Managing classes and lesson plan materials can be time-consuming and complex, especially given the limited time teachers already have and the complexity of STEM topics. If only things could be easier, right?
This is where we get to Learning Management Systems. Often referred to as an LMS, these are feature-filled programs which provide systems to make teaching and learning in the classroom easy for teachers and students. And – with the advent of technology, they’ve become more popular than ever.
However, should you even bother with an LMS? And what, if any, is the best LMS?
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What Is A LMS, And Why Are They Not Worth It On Their Own?
A Learning Management System (LMS) is a system specifically designed to guide the learning process for students and teachers. An LMS can help teachers plan lessons for students, deliver the lessons to them via the digital system, and assess the students’ performance on individual tasks. Students can also use them to access the teaching content.
Despite the uses of an LMS, we do want to note it is not a system that should generally be used on its own. Instead, it’s often better pair with a course content provider like Zenva Schools for many reasons. The main reason is usually down to course quality. Most LMS platforms have poor-quality teaching resources or no resources available at all.
A teaching resource provider like Zenva Schools can, therefore, be invaluable in making sure your students have something of quality to learn in the first place. Plus, many content providing platforms provide plenty of useful features on their own.
What Qualities Should Schools And Teachers Want From An LMS?
Because of the massive number of LMSs out there, teachers and schools need to be able to research and find their favourite options. There are several qualities that teachers should want from the user experience of an LMS; they also must consider how suitable the system is for their students.
To get started on your LMS research, here are some qualities you should look for to ensure that the LMS you choose has the best user experience.
An Excellent User interface (UI)
The most crucial element an LMS must have is a functional and easy-to-use user interface (UI). Some of these features include:
- A clear and straightforward user navigation system. It needs to be easy for both students and teachers to use. A navigation system should have a menu with clear categories so teachers and students can find everything on the system.
- Although not as important as having a simple navigation system, the UI should be visually appealing so teachers and students enjoy using it. A visually appealing design can often be the deciding factor for schools in choosing a UI.
- Consistent page layouts. If a student heads to the main menu of an LMS and then clicks on a different page, the layout must be consistent; if it isn’t consistent, a student can find the system confusing and unengaging.
In a similar vein, if you’re going to pair an LMS with a content provider, you’ll want to apply the same rules to those platforms as well. Zenva Schools is an excellent example of an easy-to-access UI where that’s concerned, since the minimalistic design focuses on getting students learning fast.
Content For Teachers To Create Lesson Plans
Several learning management systems have teaching resources so that teachers can create exciting lesson plans for their students. So, you’ll want to check that they’re a) available and b) quality.
Here are some lesson plan resource types that teachers can find on an LMS.
- Video courses are brilliant for compacting multiple pieces of information into one lesson plan. Additionally, video lessons are pre-made, requiring minimal teacher effort.
- Interactive elements are excellent for engaging students in a subject. These elements include games, interactive tasks, and a specific programming language or software demos.
- Printable exercises and worksheets are fantastic to help students engage with the subject. For example, if they only watch a video lesson, they can get bored, so an activity they can physically interact with can help entertain them.
- Quizzes are a simple and fun way to assess students’ ability on a subject. Additionally, teachers can often use the results to inform student and class analytics.
This being said, while we are listing it as a quality to look for, it’s less important if you intend to pair the LMS with something else. Instead, you’ll want to make sure the content providing platform has these elements instead.
For example, Zenva Schools has many of these lesson plan resources types specifically for STEM subjects. The content is also designed by industry experts, so it’s generally going to be higher-quality than your run-of-the-mill LMS content.
In either case, know that you have options where this quality is concerned, but it can be a big help in deciding whether you need a supplement to your LMS or not.
Fantastic Value for money
The price is an essential element that teachers and schools must consider before choosing an LMS. The quality of the features in the LMS must match the price; if this isn’t the case, the LMS is unlikely to live up to the hype for you.
Therefore, it is crucial to examine the pricing section on an LMS website. Some products will have multiple pricing tiers that lock off certain features. Usually, there is an entry-level tier with basic features, a middle tier, and a high tier with all the features.
Alternatively, some learning management systems require a quote to get the price because they need to determine all the features a school needs and charge them accordingly.
Alternatively, and what we’ll discuss at the end, is that an LMS is not always needed in every classroom situation. It can often be more affordable to go with a platform like Zenva Schools which has the core features, course content, and more all wrapped up into a single quote package.
What Are The Best LMS Features?
Now you know what broad elements you should look for in an LMS, we will show you some of the specific features that the best systems possess.
High-Quality Reporting Analytics
An LMS must have multiple analytics options. Teachers can use these to help them assess the ability and progression of their entire class and individual students. Here are some specific reporting analytics you can find on a fantastic LMS.
- Classroom reporting: Teachers can use this feature to measure the progress of their entire class. If they get their class to start a course, they can use classroom reporting to decide when to move on. On some platforms, you can access multiple classes from a single menu.
- Student reporting: Teachers can use student reporting to monitor the progress of individual students. Specifically, they can determine their ability level and find the best resources for them. It can also help teachers decide if students need extra help understanding a subject.
When pairing with a content platform, you may also want to make sure they have those features as well. For example, Zenva Schools also offers analytics to track student progress – either on the classroom or for individual students in the school. Since the features are available it makes integrating with an LMS much easier since that information is available right out of the gate.
Full-Length Lesson Plans
As well as individual teaching resources available so teachers can create lesson plans, some learning management systems will have complete lesson plans. These are useful if a teacher doesn’t have the time to develop a lesson plan on their own.
Some aspects you want these lesson plans to include are:
- It must complete curriculum-based objectives. Without a curriculum, the teachings in the lesson plan resources might not be accurate or useful in ensuring learning objectives are met.
- The teaching resource must be a suitable length if you want one that can fill the time you have for a lesson. If the lesson plan resource is too short, it won’t be enough to fill the lesson. If it is too long, you will need to present it to the class across more than one lesson.
- It must contain a variety of resource types to engage students. Students can find a long lesson plan resource boring if it doesn’t vary its content. Therefore, a lesson plan should include content that has a variety of learning materials.
This being said, this is a much rarer feature to have. Thus, another in the long line of reasons we encourage pairing LMS’ with an actual content providing platform. These content providing platforms are more often likely to be able to provide pre-made lessons, as well as information regarding curricula standards.
To example this, we want to look at Zenva Schools as a use-case here for why this one feature can benefit with outside LMS resources. Zenva Schools provided pre-mapped lesson plans for both Australian and U.S. based curriculums. Additionally, courses almost always feature multiple learning materials, including video courses, text summaries, interactive lessons, and more.
Accessibility is critical for all schools for many different reasons. Some students have learning disabilities, while others simply just come from different countries where the local language is not their native tongue.
In either case, you want to make sure there are accessibility options such:
- Smart Designed UIs. These will feature things like high contrast colors, sizeable text print, and more. UIs that are compatible with text-to-speech devices are also a plus in these situations.
- Text-based & video-based content. Besides the fact students just learn differently, being able to provide students with multiple pathways is key for disabilities and second-language situations.
- Slower playback speed for videos can help students who speak the local language as a second language – because it allows them to process the words at a more manageable pace. Normal speed is often inappropriate for non-native speakers because the video is too fast for them to understand the individual words.
- Subtitles are excellent for many reasons, the obvious one being deaf students require this to deal with video content. However, non-native speakers will also benefit, since if need-be, they can translate everything.
Again, similarly to many of the previous sections, you’ll want content providers to have these features too if pairing them with an LMS. Zenva Schools, for instance, offers a variety of lesson plan material – including text-based summaries of all the lesson content. This is addition to the availability of variable playback speed and subtitles.
What Are The Top LMS’ For Schools?
The last stage of researching a potential LMS for your school is to compare some of the top options. Because of the high level of competition, many LMS platforms focus on perfecting one feature that is better than the rest. However, which LMS is the best?
Here are our two top LMS options.
Blackboard Learn is a massive, advanced LMS with multiple competitive features. It specialises in high-level reporting analytics and assessment methods.
For example, it has reports for classrooms and individual students. These analytics are helpful for K-12 schools and higher education facilities, as they help not only in tracking grades, but also in identifying the students who are struggling. Other features on the platform include customisable courses, online classroom functions, and much more.
Relatedly, there are also a lot of tools to complement these focuses. This includes things like popular tool integrations, in-house plagiarism checking, and so forth.
It is worth noting, however, that Anthology, Blackboard Learn’s parent company, focuses more so on higher education than K-12.
Canvas is an LMS that focuses on easy learning for students. The Canvas creators designed it for a broad range of schools (Kindergarten to higher education). To fit into their broad target audience, they made their platform very easy to use with a simple and accessible UI.
Additionally, they have features to make the learning process easier for students, such as a personalised assessment function so they can learn at their own pace.
Beyond this, of course, it offers a suite of students for classrooms as a whole. This includes classroom management features, collaboration tools, popular tool integrations, and so forth.
Comparitively to other LMS, Canvas also has some nifty bonus features like a mobile app and even companion services to help you further improve the classroom with content and assessments.
That being said, these companion services also add a bit of complexity to Canvas, and pricing on Canvas is extremely obscrure.
Google Classroom is perhaps the controversial entry on this list, as the jury is out on whether it is an LMS or not. That being said, the features are too good a match for us to not consider it an LMS for this list.
Google Classroom comes with a suite of features for managing classrooms, including the ability to deal with multiple classes, store assignments, track student grades, and more. The grades aspect is particularly a standout feature, since Google Classroom is set up to export to student information systems.
On top of these features, Google Classroom also have a few other features that take advantage of other GSuite products. This includes things like creating calendar reminders about deadlines and similar.
A lot of these features also come free – and that’s not a price you can beat.
That being said, there are paid options that include other helpful features, like the ability to import rosters from SISs and future features for tool integration.
Moodle is a highly supported LMS that, at the time of writing this, is now on Moodle 4.0.
That platform itself focuses on a few particular aspects with its features. First, Moodle has designed its UI to put learning first. Not only is it contemporary, but it’s made so students aren’t going to get distracted or get lost trying to find the content they need to learn.
Likewise, for teachers, they’ve made it easy to organize the content with as few clicks as possible – while still making sure they stay on track for the learning objectives they need to achieve.
If this wasn’t enough, Moodle lets you decide what your reports contain. With a drag-and-drop interface, you can get the stats that are important to you to keep on top of your students.
So, Moodle definitely comes feature packed. However, keep in mind that this focus may leave some other areas a bit lacking compared to other platforms.
When Not to Use an LMS & Alternatives
While we’ve complimented LMS features many times over, we mentioned at one point an LMS isn’t necessary in every situation. And that is definitely true. There are a good many reasons to not invest in LMS, such as:
- No matter how you twist it, an LMS has a fairly high learning curve before you can make use of every feature.
- As previously mentioned, their content libraries generally leave something to be desired.
- LMSs can be very expensive depending on the packages offered and the number of students you need to integrate into the platform.
- Depending on your needs, an LMS just may be overly complex if you’re only looking for a few core features.
So, what alternative can you turn to if you don’t want an LMS?
Well, this is where we look at Zenva Schools once again. As mentioned several times before, as an educational content provider, Zenva Schools has top-notch STEM lesson plan resources for your classroom. This includes video lessons, text course summaries, interactive content, quizzes, and more.
However, Zenva Schools also has a number of core features found in LMSs. This includes a classroom management system to organize students and assign courses, analytics to track student progress throughout their journey, and more. As mentioned as well, teachers also get pre-mapped lesson plans, so they don’t have to do any work.
Since Zenva Schools is not a full LMS though, it is much easier to learn and start using right away in your classroom. It’s also super easy to pair it with an LMS down the line as well thanks to the analytics, so you don’t have to worry about outgrowing it.
Which Is The Best LMS For Schools?
Ultimately, the best LMS will depend on a lot of things – from your personal needs to what your budget is. There are also a lot more LMSs than we can mention here. So, ultimately, the best is a personal choice; but we hope we’ve given you a good starting point for your research.
That being said, remember that an LMS isn’t strictly necessary. They can be time-consuming to learn, so platforms like Zenva Schools can be a great medium since they provide a lot of necessary tools while having a strong content library so the actual teaching part of the content. So, this is one area where you’ll have to also explore your options.
In either case, STEM is an important topic to teach, so the more you can focus on the education part vs. the administration part, the better.
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