Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Five learning management tools worth exploring

Learning management solutions no longer require school or university-wide implementations of complex systems. There are now many simple, yet powerful tools that teachers can easily implement in their own classrooms. Each have different features and strengths, meaning some are more suited to particular learning management needs than others.

At the recent Using Technology Better Conference Melbourne, Adam Vardanega and I facilitated a discovery workshop where participants explored the solution that best fit their needs. In this blog post, I’ll share a summary of the tools we presented and what types of needs they best fulfil. All of the tools covered are either free or have feature-rich free versions.

Why use learning management tools?

There are several reasons why you might decide to utilise a learning management tool in your classroom or course. To begin with, they can provide a safe online space for students to ask questions and discuss class work. They can also streamline the electronic distribution, collection and marking of assignments. Learning management tools are also effective in facilitating self-paced work via digital content delivery and for sharing information and resources with both students and parents. In addition, many teachers use learning management tools to access features such as polls, quizzes, electronic gradebooks, badges, class calendars, analytics.

Having a clear idea about what you want to use a learning management tool for and what features are most important will help you select the best solution for your classroom.

1: Edmodo

Edmodo is a comprehensive learning management tool suitable for primary and secondary classrooms. It includes a social-style discussion forum, assignment distribution and submission, in-product feedback and grading, a gradebook, badges, quizzes, polls and access for parents. In addition, Edmodo can connect to Google Drive to facilitate sharing of Google files with students.  A variety of other third-party tools can also be connected to the product, and Edmodo mobile apps are available for both iOS and Android devices.

Edmodo is a great solution for teachers who want to access a range of learning management tools. It can also be easily combined with Google Sites for self-paced content delivery and Google Classroom if you’re a heavy user of Google Drive with your students.

2: Schoology

Schoology is a feature-rich solution best suited to secondary or tertiary classrooms.  Like Edmodo, it includes a social-style discussion forum, assignment distribution and submission, in-product feedback and grading, a gradebook, badges, quizzes, polls and access for parents. However, Schoology’s gradebook and marking options are superior, including the ability to grade using a rubric. The integration with Google Drive is also more powerful. Schoology also includes two additional features that are very useful- the ability to provide automated self-paced content and comprehensive analytics on student activity and progression. Mobile apps are available for both iOS and Android devices and third-party plugins can be integrated with the web version.

Schoology is ideal for teachers who want a comprehensive learning management solution that can also deliver content and track progress. It’s a more ‘mature’ tool, with an  interface and feature set most appropriate for older students.

3: Google Classroom

Google Classroom is a solution only available to teachers whose schools currently use Google Apps for Education. It is an excellent addition to any classroom that uses a lot of Google Drive files (such as Google Docs, Sheets, Slides and Drawings). Classroom simplifies the distribution and collection of assignments through automating the creation of shared Google Drive folders and files. Assignments can also be graded electronically. Classroom features a discussion stream for class announcements and questions and has mobile apps for iOS and Android.

Although Classroom is a more limited learning management tool, it is very effective in streamlining the use of Google Drive files with students.  It also has a very simple and visually appealing interface that is suitable for students of all ages. Because it is very straightforward to configure and use, Google Classroom can easily be utilised alongside other platforms without too much extra effort. Alternatively, it can be combined with other Google tools (such as Forms and Google Calendar) to achieve more functionality.

4: Google Sites

Google Sites provide a straightforward solution for self-paced content delivery and can be effective as a classroom portal. Despite being a Google product, Sites can easily be utilised by teachers who do not have access to Google Apps for Education at their school or uni. Any teacher with a Google account (ie. a personal Gmail account) can create a site for their classroom or course.

A Google Site is a website that can be created collaboratively without the need for any coding. A variety of content can be added to the site, including embedded videos, maps, calendars, discussion groups and Google Drive files (such as Forms, Docs and Sheets) and Google Drive folders. Sites can be made accessible to both students and parents.

Google Sites can be customised to suit primary, secondary and tertiary environments. While the tool is predominantly a content repository, this may be all that is required. If additional functionality is needed, Sites can be effectively used alongside any of the other learning management tools mentioned in this post.

5: Google+ Communities

Google+ is a social networking platform in which invite-only private communities can be created. These Google+ Communities provide a safe space for online sharing, feedback and discussions. Google+ is only available for students over 13 years of age and is most easily implemented at schools or universities already using Google Apps for Education.

Teachers and students engage in the community through posting text, images, links, polls and embedded content from other Google products. The community owner (the teacher) can moderate any post.

Google+ is best suited for use with older students (particularly senior secondary and tertiary). It is a great discussion space which could be effectively utilised alongside Google Sites and Google Classroom.

Read more

- Read how Edmodo and Schoology can be used in senior classrooms in this Using Technology Better blog post by Adam Vardanega.
- Read how Google+ can enhance social learning in this Using Technology Better blog post by me..
- Learn some tips for Getting Started with Google Sites.
- Visit the Google Classroom help centre.

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