As more and more schools are adopting the use of digital content to support their online and blended programs, the selection and implementation of an appropriate learning management system (LMS) is being elevated to top priority.
In the recently published report, LMS Selection and Implementation: Michigan Virtual Case Study, we investigated best practices associated with identifying and evaluating learning management systems that can meet the customized needs of schools and districts.
In addition, we documented Michigan Virtual’s LMS evaluation, selection, and implementation process, which took place during the 2019-2020 school year.
Below, we provide a glimpse into the key insights and recommendations that resulted from this work; however, make sure to read the report referenced above for a detailed account of the selection and implementation process.
What factors should schools and districts consider?
When considering the general features and characteristics that schools should look for when selecting and evaluating an LMS, organizations such as Canvas (2019), itsLearning (2019), Lambda Solutions (2019), Moodle (Gill, 2019), and the eLearning Industry (Pappas, 2014) indicate there are several factors that should be taken into consideration:
- Alignment: Make sure to consider alignment to your district’s goals, now and in the future.
- Total costs: Are there hidden costs or costs you will incur only down the road?
- Reliability of the platform: Ask for evidence of uptime.
- Support: How much training and support will you get and at what cost? Will you have access to live support or be simply given an email address?
- Simplicity: How easy is the platform to navigate? How intuitive is it for a new user?
- References: What have other customers reported about the LMS?
- Testing: Make sure that you have the ability to test and interact with the platform prior to committing to a purchase.
- Reporting: Do the reports that can be generated give you the information you need?
The LMS evaluation process can be time-consuming and challenging, so you may also want to consider using an LMS Evaluation Tool in order to more easily evaluate, record, and compare features across several LMSs.
What are the key processes that schools and districts should follow?
Based on Michigan Virtual’s LMS selection and implementation process, these are the processes we followed and recommend.
- Draft a statement of work (SOW) to help define your plan and ensure the successful execution of the project.
- Assemble your team, which includes identifying team leads and making sure that roles and responsibilities are clearly defined.
- Define and prioritize the general features and characteristics that you feel are most important to consider when evaluating each possible LMS solution. You may want to gather these solution requirements into an LMS requirements spreadsheet.
- Put together the request for proposal (RFP) which includes a list of important dates and deadlines, a detailed description of the request, the submission process and requirements, and the selection process to be used to determine the successful solution.
- Consider asking vendors to complete a Technical, Functional, System, and User Requirements spreadsheet with ratings and notes as well as a Cost Proposal Matrix indicating both non-recurring and recurring costs.
- Complete your initial “sandbox” reviews of the LMS environment for each vendor.
- Carefully analyze the proposals before awarding your preferred vendor the work.
- Create both an internal and external communication plan and develop related resources.
- Coordinate with the LMS vendor to put training in place for teachers, administrators, instructional designers, and system administrators.
- Prior to beginning any course development or course migration work, set-up and configure the LMS environment.
- Begin the work of migrating your courses into your new LMS. Migration of Michigan Virtual’s approximately 250 courses proved to be a time-consuming and labor-intensive process.
- Consider piloting a limited number of courses in your new LMS environment to a select group of students. End of course surveys can provide very valuable feedback.
- Prior to the full launch of your new LMS, your courses will need to progress through the four-course content migration milestones: content staged, content built, testing complete, and master created.
- Once the LMS launches, it will be important for your team to continue to dedicate time and effort towards fixing and updating the courses as it is expected that courses will continue to need attention, particularly during their initial offerings.
What challenges and opportunities exist within the process?
One of the biggest challenges facing Michigan Virtual’s LMS implementation team was its tight timeline. Michigan Virtual began its work in October 2019, with a deadline for implementation by August 1, 2020.
However, according to itsLearning (2019), the LMS selection process should ideally begin two years before full implementation and requires significant planning. While Michigan Virtual was successful and able to stick to their deadline, it was challenging and it is important to recognize that this process does not happen overnight.
Expect the unexpected
Another challenge within the process was making sure to have the right people and processes in place to make decisions, to facilitate completion of the work, and to handle curveballs, like unexpected situations and challenges, as they arise. The Michigan Virtual LMS team had to be flexible and make many adjustments throughout their LMS journey.
Increased competitive advantage
On the other hand, the LMS selection and implementation process afforded Michigan Virtual some opportunities, such as the ability to choose a solution that would help keep the organization competitive by offering an enhanced experience for their students and customers.
Increased flexibility and efficiency
Desire 2 Learn (D2L)’s ability to configure a system in unique ways that Michigan Virtual needed was one of the major aspects that made their product and service stand out against other competitors who didn’t offer that flexibility. It also gave them increased efficiency, the opportunity to streamline some operations, and a more impactful/mutually beneficial partnership in transitioning from two LMS vendors to one.
Final thoughts and recommendations
Whether you are considering implementing an LMS for the first time or transitioning to a new one, assembling a team that is well-organized and made up of talented, dedicated, and passionate people will make the work and the process possible.
Take the time to discover what is most important to your school or organization as you begin the selection process. The right LMS could create increased efficiencies for your organization and provide exciting opportunities and a better experience for your students and customers.
- LMS Selection and Implementation: Michigan Virtual Case Study: a more detailed account of the information and selection process described above, as well as a detailed account of Michigan Virtual’s LMS selection and implementation process.
- Guide to Selecting an LMS for K-12: developed by a workgroup of classroom teachers, building administrators, and district-level leaders
Canvas. (2019). 13 Must-haves for Buying a K-12 Learning Management Platform. Instructure. https://www.instructure.com/canvas/sites/blog.canvaslms/files/2019-08/13_Must_Haves_Buyers_Guide_ep_R3.pdf
Gill, S. (2019). Top five factors to consider when choosing a learning platform. Moodle. https://moodle.com/news/top-five-factors-to-consider-when-choosing-a-learning-platform/
itsLearning. (2019). How to choose the best LMS for your district. https://itslearning.com/us/k-12/resources/how-to-choose-the-best-k12-lms/
Lambda Solutions. (2019). LMS consideration guide: How to get the LMS you need to meet your goals. https://www.lambdasolutions.net/resources/whitepapers-ebooks/lms-consideration-guide
Pappas, N. (2014). 11 tips for choosing the best learning management system (2018 Update). eLearning Industry. https://elearningindustry.com/11-tips-choosing-best-learning-management-system
About the Authors
Christa received her master’s in Curriculum and Instruction from Kent State University, as well as a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. She taught middle school language arts and social studies for seven years before coming to work for Michigan Virtual in 2018. As a research specialist with the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute, Christa enjoys using her passion for education, curriculum, research, and writing to share and shape best practices in online and blended learning with other educators within and beyond Michigan.
Dr. DeBruler is the Research Manager at Michigan Virtual. She has been in the field of K-12 online education for nearly a decade and joined Michigan Virtual in 2012. During that time, she conducted research on preparing K-12 online teachers and supporting K-12 students. Some of that work focused specifically on K-12 online teacher preparation, K-12 online learner demographics and success at several state virtual schools, and learning trajectories in K-12 online mathematics courses. Dr. DeBruler received her doctorate in Educational Psychology and Educational Technology from Michigan State University and has experience teaching at the Master’s level, both face-to-face and online.