Learning Management Systems for Education: Features, Benefits, and Challenges

Learning Management Systems for Education: Features, Benefits, and Challenges
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Before the digital age, teachers and students have to be in the same setting for learning to take place. Today, however, there are plenty of tools that allow instructors and learners to meet remotely. This makes the classroom-based model no longer efficient by itself, and some would suggest, obsolete. For an institution to remain relevant, they have to evolve and embrace online learning and elearning. They do not have to be fully online–they can take the path of blended learning to keep the traditional way of imparting knowledge and skills.

For new learning strategies to work successfully, the use of unique initiatives and software programs has become paramount. One learning solution that is turning heads in the academe is the learning management system (LMS). LMS has radically changed the education sector for the better and schools are leaning in to reap its benefits. But before joining the bandwagon, it is important to note that there are plenty of factors to consider before investing in one, especially the types of LMS.

That is the reason why this post seeks to dissect LMS to help you understand the solution from all dimensions. Besides defining the solution, the article reveals the core features, benefits, and potential challenges of using LMS software. The goal is to help you get a solid grasp of what LMS for the education sector entails and abridge your decision-making process as you search for one.

Learning Management Systems for Education Table of Contents

  1. What is a Learning Management System?
  2. Features of a Learning Management System
  3. Benefits of Using a Learning Management System
  4. How to Make the Most Out of a Learning Management System
  5. Potential Challenges to Using a Learning Management System

What is a Learning Management System?

First things first, what is a learning management system? A learning management system (LMS) is a software that enables educational institutions to manage all aspects of the digital learning process. It is a centralized online education hub where educators can create and manage lessons, assign quizzes, and grade students. Moreover, it serves as an open communication channel between teachers, students, parents, and administrative staff.

According to Lohn and Teasley (2009 cited in Yilmaz & Ulker, 2016), an LMS is a web-based solution that allows lecturers and students to share instructional materials, submit course assignments, communicate with each other, and make important class announcements online (Ulker & Yilmaz, 2016).

Over the last decade, there has been extensive digitization of education infrastructure across the globe. This, coupled with the inherent inclination towards the bring your own device (BYOD) policy, has contributed massively to the tremendous growth of the LMS market. As it stands, the market is predicted to maintain an upward trend to reach $36 billion by 2026 (Mazareanu, 2020).

Source: Statista

Who Uses LMS Software?

An LMS provides robust features that are meant to streamline the end-to-end learning and teaching processes. As such, anyone engaged in these processes, either directly or indirectly, is already a potential user of an LMS. Basically, learning management system users include:

  • Schools, colleges, universities, and training providers. Traditional education institutions as well as schools selling elearning and online lessons have a great deal to gain from an LMS solution. Primarily, the system helps them design and manage online courses, flipped classroom teaching, blended learning, and in-class multi-device learning.
  • Administrators. A learning management system collates all information in one centralized place, thus streamlining the management of the soup-to-nuts teaching process.
  • Educators. It helps lecturers and teachers to create and integrate course materials, align content and assessments, and create customized tests for students. In addition, they can articulate learning goals and track studying progress.
  • Students. For students, an LMS offers a flexible and highly effective learning path that is way more meaningful than the mass-produced learning models. It is particularly suitable for professionals with tight work schedules that cannot be accommodated by traditional classroom learning. Studies show that 90% of students prefer elearning to classroom learning, which makes them prime LMS users (Pappas, 2019).
  • Parents. Better still, learning management systems help loop in all parents. It enables administrators to deliver real-time communication regarding a student’s performance.

Learning Management Software Deployment Options

Much like other programs, learning management systems offer two deployment options, namely:

  • On-premise or self-hosted deployment. In a self-hosted approach, the school buys the license for commercial LMS, downloads the software, and installs it on the institution’s hardware. This option has its advantages. For example, the system is guaranteed by many, configurable layers of security, plus it offers a great level of customization and control. On the flip side, users can only access the system onsite or via controlled means such as a virtual private network (VPN). Besides, it requires the technical know-how of IT staff to handle the deployment and it can involve huge upfront costs.
  • Cloud-based deployment. This approach follows a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, which means the school does not have to download the product. Instead, the vendor hosts the solution on the cloud and is responsible for maintaining the system, as well as handling all technical upgrades or updates. Among the benefits of opting for a cloud-based LMS solution are its ability to provide anywhere, anytime accessibility, its convenience due to the fully-managed nature of the deployment and its cost-efficiency, thanks to the subscription pricing model. On the downside, the software is overly dependent on internet connection and it requires a high level of security to avert the looming risk of data breaches.

Features of a Learning Management System

A learning management system offers a large and indispensable continuum of features to support a range of educational activities. Some of the fundamental features include:

Course Management

Course management is one of the most rudimentary functionalities of an LMS. The feature helps streamline all the course administration activities, including creation, pre-registration, modification, delivery, and order management (in case institutions want to sell their online courses).

Course management features come in handy if you have already created educational content, but it has yet to be consolidated. With the tools, you can upload the existing courses, exams, images, videos, and even link learners to other web resources hosted on the school’s website. If you are getting started, you can leverage the built-in course builder to create course content from scratch. You might also be able to leverage some timeline maker tools to create engaging visuals for your courses.

The best of it all is that content can be tagged by subject, school year, time created, and more, thereby significantly cutting down on time spent getting organized. In addition, you can arrange learning materials, requirements, curriculum, evaluations, and other matrices to create tailored learning paths for students. What is more, with the course calendar tools, you can create and publish course schedules, deadlines, and tests.

User and Group Management

Institutions of learning follow an organized structure that is hierarchical in nature. The implementation of a learning management system does not in any way make this convenient structure brittle. Rather, with features such as user and group management tools, it galvanizes the entire institution.

With the user management feature, it is a breeze to organize students into groups based on location, training type, year of study, and other criteria. This way, you can easily assign courses and assessments that are customized for each group.

Advanced LMS solutions support incredible functionalities, such as bulk invites and learner self-registration. Most LMSs provide the tools necessary to integrate with existing information systems in order to import and synchronize the list of existing users. Other than these features, learning management systems can send timely notifications for completed courses, due courses, and the expiration of certificates.

Reporting and Analytics

The reporting and analytics module is a central hub designed to offer comprehensive details about everything that happens within the LMS. This feature is a student grade book and the teacher’s report rolled into one.

First, it offers a bird’s eye view of learner average and final test scores. You can view group or individual student reports to discover where the areas for improvement lie. Moreover, the reports provide insightful data on which students have completed particular courses and those that have not.

Second, beyond assessing learners, LMS software allows you to evaluate the learning process itself. For example, it provides reports that shed critical light on online courses and the examination. With the vital details at your fingertips, you can fine-tune your courses and exams to make them more valid, accurate, and valuable.

Testing and Assessment

Outcome-based learning—a model that is so popular in many types of e learning and online learning—espouses regular testing and assessment. For this reason, reliable testing and assessment options are indispensable LMS features.

Regardless of the size of the online class, the testing and assessment tools make it easy to evaluate students’ proficiency in a particular skill or knowledge. They enable you to administer online, timed, scored, private, and formative tests to measure student progress against academic goals.

Most importantly, since the tools are designed to be flexible, they allow you to create multiple types of tests. For example, you can design multiple-choice exams, pre-tests, post-tests, or embed the quizzes right at the end of each course chapter to make learning more engaging.

In addition, the testing and assessment center is the central repository for students’ scores. Some LMS systems are designed to collate results automatically, while others allow tutors to upload results of offline exams. This way, all performance information is stored in one place and can easily be accessed anywhere, anytime.

Discussion and Collaboration

An effective learning strategy allows students to first generate and organize knowledge before integrating it. Research has shown that learners connect knowledge most effectively in an active, vibrant social learning environment (Yale, n.d). To help students negotiate understanding through peer interaction and discussions and to cater to the needs of over 24% of academic institutions looking to increase engagement (Kim, 2018), LMS solutions are designed with social learning tools.

The social feature fosters better collaboration, allowing students to share knowledge. It helps students to hone high-level thinking skills while boosting their confidence. Besides, online discussion communities provide an effective platform for joint problem-solving and real-time discussions. They enable learners to fully develop solid conceptual frameworks, by visualizing another person’s framework.

It is no surprise, then, that discussion boards are considered as one of the most helpful learning items by 43% of online students (Magda & Aslanian, 2018).

Source: Aslanian Market Research (2018)

Reminders and Announcements

Communication plays a huge part in keeping all stakeholders in a school (administration, lecturers, students, and parents) in the loop. An LMS is designed with robust announcements and reminders to elevate the way schools communicate. Using these features, the school can send vital notifications to teachers, students, or parents to inform them about upcoming events and training.

In addition, you can set deadlines for test or course completion and send timely reminders to ensure all students adhere to the completion dates. The good thing is that everything is done within a single system. You do not have to switch between digital services or copy and paste contact details when sending notifications to parents or students.

SCORM Compatibility

When you decide to go the online learning and elearning way, it is certain that you will want to import content from other reliable sources into the LMS. For this integration to be simple and seamless, your LMS solution should be SCORM compliant. SCORM is the de facto elearning industry standard for interoperability. Without it, integrating with other content providers is a costly, time-consuming, and highly ineffective process.

Security and Permissions

As mentioned earlier, an LMS system benefits school administrators, teachers, parents, and students. With so many people accessing the system, there is always a risk of data vulnerability. Because of this, the security of data in a learning management system is a must-have feature.

With security and permission tools, you can stipulate how user authorization is handled and determine which users have access to what data. They also support system configuration to assign distinct roles and different permission levels for all users.

In cases where the educational content is open to the public, you can leverage Single Sign-On (SSO) and Rest API tools to heighten the system security. Most importantly, data security features allow your system to remain GDPR-compliant, thereby building the trust of students and parents.

Benefits of Using a Learning Management System

A learning management system is an incredible platform that enhances the structure and functioning of the learning process in many profound ways. It transforms education methodologies, thereby massively benefiting all involved parties—the school itself, lecturer, students, and parents. The following are among the main benefits of using LMS software:

Benefits to Schools

  • Simplified Administration. Learning management systems make school administration easy. The solutions are designed with all users, regardless of their IT skills, in mind and thus feature user-friendly interfaces. They simplify processes, making it easy for educators to add or remove courses, control user options, import or export files, and perform a host of other administrative functions.
  • A cost-effective approach to teaching. Using an LMS saves money for schools in multiple ways. First, schools do not have to hire lecturers for every classroom. Instead, learning is centralized and fully automated, meaning students can access educational content and learn online in the absence of a teacher. Besides, digitizing learning removes the need for physical classrooms, desks, projectors, and whiteboards, reducing the cost of facilitating classes.

Benefits to Lecturers

  • Saves time. A learning management system saves lecturers a great deal of time. One, it stamps out the need to give the same lesson twice. The lecturers can record the lesson, and share the video with the subsequent classes. Two, marking exams or grading students can be accelerated as checking objective tests can be automated. As such, LMS can give teachers more time for other tasks.
  • Personalization of learning. More often than not, lecturers are required to give specialized attention to each student. But, traditionally, with one lecturer handling a class of 20 or 30 students, achieving this goal has always proven difficult. With an LMS solution, on the other hand, lecturers can adopt a student-centered pedagogical model and shift focus on each learner’s needs. In other words, it enables lecturers to create unique learning paths for students and deliver content that offers tailored learning experiences.
  • Easy tracking and reporting. Moreover, an LMS solution puts all important data at the lecturers’ fingertips, allowing them to unlock deeper insights. Lecturers can access data such as course download statistics, completion reports, course activities, student performance data, learning path statistics, and more. This way, they can easily pinpoint gaps in student knowledge and take remedial measures to improve performance. The data also uncovers the shortcomings in the courses, which can be addressed to improve teaching effectiveness.

Benefits to Students

  • Increased engagement and interactivity. A learning management system is also designed to help sidestep the boredom of the conventional classroom. The use of LMS technologies improves students’ engagement in the learning process. It nudges them to take increased responsibility in the entire process and become less dependent on the lecturers. Also, it helps overcome shyness and low self-esteem, which are the stumbling blocks to active engagement and participation.
  • Flexibility and accessibility. The traditional way of learning requires students to attend classes in a physical classroom, at a specified date and time. An LMS abolishes the rigidity of conventional classrooms, by expanding learning possibilities. With it, lecturers can leverage different pedagogical approaches such as rapid learning, flipped learning, blended learning, storytelling, and social learning. In addition, LMS provides numerous options on how to learn the material, including podcasts, videos, games, webinars, and virtual classrooms. Most importantly, everything takes place online, giving students the flexibility on how, where, and when to learn. It is unsurprising, then, that of the total number of students who are enrolled in an online study, 61.67% had previously completed individual online courses, 13.33% have completed a fully online program, and 25% have completed both online courses and programs (Magda & Aslanian, 2018).

Source: Aslanian Market Research

  • Improved performance. Moreover, a learning management system makes it easy to craft personalized learning paths for each student. This, coupled with the individualized attention that the learner gets, helps improve a student’s performance. Even better, elearning technologies help implement other methodologies such as self-paced learning. Allowing students to learn at their own pace and style improves absorption and retention of knowledge. Ultimately, this contributes significantly toward better student outcomes.

Benefits for Parents

  • Better involvement. A school can configure the LMS system and set clearly defined roles for users, including parents. Actually, a parent can be given permission to log in to the system to access their child’s performance, attendance, and also communicate with the teacher or other parents. Increased parent involvement strengthens the parent-teacher-student relationship and helps keep learners on track towards better performance.

How to Make the Most Out of a Learning Management System

A learning management system is an invaluable tool for any learning institution. Generally, it provides features that can contribute massively to better learning and teaching. For an LMS solution to improve these processes, however, you should learn to draw optimal value from each of the features you are paying for.

The following tips will help you unlock the full potential of your LMS and reap a myriad of aforementioned benefits:

  • Ensure everyone understands the system. An LMS is undoubtedly a worthwhile elearning technology, but its success boils down to how well the students and teachers can use it. To help users understand the system, create walkthrough videos, user tours, and documentation. Additionally, prioritize a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section and a feedback channel to quickly respond to all system queries.
  • Prioritize branding and customization. The ultimate goal of using a learning management system is to improve and streamline learning. But, if your system, courses, and modules are monotonous, dull, and boring, this objective cannot be achieved.  To create a vibrant learning environment that encourages learners to achieve their L&D goals, you should adopt an attractive, consistent branding. Pick color schemes, logos, fonts, footers, and headers that improve the learning experience.
  • Set measurable metrics and achievable goals. If you set learning and development goals that are too difficult to achieve, you will end up demotivating the learners. Always set up achievable targets for learners. Small wins are motivating; they promote positive reinforcement which is an indispensable part of a successful learning process.
  • Leverage data-rich insights. LMS systems spew out loads of data and insights that can help improve the learning process. Always track learner progress, use surveys to collect real-time feedback about the courses, and measure attention spans. Then, use the insights gathered to modify the system, courses, and the entire process on the fly. Statistics show that 67% of learning institutions are still not well conversant with deploying analytics for different LMS processes (Kim, 2018). You can choose to be on the positive side of the statistics.

  • Encourage learner engagement. Create a learning environment that is engaging, motivating, and interactive. Use features such as leaderboards for lessons and quizzes to build a spirit of healthy competition amongst students. You can also add progress bars and achievement boards to display certificates and badges unlocked by each student.

Potential Challenges to Using a Learning Management System

Every new software program presents a set of implementation challenges; an LMS is no exception. If you are into elearning, the following are some of the potential obstacles you need to overcome to successfully get your system up and running:

  • Onboarding Process. Change is disruptive and human beings are typically resistant to it. For this reason, getting students and teachers attuned to a new LMS solution is never straightforward. Onboarding problems will certainly spring up and if you do not address them early on, they will derail the adoption of the new system. To ensure everyone is on the same page about the usage, set up proper training to enlighten the user about the new system.
  • Interoperability. Another major issue is the LMS integration with the existing information systems. Always check if the LMS solutions can work with the apps and software that your institution is already using. For example, a reliable learning management system should integrate seamlessly with the existing school management systems and content management system (CMS). In addition, confirm whether the system is interoperable with other content providers.
  • Cost Aspect. The cost of implementing and using a learning management solution can be inhibitive and a major cause of derailment in the long run. Whether you want an on-premise or a cloud-based LMS software, be sure to compute the total cost associated with the implementation. Beyond the overall cost, be sure to factor in other charges such as licensing fees, maintenance costs, upkeep fees, additional fees for support, and upgrade/update fees. All these charges can add up quickly and overshoot your budget.

Be Strategic and Meticulous as You Choose an LMS Solution

In summary, LMS solutions are incredibly useful tools that can simplify and organize the digital aspects of the learning process. They provide a comprehensive set of features that benefits the institution, lecturers, students, and parents alike. There are administrative and course-building tools for educators, portals for students to access learning materials, and options for parents to monitor students’ progress.

Hopefully, by now, you know what a learning management system is, its features, and benefits. Also, you have taken note of some of the things you can do to wring every drop of the potential possessed by these solutions.

What you ought to know, however, is that the benefits offered not only by LMS solutions but also similar tools such as the best virtual classroom management software have generated increased demand. To quell the demand, vendors have escalated their development efforts. As a result, the market is awash with a plethora of solutions and you will certainly be spoilt to choose when shopping around for one. To find a solution that meets your unique needs, consider the following factors:

  • Understand your learning needs
  • Evaluate the vendor’s pricing and licensing structure
  • Tick off unwanted features
  • Go mobile
  • Check integration and content compatibility

You can check this comprehensive guide for more about the factors to consider when picking a learning management system (Thakare, 2017). Getting the right solution will unlock your institution’s potential and give you a leg up on competitors.

 

References:

  1. Magda, A. J., & Aslanian, C. B. (2018). Online College Students 2018: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences. Louisville, KY: The Learning House, Inc.
  2. Kim, J. (2018, October 31). 2019 Trends to Watch: Higher Education. London: Ovum.
  3. Mazareanu, E. (2020, July 2). Size of the global elearning market in 2019 and 2026, by segment. Statista.
  4. Pappas, C. (2019, November 29). Top Learning Management System (LMS) Statistics For 2020 You Need To Know [Infographic]. Reno, NV: eLearning Industry. https://elearningindustry.com/top-learning-management-system-lms-statistics-for-2020-infographic 
  5. Thakare, R. (2017, November 23). 10 things you need to know when choosing a learning management system. eLearning Industry.
  6. Ulker, D., & Yilmaz, Y. (2016). Learning management systems and comparison of open source learning management systems and proprietary learning management systems. Journal of Systems Integration, 7(2), 18-24.  https://doi.org/10.20470/jsi.v7i2.255
  7. Yale. (n.d). Student Construction of Knowledge. New Haven, CT: Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning.

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