Making the LMS Decision

Choosing an LMS can be a difficult for schools and districts, however it is a key decision in the planning of any blended learning environment. As schools look to reinvent education by providing personalized and competency-based pathways, the traditional learning management system can seem like anything but a good fit.
Once a clear strategic plan has been set in place and the school model that best supports key goals has been chosen, it is import that schools think about platforms and content that align to these goals and strategies.   We recently talked with Megan Leich, Campus Coordinator for the BlendEd Consortium on how BlendEd approached such an important decision.
BlendEd is a consortium of five Bay Area independent schools: The Athenian School, The College Preparatory School, Lick-Wilmerding High School, Marin Academy, and The Urban School, that offer a mix of online and face-to-face learning. The group is taking blended learning to a new level by creating opportunities for students from different schools to learn together. The 2014 – 2015 school year will launch 10 BlendEd classes. These classes are open to juniors and seniors at any of the five schools, with a goal of 3 students from each school in each class, for a total of 15 students per class.  A uniform LMS is key in assuring the success of implementation and facilitation of these courses.
LMS Choice
The Process Behind the Decision
Five BlendEd site coordinators – one from each school – started by ranking lists of desired features in a learning management system. Based on the priorities specified, the field was narrowed down to three LMSs. Demonstrations were arranged with each vendor so the systems could be viewed and questions could be asked. Follow up questions were also addressed through vendor visits at the iNACOL conference. After collecting information about all three, the group met to compare thoughts and voted.
Reason Behind the Decision
There were a number of things that the BlendEd Consortium appreciated about Canvas:

  • Built-in video conferencing capability (through BigBlueButton)
  • Multiple ways to collaborate and communicate through the system including threaded discussions with the entire class, small group discussions, and individual discussions through messages or around a specific assignment in the gradebook
  • The flexible and fairly customizable system
  • Availability of support through tutorials and other help for users (both students and teachers)
  • Integration of viewers within the system that lets users view documents such as pdf and word documents without having to download them –  they automatically open within the viewer.

The Adoption Process For BlendEd the process has been somewhat simplified due to the nature of initiation. Since they are not switching from one system to another, it’s been easy. They are starting with Canvas and all courses are being built within the platform.   The schools within the Consortium, such as The Athenian School have a slightly different experience. Adoption process is in the early stages. Right now, they are working behind-the-scenes: uploading courses, teachers, and students and setting up the global settings. The goal will be to introduce teachers to Canvas during their Technology Institute. Using Canvas will initially be optional, with the hope to help create a more positive reaction to the change. The early adopters will be the people who are excited about having a system like this in the first place, and will act as motivators for change in the following years.
For more on Canvas, check out

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