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Is History Repeating Itself with the LMS?

Henry Miller & William Dwyer, CustomTech Software • June 9, 2016


Technology in today’s educational landscape is an undeniable force. Flipped classrooms, blended learning, one-to-one initiatives, individualized education, and competency-based curriculum have all contributed to this new paradigm. K-12 education has become a vibrant marketplace for technology and software products, offering solutions to specific problems.

The system du jour in K-12 education is the Learning Management System (LMS). The problem that LMS systems address for school districts is content management and delivery. Learning objects such as images, graphs, diagrams, videos, podcasts, and graphics all need a way to be organized, searched, and deployed. District-wide assessments need to be created, tied to standards, and given to students in a seamless system allowing districts to control when and where those assessments are provided. So, what’s the concern? In one word, integration. 

Think back to the introduction of the electronic grade book in 1998. When teachers discovered the benefits of this new technology, they began transitioning from their traditional grade book, pen and paper, to the electronic systems. But there were many different grade book products, and they did not transfer data into the district’s student information system (SIS), where official grades needed to be posted for report cards and transcripts. Teachers quickly tired of the double entry of student scores. Eventually, electronic grade books were included in the SIS, where rosters were automatically populated providing time savings and fidelity of data. Integrated grade books led to automated end-of-term grade reporting, report cards, graduation planning, and transcripts without any need to re-enter data into another system. Much more efficient. 

A similar transformation occurred a few years later with the introduction of parent portals. Products allowing districts to push their student data to these systems for sharing of information were very popular, until districts tired of the process of pushing data between the different products. This problem was remedied by the inclusion of parent/student portals in all modern SIS products. Now the information is easily made available to parents and students without having to tend to nightly data transfer routines. 

Today, the rush by school districts to implement an LMS risks repeating this cycle. If Yogi Berra were still alive, he’d probably say that the LMS looks like “déjà vu all over again.” There is no doubt that an LMS provides districts with new methods of managing and delivering education that could benefit both teachers and students, but look carefully at the components of an effective LMS. It should contain section rosters, deliver content as described in a teacher’s lesson plans and grade book, administer and score assessments, and carry measurements of student performance on all assigned elements. In the end, the student performance information needs to be reported to parents and students, on report cards and transcripts, and to the state department of education. 

For districts looking to implement an external LMS system, a myriad of information needs to flow in both directions, from the SIS to the LMS and back again. Districts considering this option need to factor in the cost of creating and maintaining these data transfer processes as part of the total cost of ownership. Additional consideration needs to be given to the multi-portal conundrum. Parents and students will need to login to multiple portals, SIS and LMS, to get the information they need from the district. 

What is the alternative? If history is a guide, open communication with a district’s current software provider is always a good starting point. A district’s software partners may already be working on solutions to integrate learning management functionality into their systems, avoiding the need to purchase, integrate and manage yet another solution. Openly discussing district needs, goals, and timeframes with existing partners could help the district move toward its overall goals. Patience and communication might just be what are required in order to avoid history repeating itself.

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