Why Teachers Need to Open the Digital Door: LMS Platforms

Written by CUE Member Cynthia Sistek-Chandler, Ed D

What is a learning management system and why should educators care about the LMS, the CMS (Content Management System) or other instructional management systems?

What and Why?

Online learning in K12 and in HIgher Ed is growing at an unprecedented rate. According to the Evergreen Report (2013), there were an estimated 1,816,400 enrollments in distance-education courses in K-12 school districts in 2009 – 2010, almost all of which were online courses. Blended and flipped, hybrid and alternative schools for credit recovery and homeschoolers are also in the mix.

Throw in students who take a summer school class online or an AP class from a UC approved high school, and it might be another half million young people taking online courses. If you are an adult learner, you have almost certainly taken an online class for CLAD, ELL, GATE, or other certifications. Higher Eds stats are even higher, the 2013 Survey of Online Learning conducted by Babson Survey Research Group reveals the number of higher education students taking at least one online course has surpassed 7.1 million.

Why do we need a digital management system, an LMS or a CMS? As educators we all need a digital presence. I am not talking about having a LinkedIn or Facebook account. While that can establish a presence, what I am referring to is a system for posting curriculum with hooks into learning and engaging with the content online when the student is not at school. Whether it is on an intranet served only at your institution, is student-facing, is parent-facing, or open to the world, we all need a place to store and distribute our digital capital and curriculum. Flipped or not, we need to flip the switch to all things digital.

An LMS or CMS typically serves up pods or sections of content, curriculum, calendars, upcoming assignments, and other course information through a secure web environment. This portal is much like the more traditional brick and mortar classroom. We are all familiar with the classroom whiteboard that is taped off in sections for information. The LMS is like our digital dry erase board, the file cabinet, the bulletin board, and the interactive whiteboard, that is connected to the world. and to the Internet, all rolled into one portal.


K12 school districts have been adopting learning management systems at an unbelievable rate. With every 1:1 implementation, an LMS or portal for posting curriculum and assignments follow. Your contemporary classroom now comes with a key that opens the digital door to a space in Edmodo, My Big Campus, Canvas, Blackboard, Softchalk, Moodle or dozens of other systems.

Example: Moodle

Due to the open source nature of one LMS, districts and institutions worldwide have adopted MOODLE or Modular- Object- Oriented- Dynamic- Learning. As of June 2013, MOODLE has a user base of 83,008 registered and verified sites, serving 70,696,570 users in 7.5+ million courses with 1.2+ million teachers (Moodle Stats Page, moodle.org). That is indeed a far-reaching presence.

Masters students at National University have grown to love this flexible e-learning platform for many reasons: 1) Affordability Open Source- you don’t pay a licensing fee, but you do pay for server space and maintenance, 2) Portability -can extract, download and upload from one server to another, 3) Flexibility with Web 2.0 objects like Voki, avatars, widgets, and other tools can be easily be embedded into a pod or preformatted section, 4) Many learning objects come built-in such as wikis, glossary, grade book, badging, modules, buttons, and tabbed navigation and 5) a community of PHP programmers and learners worldwide who have a plug in for just about anything.

Moodle may not be for everyone since it does take a fair amount of time to learn, but you no longer need to know PHP programming to build on this platform. Many years ago, I wrote an article for Converge Magazine about the topic of web-based development in education and discussed whether or not you needed to learn how to use html code or not to use html code in order to have a web page. Even in 2000, there was template driven, web-based software that made it easy to publish information on the world wide web. Now educators simply need to establish a blog account, sign-up for a Wiki or a Google account and develop digital content. The LMS just makes it more object-oriented and flexible for institutions to make changes to curriculum and to content. It’s easy to upload into Moodle, it’s more difficult to master the craft of curating just the right content and applying functional ‘Feng Shui’ design for “just the right” learner experience.

To Sum Up

There are growing expectations that all educators must have a digital presence and digital proficiency with mobile technologies and the world of Google. As K-12 educators, we know our subject matter, know our kids, but may not know why certain colors evoke better learning experiences, or how learning theory can purposefully be applied to give students auditory support and voiced instructions by applying universal design techniques. We are not all programmers nor are we instructional designers but with the world of Web 2.0 tools to build objects we can begin to plug in to this digital classroom.


computercynCynthia Sistek-Chandler is Associate Professor for National University in San Diego where she has been teaching Educational Technology online since 2000. For two decades, she has actively been engaged in the teaching community, both for higher education and in K-12 education. At the CUE Conference in March 2014, Cynthia was honored with the Platinum Disk for dedication to education and to CUE.

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Cynthia Sistek-Chandler

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