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Justin Chando By Justin Chando • May 10, 2016

[Free E-book] Selecting the Learning Management System That is Right for Your School

It's here! Our new, free e-book Rewriting the Procurement Playbook: Selecting the LMS That is Right for Your School is now available. We're releasing another special preview for our fine blog readers. Enjoy! 

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I don’t know what it is about feature creep that gets me up in arms.

Actually, I do know what it is: I have one foot in the engineer space and another foot in the school administrator’s office. I’m an edtech maker, but I started as an edtech user. I understand why schools prioritize individual features as they research learning technology, but I also can see how that gets them into trouble.

I should back up.

I can point to a handful of learning management systems that suffer from feature creep. This is to say that, over time, as more features were requested by different users, those platforms added features to keep users happy and/or secure new business.

It all sounds well and good until things get out of hand. These new features may or may not be compatible with one another. Navigation becomes more and more complicated because a platform now has so many different bells and whistles. The game becomes about quantity of features over holistic quality of the product.

And it would be easy to believe that if any learning platform truly became as clunky and unusable as I’m making it out to be, people would just stop buying it. Right? Wrong.

The modern edtech procurement process for schools still leans heavily on individual features instead of satisfying institutional learning goals. And that's a problem.

The modern edtech procurement process for schools still leans heavily on individual features. When it becomes about satisfying a need for individual capabilities instead of building a larger workflow or satisfying institutional learning goals, you wind up with a convoluted matrix of features that educators use to adjudicate your product, adding a tick mark in a box next to everything you can do and leaving spaces blank when your tool doesn’t include a gamification option or self-grading quizzes.

And when you judge products by this system, the products with the most features win. And every single one of those features is rolled out to your school - even the stuff that you didn’t ask for.

Why This is Bad

You unveil your chosen learning platform that has badges for the bio teacher, the e-portfolios that were requested by English department, rubrics requested by the civics teachers, and the SIS integration your IT admin demanded. (Oh, and there’s also about sixteen other things that no one requested, but the platform has them anyway, because last year there were tons of requests from other teachers at other schools for these things.)

A few classrooms really take off because they have exactly what they need to be successful. Others lag behind, but give the platform the old college try.

Months go by and classrooms drop off. The platform is too complicated to be worth their time. Educators who were once superusers continue to use the platform, but less so than they did after the initial roll out. Following complaints from students that the platform isn’t easy to use, these educators curbed their overall usage.

A few select classrooms - likely headed by the educators who pushed hard for this product during the procurement process - continue to live and die by it.

Over time your adoption rate drops and drops. While individual features satisfied individual requests, the product as a whole is not a fit for your school. Your users think it’s too complicated and they find other, free solutions. You’re still paying for the product you selected and you’ll be stuck in that contract for another few years even though only a small percentage of your school is benefiting from the tool you’re paying thousands for.

Does this hit too close to home?

Here’s the takeaway: to focus an entire procurement process around a shortlist of features - likely created by a handful of vocal users - is how you appease a handful of vocal users, not your whole school.

If we think more about the processes a product will support instead of granular classroom actions, we’ll be better positioned to pick out products that actually serve school-wide needs.

And how does one do that? I’m so glad you asked.

Get the whole e-book on buying better edtech. Now available.

Rewriting the Procurement Playbook: