A Learning Management System (or LMS for short) is an online tool to manage and deploy your learning. Almost 20 years old, it hasn't changed much in terms of typical features and how it's used.
In this article we will look at what an LMS really is, the common brands as well as give you an overview of best practice uses. Other articles in this blog will go into deeper details in such aspects as deployment, best practices and so on.
Do I need an LMS?
Great question. Many schools and districts jump to the conclusion that an LMS will solve all their woes in their digital classroom.
If you are using technology as a primary means of instruction, you do need some form of learning management. But an 'LMS' as designed 20 years ago, when we didn't even imagine that one day powerful computing power would make it into our pockets ... not so sure.
Another posting on this blog will cover this question in more detail.
Moodle is the most often quoted LMS in our schools today. It helped bring down the barrier to adoption for LMS' as it made it readily available, and some would contend, made it more affordable.
It is by far the most popular LMS on the planet, owing to it being Open Source (more on that in a separate posting). So you can download it, and ask your IT to set it up for you, and you are good to go.
However, as time went by, reality set it.
If you factor in the total cost of ownership, Moodle is actually not that cheap. You need servers, you need someone to manage it. Owing to its design, the maintenance and upkeep can be very costly.
Very few Moodle installs are 'stock installs', in other words, with no customizations. Most would need to add plugins, which are often developed ad-hoc by volunteers. Some are up to date, many are not. Making any upgrade can be a nightmare (and hence, costly).
Furthermore, as the core developers (at least the original ones) were (1) volunteer, (2) teachers, the project did not launch with proper oversight. You have issues in the program itself, including many security problems (who wants to see their student list stolen and posted online?)
In fact, many schools simply archive their Moodle install, and start a fresh one each year, owing to its inflexibility and the likelihood that it's out of date by the end of the year.
And we didn't yet address the bad user interface, the outdated pedagogical design (including handling different roles and permissions) and its challenges when handling a high number of students (unless you are willing to invest in massive servers).
In short, stay away, unless all you need is an assignment holder and you are OK taking a security risk.
Commercial LMS' -- Blackboard, Canvas, Desire2Learn
Now we come to the dominant players in this market. Granted Blackboard has been on the down swing, losing market share, and laying off personnel, it is still a recognisable name.
Here is one of the market's best kept secrets. These LMS' were not designed for K12. That's right. They were designed for Higher-Ed (Don't believe us? Take a look at their client list, mostly universities and colleges).
And they are top-notch for this type of environment. Complex assessments, integration with campus management systems, complete settings to customize your content to your liking.
We have seen districts evaluate LMS' and settle on one of these. Then for the schools to simply ignore this recommendation and look for something else. Why? Because districts starts with the premise How do we get the most complete LMS? and they build their request for proposals based on this. When in fact, schools and teachers are asking, How do I use this in MY classroom with MY students?.
ILIAS - A most complete LMS
Ilias is not as famous in North America as it is in Europe. It actually pre-dates Moodle by about a year.
Ilias is an open-source LMS that is extremely powerful -- by far our favourite. It rivals (and often outmanoeuvres) the best paid LMS.
However, it remains (like the ones above) geared towards Higher-Ed.
Google Classroom has been growing in popularity and use almost exponentially over the last few years, owing to two major factors. First, it's free. Second, is is very simple to use. Links to the students Google email and to Google Docs.
Most teachers will not deploy complex contents or integrate on their own with third-party applications. Google Classroom has hit this segment and hit it well.
We can't think of a reason to recommend NOT to use it, when it fulfils most needs out of the box (assuming what you need is an LMS, and not a digital classroom).
If you made it this far in this post, congratulations, you are really keen on deploying a good digital classroom (please be sure to read other articles in this blog which cover other important aspects). We created ZeSchool to fill the gap in K12. It is the only tool of its kind today, that fills three gaps:
- The full LMS for K12
- Digital Classroom monitoring and control
- Integration with other applications and content (e.g. Google Classroom, Clever, publishers, OERs etc.)
To avoid this blog being a shameless plug for our technology, please visit ZeSchool for more information and for a free trial.
Again, we come to the question as to whether you really need an LMS. If you do, then we have to ask how sophisticated you and your students want to be? If the answer is We are super techie, then go for Ilias. Otherwise, Google Classroom has you covered if your needs are similar to those of many K12 classrooms.
If like us, you agree that 20 years later, times have changed, technology has advanced and classrooms, teachers and students have evolved, be sure to checkout ZeSchool
Disclaimer: We love Ilias so much, we are experts in its code, and we use it as our backend. If you want help to set it up, drop us a line.