What really is a Learning Management System or LMS? That question has been asked over and over as we have provided opportunities for teachers to create “learning portals'' for their students and parents. Many moons ago, we taught teachers how to create their own websites using raw HTML. Bold anyone? We then provided a platform called Manila and used this for many years. After Manila came Wordpress, Google Sites, and others. These provided a way for teachers to share resources with their students and it worked great for the time. But times have certainly changed! And with that, we have needed more robust solutions to fit the unique needs of each teacher and student. Our first foray into Learning Management Systems was an open source local hosted server solution (which is still available and very popular) called Moodle. This, too, worked great for many years but the management of such a solution became more than we would have liked to take on and so we went “shopping” for something schools could invest in long term. And that really takes us to where we are today.
So, again, what really is a learning management system? I like to refer to it as a school or teachers virtual classroom. Just like you’d walk into a physical school building with many classrooms, the same is true in the virtual world. You go to the virtual school (LMS Dashboard) and there with in the virtual school, a student will find their classes. They open the door to their classroom and find all the resources they need for the day. Those could be study resources, collaboration tools, quizzes and tests, or any other myriad resources the teacher may wish for the student to engage with.
There are so many advantages to having a platform that houses all of the digital resources a student may need to access. First, look at all the digital resources that are currently available! With few exceptions, the amount of curriculum in digital format is extremely abundant. Students are now also more likely to have devices to access these digital resources from PreK through graduation. Another benefit was shown through the pandemic and being able to have remote learning opportunities. Now while none of us probably want to go back to that model, it has proven that some things can still happen in a remote environment if needed. For example, virtual field trips are more prevalent, accessing experts outside of the classroom, being able to record classes for students who may be ill or not otherwise able to attend, and the use of asynchronous learning that aids those who are not able to be in the classroom for any number of reasons (illness, extracurricular activities, etc).
So what is available to teachers? Across grade levels, there is something for every teacher and student. Here is a list of the recommendations we have for those wanting to give it a try. (There are others but this is a great starting point.)
• SeeSaw - http://seesaw.com (Free or Paid) (Elementary)
• Google Classroom - http://classroom.google.com (Free) (All Grades)
• Schoology - http://schoology.com (Paid) (All Grades)
• Canvas - http://instructure.com (Free or Paid) (All Grades)
Before you jump in, check to see if your school is using one of the solutions first! SeeSaw is geared toward elementary and does a great job. There is a free version but there is also a paid version the school can get that has lots of integrations you won’t get with the free version. Google Classroom is another popular one since most schools already have Google accounts for staff and students. It has been said Google Classroom isn’t a “real” LMS but not only are they adding features all the time, it’s free and integrated with the Google collaboration environment already so I say if that’s what you have, go with it! The next two are what we’d call “full featured LMSs”. They have all the bells and whistles for any hybrid or online classes a teacher may want to provide. Our EdTech team has experience with all of these and so if schools are wanting consulting, PD, or support with any of these, reach out! http://dl.esu10.org