2 Checklists: Selecting the Right LMS

Future data

In last week’s 7 Second Survey, Academic Impressions asked academics to comment on their learning management system (LMS). 184 academics responded.

What they told us:

  • 33% of respondents were unhappy with their current LMS. Asked why, they cited lack of user-friendliness, “clunkiness,” and lack of flexibility for their needs.
  • 34% were also unhappy with their institution’s current process for selecting an LMS, and they cited minimal faculty involvement in the process.

We asked Thomas Cavanagh, associate vice president of distributed learning at the University of Central Florida, to comment on the findings. Cavanagh and his team recently underwent an LMS review and selection process, including external consultations, vendor demos, comparative feature checklists, pricing, etc.

Cavanagh reacted especially to the second finding–that over one third of academics responding to our survey expressed a need for more faculty involvement in the LMS selection process.

“My experience is that you almost can’t have too much faculty involvement. The faculty are the front lines who will be using this system. If they are not comfortable with the usability, the features, and the affordances of that particular system, it will be very difficult to make that LMS successful at your institution. Involve faculty as early as possible.”
Thomas Cavanagh, U of Central Florida

So how do you ensure that your review of possible LMS platforms doesn’t miss any critical steps? Cavanagh offers two short checklists to get you thinking:

  • A checklist with 8 questions to ask vendors during the LMS selection process
  • A checklist with 6 questions to ask your faculty during the LMS selection process

Checklist A: 6 Questions to Ask Your Faculty

There are many technical and logistical considerations that matter in selecting an LMS, but the most fundamental point is to ensure that the system is one that will support teaching and learning at your institution. That means digging deeply into what your faculty need or are likely to need in the future — even if they don’t know the answer to that yet.

Cavanagh, whose team surveyed faculty at UCF as an early step in the LMS selection process, recommends asking both questions that invite them to evaluate their current LMS and questions that help them forecast potential needs. For example:

  1. What features are most valuable and useful in the current system? This is one point on which you will need to dig deeply. Clearly the gradebook is useful — but what specific abilities in that feature are most useful? If you can identify, for example, that the ability to weight group assignments or use calculated columns within the gradebook are of great practical use to your faculty, these are items that you can add to a comprehensive checklist you can later send to vendors.
  2. What additional features would you like to see in the next system? Cavanagh notes that you may get a wish list with some unrealistic entries, but you will also be able to see which requests are most common.
  3. What priority would you assign to each feature? Once you have a list of features, ask faculty to weight them and identify which are most critical.
  4. What role do you think media will play in your courses in the next five years? For example, do you expect to use a lot of video? (Media integration will be critical to review when evaluating possible platforms.)
  5. What role do you think social media will play in your courses in the next five years? For example, Cavanagh notes that students are slowly in transition away from the use of email as a primary communications tool, preferring instead to receive information via text messages and social media. Will the platform you select be able to support varied preferences?
  6. How do you think your needs — and your students’ — will be different in 5 years?

Checklist B: 8 Questions to Ask Vendors

Knowing what features your faculty find useful and essential, what additional features they would value, and how they prioritize among those varied features, can help you ask vendors more specific and targeted questions.

  1. What differentiates your platform from its competitors? It will not be enough to just ask the vendor to identify key features. You will want to approach vendors with a detailed checklist of specific functions that each feature needs to be able to handle in order to support teaching and learning at your institution.
  2. You will also want to ask about integration of up-and-coming trends. Will the system support badges, competency-based learning, and prior learning assessment?
  3. What is the platform’s ability to provide data analytics and interventions for at-risk students?
  4. How well will it integrate with your student information system or your ERP?
  5. Are there rigorous information security protocols in place?
  6. How does it handle integrations from third-party tools (such as Turnitin, for example)?
  7. Is the system accessible for accommodating students with disabilities? Cavanagh notes that you will want to do some digging on this question. It won’t be enough, for example, to verify that the system is certified by the American Federation for the Blind. All the major systems will be. You may want to find out whether the system is certified at a minimum threshold, or whether that accessibility is an ethos that is integrated into the design. Ask the vendor whether that is the case, and ask for examples.
  8. What level of training and support is available from the vendor after the initial deployment of the LMS, on an ongoing basis?