How to Choose an LMS for Your Classroom
Learning Management Systems have grown significantly in both power and effectiveness since the first computer-based "e-learning" systems were developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The current market is divided into a number of different categories of systems all designed for distinct segments of the educational process. The Learning Management System or LMS is aimed at promoting a framework in which the entire educational cycle can be presented and managed.
At its heart, an LMS is a delivery mechanism as opposed to an authoring platform or research tool. This is not to say some LMS platforms allow course construction. Rather it clarifies the focus of the toolset. For example, the purpose of an LMS like Brightspace, is to not only deliver educational coursework, exams and offer access to research and study materials, but it also manages access and tracks student progress through both individual courses and more generalized curricula and gives teachers a way to engage with and retain students.
Benefits of a Learning Management System
What most complex systems offer that individuals lack is the ability to capture the majority of the data associated with a process and then to present that data in a form that is most useful for the person or persons tasked with managing the process goals. Education is one field that benefits significantly from analysis of data captured through the ongoing process of advancing students' knowledge and the periodic testing of their progress.
Learning Management Systems also promise a means by which instructors can adjust educational coursework to fit an individual student's needs. Courses, tests and research tools can be adjusted to match the student's capabilities and reduce the possibility of frustration and failure while replacing them with a curriculum that a student can follow at their own speed.
This is vitally important in nearly any educational context, because one of the key weaknesses of one-to-many instruction is the near certainty someone is either being left behind or someone is so far ahead they are unable to participate fully.
LMS Features to Look For
Systems like these are complex by their nature, which means they are likely to have a wide variety of features which may be less than clear on first examination. As with any complex project, the first step is to make evaluation as simple as possible and check for the most important features.
Step One is documentation and instructions. Complex software and hardware are already expensive. Even if they aren't costing you a lot of money they are probably costing you a fair amount of time. The fastest way to make a complex product twice as expensive is to find out you're on your own when it comes to the documentation. Instructions are key. If a Learning Management System can't teach you how to use its own software, you have a bigger problem than you think.
Second is support, something which a LMS company should make a priority. Complex systems often end up adapted to tasks they may not have been specifically designed for. In such a situation it is always a good idea to have a knowledgeable support representative available to ask questions, brainstorm and evaluate the solutions you come up with. Who knows, you might author the next great feature!
Third is platform flexibility. As everyone knows, software grows more expensive as it becomes less able to interoperate with the rest of your infrastructure. Picking a solution that requires a vertical technology stack may end up being more expensive than it is worth.
What You Can Accomplish With Learning Management
What e-learning has always promised is an unfettered ability to motivate students. With the right kind of production values, there is no reason learning can't be just as effective as the world's most valuable advertising campaigns. Just imagine if the Pythagorean Theorem were as easy to remember as this week's top movie tagline.
This is truer today than it has ever been. The rise of technologies like e-books prove individuals are willing to incorporate technology to do things formerly accomplished by other means. Now, with practically every human being carrying a full-featured television production studio around in their pocket, there really are very few excuses left for teachers who say it can't be done. If Learning Management Systems can provide the framework, and the instructional materials are as close as your address book, the sky may actually be the only limit.
Planning is the real key to education management. When teachers have discovered the best way to use the tools now available to them as a result of the huge advances in technology, education will catch up, and the results should be quite exciting.
Melanie Nathan is an educational technology professional who works Top Draw, an Edmonton, AB digital strategy company. She has a passion for teaching and empowering others. She also writes for Huffington Post, Examiner and Business.com. Connect with Melanie on Twitter to learn more.