Today’s post is a special guest blog post by Brad Grimes. Brad is an expert in LMS and I couldn’t think of anyone better to post about one of the most important decisions a school needs to make. Brad goes in to great detail about what schools need to consider and also summarises his top 3 LMS available right now and why he thinks they are the best.
Choosing the Right Learning Management System
Technology has become an integral component of today’s educational system. Gone are the days of grade books hand written by teachers. Online and mobile communication between school administration, teachers, students and parents will become the de facto standard. With many schools assessing the implementation of digital platforms and Learning Management Systems (LMS), teachers’ abilities to make the best use of these systems are increasingly critical. Given the main function of a teacher is to educate, the setup and learning curve for LMS must be carefully assessed in addition to the obvious benefits such systems bring.
One of the key benefits of using a LMS is to establish a centralised system to manage the needs of students and teachers. It enables teachers to have their lesson plans, course material, tests, grading and attendance to be stored on a single platform. It allows students to access selected content, submit assignments and questions, and check grades. Teachers can implement videos and e-books into their lessons to further complement the standard teaching material. Students can also link videos they found useful for the understanding of a particular concept and share it with other students. By providing a platform for teacher-student collaboration, the LMS, in additional to being a time saver for the teachers, ultimately extends the learning process beyond the classroom.
When it comes to using digital and mobile technology, our children are often way ahead of us on the learning curve. Mobile learning is taking over the way we teach, given kids today are more likely to read a book on their tablets than to get a book from the library. By harnessing their passion for technology and providing them with an interactive platform to engage beyond the classroom, the LMS becomes a fun tool with which educators can now engage the students whenever and wherever.
Importance of Data
With all of the information that is stored, the LMS is a powerful data house that can be used by teachers and school administrators in a variety of ways. It allows teachers to not only access student performance data over the year, but also to quickly identify the lower performing students for quick remediation.
The data is also transferrable, to another school, or to another teacher in a different grade as the students are moved. This data will help the new teacher gain a snapshot of the past performances of the transferred student and devise a plan to assist rather than spending a month in evaluations to come to the same conclusion.
The LMS Data is also of benefit to the administration. Principals and superintendents gain the ability to view a school district, a single school, or even an individual teacher to analyse performances. The ability to target areas that need improvements is invaluable, and the LMS, in essence, strengthens the quality of education being provided to the entire community.
How to Choose
What are the most important factors in choosing a Learning Management System? Well, there are several.
Since we all prefer the path of least resistance, the LMS must be easy to implement and can integrate seamlessly so it is not a disruption to the students. Since we all like instant gratification, the LMS must provide immediate value. It is only when the values are truly significant enough will the teachers be willing to adopt a new platform. Teachers often do not have time to start learning something new, even when they are dissatisfied with what they currently use. Therefore, ease of use is essential for a LMS to be successfully adopted.
Once adopted, the question becomes if the LMS platform can produce results. By results, we do not mean that a bunch of information is now given, but that we can see improvements in our children’s school performances. Can individual performance deficiencies be pinpointed by the LMS so the teachers to can target the specific areas and help students catch up to the rest of the class? So ask and assess the types of data the LMS system can output. Always try to gain some sort of trial period to use this technology so you can clearly ascertain if this platform will give you the data you need. In terms of increasing test scores, this is paramount. If the platform isn’t able to increase student achievements, then it is time to end the conversation.
Just as student weaknesses can be pin pointed, the LMS platform should also be able to deliver data to the school administration with regards to teacher performances. Which teachers have the lowest level of student advancements over a given period of time and need a bit of guidance in their approach? Which teachers have the lowest standardised test scores and in what specific subjects? In fact, the teachers themselves can see the areas they need to work on.
One issue that keeps coming up through speaking with several educators is the fact they must use many different platforms to accomplish their goals. I have even spoken with a teacher that had to use six different platforms to teach her students; all with different logins and passwords. Think of the inefficiency and time wasted. It is no wonder that teachers despise using multiple platforms. So try to find one platform that will handle the entire workload of students, teachers and administrators rather than getting one system for each task. From grade book to attendance tracking to test preparation, the platform should have what is needed every single school day.
In addition to having a wide array of features, the platform should also be able to increase student and parent engagement. Studies have shown that the more the parents are involved with the education process, the better the students perform in school. So how do you get the parents engaged? Some platforms have a built in notification system for any new event such as assignments, quizzes and tests. Some have a way for parents to check their students’ progress via a mobile application. Whatever the method, try to find a way to get the parents involved and communicate directly with them.
Another great asset for the platform should be the ability to import other technologies into it such as videos and e-books. How easy is it for these to be embedded in lessons and shared across classes? This is a great resource especially for teachers, as they need as many tools as possible to convey a lesson that each individual child can understand.
All teachers have their own method of teaching and meeting the needs of each teacher is sometimes difficult. So how does the LMS accommodate flexibility? One way is to have it highly customisable. Make sure that teachers can enter their own assignments and create their own content along with pre-loaded content that is ready to use.
Clearly we want a LMS rich in functionality, full of meaningful data and intuitive to use without having to read a 1,000 page manual. So, is this LMS going to bankrupt us? All schools must take the cost of LMS into consideration as they are all constrained by budget. How much you are willing to spend should depend upon how long you will be committed to using the LMS, and the results you expect to gain. Some LMSs offer free accounts to entice you to sign up, but there is always a hidden cost lurking around the corner. Therefore do your homework to determine if the cost of the LMS is worth the results you will get. The answer should always be the determining factor for buying.
Below is a list of what I consider to be the best Learning Management Systems available today.
- Top Scholar – This LMS comes with a bevy of features that gives the teachers a wealth of tools and course management capabilities. Some of the main features include cloud hosting, mobile learning, classroom collaboration, personalized drives for storage, parent engagement, event notification system, assignment creation and management, pre-loaded content, thousands of e-books and videos, smart calendar with scheduling, language editor, text-to-speech, gradebook and real time actionable analytics, test preparation, educational games, classroom and assignment chat. Learn more at www.topscholar.co
- Schoology–This platform provides a great way to collaborate with others while engaging students with features such as classroom communication and mobile learning. Additional features include cloud hosting, custom branding and domains, gradebook and real time actionable analytics, audio/video recording, resource sharing and a learning community collaboration. Collaboration is the main feature here as Schoology provides a secure platform for students and teachers to communicate with groups across the globe and allows them to share resources with each other.
- Edmodo – Think of this as the Facebook of education. This platform has a look and feel of Facebook, which can be a good or bad thing depending on your views on Facebook, and allows for collaboration with other education groups across the globe. This platform allows you to create and join secure groups to communicate and share resources in addition to conducting polls and awarding badges for performance objectives. Additional features include the ability to create and manage standards and real-time actionable analytics.