In recent blog posts, I’ve been focusing on educational technology initiatives that I consider game changers for K-12 schools. So far I’ve written about one-to-one computer programs and Open Educational Resources (OER). As many districts that have undertaken these two initiatives have found, they need a platform to house their teachers’ digital instructional content, present teachers’ lessons and gather students’ assignments and feedback. To address these needs, districts are widely adopting learning management systems (LMS) as the digital hub for their classrooms.
An LMS is a full instructional platform that can be used for online or blended learning courses, and also to augment traditional classroom instruction. Top-selling LMS vendors include Blackboard, Canvas and Schoology. Additionally, two no-charge solutions are gaining a strong foothold in U.S. classrooms: Edmodo and Google Classroom — part of Google’s G Suite for Education. Schools also widely use Moodle, a no-charge open-source LMS platform supported by its user community.
Common LMS features include:
• Resources. A home for teachers’ digital instructional content and lessons.
• Assignments. A place where teachers can assign, collect, grade and return students’ work.
• Assessments. A means for quizzes and tests to be delivered, collected, graded and returned.
• Announcements. An area where teachers can post information and alerts for students.
• Discussion boards. A platform for students’ online discussions.
Additionally, some LMSes have a school-to-home communication section for parents. Currently most LMSes aren’t trying to replicate the common features of a student information system (SIS), which includes gradebooks, attendance, course scheduling, behavior incidents, etc. However, districts that employ an LMS will often work to integrate it with their SIS and other district-supported software and apps. Unfortunately it can be difficult to establish interoperability between a district’s range of systems and applications with the goal of providing each user with a single log-in and password.
The game-changer aspect I find in schools’ use of an LMS, especially those that also employ one-to-one computing and OER, is how it becomes the classroom’s digital hub. As some educators have described it, the LMS is the face of the classroom, or a teacher’s primary toolbox where various digital curricular resources can be easily housed and accessed. With this central platform, the transfer of assignments, quizzes, information and comments between teachers and students can be greatly simplified.
Additionally, LMSes have the potential to further personalized learning opportunities for students, to give teachers access to more real-time information on their students’ progress and to build greater collaboration among teachers and between students.
But as always, there’s little chance that technology alone can transform the classrooms of teachers who are unwilling to relinquish old-school traditions and instructional models, and that includes purchasing an LMS. Extensive professional development and ongoing teacher support will be required for schools to successfully implement an LMS. As in all new initiatives that require significant transitional work for teachers, providing clear answers to their “so how does this benefit my students?” questions is key.
For further information on district LMS adoptions, a 2016 eSchool News article highlights how three districts selected and implemented an LMS, and in 2014, Education Week compiled a special report, Piecing Together a Smart LMS Strategy, providing helpful and still-relevant information for districts beginning an LMS selection process.