A learning management system is a big deal.
This is a system that houses classroom communication, assignments, grades, and course discussions. This is the platform that your students, teachers, support staff, and parents will use to stay connected and engaged. This is the application your school community will click, open, and play with every day, and they will ultimately associate it with their school life.
So then what’s an admin to look for in an LMS? Here’s our take.
There will be a training and onboarding period for whatever system you select as your school-wide LMS. Allow ease-of-use be one of the guiding factors in your LMS search. A good platform should be intuitive; after clicking around for a few minutes it should give you a general sense of where things are and what they do.
Training should solidify these already-intuitive actions and aim to make educators superusers who can leverage the most powerful aspects of a platform. It should connect dots and impart strategies for meaningfully using the technology in the classroom.
But what if we already have an LMS that’s moderately easy to use and we don’t want to reinvent the wheel?
If you have a system you love, that’s great.
If you don’t - and you have the resources or opening to get something you do love - shake things up. Having a system that is kind-of-but-not-really easy to use shouldn’t keep you from switching to something savvier because your community has adjusted to a platform’s quirks.
The ease-of-use of a good LMS will pay off in the long run as educators and students are able to more quickly adapt and get to work year over year. Anything that makes day-to-day tasks easier for your community should be worth considering.
Your learning management system is important, but you also have a bottom line. We recommend asking about hidden costs, line items, and set-up fees when shopping around.
In researching the LMS landscape, we’ve found that it was common practice for companies to charge set-up fees for connecting a school to their platform (to be clear, we decided not to do that).
This means that learning management systems that boast a low cost-per-student might run you a higher bill than anticipated if you also need to collaborate with a company to connect their service to your student information system (we've found that most districts require this step).
What about free platforms? Is this a service we should be paying for at all?
Valid point. Freemium platforms are potentially amazing - and important. Allowing educators to test drive tools without fronting any cash or signing on your whole school is necessary.
Should you research and test free platforms? Absolutely. Is it possible you’ll find a school-wide solution you don’t need to pay for? Maybe. It’s unlikely that the school-wide functionality and support you’ll want in an LMS will be available totally free of cost, but that’s not to say you won’t be able to set up plenty of trials, pilots, or free accounts to learn about tools and decide what works best for you.
Short answer: a good LMS is worth paying for. Everyone at school will use this every day.
An LMS should ultimately connect your school community. It should be easier for a student to share and track work and message an instructor. Parent accounts should loop them in so they know what’s happening. Administrators should be able to quickly reach teachers or parents or send a school-wide message.
So if your LMS - or any of the platforms you’re researching - aren’t connecting you better, how is it an upgrade? If it’s not encouraging collaboration or engagement, how is this technology any better than assigning homework on the whiteboard and notifying parents of school events by sending home a flyer?
We have school email accounts. Isn’t that enough to connect everyone?
Keeping in touch via email is fine. Nothing wrong with that - and it’s good that everyone at your school has an account. Point here is that an LMS could take your communication to the next level, and if it’s not doing that, it’s a missed opportunity.
Your LMS search will include a set of criteria generated by your school community that represents what features and functions are most critical to classrooms. It might be rubrics. It might be Google Drive integration. It might be discussion or media features. It might be gamification.
All features aside, don’t neglect support. A winning learning management system will come with a support team that is fast, thorough, and easy to reach. It’s a good sign if a company is willing to give you a service rep or contact within the company to personally walk you through the process, support any training, and quickly field questions. Bonus points for platforms that use social media to field user questions, as well.
We don’t use our LMS very much. Should support still be a big factor for us?
Yes. Good support isn’t just about how much your school uses your LMS (although we would hope you use your LMS a lot). Good support is about making sure every single user has the best experience possible and is more focused on what’s happening in class than how to do something within the technology they must use.