April 19, 2022
How to Choose an LMS
Before your K-12 school district or institution of higher learning enters into a contract with a software vendor, follow this checklist to make sure the LMS you choose scores high on your Modern Learning Environment rubric.
Create a Committee of Stakeholders
“This is the piece that is often missed,” says Weers. Even when schools form a review board many times it will include instructional leads, tech directors, and principals. “But who do they forget every single time?” asks Weers. “The students. Don’t forget the kiddos who are using it the most.” In your review of vendor candidates include people who represent the day-to-day user’s POV so they can provide feedback also.
Seamlessly Support Your Current Integrations
Most organizations are operating in a blended learning environment and supporting multiple software plugins across various departments. Whether you’re on Office 365 or Google Workspace it’s important to confirm that your LMS will integrate with not only your SaaS productivity apps, but also other software that are already embedded in your organization’s routine processes.
- For example, user-provisioning strategies—which help create, update and delete account holders from the org—will be one of the features used most often. If you use an app for that, confirm it blends with the LMS of your choice. “The last thing you want is to have an LMS requiring one person to manually enroll and unenroll people all day long,” offers Weers.
- Does the LMS comply with your state or county’s regulatory requirements and educational standards or assist with building ADA compliant accommodations and courses?
- If you run Google Workspace or Blackboard, will the new LMS integrate with Google Assignments, an app built with Google’s Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) that helps teachers assign, track and collect schoolwork and prevent plagiarism using a feature called Originality Reports?
- Can the LMS support a Single Sign-On integration, which secures student and employee data, while preventing loss passwords and supporting classroom time management?
Does It Have a Central Repository for Data?
Are they able to track and measure student data in a digestible way? “It’s great to see a list of tests and scores, but does the LMS really dig in, and slice and dice the data in a way that makes sense,” Weers wonders. “Will it help teachers prescribe individualized recipes for learning?”
Another feature that schools will highly value is an LMS’s ability to create master copies where changes to the master are cloned to future copies. This helps keep all copies of a specific course up to date when the central office pushes out new curriculum mandates.
Ask the LMS Company for a Product Roadmap
Signing a contract with an LMS is usually the beginning of a three-to-four-year vendor relationship. “It takes a whole year to get things up and running,” says Weers. With new tech features debuting at light speed, it’s crucial to know whether your potential LMS’s tech stack will keep up with emerging tech. Before committing to a vendor, peer into their product roadmap to understand what is coming up the pipeline and if it aligns with your own multi-year strategy. Request visibility into their plans to upgrade over the next two years. “And if they don’t have a roadmap,” she warns “Then I’d say ‘No, thank you.’ It could be a sign that they’re not the most organized, thoughtful partner for you.”
Conduct a Trial and Pilot the Help Centers
Lots of organizations will test out an LMS, but they don’t hit the help button. “Shake the tree and see what falls out,” says Weers. “If you are in a trial and you find you can’t get support or they aren’t attentive, that is a huge red flag.” Catherine also suggests it beneficial to evaluate the user documentation, training modules and customer reviews. Get an understanding of the types of training they provide and who they provide it for. Another opportunity organizations miss during pilots is testing the LMS on multiple devices. “This is very important, especially if you’re in a school that has a BYOD (bring your own device) policy,” explains Weers. If you have a 1:1 program, while in the sandbox environment, don’t just trial the devices your org currently uses, but devices you may use if you expect to do an upgrade.
Get a Deep Understanding of Its Privacy Policies
“Go down the rabbit hole,” says Weers. “Bring all the players to the table.” Make sure the LMS that you pick doesn’t violate your own school board or state-specific policies. Ask the company to disclose all third parties that they work with. “One time we couldn’t use an LMS vendor because its third-party vendor violated a part of the school’s acceptable use policy for third-party cookies,” she continues. “It’s okay to use tracking data to improve their product. It's not okay if they're using it for other purposes aside from education.”
Before making an investment in an LMS pick a diverse committee to thoroughly assess a software to understand how its integrations, data analysis, future optimizations, customer support, and privacy policies align with your institution.
It takes a village to pick an LMS that will supply your students and instructors with tools to improve education. Experts like Weers are familiar with the homework involved in building a modern learning environment. A managed services partner like CDW can support your team as you flesh out the details when shopping for the right LMS so that your team can prioritize an IT strategy that enriches students with next-gen learning solutions.