Choosing a teaching and learning system can be a challenging task, it can be difficult to know where to begin, and simply comparing products is not enough. To make the right choice, schools must first look inwards at their vision, strategic goals, resources, staff development, communication, teacher incentives, and how they will implement this new change. Neglecting these factors increases the risk of the process having to be repeated when a new system becomes available. To find the best learning management system (LMS) for your school, it is essential to consider several key dimensions to ensure a long-term investment.
Think teachers, not features
If the primary consideration in choosing an LMS is the number of features it has, then your focus is directed towards the wrong aspect. Prioritise the needs of teachers who will be using the tool and consider the value it provides, how it fits into the overall system and whether the teachers have time to use this tool correctly. By starting with the needs of the users, the risk of wasting budget on unnecessary features can be minimised.
The learner-focused approach
When selecting an LMS, I strongly recommend adopting a learner-focused approach that prioritises the system’s ability to enhance and impact teaching and learning.
A good LMS should support your school in three main areas: Learning, Progress, and Achievement. According to the National College for School Leadership article, Learning-centred Leadership: Towards personalised learning-centred leadership (n.d) identified structures and systems that make “a difference to the quality of learning and teaching in classrooms” including:
Transparent planning processes where units of work and lessons can easily be accessed and reviewed, along with individual students or groups of students, classes and year groups
Setting targets for individual students or groups of students, classes and year groups
A seamless communication system – not only with teachers, but also with parents and students
Sophisticated tools for monitoring and analysing student learning data and providing feedback
The goal is to find an LMS that offers visibility in the teaching and learning process, allowing all stakeholders, from administrators to teachers and students, to view lessons, units of work, student results, learning goals, feedback, and wellbeing information, and then set appropriate targets.
The LMS should have a seamless communication system for parent, teachers & students and advanced analytical tools to help schools identify trends and potential issues, leading to proactive measures for better learning outcomes.
The missing piece
A common missing element in a LMS is the system’s ability to support the school’s overall vision and goals. For example, if enhancing the quality of teaching and learning and increasing student learning outcomes is a key goal, it is essential to first determine:
How will the new system enable this?
Will the students be able to benefit from visible learning?
Will teachers’ planning, lessons, marks, feedback and reports be accessible 24/7?
Can teachers teaching the same program easily collaborate and share expertise and resources?
Can this collaboration reduce teacher workloads?
Can students and parents have access to all their teaching and learning information at the click of button so that student progress, achievements and learning is communicated continuously and not solely at the semester reports?
Can students wellbeing information be easily accessed by relevant staff so they can make informed decisions?
Evaluating the software solutions abilities in relation to your unique strategic goals increases the likelihood of selecting a system that will lead your school towards success.
Planning for success
Once all the necessary criteria are considered & met, the last step is to plan for the system’s implementation to ensure effective communication among all stakeholders. The most important takeaway from this article is: Don’t ignore the teachers who have to implement the system.
Yates (2013) identifies several key operational and organisational parameters that are critical in successfully managing a complex change. The operational parameters focus on the task, strategies, tools and measurements for success. The organisational parameters focus on the people issues – the process and structures, training and development of a system culture that permeates the school. Yates symbolises this as a growing grid.
Those familiar with Fullan (2006), may have heard of a concept known as ‘the implementation dip’ – which he defines as “literally a dip in performance and confidence as one encounters an innovation that requires new skills and new understandings.” Have you factored this into your plan? How will you navigate changing teachers’ practices when they do not believe in the change or don’t understand it? What is your plan to address the dip? As Fullan (2006) states “behaviours change before beliefs”, it is crucial to consider the human aspects of what can often be a decision heavily influenced by finances and technology.
If everything discussed above has been considered and a comprehensive implementation plan is in place, your chances of success are significantly higher. This approach will help ensure your new teaching and learning software will support the cultivation of a learning-focused approach where improved student outcomes are at the centre.