or force school officials and even teachers to spend time they don’t have looking through blocked content logs or just ignoring them altogether.
Rob Yoegel is Vice President of Marketing at Gaggle where he leads all marketing initiatives, promoting a consistent brand message, engagement, sales, customer retention and positive customer behavior. He has developed an award-winning content marketing program and spent more than a decade building successful content, sales and marketing initiatives online for a business-to-business and consumer enthusiast publishing company. Follow Gaggle on Twitter @Gaggle_K12 and Rob @RobYoegel.