Much like many industries, the education sector has gone through advancements due to technological innovations. While the traditional classroom learning set-up still works, the needs of your students and faculty members are changing.
How do you deal with managing student-related information such as grades and scores? How do you help educators provide the best learning experience while making sure that they are working efficiently? What do you do when disasters strike–for instance, the COVID-19 virus causing lockdowns on a global scale–and students cannot come to school? Moreover, what can you do to improve access to course materials?
Fortunately, learning management systems (LMS) are developed to improve learner engagement and execute remote learning efforts. Universities, schools, and other institutions can offer online or hybrid classes using an LMS. What’s more, many of these platforms include advanced features to manage students, facilitate collaboration, and more.
The only question now is, can these digital learning platforms equip schools and universities to meet the latest academic requirements and trends?
LMS Systems Guide Table of Contents
- Why Do You Need an LMS?
- Important Factors in Choosing an LMS
- List of Popular Learning Management Systems
- Which LMS Best Fits Your Needs?
1. Why Do You Need an LMS?
Various disruptive factors are changing the academe in the last few years. Students are as competitive as ever. Furthermore, the rising costs and issues involving student debt are causing everyone to consider their educational options. Furthermore, the student demographics are also changing significantly as more institutions target more diverse populations.
In a recent study, almost 50% of respondents prefer online courses due to existing commitments such as jobs, family, and others. Furthermore, specific subjects that usually do not receive significant funding in a typical educational setting can now be offered online.
The desire to deliver more courses and resources using less funding demands different delivery models. Innovations like LMS allow schools and universities to face such challenges. Additionally, such platforms provide course developers with valuable insights to optimize operations and adjust to students’ needs.
In this article, we will explore various digital learning solutions that will fit various requirements of students, educators, and administrators. But first, let us take a look at important factors to consider when evaluating an LMS.
2. Important Factors in Choosing an LMS
Learning management systems vary based on each target market. Some offer a bare-bones interface and will need an experienced developer to set-up. Meanwhile, others are fully-featured and can be used right out of the box. However, at its core are learning-related features.
With that said, we have listed some of the most important core functionalities that you should consider when choosing an LMS:
Student and Teacher Collaboration
Using a new model of teaching through LMS entails different styles of collaboration that are not usually seen in a typical classroom setting. It includes features that facilitate easy and seamless collaboration between teachers and students.
A real-time communication platform should be included, such as chat or integration to a VoIP service. This allows teachers to talk to the students while conducting live video or audio classes. Similarly, everyone should also have access to asynchronous communication, such as forums or conversation threads. This way, class members can post messages and replies, even outside class hours. Additionally, a one-to-one communication channel should be available as well for teacher-student consultations.
More importantly, these features should be contextual. That means class facilitators should be able to post topics for discussion, course materials, or assignments where students can also ask questions and other concerns. This makes it easy to track, moderate, and monitor conversations.
Quizzes and Tests
Any robust LMS should have a built-in quiz or test engine. Because educators are not physically present, they cannot ensure that students are religiously fulfilling their coursework. The only way they can properly evaluate the students is through assessment. Unfortunately, while uploading a word file with questions can do the task, it is not efficient.
Facilitators should be able to create questions that can be saved into a “bank.” Additionally, they should be able to create questions of different types, from multiple choices to essays. Each type should have a layout that can be easily understood by students.
Furthermore, teachers should be able to mark items as correct or wrong easily. Better yet, the test engine should be able to check the students’ work and compute the score with its associated grading rubric. For essay-type tests, teachers should have a way to provide reviews or feedback. Some LMS also have the ability to limit the attempts to take the test, randomize questions, or set a timer for specific questions.
Having these smart solutions in creating and providing evaluations will allow educators to develop creative questions that will test the students’ critical thinking and other skills. Objective quizzes where participants just memorize facts are not ideal for such settings as answers can be searched on the Internet and other resources. Hence, the time saved from using such solutions will ensure that teachers can work efficiently while providing high-quality education.
Data and Reports
Having classes and courses conducted using an LMS provides an opportunity to collect data that are otherwise difficult to gather in a classroom. Reports can be generated from this information to provide you with insights. The following reporting features should be natively available in an LMS:
- Test scoring and assessment throughout the course
- Student progress reporting through materials and course
- Course time tracking (for self-paced classes)
- Course feedback from the students
- Facilitator and teacher assessment by students
- Student engagement and participation
These reports should be generated in just a few steps, or better yet, automatically.
The rapid growth of the mobile learning market means a majority of online class participants use smartphones or tablets to complete their coursework. In fact, it is expected to reach up to $38 billion by the end of 2020, proving that mobile devices are ubiquitous.
As such, an LMS platform should be accessible using these devices. It should adapt a responsive design, so the web portal is much more flexible. Or, a mobile version of the LMS should be available for a more optimized experience.
The mobility also allows students to access course material using cellular data. The flexibility allows schools and universities to offer courses even to those outside the reach of wired Internet connections. Participants with hectic schedules can also access online classes at their convenience.
3. List of Popular Learning Management Systems
Moodle is a free and open-source learning platform that has been around for quite some time. While it does not look as modern or as sleek as paid competitors, its robust functionalities make it a great option for any academic institution. The LMS is fully customizable and extensible to perfectly fit your needs. The thousands of community-developed plugins will also allow you to add new functionalities. Furthermore, it seamlessly integrates with solutions like NextCloud, Google Apps, Microsoft Office 365, and more.
In the past, many administrators are intimidated by Moodle due to the required technical skills during set-up. Coupled with the need for your own server, it can be overwhelming to configure. However, with the release of MoodleCloud, it is now easy to get started without the set-up and the server. Much like paid options, all you have to do is sign-up, and you can start creating and publishing classes. The Free Forever plan allows 50 students with 200 MB upload limitations. The paid plans start at $80/year for Starter.
Moodle also offers solutions specific to various educational needs like Moodle App, Moodle Education, MoodleNet, Moodle Workplace, and Certified Integrations and Partnerships.
Blackboard is one of the most popular names in the digital learning market. The platform comes in both software-as-a-service (SaaS) and non-SaaS models. The service provider offers all core learning management features as well as powerful data analytics, communication channels, collaboration tools, and web conferencing. Class facilitators can easily deliver homework, tests, and track grades. They can also manage online and blended classes.
Their core product, Blackboard Learn, features a responsive user interface for improved accessibility. Along with the core LMS features, it also comes with Blackboard Analytics that will allow you to see valuable insights such as student performance, engagement, and more. The company also released Blackboard Open LMS powered by Moodle. This is a more extensible version of BlackBoard services where you can customize various aspects of your courses.
Blackboard targets enterprise-level and mid-level market segments. They provide client-specific services, so you will need to book a demonstration to get a personal quote.
Schoology is another fully-featured learning platform that aims to provide all the tools that you need to design lessons, communicate with students, and collaborate with educators. Its strength lies in its focus on building and connecting your learning community from students to administrators. What’s more, it not only includes class-level channels but also allows you to connect your entire school. This way, you can create online spaces where students can engage with their teachers outside class hours.
Furthermore, Schoology makes it easy to communicate and share resources with educators from other schools and across districts. It also comes with a professional learning community (PLC) where your faculty members can share ideas and assets with others around the globe. Moreover, the platform readily integrates with third-party software from Google Drive to Dropbox. That means you can incorporate your existing class tools within the Schoology system.
Schoology is available in Basic and Enterprise packages. The former gives you access to the free version of the learning management system. Meanwhile, the latter includes all advanced features along with communication channels, classroom integrations, resources from other educators, and more.
4. Google Classroom
As one of the leading names in information technology, Google will not miss the chance to offer education-centric tools. As part of the Google for Education initiative, they launched Google Classroom. If you are already using G Suite or planning to take advantage of Google solutions, this LMS integrates with the rest of the company’s products without the need for complicated configuration or set-up.
The platform helps teachers create classes, send assignments, communicate with students, grade coursework, and post feedback all in one place. It also streamlines repetitive tasks so educators can focus on teaching. With its Material Design, everyone can sign-in on any device using any modern browser. Google Classroom is also available on Android and iOS for students on-the-go. While it is not as comprehensive as other LMS, its integration with the rest of Google products makes it a powerful platform.
The good news is Google Classroom is free. Your school or district only needs to sign-up for a G Suite for Education account for you to access Classroom.
5. Canvas by Instructure
Canvas by Instructure is a popular learning ecosystem among colleges and universities. Some of its clients are The University of Utah and the University of Central Florida. It dubs itself as the world’s fastest-growing learning management platform. The LMS is part of its digital learning solutions that include powerful course assemblers, dashboards, test engines, and more.
The platform’s modules allow educators to organize course work and content into units. The Outcomes feature combines state-wide assessment and grading rubrics that allow administrators to align with existing standards. It even includes a comprehensive assessment management function specifically for K-12 school districts. The LMS also includes Gradebook and SpeedGrader, two of the most flexible and efficient grading tools in the market.
6. D2L Brightspace
D2L, formerly known as Desire2Learn, is not new to the online education market. Their platform Brightspace is one of the first LMS and still remains as one of the most well-known platforms around. It is perfect for institutions looking for solutions targeted towards blended learning and competency-based education (CBE). CBE courses let students demonstrate their skills and allow them to attend a custom set of courses based on their competencies. The Brightspace ePortfolio is a customizable feature where students can upload, organize, share, and reflect upon their work. Combined with the Prior Learning Module, the platform determines the students’ strengths and weaknesses for a tailored learning experience.
7. Absorb LMS
Absorb LMS was developed for large enterprises, small and medium businesses, and public institutions. It is also perfect for schools and universities looking for a holistic learning management system. Its core features are designed around a fast-paced learning environment while maintaining engagement and better outcomes. Aside from creating your own courses, Absorb LMS includes extensive eLearning Content Libraries. These pre-made online courses allow you to publish classes right away. It also comes with powerful features such as smart administration, learner engagement and experience modules, integrations, and mobile applications.
If you already have a WordPress powered website and want to offer courses, then there’s no need to subscribe to a separate platform. LearnDash is a robust plugin that allows you to create, manage, modify, and publish classes right in the popular content management system (CMS). Its powerful course builder is easy to use with its drag-and-drop layout. You can create multi-layer courses and even reuse content from one class to another. The plugin also includes a Focus Mode that lets your students focus on the coursework. It also comes with functionalities such as drip-feed content, GradeBook integration, certificates, badges, and much more.
CertCentral is perfect for institutions that offer certificate training programs and continuing education. Its seamless interface allows efficient course development and certifications. The drag-and-drop layout allows you to quickly create content and customize it for various courses. Aside from the core LMS features, it includes advanced functionalities such as enhanced testing, custom certificates, compliance and security, and reporting and analytics. It also integrates with Stripe so potential students can subscribe to courses right away.
10. Edmodo LMS
Edmodo LMS aims to bridge teachers, students, parents, and administrators in one platform. These academic participants can create posts and messages using the built-in communication tool that resembles a social media platform. Teachers can create content, quizzes, and other digital assets. They can even share resources with other educators. Students will enjoy the built-in planner that syncs with all their classes, including course content, tests, and more. Parents also have access to their children’s grades and scores in real-time. They can easily get in touch with teachers to ensure that they are always in sync.
4. Which LMS Best Fits Your Needs?
The perfect LMS will depend on the type of academic institution, classes, student demographics, and faculty members. Open-source solutions like Moodle provide the most flexibility, but you will need a competent developer to get it running. Google Classroom and Edmodo LMS are perfect for K-12 programs with their ease-of-use and accessibility. On the other hand, Absorb LMS and CertCentral fit institutions that offer training and certifications for continuous learning. That said, we recommend taking a close look at each platform before choosing which one to invest in.
As you evaluate these systems, ensure that all core features are built-in from course builders to communication channels. Remember that an LMS is meant to enhance the students’ learning experience and improve the educators’ workflow. By taking these into consideration, you can be sure that you will find the platform that will take your educational programs to the next level.