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Mauricio Romero, itslearning Oct 28, 20217 min read

What is an LMS and does your educational institution need one?

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A learning management system (LMS) – also called virtual learning environment (VLE) – provides educational organizations with a streamlined, user-friendly online environment for educators, students and IT administrators. It is a place to identify learning gaps, create lessons, organize and deliver content and courses, and assess student performance data while tracking and monitoring student progress in real-time.

Universities, colleges and schools use an LMS “for the organization and delivery of learning activities as well as for collecting data from the instructional setting.” (Gartner, 2012)

The primary purpose of an LMS solution – such as itslearning – is to improve teaching and learning. However, this technology should always support the learning goals, objectives and other requirements of the learning community. Pedagogy should lead technology. An LMS that fully supports academic goals allows educators and administrators to prepare students and professionals for future education and career success.

Pedagogy should lead technology. An LMS that fully supports academic goals allows educators and administrators to prepare students and professionals for future education and career success.”

Align your LMS to the academic and digital goals of your school

It is important to develop an instruction and learning model that embraces technology at every level of education. Before beginning to evaluate a learning platform and other tools, your institution needs to define your goals. What do you want instruction and learning to look like in your organization? What do you want teachers and students to be able to do? How well does it support in-classroom, remote and hybrid learning? Your choice of LMS should be driven by the objectives you have set for your students.

That is why it is important to define these goals at the beginning of your search for an LMS. Then you can determine how technology will help teachers be more effective in differentiating instruction and personalizing learning to achieve improved student outcomes.

For instance, universities and schools might want to include social engagement tools and collaboration spaces to support accredited courses. Schools might align philosophically with social and emotional learning or teaching and learning the 4 Cs: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication. Other institutions might also specify learning approaches such as project-based learning, blended or hybrid learning. These are just a few of the choices.

Once administrators and other school leaders have decided upon an educational approach, it is time to start researching options and evaluating technology. Look for technology that is dedicated to the educational environment as these would have been built with educator input. “EdTech” that caters to the business environment might not always have the tools required for personalized teaching and mentoring young students.

What does an educational LMS do?

An effective learning management system provides a consistent framework for teaching and for measuring student outcomes. By creating a central hub for learning objectives, courses and assessments, an LMS is an effective way to support teaching and learning.

Adjusting to a student’s preferred learning method is critical to personalized learning.”

One of the essential services an LMS provides is efficient curriculum management. By definition, curriculum management is the selection of teaching plans and content. Curriculum management also encompasses the delivery of instructional resources and ensuring that teachers have the training and support necessary to efficiently deliver curriculum to students and assess student performance. Flexibility in demonstrating skills mastery is important to curriculum management. For example, students can prove knowledge in a variety of ways, such as making a slide presentation, a video or podcast, or by creating an art project. Adjusting to a student’s preferred learning method is critical to personalized learning.

A good LMS can also improve teacher efficiency and give them more time with their students. With an LMS, teachers can create, deliver, and score learning objectives-based assessments. An efficient LMS can also support professional learning goals by giving educators easy access to professional development resources from a single, central location. Your system should also give teachers the ability to collaborate, share lessons, and engage in other forms of collegial learning.

What to look for in an LMS?

An efficient LMS will streamline the workflow for teachers and administrators and the best will be cloud-based solutions that centralize teacher planning, standards-based lectures, assessment, and reporting. Here are some helpful LMS features to ensure that you are getting the best of what a learning management system can offer:

  • A single sign-on to a learning platform that fully integrates third-party cloud tools, including Google Suite and Microsoft Office, instead of multiple unconnected systems and apps.
  • A hosted portal that connects and improves educational processes while keeping the students in the center. An LMS should support key processes of education such as planning, engaging, teaching, assessing, reflecting and reporting.
  • Core features such as Planning, Assignments, Communication and Test tools aligned to the institution’s learning standards.
  • 360° reporting that provides insight into student performance to impact instruction and predict student dropouts and outcomes.
  • Automation of routine tasks that can save teachers’ time and help deliver the same standards of instruction to all students – even in large groups.

Medium to large universities and schools would see additional benefit from an enterprise LMS. An enterprise-level LMS offers them the opportunity to maximize teacher efficiency, create standards-based teaching consistency, and report on student performance at the individual, group, or organisation level. Integrating all of these into one centralized hub facilitates data-driven decision making and targeted instruction for improved student outcomes.

Expected results from an educational LMS

It is important to understand that learning management for educational institutions is not just one more piece of software for teachers to learn to use. It can also serve as the EdTech hub for professional development.

An LMS can provide a home for most of your educational technology services and tools. Here are some of the results you can expect from an educational LMS.

Teacher efficiency: both curriculum and content management features increase teacher efficiency by eliminating duplication of effort moving from one disconnected learning program to another.

Curriculum consistency: alignment to standards, lessons, and learning resources help teachers create a consistent quality learning environment for all students that improves equity and access.

Data-driven decision making: a robust reporting system makes the connection between assessment and impacts instruction as students move toward proficiency. This functionality supports personalized learning strategies for all students and provides real insight into student performance.

Teaching effectiveness: using the LMS for professional development drives LMS implementation and teacher adoption of the platform. Higher teacher adoption leads to greater teaching effectiveness as teachers learn to fine-tune differentiated instruction and personalized learning opportunities with their students.

Student engagement: embracing stronger student engagement and promoting active participation of students in their courses can increase motivation dramatically.

Tip: Learn new ways to drive student engagement and learning results with itslearning.

Collaboration: the system’s communication tools allow teachers and students to collaborate and provide additional ways for students to get and provide feedback – using the peer assessment feature, for example.

How to choose the right LMS for your institution?

Once leaders at a university or school have developed the instruction and learning model, determined the instruction and learning outcomes they want to support, and chosen the professional development to support educators in delivering those learning outcomes, it is time to choose the best LMS for your institution that suits that model.

It is important that the LMS software be interoperable — meaning it integrates and communicates with other software systems like the student information system (SIS). Organizations are moving away from siloed systems as the work of the system administrators and teachers is much more efficient when systems can communicate with each other. Most software is now cloud-based, which simplifies deployment and implementation. A good LMS will contribute to a harmonious digital ecosystem and simplify interactions with users and IT support staff.

Whenever possible, include representatives from all stakeholders to participate in the process of identifying needs and reviewing potential LMS technologies. It is particularly important that lecturers (superusers) be involved as they will be the primary users of the LMS. It will speed adoption and implementation if teachers have been involved in the decision-making process. Check the criteria below to determine whether the LMS under review has the recommended features discussed in this article.

Implementing the right LMS is an opportunity to transform teaching and learning in your institution.

Criteria to use when evaluating an educational LMS

  • Aligns with the organization’s learning goals and objectives.
  • Helps enhance teaching and learning by putting learning objectives-based lessons, resources, and assessments in a centralized system.
  • Centralizes curriculum management.
  • Provides teachers flexibility to adapt to their personal teaching styles.
  • Supports differentiated instruction and personalized learning.
  • Facilitates collaboration and communication.
  • Streamlines workflows and supports student-directed learning.
  • Has robust reporting at individual, group and organization level that provides insight into student learning.
  • Is easy to use, intuitive, and transparent for all stakeholders, including administrators, teachers and students.
  • Integrates with the best cloud tools and existing programs in the organization.
  • Protects students’ personal identifiable information. Learn how to minimize risks regarding GDPR compliance.
  • Scales as the university or school grows and the learning needs change.