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Selecting a Learning Management System

Selecting a Learning Management System


This lesson explains the three types of LMSs available, including the features and pros/cons of each type of LMS.

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Source: Snow Blower, Morguefile, http://mrg.bz/IgaCo0; Shovel, Morguefile, http://mrg.bz/9wv05r; Globe, Clker, http://bit.ly/1CVSonk; Stick Figure, Clker, http://bit.ly/1JoIB83

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Hello, everyone. I hope you're doing well today. This lesson is called Selecting a Learning Management System. And in it, we're going to identify some advantages and disadvantages of a few different ones. So here we go.

I was recently face with a dilemma. I live in New England, and we, of course, get snow here. Some years, we get more than others. And this year has been historically bad. The decision I had to make was whether or not I should invest in a snow blower versus shoveling snow the old fashioned way.

On the plus side, buying a machine would make the job take less time. It would require less effort. I could get out and help my neighbors, and it would be almost enjoyable.

On the other hand, there would be a cost to purchase and maintain the machine. I would have to find a place to store it 10 months out of the year. The potential for serious injury while using it is also greater.

Going through an exercise like this isn't as easy as picking the option with the most check marks next to it. At the end of the day, the process itself helps you to synthesize all the information and ultimately make the choice you are most comfortable with. By the way, I haven't seen my shovel all winter.

A Learning Management System can make a big difference in the academic growth of a student. A good one can also help teachers and administrators fulfill their responsibilities more effectively. Generally, a Learning Management System is something that is invested in by a district, but perhaps a school, as well. There are some steps you would want to consider when selecting one.

First, you'll want to start by considering the advantages and disadvantages of the available software. You'll see what this would look like later on in this video. Next, you'll want to establish a committee that's going to select the Learning Management System.

You'll also want to establish decision making process and the selection criteria. It is always a good idea to include a representative cross section on any committee. And when you are finally ready, apply the criteria to determine the most appropriate LMS for your situation.

Let's take a look at three possible alternatives you have when it comes to selecting a Learning Management System and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

We'll begin with a proprietary system. Those have software that is developed and owned by a for-profit company. One example is Blackboard. Some of the advantages include that they are very reliable, because they are built by professionals who are backed by a company and have the resources to stand behind their work.

Proprietary systems are kept current in order to stay competitive. This forces developers to update their products frequently. And these products are supported by companies that have the means to provide training and technical support.

Potential customers will point to cost as a major disadvantage. Proprietary software can be very expensive and often includes annual licensing fees. Also, users cannot adjust the software, add features, or fix problems, making the system very inflexible. Any potential changes must be requested by the customer.

On the other hand, the company can make changes whenever they want to. Proprietary software companies can potentially discontinue a product or a particular feature of an LMS.

And finally, the software may not be easily distributed. For example, it may be installed on a server and not allowed to be installed on personal devices.

Another option is an open source system. These systems are often developed by individuals, associations, or organizations. The community involved in open source LMS creation brings a set of knowledge, skills, and passion for learning to the development process.

An example of an open source system is Moodle. Some advantages include they are easy to obtain and most are free, particularly those that offer a basic level of service. Users have the capability to make changes and easily obtain available updates. These systems are usually built by a community of collaborators who are often open to new ideas, thus often making them more innovative.

There is a level of simplicity that comes with an open source system. They are often able to be set up by a teacher without involving any technical support, and they come with no restrictions from any proprietary company. And finally, using open source systems promotes the spirit of collaboration, because the software is easily accessible and can be used by anyone.

The downside to these systems are that some funding may be required. Although open source software itself is free, there may be a cost involved to host, maintain and upgrade software and cover storage and database support. In order to integrate open source LMS software with existing administrative systems, you may need to involve your IT staff to initially establish these connections.

One of the biggest setbacks can be the lack of tech support that is available. When using open source systems, it's incumbent on the user to resolve issues that may occur.

Sometimes, the old adage can be true. You get what you pay for. Some open source software may not be as robust as proprietary software.

And finally, security. Open source software might not provide the security and privacy settings that schools require.

The last alternative we will look at is called cloud-based. There are a great deal of cloud-based tools and services that are available to everyone. These include a toolbox of resources, including social bookmarking tools, like Live Binders and Scoop It, document sharing tools, social networking sites, and other media options that are available in the cloud. Teachers have been known to use any form of social media, like blogs, wikis, or Facebook pages, as a focal point for their course activities.

Here are some of the advantages. An array of tools. Students can use, for example, Google Drive for document sharing, Dropbox to store and sync files, Skype to hold meetings, Flickr to share images, YouTube to view and share videos, and Camtasia to capture screenshots and record synchronized audio. These are tools that students may be familiar with outside of school, thereby promoting generalization of learning from one setting to another.

Cost is also an advantage, because it's minimal. There might be a small cost for features like increased storage capacity or faster download speeds.

The shift from content to activity focus. Students use the tools to create, communicate, network, and collaborate. They use the content that they are learning through these processes.

Access to artifacts. Students can go back to the work that they created later on, as it can be stored in the cloud. That same access can also be a disadvantage, however, because cloud based alternatives assume that all students have access to these digital tools outside of school. And that is not always the case, and equity is called into question.

Proprietary and open source LMS's can provide authentication, grade books and assessments, which is much more of a challenge when using web-based tools that are not on a server that they can control.

We are always talking to our students about security and privacy and how to stay guarded. However, web-based postings can often be viewed by the general public, which can be problematic. This invites comments and information to be shared with people outside of the class.

And finally, some might find that the amount of tools available will cause users to become frustrated. The thought is that having to learn to interact with the many tools could take away from learning the content, rather than everything being in one place on a single LMS.

So to summarize, we looked at three possible alternatives and the pros and cons of each, proprietary, open-source, and cloud based.

And now for some food for thought. As you investigate different Learning Management Systems, keep in mind that it's OK to layer more than one. However, you must be cautious of discontinuity. And you'll want to identify the main one and keep it the main one.

To dive a little deeper and learn how to apply this information, be sure to check out the Additional Resources section associated with this video. This is where you'll find links targeted toward helping you discover more ways to apply this course material.

I'm so glad you joined us today. We look forward to seeing you again next time.

Notes on "Selecting a Learning Management System"

(00:00-00:14) Intro

(00:15-01:14) Snow Story

(01:15-02:14) Selecting an LMS

(02:15-03:27) Proprietary Systems

(03:28-05:21) Open Source Systems

(05:22-07:44) Cloud Based Systems

(07:45-08:26) Summary/Food For Thought

Additional Resources

Masconomet Regional School District LMS Study Group Report

This is a great example of one school district's process in selecting an LMS. In addition to outlining the process, this report includes the considerations of the essential elements of an LMS as determined by this school district. This report can be used as a guide to help other educators as they consider the use of an LMS in their practice.

Resources for Procuring the “Right” Learning Management System 

This handout provides resources and strategies for selecting the best LMS system for your organization from the USDOE. Of particular use are the guiding questions for planning. Although this is a practical and useful planning document, the links provided as resources do not work.