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Apr 17, 2014

By Mike Kisow

7 Tips to Help You Choose the Right LMS

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Choosing the right learning management system (LMS) for your district can feel a little like trying to find the perfect prom date. If you make the wrong choice, it is going to cost you a lot of money and you’re going to be sad when the date is over. With an LMS, there are many details to consider when deciding if an LMS is a good fit for your district, and the ramifications of that choice are huge. A good match powers teaching and learning, while a poor match inhibits adoption and results in further fragmentation. You need a learning platform that adds flexibility to teaching and learning, improves outcomes, justifies the investment, and most importantly, get used by teachers!

Prom PicA match made in the 80's.

But how do you know you’re choosing an LMS you’ll be happy with? One of the best ways is to learn from those who have gone before you. After compiling information from K-12 districts and schools that have gone through the process of selecting, implementing, and supporting a new LMS, we’ve come up with seven tips to help make sure you’re happy with your LMS.

1. Clearly Determine Goals
An LMS should be a toolset that amplifies your district’s strengths and accelerates progress toward short- and long-term goals. Having clear goals in place can help your evaluation team focus on meaningful outcomes and avoid the tangled weeds of competing checklists. Some common goals include:

  • Provide tools that make integrating blended and online delivery models easier.
  • Suggest new ways of designing and teaching online courses, such as fresh navigation paths and custom toolsets.
  • Engage users by encouraging high-touch, very human interactions.
  • Empower students to take ownership of their own learning.
  • Easily integrate Common Core and state standards into teaching activities.
  • Represent student performance across the board to easily assess district progress.
  • Reduce the impact on faculty and IT so they can focus on accomplishing key initiatives rather than supporting the LMS.

2. Re-imagine Teaching and Learning
Simply put, an LMS should improve teaching and learning. Since that can seem vague, a good way to visualize that improvement is to re-imagine what teaching and learning looks like after adoption of a new LMS and how teachers and students use it. Will their workflow become more complicated, or will the platform enable them to focus on what matters most? The best technology opens new doors for teaching and learning in a way that is intuitive and easy.

3. Get Community Feedback
Find administrators, teachers, and even students who are currently using your district-operated LMS, or other learning platform, to see what does and does not work in blended or online learning. For example, a survey with generic and specific questions for each audience will help you recognize a wide range of user types who may have rejected the current LMS and why. Understanding this will help you choose a new LMS that will get used and enhance teaching and learning.

4. Think About the Future
While adoptability and usability are key to getting the most out of an LMS right away, choosing a flexible, adaptable platform will support your district’s future needs, too. First, brainstorm things that could affect technology needs and usage (new legislation or mandates, changing infrastructure, new initiatives, etc.). Platforms that are easily customizable and highly scalable will adapt and grow with your district.

Second, the constant influx of new teaching apps and websites requires an LMS that integrates with third-party tools through an open API feed, as well as an app center with hundreds of technology tools that teachers can install and use without ever having to talk to IT.

5. Demand Reliability
Whether the LMS is down for maintenance, an unexpected outage, or even just slows to a crawl, nothing causes stress for students, teachers, and IT like an unreliable learning platform. Thankfully, modern technology makes 99.9% uptime possible. A reliable LMS instills confidence in your school’s or district’s initiatives, empowers teachers and students to engage whenever they want, and makes everyone breathe a little easier.

6. Find a Partnership
The LMS is a vital part of the educational ecosystem, so look for an LMS partnership that is responsive, supportive, and collaborative. The best way to do this is to connect with peers already using the LMS platform in question. Ask what it’s like to deal with the service provider when something goes wrong, as well as when things are going well.

7. Try It Out!
Everyone knows the best way to learn is by doing. Ask the LMS service provider to grant you full administrative access to a sandbox environment. This way, you (and your selection committee) can get a first-hand look at the platform’s capabilities. You can even create community workshops to allow participants to walk through common activities specific to their role (student, teacher, admin, etc). This will give you vital feedback on what users think of the platform.

While these 7 tips may not ensure you choose the right prom date, they will make finding the perfect match for your learning management system a little less daunting.

Keep Learning,
Mike Kisow
K12 Director