Learning management systems may have come onto the education scene relatively recently, but they’ve come to play a huge role in many classrooms. As of 2014, the LMS industry was made up of at least 350 systems, worth over $2.5 billion. For schools and districts, that’s an overwhelming amount of choice; but there are a few key players that dominate the industry.
Every few months Capterra releases an infographic charting the top LMS software on the market.
A few of the products listed are more focused on the corporate training market than classrooms, so we’ll just focus on the top choices for education.
Moodle is an open-source LMS available for free under a general public license (GPL). The flexible platform is immensely popular in the education space and can be specially customized by the user.
The flip side of the platform being so customizable is that it’s not especially user-friendly. However, Moodle does provide a huge community of developers and partners that can help with the initial setup and implementation of the platform. You can also find a number of support resources both from Moodle themselves and other sources, like Moodle4Teachers and Lynda.
Once Moodle is set up the way you want it, usability becomes one of its best features. If your school or district has already committed to Moodle and worked on its implementation, you may find using it a breeze. You can easily organize your course, bring together all the different media elements you want to include in each assignment, and collaborate with other teachers in the community.
Edmodo is made specifically for educators and, as such, is much more intuitive for first-time users trying to set it up. The design and features resemble familiar social media networks enough to ensure that the platform is also easy for students to use. As with Moodle, Edmodo is free and you can organize your course and load all relevant digital resources into it. You can also do your grading within the system and collect analytics that provide insights into how students are learning throughout a course.
The company really emphasizes the community capabilities of the platform. The website boasts that Edmodo is the largest K-12 social learning community in the world, making it possible for you to connect with other educators, students, and parents easily and securely.
Ultimately, Moodle is the more powerful choice if you’re particular about what you want your LMS to do and are willing to work to customize it. Edmodo offers many of the same basic features, but in a way that’s more immediately intuitive to users and easier to get started with.
Blackboard can’t claim the same level of market share as Moodle or Edmodo, but it’s used commonly enough in schools to be a familiar name to most educators. Easily the biggest differentiator between Blackboard and the two top options is cost. Educators can access both Moodle and Edmodo for free, while Blackboard requires a significant investment by your institution.
Blackboard mostly targets institutions of higher education, so you’re less likely to have access to it if you work in K-12. Blackboard is extremely comprehensive and customizable and, since institutions are paying for it, users can expect more access to customer support than with the free versions of other LMSs.
As with the other tools, you can organize your course, load all the relevant media for each assignment, do your grading within the tool, and view analytics that show student progress. It also provides a collaborative component for contact with other teachers and students in the institution.
In a lot of ways, Schoology is very similar to Edmodo. It’s free. It enables connection to a larger community of teachers and students – although Edmodo’s community is larger, at least in part because it’s been around longer. Like all the other options, it lets you organize your course, load all the different content types you want available for each lesson, grade everything submitted through the system, and view learning analytics.
The features that make Schoology different are subtle, but potentially very meaningful for some teachers. Jennie Magiera sings the praises of its ioS app, discussions features, assessment tools, and a few other things she feels the product manages better than Edmodo. Alice in Wondertech also emphasizes the tool’s rich discussion features and the ability to use it to give group assignments.
Teachers got by just fine for many years without learning management systems, but why bother? A good LMS makes planning your courses easier, brings digital communication with your students into one easy platform, and allows you to incorporate any form of media you want into each class and assignment. Both you and your students can benefit from the new features and capabilities the tools bring into the classroom.
Editor’s note: This piece was originally written by Jeff Dunn and ran on October 27, 2012. A lot has changed since then, so we’ve had author Kristen Hicks update this piece with the latest techniques and innovations.