The majority of K-12 school districts use a learning management system, especially after the pandemic forced schools to find tools that would help teachers deliver instruction online.
Many of the educators who spoke to Education Week said they like using their LMS now, even if the implementation during the pandemic was rocky.
In fact, a small majority of educators (52 percent) said the learning management system their district uses makes instruction easier, according to an EdWeek Research Center survey of more than 1,000 district leaders, principals, and teachers conducted in late July through early August.
But even so, some educators and experts told Education Week that there’s not yet an excellent K-12 LMS tool out there.
“In order for any LMS system to be efficient and to be relevant, it needs to continue to evolve,” said Tanna Nicely, the principal at South Knoxville Elementary School in Knoxville, Tenn.
So what would educators like to have in their ideal learning management system? Here’s what they said.
1. Shared or seamless use with other ed-tech tools, also known as interoperability
Almost all educators who spoke with Education Week said they want a learning management system that works smoothly with products that they already use.
They know from experience how problematic it can be when tools don’t interact well with each other. For example, a few teachers said they were disappointed with the LMS their district uses because it didn’t communicate well with their online gradebook.
“We have run into the situation where LMS systems don’t always integrate with other technology, which can be frustrating,” a New York middle school teacher wrote in the open-ended response section of the EdWeek Research Center survey. “So we end up grading everything twice.”
What educators want is a LMS that is a one-stop shop—a system that consolidates all the tools they and their students use.
“One thing I’m hearing out of my teachers and colleagues across the nation is it needs to be an all-in-one [tool],” Nicely said. “We need to have one and done, almost like an Amazon of [learning management systems].”
“From a budget standpoint, that would be a really nice thing and from a teacher-friendly, user-friendly standpoint, instead of having all these different systems to log into,” she added.
Jessica Maynard, a 1st grade teacher at South Knoxville Elementary School, agreed.
“It would be nice if [the LMS] could fully integrate [with other tools] and you could go straight there,” Maynard said. Students “can do their assignments—everything—in one, because a learning management system should be the one stop for everything.”
2. Effective communication and collaboration tools
Another feature that educators want is a more streamlined way to communicate and collaborate, with students, with colleagues, and with parents.
“My ideal learning management system would have a lot more collaboration and [group] editing tools built into the system,” said Ryan Orilio, director of technology and innovation for upstate New York’s Herkimer Central School District. “So if I, as a teacher, want to distribute an image to everybody, and I want everyone to be able to annotate and draw on that image at the same time, I don’t want to have to go into a different platform to do that.”
Dan Weber, the principal of Wilson High School in Reading, Pa., said his ideal LMS would allow parents “to go to one spot and see where everything is” and allow them to participate in their child’s education.
And for Sandra Rose, social studies supervisor for Maryland’s Prince George’s County Public Schools, being able to collaborate and build course curriculum with other staff members simultaneously in the LMS would be a “game changer.”
3. Flexibility and differentiation
More flexibility and differentiation are other features that educators said they would like in a LMS.
“I would like it to be a little bit more pliable, where maybe there’s a version that’s better for younger learners and a more intense version for older learners,” said Heather Lyke, the teaching and learning content lead for the Minneapolis Public Schools.
Lyke would also like the ability to turn features on or off for specific students to help them learn responsible use.
“Right now, the way learning management systems exist, you either can turn a feature on or you can turn the feature off,” she said. “But sometimes, you want to turn the feature on for 92 percent of the kids, but there’s a couple of kids—that 8 percent—that have been misusing it and you want to turn it off just for those kids, so that they can learn and grow and then turn it back on when they’re ready.”
Other features educators want:
- Student portfolios: “I want to store things for students that want to have a profile,” Weber said. “If a kid is looking at post-secondary school or an internship, they have the ability to just share that resource.”
- Audio and video capabilities: Teachers said they’d like the ability to do video and audio conferences with students right within the system. They’d also like a way for students to turn in assignments using video or audio tools available within the LMS to accommodate different learning styles.
- Cost-free: “In education—where we are, in my opinion, underfunded—[in order] to support our youth for the future, free is important,” Lyke said. “Open educational resources are critical. So I would love a learning management to be free.” (Dover-Eyota Public Schools in Minnesota, where Lyke was the teaching and learning director for two years, used Google Classroom as its learning management system, and it was free.)