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TOOLS FOR LEARNING: How to Manage All That Learning

By Victor Rivero - Posted Jan 1, 2012
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It’s the Holy Grail of education: an online system that manages it all—content, courses, instruction, assessment, evaluation, reporting, school websites, gradebooks, professional development for teachers, communication to parents, collaborative and social networking tools, blended and adaptive courses, and so on.

A learning management system (LMS) for education—from an educator’s or administrator’s perspective—would be a convenient way to log in to a single place without having to visit half a dozen vital sites. From an industry viewpoint—well, it’s either a nightmare or a gold mine.

There are some companies that have ventured into the area. They do not claim to offer the ideal system as alluded to here, but they are worth looking into. The marketplace is rapidly shifting, but not so fast that these companies would become obsolete. Rather, they might simply be acquired, merged with one another, or improved on-the-fly.

Before you start in on this descriptive list, know that the corporate sector has more experience in serious learning management systems—there are literally hundreds of them—but those specifically built for education might be closer to a couple dozen. The slant in this article is on K–12, though in higher ed, there are even fewer dominant players. Their offerings come in parts and pieces—some offer more, some less—and there are variations that are reflected by their own sets of letters (VLEs, CMSs, LCMSs, PLEs, and many more).

The main thing is that these platforms are for learning the same way Facebook is a platform for social networking. They are a place to stand, a sturdy jumping-off point for carrying out everyday activities associated with schooling. They offer the hope of efficiency—and the ease of a better way. ­ ­

OpenClass: This platform goes beyond the learning management system (LMS) and is open to all, easy to use, and free. Dynamic and scalable, this fully cloud-based solution includes social learning features and helps with exchanging content, coursework, and ideas. OpenClass allows educators to manage courses, collaborate and communicate to students, faculty, institutions, and administrators anywhere—including in other universities and schools. It’s from Pearson Education, Inc., provider of all things education. It is still in beta, but that’s not slowing it down one bit.

Blackboard Learn (ANGEL): With the release of ANGEL 8.0, Blackboard will continue supporting its Blackboard Learn, ANGEL Edition, through at least October 2014. Blackboard would prefer that educators migrate to Blackboard Learn 9.1. This system provides interactive grading rubrics, content management, content sources with McGraw-Hill integration, and free tutorials among other features. Check out (8.0) and (9.1)Also check out Blackboard's K-12 link:

Moodle: An open source content management system (CMS), Moodle is known as an LMS, as well as a virtual learning environment (VLE). Popular as an educator’s tool for creating dynamic websites for students, this system needs to be installed on a server, or you should get a web-hosting company. There’s a great forum for K–12 educators that describes how Moodle’s features help small schools and large districts.

Instructure: Canvas, from Instructure, Inc., is new on the scene and is beginning to gain traction in K–12 settings. Its calendar, notification, file storage, and teacher feedback systems are strong, yet flexible. It has an open source version but is still supported by a reliable company. Pearson and Blackboard are no doubt watching this closely. Try it instantly.

LoudCloud: Identify at-risk learners, measure instructor performance and teacher outcomes, engage learners with social and collaborative tools and personalized content, use cutting-edge analytics, and more. Is this too good to be true? It’s definitely headed for disruptive game-changer status, if it hasn’t already earned it. Initially aimed at the higher ed sector, it has not forgotten about K–12. It’s definitely cause for excitement.

EDU 2.0: This simple, powerful elearning platform offers a free plan that includes a 30-day trial of all the premium features. Yes, it is quite a tease, but it’s a great way to test-drive what isn’t just hype. The platform includes features for administrators, teachers, students, and parents. A district can easily network schools to smoothly share classes and resources.

Knewton: This adaptive learning platform customizes lessons and learning materials to individual students. Mainly in the higher ed space, it plans to roll out services for K–12 as well. With strategic investment from Pearson and an unprecedented $33 million in recent financing, this is the platform to watch.

Desire2Learn: The Learning Suite for Schools is a collection of products and services for elearning in K–12, including a learning environment, e-portfolio, repository, mobile solution, analytics, and lecture capture system.

Sclipo: Billing itself as the only 100% free online campus for university and K–12 educators, this platform provides teachers with elearning apps, virtual classroom web conferencing, a social network, and more. You can teach, collaborate and share, and sell and administer courses on this social learning tool.

ClassRunner: This powerful elearning system comes with blogs, message forums, wikis, a feature for assignment distribution and collection, online evaluations, comments and gradebooks, course calendar and assignments, online quizzes, and more.

BrainHoney: Still reading? It’s amazing that there are so many learning platforms, so many LMSs for education, and enough names for them all! BrainHoney is a learning infrastructure hosted in the cloud. It’s a simple path to blended and online learning. With attention to standards alignment and reporting, as well as differentiated instruction, this curiously named company is an award-winning, flexible platform worth looking into.

Itslearning: One of Europe’s fastest-growing technology companies, this 1998 college project has come a long way, and it now offers platforms for K–12. It’s a place online where teachers can share resources and files and where students can complete and submit assignments. Designed specifically for the education sector, it supports teachers and students in all aspects of the learning process.

Time To Know: Known as “the first digital teaching platform,” Time To Know allows teachers to manage instruction, individualize learning, assess mastery in real time, and provide immediate feedback. This comprehensive solution appears to have it all, including a specially designed staff development program.

Haiku: A poetic name for a simple solution, Haiku says it offers “The simplest way to bring the web to your classroom … and your classroom to the web.” So ask not what you can do for your LMS, but what this K–12 learning management system can do for your school.

HotChalk: This free LMS allows teachers to develop customized lesson plans easily and quickly. A learning environment for teachers, students, and parents, it also offers a lesson plan library, premium digital content (here’s where the money comes in), and web-based professional development for teachers.

JoomlaLMS: This professional LMS might have application for K–12, especially with its very long list of features. It’s a combination of elearning tools with training and testing options, as well as conferencing, publishing, course management, and more. For the advanced techie, this system has been used successfully at the high school level.

Pearson SuccessNet: SuccessNet, which calls itself “Your Personalized Path to Classroom Success,” has begun offering mobile versions of its solutions. Create a class or group, add students, upload rosters, print parent letters, view assignments, edit class details, create a profile, and more.

PLATO Learning Environment: Because this company offers so much to help turn around schools in need and to assist already successful schools, it could use its own unique category: “school improvement system.” But, SIS is already taken (student information system). “Inspired solutions for teaching and learning” will have to suffice. The platform offers systems from credit recovery to blended learning courses. Check it out for yourself.

Schoology: An LMS with an emphasis on social network, this company makes it easy to create and share academic content. It lists academic, social, management, and administrative features, from gradebooks and online drop boxes to cross-school networking and private messaging. Your gradebook meets Facebook and then some.

Cengage Learning: These guys pull it all together, offering the ability to select your digital assets for a course solution; leverage your own school and course branding; choose your own delivery method; add your own links, videos, and PowerPoint; and even match it all to a customized print product. Check out the MindTap personal learning experience to see if it’s right for you.

Adobe Connect 8: This software makes it easy for educators to teach and collaborate, offering the ability to create and deliver interactive online courses and professional development. It also provides help with video conferencing, efficiently manages and tracks learner progress, and runs virtual meetings. It actually integrates with other LMSs, including Blackboard and Moodle.

SharePoint LMS: Based on the Microsoft Office SharePoint Server platform and integrated with ElearningForce International’s LMS, this system allows for effective learning and quick assessments. Read more about it.

Edmodo: Perhaps the most Facebook-like system available, Edmodo connects teachers, students, and parents, enabling them to experience the power of their community, analyze activity, and do a whole lot more. It’s growing at a Facebook-like rate too.

CompassLearning: Its Odyssey suite of learning solutions provides lessons and activities for primary and secondary students, with attention to response to intervention, differentiated and personalized instruction, and formative assessment. Odyssey assists with data management, individual and group reporting, parent involvement, credit and recovery, 21st-century skills, and communication tools. If that isn’t enough, it’s also known for quality professional development.

That’s it for now. Expect this field to grow, merge, fluctuate, and otherwise move through all the standard growth and maturation stages that other industries have experienced. But along the way, know that there are a lot of high-quality players out there with a lot to offer right now—and that’s a lot more opportunity than we’ve ever had in education. There’s just one caveat: We’ve got to take advantage of it. Good luck!

Contact Victor at

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