If your school is leaping into online learning, the decisions you make now will echo for years to come. And your K-12 learning management system (LMS) is the lifeblood of your online learning efforts.
Picking the right LMS can mean the difference between ongoing positive learning progress and online learning nightmares. Luckily, there are a few key ways to pick out the best K-12 learning management system for your school.
In this article, we’ve identified 7 things to look for in your K-12 learning management system if you want to create a positive online learning environment for both students and education leaders.
Why Does Your Learning Management System Matter?
In online learning, your learning management system plays a critical role. The LMS is front and center throughout the online learning process because it is the system that lets your instructors deliver education to your students. Essentially, it’s the technology your instructors, students, and parents will all interact with on a daily basis.
That all makes it a critical piece of online learning. If your students or instructors aren’t able to use your LMS properly, it will distract from learning. Because it’s a clearly visible part of your online learning program, your LMS can drastically influence your school’s reputation and enrollment. After all, if students and parents struggle to connect with instructors, they’ll understandably become frustrated and choose a different route for education.
Red Flags in Your K-12 Learning Management System
Too often, a school will rush into online learning without giving much thought to their K-12 LMS. The result? A few months in, leaders are stuck with technology that causes frustrations for education leaders.
Luckily, by spotting red flags early on, your school can avoid picking up a problematic K-12 learning management system. Here are some LMS hazards to look out for:
Unintuitive LMS Programs
Some LMSs are difficult to use. It’s that simple. Poorly designed learning management systems leave students or instructors unsure about how to access or submit information.
Every little holdup has the potential to intimidate instructors and distract students. For learning to take root effectively, it’s important that your school’s learning management system removes as much friction as possible from the learning process.
Many popular learning management systems were cutting-edge when they initially came out. However, most traditional learning systems haven’t aged well.
Too often, school leaders will pick up an LMS and find they can’t access advanced features, such as smart sessions or self-paced learning programs. By the time leaders decide these features are important, it’s usually too late. IT pros are left trying to pull in third-party software that simply wasn’t made for the LMS.
Inability to Capture Data
As a school, your first mission is to teach students and improve their lives. However, if you want to promote better learning outcomes, administrators and education leaders need to capture data that spells out what’s working, what isn’t, and where progress can be made.
Most traditional learning management systems leave that data capture up to educators or other staff members who are already busy leading. That’s why it’s a good idea to make sure your LMS not only makes it easy to deliver lessons but also records the results you’ll use to improve your school.
Learning professionals are overworked as it is. And some learning management systems pile extra work onto educators, counselors, administrators, and the IT team.
If your LMS requires your team to input data, move information from one system to the next, or manually record analytics, your leaders will get burned out fast. In most cases, leaders recognize the damage these extra efforts are causing and try to connect systems after they’ve picked a subpar LMS. That puts the onus on IT pros, who are left with the impossible task of piecing together incompatible systems.
Learning Management System Must-Haves
Wondering how to pick out a learning management system that lifts pressure off of your education team? There are four key features that are essential to online learning progress:
1. Connected LMS and SIS
It’s not the most obvious online learning factor out there, but the way your learning management system and student information system interact directly affects how smoothly your online learning day goes. When your online learning platform includes an LMS + SIS integration, information flows together into a single hub. That means you can easily access performance data, along with reports, enrollment information, and other critical information. It also keeps your team from having to enter data multiple times with multiple logins.
2. Engaging Coursework
Engaging coursework is an absolute must in online learning. Students need to feel immersed in learning at all times. Otherwise, they can easily be distracted by the world beyond their screens. That’s why the best K-12 learning management systems will include engaging curriculum, Smart Sessions that adjust to the learner’s needs, and self-paced coursework.
3. Mobile-Friendly Design
There was a time when mobile capabilities would land in the “nice to have” category for LMS features. Now, mobile friendliness is a critical factor for online learning. According to Pew Research, 95 percent of teens have access to a smartphone. What’s more, one recent study found one in four students from disadvantaged backgrounds doesn’t even have a computer to work on.
The bottom line?
If you want your school to reach learners from all backgrounds without interruption, your LMS needs to work seamlessly on mobile devices.
4. Self-Paced Sessions
Students need personalized attention in order to reach their full potential. If you’re not using technology to deliver the individual attention students need, they can easily fall through the cracks. That’s why it’s important to look for a learning management system that includes self-paced learning. These programs adjust to the learner and allow students to advance at a pace that meets their individual needs.
Learning Features That Are Nice to Have
Beyond those absolute must-haves, there are features you’ll appreciate in your learning management system down the line. These are the features to keep an eye out for if you want to save time and lock in a smoother learning experience in the future:
1. Built-In Analytics
If you want to make progress, you need to be able to measure learning outcomes. That’s where learning management systems with built-in analytics make education leaders’ lives much easier.
With built-in analytics, your LMS automatically records learning outcomes and feeds information into dashboards that are easy to access. That means instructors and counselors can identify academic barriers with ease. At the same time, administrators have the data they need for reporting and info to back strategic decisions.
2. Tools Instructors Can Understand
Any time a school moves online, there will be a learning curve for instructors as well as students. The flatter you can make that curve, the faster your team will start boosting learning outcomes.
That’s why it’s a good practice to make sure your LMS integrates with user-friendly programs, such as Zoom and Qualtrics. These increasingly popular programs simplify instruction delivery and make it easier for instructors to lead distance learners with confidence.
3. Customizable Coursework
When it comes to education, there’s no one-size-fits all formula that works for everyone. Different schools have different learning regulations, standards, goals, and needs. When an LMS includes customizable coursework, your school’s experts are able to adjust their curricula to meet the specific needs of your school.
Learn More About the SmartFox K12 LMS
At SmartFox K12, our leaders experienced the problems with traditional learning management systems firsthand. That’s why we built an LMS that takes some of the heavy lifting from your education leaders.
Want to learn more about how the SmartFox K12’s online learning platform is built to boost online learning? Contact one of our learning system experts to learn more.
About the Author
Mark is the co-founder of Method Schools and SmartFox and has been working in the marketing and finance areas of K-12 education for two decades. He holds a B.S. in Business from Utah Valley University and an MBA from Brigham Young University. In his spare time he’s usually on his mountain bike.