Using the LMS

Every instructor can expect their college will provide a course shell on the learning management system they support. The shell may be largely empty, or it may be completely filled with the materials for the course, or it may be partially filled. Student are likely to be enrolled in your course shell without the instructor’s intervention; this is accomplished by programs and scripts that share information between the school student information system and the learning management system. 

Those instructors who are tech-savvy and who use social networks, cloud-based productivity suites, video conferencing, and similar digital tools in their personal and professional lives any from their teaching lives will find similarities between the tools of the LMS and the tools provided by other digital platforms. Those instructors are likely to ask information or instructional technology professionals, colleagues, deans, or other leaders, “Can’t I just use…?” and complete the question with a web 2.0 tool that provides the same service as the LMS, “but it is easier” they argue. The answer to that question is usually, “No.” 

More accurately, the answer is “well, we can’t really stop you and we are not going to be the LMS ‘police,’ but we prefer you use the LMS.” There are some reasons why instructors should use the LMS supported by the schools rather than similar platforms not supported by the school.  

First, the LMS and the school SIS are likely to be connected. The roster in your LMS classroom will be accurate and controlled by the records keepers in the administration. When a student drops your course, they should not be able to access your course materials. 

Second, the school retains professionals to help you and your students use these systems; if you of your students encounter problems using an outside system, then the school cannot be expected to provide any support. 

Third, your school has policies and procedures related to data security. If you are using the school’s LMS, then you can reasonably assume the system meets those standards. Plus, you can assume someone else will be liable if there is a data breech. 

Fourth, you may be increasing students cognitive load (see the following section). It is easier for students to visit one spot and use similar controls to access all of their classrooms.  

Fifth, instructors may be causing students to purchase unexpected or unwarranted services. Many of the service faculty seek to use are available as premium services or as free versions. The free versions may be advertisement-driven and the ethics of forcing students to view advertisements as part of their education is dubious. Further the “freemium” or advertisement-driven versions of these sites are often specifically for personal use, so using them as part of an organized course is likely to violate the terms of service.  

For all of these reasons, it is recommended that instructors use the learning management system provide by the school. If there are other systems on which they have created large amounts of content they wish to use in their courses, they can investigate options for incorporating the content in the LMS. Much of the content created on the World Wide Web can be embedded in other web pages (creating what used to be called mash-ups when it was first available, but is so widely used today there is no need to use a special name). For example, YouTube videos, social media feeds, and files created on cloud-based productivity suites can be embedded by copying small snippets of code and pasting it into hypertext markup language (html) files on the LMS.  

Some other services can be configured so the LMS share information with an external tool so that it appears to be internal to the LMS. These services tend to be those that are controlled by subscriptions or licenses. This will allow, for example, as instructors to create content using one account and then students will be able to access it without having a separate subscription or without the need to log on to a separate system. Configuring these external tools requires the system administrator who cis responsible for managing the LMS to install extra software and to configure the LMS to share information with the external tool. 

Some faculty who reject the LMS provided by the school have what is a very sound rationale. They argue that “in the real world” businesses and organizations do not provide a learning management system to employees. They reason Google Suite, OneDrive, Office365, Slack, and other tools are more used for business communication and sharing than an LMS is used. That surely is an accurate observation for many industries and businesses, but it is also accurate that employee portals, customer relation management, and other enterprise data systems represent a significant investment and much strategic and logistic planning depends on members of organizations using those systems for improved efficiency and effectiveness.  

The advice I give to instructors who decide to use alternative systems to the LMS provided by the school is clear. First, be sure your use does not violate your school’s policies regarding data systems, retention of records, or policy related to data management and privacy. Second, be prepared to provide instruction and support for your students. No IT staff has sufficient resources and personnel to effectively support all systems. Be ready for your IT leaders and staff to respond, “it should work, but I can’t guarantee it will, and I will be of no help if it doesn’t.”