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TOOLS FOR LEARNING: Next-Generation Learning Management–Improved Systems for an Improved Educational Experience

By Victor Rivero - Posted Nov 1, 2015
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Hear the letters “LMS” and think, “learning management system.” Or, you might think, “Blackboard.” In the corporate world, there’s Litmos, Skillsoft and even Grovo. Back to K–12 and higher education, in addition to Blackboard, there’s Brightspace, Canvas by Instructure, rSmart OneCampus, Chalkup and more. On the EdSurge Edtech Index, a fairly exhaustive listing of ed-tech products and services, there are a whopping 42 items under LMSs. Not all of them are LMSs in the strictest sense. Usually, such platforms allow for course content delivery, student registration, curriculum management, assessment, reporting, and much more. The basic idea is to be able to create, distribute and track learning anywhere on any device.

Today’s LMS is predictably more accommodating to social learning and collaboration and mobile learning. In addition to those mentioned, there are other, Facebook-like platforms for education such as Edmodo, Schoology, and Edsby, as well as Moodle and Haiku.

Here we explore many of these and more. However, the best way to really understand them, whether you’re a student or educator, or educator and student, is to take them for a test-drive to see for yourself what works for you.

Blackboard. This older LMS company is reinventing itself touting a transformative “New Learning Experience” with a learner-centric approach to teaching and learning. The billionaires on the block and not to be underestimated, Blackboard will change as much as it has to—which is quite a bit these days.

Litmos. The world’s easiest-to-use LMS, according to its website. More than a million users across the corporate world and education can’t be wrong—unless they are. Featuring an intuitive interface to assessments and quizzes, even Zumba fitness instructors use them.

Skillsoft. These self-described pioneers in learning and talent management deliver highly effective content through their innovative technology. Founded in 1998, the corporation is a product of a 2002 merger with SmartForce, a company founded way back in 1989.

Grovo. Here’s a learning ecosystem for the 21st century within which you can learn better, work happier. These guys want you to feel better, work harder, and spread positive energy throughout the workplace. Not a bad idea.

Brightspace. These Canadian guys had the audacity to compete against Blackboard in the early days and survive, and they’re still around, now stronger than ever. For higher ed, K–12, and enterprise, this online platform seeks to better the learning experience.

Canvas. A breath of fresh air, an educational revolution, a powerful way to change the world. Are you marketed out yet? These LMS companies stir the emotions, but if you want to know what they’re talking about, you might actually get smarter just using it.

OneCampus from rSmart. All campus services in one location is quite a tagline. All of them? Campus CIO’s swear by it, and the site does have a video that, in less than 3 minutes, explains everything OneCampus does. Worth a look.

Chalkup. This is a home base for everything you want to do in your classroom. Here’s a system born of the frustration of using a 1990s’ LMS and wanting something more, something easier, something that a student would not abhor, but actually love to use.

Edmodo. At first it felt like Facebook for education; in recent years, the site’s grown out of that and into something much more valuable for teachers, parents, administrators and students; it’s not the leading global education platform for nothing.

Schoology. Not your typical LMS, these founders wanted to disrupt the stagnant ed-tech market and make a configurable, scalable, and easy-to-implement solution. They have a lot to offer—and a lot of fans in schools and districts across the country.

Edsby. Built specifically for K–12 school districts, Edsby was done by guys who have listened to what administrators wanted and, well, gave it to them. Not a bad formula for success, and it’s working quite well as a safe, structured, collaborative learning environment.

Moodle. This open-source project is community-driven, globally supported, and is a collaborative effort by one of the largest open-source teams in the world. It’s known for its ease of use and allows teachers to make changes, something teachers do.

Haiku. A full suite of beautiful, cloud-based tools to help get you up and running with digital learning in minutes, the platform revolves around your content and integrates with YouTube, Google Docs, Maps, Skype and other third-party services.

OpenClass. These guys were picked up by Pearson; they offer a lot more than Blackboard, Canvas, Brightspace, and Moodlerooms, according to the website. You be the judge.

Alma. K–12 now has a “Holistic Student Engagement Platform.” Is this yet another blended “words” learning experience, or is it really a better experience for administrators, teachers, parents and students? Hint: The site creators seem to know what they’re doing.

Otus. Here’s an easy platform, recently improved, that now includes a free LMS classroom app as well. Otus added features for teachers to be able to work across devices, which is much needed in today’s classrooms.

There are a ton more where these came from. In any case, the products available above are a heck of a lot better than what was available in the 1990s, and even in the early 2000s. But the real test of any system is, does it work? Does it work for me? And most importantly: Does it get results? Stay alert, dare to compare, see what’s out there. Ultimately, the answers to such questions are for you to decide. But rest assured that today’s learning management systems are robust, thought-out platforms that are purpose-driven in improving learning for real. Take pleasure in what they provide!

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