If your district is making the move toward a digital curriculum, you are most likely considering a learning management system. A learning management system (LMS) is an online platform that enables the delivery of materials, resources, tools, and activities to students both in and out of the classroom. It allows teachers to offer tailored instruction that can be accessed by students anytime, anywhere without geographic constraints.
There are a few questions we’ll need to answer before proceeding:
- What is my budget?
- How much are usage fees; are they by user?
- Can I accomplish my goals with a free LMS (open source)?
- Can my staff support its implementation and usage?
- What results should I expect to receive regarding student performance (and usage)?
- Are there extra charges for additional functionality? (file storage, video streaming)
These all are very important points to consider when beginning down the path of selecting a LMS. While paid LMS solutions can seem expensive, they often provide a direct line of support as well as professional development and training materials. Open source LMSs possess much of the same functionality as their paid counterparts, but their support is forum and community based, meaning you are reliant on other users and your searching skills to find a solution. However, don’t let the forum and community based support scare you off, there are large, helpful, and very active communities devoted to these open source LMSs. But, it is also important to consider the expenditures required to devote to internal tech resources needed to implement and maintain the open source options.
What goals do I intend to achieve by implementing a LMS?
- Do I want to be able to post online quizzes and exams?
- Do I want a LMS that supports the creation of rubrics?
- Can I incorporate multimedia (videos, images, etc.)?
- What kinds of media are supported?
- Do I want to simply transmit information to students, or do I want to create an online community?
- Do I want videoconferencing capabilities?
- Do I need file sharing?
- Will my students require mobile access to the site?
- Is the LMS’ online platform compatible with smartphones?
- What are the limitations to its accessibility via the mobile platform?
- Technical Support
- What resources are available if I have questions?
- Who and when can I contact for technical help?
- Do I know anyone personally who currently uses this LMS?
- What will be required of our IT staff to implement and support this LMS?
All of these points should be carefully considered before exploring the numerous LMS options available to you. I think it is necessary to explicitly define what you plan to achieve from implementation before considering any LMS. Once you have your goals defined, it is prudent to consider what limitations or obstacles your district might encounter, e.g. only 30% of students have internet access at home, but 80% have access to a smartphone, it would be wise to consider a LMS whose online platform allows for smartphone compatibility. Every school has its own unique requirements for software, and there truly is no “one size fits all” application out there. When choosing a platform, it is imperative to do your groundwork, investigate each system in detail, speak with the vendor for clarification, and consult with your colleagues before choosing the app that best suits your requirements.
Let’s look at a few options more closely (please note that the features listed are not exhaustive):
Open Source Options
is the big open source option in the LMS space, and in turn is supported by a massive and active community with a myriad of plugins and customization options for your exact specifications. Its huge presence also affords you a considerable amount of online documentation for help with support issues or questions you might encounter. Another benefit of Moodle’s extensive community is the availability of tons of pre-constructed courses that may save you from having to create all your own content. However, all this may come at a price depending on your situation or infrastructure. (It should be noted that MoodleCloud now provides free webhosting for individual class instances, i.e. sites for individual online classes) Moodle has been criticized as being complex and difficult for a lay person to learn and set up, lacking in some aspects of reporting, and challenging to manage groups of learners.
Moodle comes with an open source license, meaning that there is no required fee per individual student. However, there are many other factors which much be considered before going the open source route. A production Moodle installation requires hardware to operate, be it a hosting company (MoodleCloud,
- All-in-one calendar
- Bulk course creation and easy backup
- Collaborative tools and activities
- Convenient file management
- Customizable site design and layout
- Detailed reporting and logs
- Embed external resources
- Manage user roles and permissions
- Multilingual capability
- Multimedia integration
- Multiple progress tracking options
- Notifications and automatic alerts
- Outcomes and rubrics
- Peer and self-assessment
- Personalized dashboard
- Regular security updates
- Secure authentication and mass enrollment
- Simple add-ons and plugin management
- Simple and intuitive text editor
- Supports open standards
is another LMS option that offers a paid version with pre-built course content and hosting, or an open source option that relies on you to provide the content, hosting, administration, etc. Canvas boasts over 15 million users worldwide, and generally rates highly on customer satisfaction surveys of LMS solutions. It provides the user a very clean and intuitive interface that works well on all devices, it makes grading and viewing grades easy, has social media integration, and is very easy to navigate. However, the paid version of Canvas can become pricey quickly, some users have reported idiosyncrasies in its user interface, and somewhat lacking in customization options.
- Collaborative workspaces
- Students can record or upload audio and video
- Integrated learning outcomes
- Web-standard browser
- Cut and paste links from a Web browser
- LTI integrations (Learning Tools Interoperability)
- Canvas’ content editor to
- Customizable user profiles
- Open API
- Audio and video messages
- Integrated tools like Google Docs and Etherpad
- Supports external service integrations, like Facebook, Googl
- share resources
- RSS support
- Web conferencing tools
- Canvas app center (Edu App Center)
- Robust course notifications
- Graphic analytics reporting engine
- Canvas mobile apps for iOS and Android
- Integrated media reporting
is a free platform that allows users to create, manage, and share content and resources. Also included in its functionality are collaboration features that allow educators to share materials and integrate public content and media. Assessment tools can generate tests, provide direct feedback to students, and track their progress. Schoology consistently receives high marks on customer satisfaction surveys, and is held in high regard by many schools across the country. It should be noted that the enterprise edition provides additional functionality as well as frequent updates and bug fixes, but it comes at a cost of $10 per student. Athough its interface looks similar to Facebook, providing some aesthetic familiarity to most users, but it has been criticized for a steeper learning curve than some other LMS platforms.
- Advanced analytics
- Align content to Common Core and State Standards
- Automate grading system and performance-based analytics
- Automatically updating online grading system
- Calendars, messaging, and personal/shared content
- Centralize online educational activity
- Collaboration-based interface
- Create custom applications
- Curriculum management
- Global community for sharing resources
- Instructor tools for course creation and management
- Open-access integration platform
- Resource sharing center and instructors
- Schoology mobile apps
- Seamlessly integrate third-party programs
- SIS integration (for some, eSchool integration currently being investigated)
- Transform classroom courses into a 1:1
- Webpage creation tools
is an online education platform that has been the major player in the education space for many years. Its system is robust and flexible, but lacks some features of the newer choices and is oft-regarded as expensive. Blackboard has long been a choice of large institutions with a lot of resources, but it should be noted that if extra training or implementation services are required, it may prove difficult finding (and hiring) a qualified specialist.
- Enhanced Cloud Profile
- Student Preview
- Plagiarism detection/mitigation
- Data Management
- Collaborate Integration
- Group Management
- Grading Enhancements
- Social Learning
- Blackboard Drive
- Content Editor
- Retention Center
- Course Enrollments
- Active Collaboration
- Dynamic Content
Another important feature when choosing an LMS is to consider its compliance with the Shareable Content Object Reference Model, or SCORM. SCORM was produced by the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative from the Office of the United States Secretary of Defense. It includes sets of technical standards, guidelines, and specifications that call for durable, interoperable, accessible and reusable content and systems. SCORM is widely accepted and followed across many industries. Compliant products are evaluated at independent testing centers to ensure their adherence to SCORM guidelines.