Should Every College Use a Learning Management System?

A battlefield for conservatives and innovators, the issue of programmatic learning management at schools and colleges has incited continuing dispute. Can we imagine a modern college or university without a learning management system? Yes and no. It depends heavily on how you define “modern” and on every particular institution, its infrastructure, field of studies, tradition and a bunch of major and minor factors. Is an LMS really a must-have? Colleges did great without computers just some 10–20 years ago, why clutter things up? Are the reports on the death of brick-and-mortar schools highly exaggerated?

This is a controversial question, but I’ll try not to take sides on this and give the stage to the edu community. Let’s see what opinions prevail on the web and among concerned instructors across the globe.

Objectives are key

Every transition should have a specific unanimously accepted objective. What are the goals of an LMS? Managing syllabus and homework? Blended learning? Pure online learning? Answer these questions honestly and you’ll probably know if an  LMS is a good fit for your needs.

Some might argue expense is a critical factor to consider. Well, it’s not. It’s all about creating an ecosystem accepted by teachers, students, administration, technical staff and other stakeholders. Everyone is supposed to use the LMS as a lifestyle or at least as a feasible convention.

Apparently, higher education faculty will be more inclined to try online courses or blended learning when they do have an LMS in place. Is it a cure-all? Probably not. The question is, how much are the teachers willing to delegate to technology? Needless to say, every college has its opinion-makers, so there is hardly a comprehensive solution for the entire field.

Good for simple assessments, good for big institutions

E-Learning is great but it has limitations. For instance, if you take the assessment part, you are mostly dealing with multiple guess options, missing out on the test techniques instructors use offline. It’s either this, or you have to face costly customization to get things done your way. That said, LMS-based courses combined with classroom sessions have proven to be an efficient and cost effective bundle.

As far as cost effectiveness is concerned, an LMS should onboard enough users to justify building it. This involves a good deal of administrative work that scales up exponentially based on how big your institution is.

From an organizational prospective, all students need to get IDs in the system. The system has to be synchronized with an existing database and factor in freshmen, dropouts, etc. This is just one of the many facets that need to be handled. Some colleges think it’s worth the trouble, some think it’s not.

Need authoring, performance, and attendance tracking? Get an LMS

A learning management system includes three core features:

  • Online course delivery
  • Tracking of students’ individual accomplishments
  • Attendance tracking, course popularity evaluation.

So, basically, it all boils down to three key benefits:

  • Convenient publishing and management of e-Learning materials, live interaction between students and educators
  • Granular statistics on performance and instant feedback
  • Running a college with minimal administrative overhead and bureaucracy.

That’s roughly the main idea and the essence of the subject. Is your college ready to jump on the bandwagon? Three checks out of three mean it might be on the right track.

Great option for tech-savvy schools

LMSs support teachers in managing tasks, creating engaging courses, implementing gamification elements, and much more.

However, as with any sophisticated solution, it needs constant professional care. A weak technological infrastructure may be an unsurpassable barrier for introducing a learning management system. Another looming danger is students’ attitude. Even in higher education, teachers still need to disassociate computers and web-based courses with pure entertainment.

No LMS is that great

Education technology follows the general trend of consolidation. Whoever can provide an all-round product wins the battle. An LMS has to be easy to use and accessible to different age groups, whereas it also needs to be feature-rich and attractive to edu technology geeks. A constellation of various factors creates a rapport between all stakeholders so they start using the brand-new system willingly. Is there a perfect solution on the market? (That’s a rhetorical question.)

Bottom line

Institution size, ‘political’ will, faculty moods – there is a plethora of inner and outer factors that could impact decision-making on LMS deployment. I’m not sure there is an appropriate analogy in other domains. Project management system in software development? Automated accounting and pay slip delivery? Internet banking? I’m fumbling for a decent equivalent but it doesn’t come that easy. Indeed, the human factor and instructor figure are inherent to education and knowledge transfer. College is not so much an administrative unit as a living organism. Is it ready for reform? When is the right timing? Answers differ, yet the ‘must-have’ concept doesn’t seem to work for any particular institution. Got a story to prove me wrong? Give me a shout!

Scott Winstead

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