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Monday, June 17, 2013

How to Choose the Right Learning Management System by Katie Ash

Katie Ash writes, "Choosing a learning management system is one of the most costly and time-consuming decisions schools or districts must make as they expand their technological infrastructures".


An LMS is a robust piece of software that provides an online portal for classrooms, serving administrative functions for educators and allowing students to view assignments, grades, and learning materials. Some can be used to deliver entire courses. Once an LMS is in place, it can be difficult and expensive to switch to a different one. That's why making sure it's a good fit initially is crucial.

Ed-tech experts say many schools and districts don't have a good understanding, however, of how to choose and evaluate the different systems available. Several experts offer these suggestions for how to do it right: 

1. Start by figuring out what you want from your learning management system and how it fits into the overall teaching and learning structure of your school or district. 

"You really need to be having a discussion about your overall program goals," says John Watson, the founder of the Durango, Colo.-based Evergreen Education Group, which conducts research on the use of technology in schools. "The LMS decision has to be tied to your content choices and to the devices that students are going to be accessing the materials with."

Many LMS companies boast a dizzying array of features, says Watson, so it's important to enter the discussion with an idea of what students, teachers, and administrators need from the system. He groups options into three categories—don't need, nice-to-have, and must-have—to narrow the choices and avoid paying for features that aren't needed or won't be used.

Kristy Murray, the director of the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative, agrees. The initiative, which is run by the U.S. Department of Defense, is charged with prototyping and testing the latest learning technologies. 

"Sometimes you may get more bells and whistles with more money, but you may not need more bells and whistles," Murray says. "The most important thing you can do is sit down with your team and identify the requirements for your particular case." In some instances, a simpler, lightweight LMS may be more functional and easier to use than a complex, sophisticated system, she says. 

Peter Berking, the instructional systems designer for the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative, and co-author of the paper "Choosing a Learning Management SystemRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader," says it's important to evaluate whether your school or district even needs an LMS. 

"You may have your heart set on it, but a Web portal or content repository ... could do just fine," he says. Berking also suggests looking into partnering with other schools or districts to piggyback on an existing LMS, which could provide cost savings. 

In fact, definitions of what an LMS is and should be able to do vary widely from district to district, says Themistocles Sparangis, the chief technology officer for the 670,000-student Los Angeles school district, which is preparing a request for proposals, or RFP, for a new system. (The district currently uses the open source LMS Moodle.) 

"You have to define [what an LMS is] before you can select it," he says. "Your vendors are going to try to define [an LMS] within their product line, but I think K-12 is still struggling to figure out what it is."
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Related links 
7 Things You Should Know About Personal Learning Environments
7 Things You Should Know About LMS Evaluation 
7 Things You Should Know About LMS Alternatives
Source: Education Week