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What is an LMS… and Do We Need One?


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A learning management system (LMS) provides a school district with a streamlined, user-friendly online environment for teachers, students, administrators, and parents. 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.1 An LMS platform is a software application used by K–12 schools, colleges, and universities, and business organizations “for the organization and delivery of learning activities as well as for collecting data from the instructional setting.” (Gartner, 2012)

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The primary purpose of LMS software is to improve teaching and learning. However, the technology should always support the district’s learning goals and objectives and other requirements of the learning community and not the other way around. Pedagogy should lead technology. An LMS that fully supports a district’s instructional goals allows teachers and administrators to prepare their students and schools for future college and career success.

How to align an educational LMS to your district’s instructional goals

For schools and districts that have not yet chosen an LMS, it is important to first select an instruction and learning model. Before beginning to evaluate technology, schools need to define their beliefs and how they want their students to learn. What do you want instruction and learning to look like in your district? What do you want teachers and students to be able to do? Your choice of LMS should be driven by the instructional goals you have 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, district strategy might align philosophically with social and emotional learning (SEL) or teaching and learning the 4 Cs: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication. The district might want to specify learning approaches such as project-based learning, competency-based education, or STEM. A university might want to include social engagement tools and collaboration spaces to support accredited courses. These are just a few of the choices.

Once administrators and other leaders have decided upon an educational approach, it’s time to start researching options and evaluating technology.

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 standards, courses, and assessments, an LMS is an effective way to support teaching and learning.

One of the essential services an LMS provides is efficient curriculum management. By definition, curriculum management is the selection of teaching plans and materials. 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 skill mastery is important to curriculum management. For example, students can prove content 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 standards-based assessments. An efficient LMS can also support your district’s professional learning goals by giving teachers 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 lessons, 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:

  • One-stop-shop–all your tools and resources in one location with single sign-on instead of in multiple, unconnected systems and apps.
  • A hosted portal that integrates and manages teaching and learning, and provides assessment, professional development, and communication in a centralized system.
  • Lessons, planning, assignments, and grades aligned to state, and district learning standards.
  • A recommendation engine with options to select appropriate content to scaffold student learning.
  • Transparent reporting that provides insight into student performance to impact instruction, and options to have students self-monitor and own their learning
  • Automation of routine tasks so teachers can focus on individualizing instruction.

Medium to large districts would see additional benefit from an enterprise LMS. An enterprise-level LMS offers schools and districts the opportunity to maximize teacher efficiency, create standards-based teaching consistency, and report on student performance at the individual, classroom, school, or district 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’s important to understand that learning management for K–12 schools is not just one more piece of software for teachers to learn to use. K-12 LMS, teaching, and evaluation of student performance. It can also serve as the district hub for professional development so that teachers can learn more about the system from this same centralized hub. By saving time and boosting their efficiency, teachers can be more effective doing what they do best—working directly with students.

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An LMS can provide a home for most of your K–12 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: 24/7 access to a library of rich, multimedia resources improves student engagement and increases buy-in to active, student-directed learning.

Collaboration: the system’s communication tools allow teachers and students to collaborate and provide additional ways for students to demonstrate their content knowledge.

How to choose the right LMS for your school district

Once a district has identified its teaching and learning model, determined the instruction and learning outcomes they want to support, and chosen the professional development to support teachers in delivering those learning outcomes, it is time to choose the educational technology system that houses all of these functions.

It is important that the LMS software be interoperable—meaning it integrates and communicates with other district software systems like the student information system (SIS). Districts are moving away from siloed systems as the work of the district 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 district needs and reviewing potential LMS technologies. It is particularly important that classroom teachers 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. Use the checklist below to determine whether the LMS under review has the recommended features discussed in this article.

Choosing and implementing an LMS is an opportunity to transform teaching and learning in your district.

Criteria to use when evaluating an educational LMS

Aligns with the district’s learning goals and objectives.
Helps enhance teaching and learning by putting standards-based lessons, resources, and assessments in an SSO 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, classroom, school, and district level that provides insight into student learning.
Allows teachers to work smarter, not harder, by creating efficiencies.
Is easy to use, intuitive, and transparent for all stakeholders, including administrators, teachers, students, and parents.
Integrates with digital tools and programs we already have.
Protects students’ personal identifiable information.
Scales as the district grows and learning needs change.

1 From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learning_management_system (August 26, 2019)

How to Choose the Best LMS for your District

How to Choose the Best LMS for Your District

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A K–12 educational LMS should be a one-stop-shop:

  • One simple login
  • Simplified lesson building
  • All digital resources in single platform
  • Consolidated resources for teachers and students
  • One platform for administrators, teachers, students, and families
  • Interoperable with other systems, such as your SIS
  • Tracking, reporting, advancing student progress

See why itslearning is the best LMS for millions of people.

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