What Is A Learning Management System and Why Does My School Need One?
No business, nor industry, has ever complained of having too much time and too much money. Education and educational technology are no different. Resources are always scarce. Budgets are tight; demands are enormous. Productivity and cold data drive decision-making, sometimes obscuring the children at the center of the learning organization. Learning Management Systems (LMS) are not panaceas for underfunded, overworked schools, but they can relieve district administrators of many headaches while boosting efficiency and pedagogy. They appeal to educators, parents, students, and taxpayers.
What is a Learning Management System (LMS)?
You may have heard the question “What is a Learning Management System?” quite a few times before. Well, we’re here to help you so that next time you hear this, you’re the one who can answer it!
An elephant is a trunk. An elephant is a tall wall. An elephant is a pair of ivory tusks. The old Indian philosophical fable reminds us that viewpoints affect our understanding.
The same is true with your LMS. To some extent, a LMS is what every administrator wants it to be. At its technological center it stores and organizes data using servers and networks. It creates a digital learning experience, aiding teachers in the teaching and students in learning. Depending on your needs, that stored data could be:
- Attendance records
- Grade point averages
- Health and medical charts
- Professional development modules
- Professional development histories
- eLearning coursework
- Educator professional evaluations
A common use for LMS software is to deploy and track online learning initiatives. Computer Aided E-Learning (CAE) describes it as "software that helps users create, administer, manage, and analyze eLearning courses and trainings."
Epignosis LLC calls a LMS "the 'engine' that powers eLearning," with two separate parts:
- A server performing core functions (creating, managing and delivering courses, authenticating users, serving data and notifications)
- A user interface running inside an organization's browser as a web (like Gmail or Facebook), used by administrators, instructors and students
An LMS must connect all interested users around a central depository of information, making it hierarchically available. Teachers do not want students accessing and changes grades. Administrators do not want teachers changing observations. Secure access is a must. An LMS contains archived and live records. It provides asynchronous, remote learning opportunities, and it stores all the results of those learning experiences for organized retrieval.
Why Does My School Need a LMS?
No extra money, no extra time, no extra resources: why, then, would a school or school district need an LMS, when already stretched to the breaking point? An LMS is not another layer of complexity; it is a solution for huge logistical burdens:
- Student academic record maintenance
- Curriculum repository
- Document storage and retrieval
- In-house and public communications
- Assessment center
- Human resources records
CAE in two separate blogs provides 17 solid reasons to invest in an LMS, but we will glean only one for each stakeholder:
- For educators, an LMS is infinitely personalized, so work generated by the educator can be tailored to the needs of every student
- For students, the learning experience is more complete, more intimate, and more meaningful than mass-produced learning paths
- For administrators, an LMS saves you time and money; it is easy to implement with a shallow learning curve for users
- For parents, an LMS gives immediate, timely results and improved communication
- For taxpayers, an LMS can be leveraged to provide income through billable online courses for adult learners and students outside a school district; it is also a highly cost-effective way to handle enormous amounts of live data
Other special populations can benefit, too, such as students with work, athletic or professional schedules that prevent traditional classroom learning. The ability to step into an LMS 24/7 gives motivated students opportunities to learn anytime, anywhere.
How Will Our Teachers Benefit from an LMS?
Teachers do not want to be lost in data. Gradebooks and online records are secondary to the child before them, the portable minds carried about in little learning vessels. An LMS frees teachers from much of the misery of paperwork. It doesn't just make teachers more efficient but it also expands on what teachers can do. With an LMS, a teacher can also talk to students looking at the same data (e.g. assignments and mastery) making for better conversations about student progress. An LMS can monitor progress, track student time on tasks, alert educators to incipient issues, and provide real-time glimpses of student performance, says eLearning Industry.
Edvergent Learning highlights the teacher-friendly personalization of learning for students. While differentiated learning is a great concept, in a traditional classroom educators quickly become exhausted preparing individual, nuanced lessons for every child, for each subject taught. An LMS facilitates personalized learning.
How Will Our Students Benefit from an LMS?
At the center of education are the students. They are the reason educational technology, educators, schools, and textbooks exist. If the LMS does not benefit them, it does not deserve entree into the building. Yet the LMS is, perhaps, a student's greatest learning tool. Because of its inherent flexibility, a good LMS can be shaped to accommodate all learners, across abilities and time zones, across learning styles and interests.
Who are the special populations needing an LMS? Edvergent Learning, as other authorities have, mentions 24/7 access. Educational opportunity has to reach the child traveling performer, special education students, the child athlete, the immuno-compromised student, or the child actor. Whether from a Hollywood soundstage or the locker room of an athletic competition, an LMS gives that student immediate access to real learning, overseen by their teacher.
Students have the ability to collaborate outside of the brick-and-mortar school. Shy students or students with low self-esteem can engage on more equal footing in a virtual learning environment.
Lagging students benefit from an effective LMS because an educator can custom-tailor a unique learning path for them. This also allows students to have the ability to choose the right content and activity for them.
A carefully planned LMS purchase can boost student performance, enhance educators' professional development, make teachers more effective, satisfy record-keeping requirements for central offices, and improve parents' impressions of a school or school district.
Now that you know the answer to “What is a Learning Management System?” and why your school needs one, what do you think is the biggest benefit of having an LMS? Tell us on Twitter @Schoology