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Tips on choosing and implementing an LMS


Adding a learning management system to a school’s existing ed-tech inventory involves many difficult decisions.

When choosing an LMS, make sure you choose the five or 10 things that are the most important to you and focus on those, rather than coming up with an extensive list with hundreds of requirements, suggests Phill Miller, vice president of product strategy for Moodlerooms.

“Once you focus on those things that are really important to you, then ask, ‘Is it easy to use, easy to train my faculty?’” Miller says.

Another key aspect to consider when implementing an LMS is to have a “champion” at the school or district who can take ownership of the project. This is different from a project manager who would manage the implementation. Rather, a champion would be someone who “holds the banner up, who says we want to get our courses online, we want to better communicate with parents. The champion helps the project be successful, because it gives the project a purpose and helps move things forward,” Miller explains. “That is critical to success.”

Tara Thompson, former technology training and development coordinator for the Creative Visions Teaching Academy at Minnesota’s Houston Public Schools, agreed that having a champion is a key to a successful implementation.

“I would suggest getting early stakeholder buy-in,” she says. “[We had] a leadership team that said, ‘Yes, we need to do this,’ and we just started telling people, ‘This is coming, this is how it’s going to work.’ It could have been a much better implementation if we got teachers, students, and community members involved and understanding why we needed an LMS.”

Thompson added that having such buy-in wouldn’t have changed what software they chose, “but there would have been less questioning, less pushback, and we would have gotten further, faster,” she says.

Thompson also suggests that when schools train teachers on using the LMS, they combine the training with the implementation process, so that as a teacher learns how to create a course online, he or she is actually creating the course to be taught.

“A lot of times we see a trainer come in, train the staff, and leave, and what [the teachers] created in training is just busy work,” Thompson explains. “So we created a graduate-level course, and it taught teachers how to use Moodle in their class, combining the pedagogy with the technology. They had to create discussion boards, post their content—all the [online aspects] that they were actually using in class—so by the time they were finished with the course, they were ready to begin teaching with it. That really moved the implementation along.”

When considering an LMS, think about the long term, says Sara Weston, curriculum director of the Open High School, a public charter school in Utah.

“What I found was, all the add-ons and bells and whistles that were being developed, they were being developed for the big guys like Blackboard and Moodle,” she says. “I didn’t want to hitch our star to a small company. You need to be able to respond quickly.”

Weston said the Open High School went with a proprietary model for a year, then switched to Moodle. She suggests that schools considering Moodle not be put off by the “blah-ness” of Moodle’s visual aspect.

“I was so turned off by Moodle, visually. But if I had known from the beginning all the ‘skinning’ you can do, I would have seen the features and not the visuals,” she says. “What things look like really matter. If I had given my students the bare-bones, regular Moodle, they would have been really turned off.”

Weston also researched Sakai, but her impression was that it was geared more toward postsecondary education. “Moodle seemed more accessible to the K-12 market,” she says.

Be aware that, in the end, the system is not going to be used exactly as you envision it, says Dan Wray, executive director with Clark County, Nev., School District’s technology division.

“Teachers and students will find uses that you didn’t envision,” says Wray. “And the ones that you were sure they would use, they’ll look at you and say, ‘Why?’”

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