Picking a School-Wide LMS ... Or Not

Picking a School-Wide LMS ... Or Not

Houghton Lake High School teachers embrace LMS freedom, forgoing uniformity.

Written by Jeff Gerlach on Friday, 16 May 2014.

In April, the MyBlend team visited with a group of teachers at Houghton Lake High School, who are participants in our program. Later on we got the chance to speak with the whole HLHS staff, allowing teachers to share their experiences working with MyBlend as a partner. It was so great to have critical conversations about their successes and struggles. Education is full of data driven decisions, more acronyms than you know what to do with and a healthy dose of one-size-fits-all best practice rhetoric. Sometimes it’s just nice to keep it simple, to talk with teachers and listen to their stories.

I did a lot of listening that day. I’ve done a lot of thinking since.

One of the greatest topics of conversation concerned Learning Management Systems (LMS). The conversation began by discussing Brainhoney, the LMS that our MyBlend professional development courses utilize. Almost immediately Canvas and Moodle were brought up as alternatives that they already use. The teachers started to compare the features of all three LMSs. At some point, while they were weighing in on the affordances and hindrances of each system, I realized that no standardized LMS has been adopted by Houghton Lake Community Schools. I found this really interesting.

This was not an intentional decision made by a committee of teachers and administrators. Rather, it happened organically. I imagine there were been plenty of conversations, similar to the one we sat in on, in which these teachers learned from each others’ experiences with various systems. They have all tried more than one LMS and they all voiced features that they prefered of each. It was really refreshing to discuss LMSs as if they were any EdTech tool, using what they feel gives them the greatest educational advantage. This is significant because often LMSs are adopted without much input from teachers. When I was teaching, my district provided Moodle and I never really gave much thought to using a different LMS. The choice in my mind was whether to use Moodle, or to build my course in a non-LMS application (I ended up building my courses in Wordpress).

Adopting one LMS to rule them all has its merits for sure, especially from a technical support perspective. When something goes wrong it’s easier for an IT specialist to lend a helping hand if they are familiar with the LMS and it is hosted on school systems that they have access to. It would be a logistical nightmare to manage a bunch of strange LMSs, so limiting teacher choice becomes necessity with universal adoptions.

There are student and teacher considerations here as well. Consistent user interfaces allow both student and teacher to spend less time learning the functionality of an LMS so that the surplus time can be allocated to content centered learning. All of a student’s courses can be accessed with a single account, centralizing the “place” of learning. Not only does this make it easier for the student to access learning spaces, but those who provide additional support (parents, librarians, tutors, counselors, other teachers, etc.) benefit from consistently interacting with one LMS when the content itself is unfamiliar.

Really all of the advantages that I can think of stem from the consistency that universal adoption offers. But keep in mind that while providing consistency is valuable, ensuring that an LMS meets the pedagogical, content and technological needs of all teachers is more essential. This is the golden rule of technology integration, after all.

The teachers at HLHS understand this, as a group, like no other group I’ve met. If they ever decide to adopt a universal LMS, it will be because they’ve decided that there are clear educational advantages in doing so. Adopting an LMS that teachers don’t want to use will simply result in them not using it, which means IT will in turn support a utility that isn’t utilized. Teachers will always need the authority to use what works best so any adoption process should include them.

What does LMS use look like at your school?
What are your feelings on universal LMS adoption?

 Header image made available through Attribution 2.0 Generic CC licence by William Ward.

About the Author

Jeff Gerlach

Jeff Gerlach

Jeff Gerlach (@JGer1) is an instructional design coach for Michigan Virtual University. He works with teachers to design blended learning experiences for students through presentations, school partnerships, online courses and 1:1 coaching. He holds a master's degree in educational technology from Michigan State and has experience as a face-to-face teacher in the metro Detroit area where he blended his classroom for six school years.

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