Thursday, January 8, 2009

Top School LMS Choice Issues

My list of LMS topics to cover is 50% complete. I have written a lot in the last month with more to come. I firmly adhere to the 80/20 rule in planning. So today's post is focused on a summary of high level decisions to make should you be thinking about integrating an LMS.

After 9 years of LMS experience, I have witness a number of priority concerns for various levels of users. Users include students, teachers, administrators, dba's, website managers and marketers, curriculum development staff and parents (of school age students).

Considerations for Choosing an LMS

  1. Does the LMS deliver curriculum in a way that matches your instructional model? Look at how your course content can be organized and presented to the students using the LMS. Does it make sense to your organization? If the LMS would require you to rethink the way you present course materials, you must decide if you like the different approach and would be able and willing to spend the time and energy to change gears. Or, would the change be unacceptable? Do not let the vendor convince you their model is perfect for you.
  2. Does the LMS offer too many or not enough bells and whistles? The key here is growth. Some schools know what they want from the beginning. For example, if you know you want an LMS to deliver non-authenticated materials for marketing or community building, make sure the LMS has a portal system. If you don't need that now but think you will, make sure you can turn if off now and on later. Or, if you don't want to invest in the added technology, don't.
  3. Is the LMS age appropriate? If you are educating elementary students, the LMS should deliver an appropriate navigational scheme including learning paths, navigational aids, tools, icons and look / feel that is appropriate out of the box. Or, it will allow you to create that environment. Remember, creating your own environment will take time, and potentially will be met with road blocks due to application design. This is a great time to get a sandbox environment for your team. Test and test and test various ways to make the LMS a part of your learning environment. If you have to work too hard or make too many compromises, seek advice first, try again, and then make a decision. This will take some time but it will be worth it. Try button layout, colors, icons, course area names, course structures, ways to guide students around the content, etc. Look for flexibility. If the environment seems right out of the box, consider the flip side. Using our elementary school example imagine if you wanted to open the school up to high school students. If the LMS is more suitable to elementary with NO flexibility, it will quickly create a need for your to make a decision to end the use of the tool for your school, or release a new tool just for the HS students. Your planning should also include a vision of what lies ahead.
  4. Does the LMS offer teacher efficiency tools? This area could be its own white paper. Think about an LMS as expense every time teachers use it. Their time is money. LMS should provide an intuitive work flow. For example, when a teacher logs into the LMS, they should be able to INSTANTLY, yes, instantly determin what work they need to complete. They should see a list of items that need a response or to be assessed. They should not have to dig through the content or gradebooks looking for work to do.
  5. Does the LMS offer management tools to ensure quality? Similar to number 1, you must ensure the LMS fitst your management model. For example, Blackboard was designed to provide independent professors with a tool for their classroom. As professors, they ran their own classes with little direct oversight from supervisors. However, as more and more LMS find their way in the businesses and school (running themselves like businesses), teacher efficiency has become a larger issue. Managers who must ensure teachers respond quickly, accurately and educationally to a student's needs, must have tools to help them manage all teachers. Some LMS's will allow all data to be transferred to reporting applications. Those applications can help you determine if teachers are responding quickly and efficiently. But, they do not help you determin if the teacher is responding with quality. LMS's are behind on this technology. Overall, we must all push toward new tools to help us ensure quality instruction through LMSs. Never-the-less, we must consider what is available and consider our ability to extract the data we need.
  6. Doe the LMS treat students as a class or as individuals? Imagine wanting to exclude a student from a homework assignment in your traditional class. This is pretty simple to do. Based on a students IEP, or on something much simpler like the quiz being optional, teachers always have a need to customize the ribbon of grades for a student. Not all LMSs allow for customization at the student level. Knowing up front can save you a ton of grief on the backend. This question is easy to overlook. However, finding this out when you are training your first group of teachers is not a good place to be.
This may be a simplistic list. However, from within this list many other considerations will be developed. Content types, types of assessments, roles, customization options, branding, management tools, teacher efficiencies, are all considerations that can come out of the 6 Points above.

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