Finding the right learning management system (LMS)

Colin Bramm

Colin is the CEO and co-founder of Showbie. He has been building school software for over a decade. When Apple releases the iPad, he set out to harness the true power of the tablet. Aware of the challenges involved when software is implemented ‘top down’ in the classroom, Colin worked alongside teachers to build tools they not only needed, but also loved.

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Today’s classrooms are full of students who want to feel special. They want to have personalised interaction with teachers, they want instant access to information, and they want it in a way that is meaningful to them. It’s a millennial thing, a Generation Y thing; and to fully engage these millennials, it’s something schools need to be very mindful of.

"In general, teachers dislike LMSs, and students are even less invested in them."

Traditional LMSs were extremely complex to navigate and to understand, and because of their clunky nature, teachers often failed to utilise them to their fullest extent. They didn’t work well on a tablet or mobile device, having been mostly developed for a web-based audience at their laptops and PCs, and tended to be used by teachers for their most basic of functions: storing student grades for parents to see results.

My experience over the years suggests that, in general, teachers dislike LMSs, and that students are even less enthused and invested in them. However, taking into account the rate of technology evolution, growing student expectations and pressure on improving standards, these types of systems were always going to hit a wall.

Fit for 2016

Forward thinking, innovative schools are trying to engage students with learning by means of an aspirational deployment of devices; this is the core reason behind almost every school now using technology including iPads and Tablets. Their LMSs must also reflect these objectives. Today’s students have Twitter, Facebook and very modern social networking sites, which have set the bar for how they expect to access and receive information in the classroom. They are used to being able to message their friends from their phone and get a response straight away. If they then enter a school environment and have to engage with a ten-year-old management system, it’s game-over! Real-time feedback, interaction and engagement, at any time, from anywhere are the features today’s students expect.

For this reason LMSs have to meet the needs of today’s students, as well as their busy teachers and of course Ofsted inspectors. It must be simple to use with updates provided in real-time, just as would be the case with any other social networking app students use. Today’s systems must be highly responsive with built-in notifications; teachers don’t have time to search for information on each student. However, perhaps most importantly for students, it needs to be accessible from mobile devices. This means, for example, they can be sitting on a bus on the way home, doing their homework while simultaneously receiving feedback from their teachers. A number of schools are using a lot of rich multimedia videos and photos, so in a sense, today’s LMSs should have become an ‘Instagram for the classroom’. And that’s what modern students need: a product that reflects their personal lives.

Must haves

To really engage today’s students, there are a number of things schools should take into account when choosing an LMS. However, my top four considerations are:

  1. Does is offer a great mobile experience? It is important to have a really good interface that connects with the users and allows for communication. A great mobile experience is paramount.
  2. Is it compatible with other apps? A great LMS needs to offer a multitude of ways in which to work with other apps, commonly used in an iPad classroom.
  3. Does it facilitate meaningful student-teacher communication? Receiving written feedback on assignments or homework from teachers is good, however, verbal feedback is quicker and more personalised, which is proven to be more instrumental in student attainment.
  4. Can it facilitate whole school and home communication? LMSs need to make it easy for everyone in the school to communicate with each other. The parent access feature allows parents to use their smartphones to receive real-time updates about their child’s progress; good LMSs will bring the classroom to the parents. They are part of the learning journey, so bringing parents into the circle is a key part of successful LMS.

While LMSs have undoubtedly come a long way in the last 10 years, technology is also evolving at an unprecedented rate. This means that now, more than ever before, schools need to take stock of their classroom technology regularly, consistently adapting to meet the ever-changing needs of their students.

We can’t see into the future in 10 years time, but making sure that the classroom technology is adapting with the students to support their education is essential. Who knows what exciting and game-changing technologies will reveal themselves over the next 10 years? I’m certain that the successful LMSs will be the ones that strive to preempt changing technological trends, and adapt to meet them.

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