Choosing An LMS For Schools In Developing Nations
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Buyer Considerations When Choosing An LMS For Schools

The sudden necessary migration of many schools to online platforms caused by the ongoing pandemic has caused school owners and administrators in developing nations to seriously consider Learning Management Systems (LMS) as they transform into online educational entities to survive. One clear definition of Learning Management Systems is that an LMS  “helps streamline the learning process by providing a central location for accessing material online and developing content. LMS software is used by K-12 schools, higher education institutions, school districts, etc.,” [5] providing benefits to administrators, teachers, and students alike as they can access and upload course materials such as calendars, syllabi, assignments, and grades. LMS platforms also allow instructors and administrators to track student progress on an individual basis and at the aggregate level.

LMS software additionally helps minimize the use of paper materials and supports remote learning [5]. This site, Trustradius.com, contrasts LMS with eLearning software which is beneficial to understand in order to make the right choice. The key difference cited is that eLearning software gives access to curated digital libraries that may include videos, eBooks, and online courses/lessons so that the user is provided with a large content library for self-guided learning, whereas LMS software may not offer these content libraries at all. The focus of an LMS is more on “managing the learning process, storing and tracking individual/aggregate progress”; vendors do usually offer eLearning software for integration in LMS platforms. It is recommended to ask a vendor this question: Does the LMS platform allow integration of eLearning software or is eLearning software already integrated within the platform?

What Is An LMS?

According to an LMS buyers guide, an LMS is a tool that manages the processes of creating, hosting, distributing, and assessing training sessions. It allows trainers to host different types of training content such as lessons, worksheets, quizzes, and tests [3]. This guide lists at least 274 LMS apps to choose from, but one must distinguish between different types to select such that are specific to education rather than those more suitable for industries or corporate apps. Another site describes an LMS as “designed to help an individual to develop, manage and provide online courses and programs to learn. It provides a platform for the students and instructors to learn and highlight their skills wherever and whenever they want as per their convenience” (softwaretestinghelp.com, 2020). The key benefits of LMS software are [2]:

  • Provides a central repository  for digital content
  • Automates instructors’ assessment and tracking of student progress
  • Facilitates collaboration and communication among teachers, students, and parents

There are a plethora of solutions and even articles to help buyers select an appropriate solution based on their organization’s requirements. Thus, buyers must know exactly what these requirements are, what they are looking for in an LMS to address their institutional needs, and how to compare the available solutions notwithstanding budgetary constraints with a decrease of enrollees, especially in developing nations.

Schools And LMSs

In these societies, face-to-face delivery was still the norm a few months back before this health and economic crisis necessitated radical transformations toward digital platforms. Cost- and implementation-wise this is staggering for education providers in developing nations, not just for private education, but more so for public schools that cater to the majority of their nation’s children. According to a United Nations policy brief on "Education During COVID-19 And Beyond," the pandemic “has created the largest disruption of education systems in history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries and all continents. Closures of schools and other learning spaces have impacted 94% of the world’s student population, up to 99% in low and lower-middle income countries [6].”

If schools wish to continue operating and retaining learners, not just to salvage their institutions per se but to continue servicing learners and their families, providing a source of income to teachers and personnel, and generally participating in the development agenda of their nations by investing in human, social and intellectual capital through education, migrating to digital platforms is indisputably imperative. The major question for schools is which LMS to adopt and how knowledgeable they are to decide which option is best suited to address their particular needs. Aside from distinguishing between corporate and educational LMS options, buyers must also decide which deployment option they prefer: cloud-based or on-premise. For small and mid-sized schools (catering for K-12), cloud-based is recommended as this is low-cost with no need to maintain servers.

An eLearning industry insider admits “there are tons of things to consider” when choosing the right LMS (Pappas, 2020), and the process of finding one to use can be overwhelming. Upon researching the best LMSs for schools currently available, various sites come up, each with its own list of what is best—with different apps making it to the top of the list. Across at least 3 sites these LMSs are cited as among the best (in alphabetical order): Adobe Captivate Prime, Canvas, Edmodo, Google Classroom (available through Google), Moodle, and Schoology. Of these Canvas, Google Classroom, and Moodle are free and open-source LMS software. However, a buyer must bear in mind that these products can eventually run up operational costs with implementation and customization as they charge extra for non-basic features and there is no staff to speak of for any technical support that might be needed. Alternative options of commercial software may have higher upfront costs, but include dedicated support staff and professional services with pricing dependent usually on the number of users and monthly subscriptions.

Factors To Consider When Comparing LMSs

The following are some of the factors to consider when comparing LMSs as aggregated from various sites (please see references): mobile accessibility, scalability, ease of use and customization, content creation vs. content management, third-party integration (including the integration of business solutions such as HR and video conferencing software), trial (demo) or free versions, subscription-based pricing, unbiased ratings and reviews on user satisfaction, deployment options offered, key features inclusion such as: course management, course authoring, course tracking, learner portal, virtual classrooms, assessment management, reporting dashboard, data migration, gamification tools, white labeling, social capabilities, student profiles, calendar, learning data analytics, as well as options for advanced LMS configurations for future use.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the challenges that schools in developing nations face when choosing an LMS appropriate for their organizational needs and requirements basically involve 4 elements:

  1.  Financial/ budgetary considerations
  2. Depth of technical knowledge when considering options
  3. Ease of implementation and delivery of content to users (whether administrators/staff, teachers, or students)
  4. Sustainability for future or long-term operations

One buyer's guide encapsulates the most important consideration when choosing which LMS to adopt and that is students’ experience of learning: “enhancing the student learning experience is a core goal of every primary, middle, and high school. This goal can be hard-won especially when paired with the challenges of managing multiple assessments, and lesson creation” [4]. Hopefully, with the factors to consider discussed above, and schools’ own initiative to gain technical/digital competencies, as well as the impetus to strategically plan for possible disruptive scenarios and innovations in the future, the challenges they constantly face in this matter will eventually be overcome.

References:

[1] Learning Management Systems

[2] Best Learning Management System <https://www.g2.com/categories/learning-management-system-lms>

[3] Learning Management System (LMS) Software Buyers Guide <https://www.getapp.com/education-childcare-software/learning-management-system-lms/>

[4] LMS for Schools <https://www.softwareadvice.com/lms/education-comparison/#buyers-guide>

[5] Learning Management Systems (LMS) Overview <https://www.trustradius.com/learning-management-lms>

[6] Education during COVID-19 and beyond

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