The IT Buyer's Guide to Learning Management Systems

Purchasing a learning management system is an important decision for your district. A good learning management system brings immense value to students, teachers, and the classroom environment as a whole. As you consider the right learning management system for your brand, there are several critical factors that you need to take into consideration, including the features that can offer the greatest overall benefit to your classrooms.

The Benefits of a High-Quality Learning Management System

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As technology has become increasingly prevalent in education, it has become more important for the average classroom or school system to use that technology. Increasingly, educators are looking for solutions that will allow them to accomplish three key things: better collaboration (53% of schools), effective file storage (41% of schools), and more streamlined file-sharing options (39% of schools).

A high-quality learning management system brings a number of advantages to many classrooms and school districts, including answers to some of those common concerns. 

1. Learning Management Systems Can Make It Easier for Students to Access Classroom Content No Matter Where They Are. 

The pandemic, in many ways, changed the way schools and teachers alike approached education. In September 2020, 67% of parents reported that their students had moved to an online or distanced learning model. 89% of parents found that the pandemic had an impact on their student's learning model, whether that meant shifting to a fully virtual model or decreasing the amount of time students spent in the classroom. 

In the years that have followed, many students had to shift to virtual learning either alone (as a result of exposure or illness) or along with their classes (due to exposure in a classroom or high covid levels within a school district). The pandemic has taught us that being prepared is best and that the right LMS can help make any situation less chaotic and more adaptable.

Using a learning management system not only allows students impacted by Covid or another illness to continue learning from a distance, but it can also make it easier for students who may have to shift to a virtual model for another reason to access the vital content they need in order to continue learning.

Students who are traveling, who have health concerns that may keep them out of school, or who need to be out of school for another reason—including suspension—can keep up with current classroom content from anywhere they are.

2. An Effective Learning Management System Can Improve Student Organization.

Today's students are, in many cases, busier than ever. Not only are they dealing with multiple classes and challenging requirements, but they may also have a host of after-school activities and responsibilities on their plates.

The right LMS can help them organize themselves, their content, and the information provided by their instructors more easily. Instead of scrambling to locate necessary material, students can ensure that it's all in one place, where they can access it quickly and easily.

Related: How to Use Online Student Engagement Tools Effectively

3. Learning Management Systems Can Help Teachers Keep All Resources Together in One Place.

Often, teachers have resources scattered across several systems and platforms. They may have some resources stored on Google Docs, some stored on their personal computers, and some stored on the various platforms they have used for other educational processes.

In today's classroom, technology use is steadily increasing. Many students already use multiple platforms to help them stay on top of their learning and educational content. Unfortunately, those multiple platforms can make it very difficult for teachers to keep up with all the resources they want to provide students. With a learning management system, teachers can bring all of that content together in one place, which also makes it easier to access in the future.

Furthermore, an effective learning management system can make it easier to share those resources with students and colleagues alike. Learning management systems frequently streamline file sharing and allow teachers to share their content with one another.

4. The Features Offered By Learning Management Systems Can Make It Easier to Offer Engaging Content.

Today's students are highly familiar with technology, and they often expect it to be part of their learning process. They enjoy virtual quizzes, learning games, and customized content. A learning management system can help teachers incorporate that content into their school days, which can lead to higher overall levels of student engagement with the material presented.

In addition, students can receive more individualized instruction that can increase their overall engagement levels, since they will be able to focus on learning that meets their current needs instead of being held to the progress of the classroom as a whole. 

5. Learning Management Systems Set the Stage for Students to Learn at a Pace That Works for Them.

Students learn at varying paces. They have different learning styles. They prefer to absorb content in different ways. While some students may quickly pick up new information while listening to a classroom lecture, others may struggle to learn unless the information is presented in a more interactive format. 

Learning management systems allow students to progress through the material at a pace that works for them. Thanks to the organization inherent in the system, students can see when content is due and how to best prioritize their studies, but they also have the option of focusing on the content or learning strategies that best fit their needs. Teachers can also make additional content accessible to those students, as needed, through the LMS. 

6. With a Learning Management System, Teachers Can Quickly and Easily Update Deadlines and Content.

Sometimes, even the best-laid plans have to change. Teachers often have to pivot instruction based on changing student needs: not just big ones, like unexpected school shutdowns, but smaller ones, like students who may have had more trouble digesting the content. With an effective learning management system, teachers can easily change their current information or deadlines and make sure those changes are visible and accessible to all students. 

Related: How Do Teachers Integrate Technology in the Classroom?

The Features You Need from Your Learning Management System

Choosing the right learning management system, whether you're selecting an option for a single school or an entire school district, is essential. You need to make sure that you're providing the resources that are most useful for the students and teachers in your district.

What should you look for? First, make sure you talk to your teachers to get a feel for the solutions they use the most often. Have they used an LMS in the past? Are there specific features that did work and that teachers want to keep? What about solutions or features that teachers feel are missing?

Over the past two years, many school districts have had the chance to try out learning technology at never before seen levels, leaving them with a deeper understanding of what tools they really need to accomplish those critical virtual and hybrid learning goals. Teachers often find that these resources and options can offer immense benefit in the classroom:

1. Integrations with the Platforms and Programs Your Teachers Already Use.

An LMS can seem like the perfect solution, but if it doesn't integrate well with the platforms teachers are already using in the classroom, it isn't going to work for your students.

Are students and teachers regularly using Google Docs, where many of their resources are already stored? You need an LMS with seamless integration. Do students in your district go through regular iReady testing? You may want your LMS to be able to integrate those scores or easily direct students to that platform. Talk to teachers across your district to learn what platforms they're already using and how they need to integrate with your LMS in order to be effective.

2. Online and Offline Learning Tracking.

Unless you have a school that is entirely virtual, chances are your students today are engaged in both online and offline learning. While not all of that offline learning will need to be transferred straight to your platform, you need an LMS that supports offline learning tracking to help support student progress and enrichment.

Students need features that will allow them to keep up with the progress they have made offline, then transfer seamlessly to the online environment as needed.

3. Adequate Data Storage for Students and Teachers.

Consider how students and teachers will actually be using your new learning management platform and what type of data storage they may need. Will students be coming back to the same learning management system year after year? Do they want to be able to access past content, from grading comments and other communication shared by the teacher to resources teachers may have shared with them in the past?

Take a look at how the LMS you're considering stores data and how much space students have. Also, determine whether student and teacher data is automatically deleted at the end of the school year—which would mean that students and teachers alike would need another solution for storing content from one year to the next—and how you can ensure that they will have access to the content they need when they need it. 

4. In-Platform Assessment Options.

An effective LMS will allow multiple assessment options that make it easy for teachers to keep up with student learning. That may be as simple as online quizzes, but it may also include more complicated assessments, gamification options, and progress checks that will make it easier for instructors to check in with how students are progressing through their content.

5. Alerts and Notification Settings That Can Help Keep Students on Track.

Students will often have a hard time keeping track of all the assignments they have due, especially as they move on to middle and high school and have to keep up with a more complex list of classes. Automated alerts and notifications can help highlight new assignments or course materials when teachers assign or share them and provide students with reminders when things are due. 

6. Security.

IT administrators know how critical security can be for a school district. In fact, cybersecurity challenges continue to rise for K-12 schools across the country. You need an LMS that will keep your students' data as secure as possible. Look for options like multi-factor authentication and secure cloud storage that can help you keep up with students' and teachers' security needs. 

7. Personalized Learning Options.

A learning management system should not provide the same educational experience for every student. Instead, it should offer personalized options that can provide students with the tools they need to excel regardless of their current academic capability.

You may want a learning management system that will provide students with teacher-created assignments and content based on their current level of learning, or you may need one that offers advanced features and will help push them to challenge themselves with increasingly more difficult questions, games, or assignments.

Furthermore, teachers may want a system that will allow students to "test out" of content that they already fully understand. This strategy will allow students to receive additional teacher-created instruction in the areas where they may need more support.

8. Intuitive Interfaces.

Whether you're considering your LMS from the perspective of a teacher or a student, the interface must be intuitive and easy to use. The LMS may need to cater to a wide range of users, including everyone from kindergarten students who are not yet familiar with technology to older teachers who haven't fully adapted to all the available technology in the classroom using these systems.

Ideally, you want a solution that is as simple to use as possible for the widest range of user experience and ability. If the LMS you're considering has complicated hidden menus and features, students and teachers may not be able to use it effectively.

9. Varied Reporting Tools.

Teachers need to be able to see student learning and progress in a variety of different ways. When looking at learning management systems, carefully consider how student progress is reported to instructors and what tools they can use to gauge student performance.

Look for a system that will offer multiple ways of tracking student progress and that offers assessment tools that will help teachers guide their students in their learning journeys. The right LMS will also offer options that allow parents, students, and teachers to all receive vital insights into student progress. 

10. Opportunities for Students to Connect and Collaborate.

Connection and collaboration are critical elements of the student learning experience. Many teachers want to allow their students to work together on their assignments to help improve their communication skills and give them the foundation they need to collaborate effectively with others in the future.

An effective LMS will make classroom collaboration much easier and more effective for students, including multiple options for sharing assignments and information with each other, discussion boards, easy emailing between participants, and other collaborative features.

Familiar Learning Management Systems (And What Makes Them Popular)

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There are a number of familiar learning management systems already in use across the market. Many of those learning management systems may have already come up on your radar as you considered the solution that would work best for your school or district. 

1. PowerSchool

PowerSchool bills itself as "the most comprehensive K-12 learning and teaching solution." It offers a whole-child approach to instruction that makes it simple to adapt student assignments to their current needs, including accommodating any difficulties that students might face. Furthermore, it allows for district-wide collaboration and helps provide opportunities for parent and student communication, all of which can work together to create a highly effective platform. 

2. Blackboard

Blackboard helps provide access to all the tools students need at their fingertips. Designed for both university students and K-12 students, Blackboard offers access to internal messaging, grade visibility, document storage, and more. Blackboard provides many of the features that educators need most in the classroom. It's simple and intuitive to use, with easy navigation that makes it easy for students and teachers alike to learn how to use the platform.

3. 360 Learning

360 Learning offers a solution for both businesses and schools. It offers streamlined content development opportunities and provides a simple, intuitive interface that allows teachers to customize learning opportunities for their students. It also makes interaction while learning as simple as possible, providing a better overall experience for learners no matter where they are. 

4. Google Classroom

Google Classroom is a popular learning management tool. It was one of the first solutions many teachers turned to when they had to make the shift to virtual learning environments. Because many students and teachers are already familiar with the Google suite of tools, Google Classroom is a popular choice for many learners. Google Classroom makes it simple to create new assignments, send out reminders, and effectively engage with students. Furthermore, it readily integrates with other Google tools that teachers and students may already be using, making it easier, overall, to adopt.

Lesser-Known Learning Management Systems You May Want to Explore

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While there are certainly a number of advantages to using tested, familiar learning management systems in your district, you may also want to consider the advantages offered by the new platforms that have recently hit the market.

1. Lumicademy

Lumicademy offers a suite of tools specifically designed for educators and students, making it a highly popular solution that can help transform the way your students and teachers interact in the classroom. Lumicademy offers tools like an enhanced whiteboard and drawing tools, which can make it easier for students and teachers to share information; breakout rooms; an unlimited number of users or rooms; screen and document sharing with multiple format options; and focused security. It makes both synchronous and asynchronous learning easier for students and teachers alike.

2. Moodle

Are you looking for a customized solution to your district's LMS needs? Have you sorted through multiple systems, but failed to find one that offers exactly the library of features you're looking for? Moodle could be the option you need. Take a look at Moodle's customizable options and how it can fit the specific needs of your district, including an app that allows students and teachers to access learning content from mobile devices, the ability to deliver content in a wide range of formats, and built-in accessibility that accommodates learners with a variety of potential disabilities and challenges.

3. Absorb

If you're looking for an LMS that offers all the latest features and enhanced opportunities for student engagement, Absorb could fit the bill. Absorb is designed to take all the needs of your school system into consideration. In addition to traditional learning management options, including virtual classroom and whiteboard solutions, Absorb offers options like virtual document signing and a detailed mobile app that can help keep students connected through their preferred mobile devices.

Are You Ready to Take Your Classrooms to the Next Level?

Choosing the right learning management system can make a huge difference for teachers and students across your district. By choosing a learning management system that offers the tools and features your students and teachers need, you can improve student learning, maintain a high level of classroom organization, and deepen the sense of connection your students may feel with one another and their instructors.

Do you want to take your classrooms to the next level? No matter what LMS you use, screen mirroring can help amplify it, making class discussions, content discussions, work reviews, or watching stored resources a whole classroom activity with just a few clicks. Ready to get started? Check out Vivi and learn how it can elevate not only the LMS you choose but countless other classroom activities as well.