Learning management systems 101: What are they and what do they do?

Gary FalconLearning Management

Whether you are just starting up a new small private school or you’ve grown to a size that is hard to manage by hand, you’ve probably heard about the myriad computer software options that are out there for your school. SIS, LMS, email, clouds – there are a lot of things out there to research and learn about.

In this series of posts, we will walk you through some of the systems that are out there, what they do, and how they might benefit your school.

Be sure to check out the first part of this series, all about student information systems.

Part 2: Learning management systems

A learning management system, often called an LMS, is the virtual extension of your classrooms. Your LMS is where teachers can post course content, input assignment grades and interact with students and parents on a daily basis.

Frequently asked questions:

What is a learning management system and what are some of the major functions of an LMS?

Although what an LMS can do varies based on the system, you’ll probably find a core group of functions that are typically included in learning management systems.

  • Gradebooks and attendance trackers – Your LMS can work as a tool to help teachers track grades and student attendance, and, depending on your SIS, report them to school staff, as well as parents.
  • Homework and class calendars – Teachers can post homework assignments and class calendars so students and parents are all on the same page when it comes to deadlines and upcoming projects, tests, or other important dates.
  • School and class announcements – Announcements can be distributed at a class or school level, so you never have to worry if the school newsletter or other important paperwork makes it home.
  • Parent portal – Parents can log in and see important announcements, grades, attendance info and more, and can easily switch between multiple children if necessary
  • Student portal – Students can access course materials from home, can send questions to their teacher or group project members, and can track their progress via the gradebook
  • Student portfolios – Portfolios allow students to make a collection of their work spanning a term, semester, or even years.
  • Groups for extracurricular activities and staff collaboration – Groups are a great way for club sponsors to pass along information about meeting times and locations, dues, or other general announcements where all members of the club (and their parents!) can see. Groups can also be used for private staff/teacher collaboration, such as professional learning communities.

Is an SIS the same thing?

A learning management system can go hand-in-hand with your SIS, and there are some hybrid software options that combine both into one integrated program, but they refer to two different things. An SIS (which you can read about in our previous blog) is a school management software that stores student information, transcripts, and more.

How big does my school need to be to benefit from an LMS? What if we only have a few students?

Having an online classroom where students can reference material while doing homework or parents can view announcements is beneficial to even the smallest of schools. Some learning management systems are designed for small private schools, even down to as few as 5 students. Even if your school is very large – with thousands of students – there is an LMS out there for you. This is one of many reasons why it is important to talk to vendors about your school’s individual needs.

How will my teachers and/or staff learn how to use an LMS? It sounds complicated.

A great LMS vendor offers implementation training and support for anyone at your school that needs it. Look for vendors that provide training sessions for administration, as well as teachers, and who offer continuing support once you’re up and running. With a little help, your teachers and staff will be experts in no time.

Okay. I’m interested in an LMS. How do I choose?

We’ve got just what you’re looking for. Download our checklist for choosing private school management software below. Print it out, take notes, and use it! It will serve as a great starting place for conversations with your staff, with vendors, and with any other stakeholders you might need to involve in your decision. Please download your checklist.