Working with LMS in K12

Most of my work in this phase of my K12 career centers on learning management systems (LMS). I am fortunate to be in a district which is able and willing to purchase an LMS for teachers and learners. They are a huge investment of resources. One of the efficiencies our district sought was the easy distribution of high quality learning materials. I do all types of things in an LMS, so it helps to frequently step back and remember my teacher roots and the idea of the LMS as a potential black hole for student work startled me.

During one stretch of working with a particular LMS I found myself and like-minded colleagues explaining how the options for student work submissions to the LMS had to be as broad as possible and offer multiple sources. We were so focused on getting into the LMS anything which a student wanted to turn in. There was admittedly less attention, from us and the vendor, paid to getting the information out of the LMS for reuse, later use, or any student-centered reason. When we did explore into this idea briefly we would encounter ideas which would cost money, such as storage beyond a student’s senior year. Or ideas which questioned who was in charge of selecting e-portfolio samples.

You and I might not be able to imagine it from inside a K12 bubble. We are still helping colleagues install a browser other than Internet Explorer, we’re inviting teacher friends to join Twitter, and/or we are trying to overcome objections to mobile devices during school. But there is/can/should be student learning beyond the LMS.

But reading this MindShift article supplied some vocabulary to the missing links I had felt, but not yet articulated between authentic online learning and the environment of the LMS.

Original LMS Clients

Part of the backstory is that most LMS were created for higher-education, not K12. LMS features were created to stand up and then go away in a semester, with no long term eye toward the student’s experience within a grade level, a subject over time, let alone curate a personal e-portfolio.

The vendor concentrated on delivery a product with ease of use for the initial customer, who was NOT the students/participant in their LMS, but the college. This appears to have resulted in an inverse relationship between the convenience for the instructor/institution and the ownership of the learning by students. Higher education institutions traditionally  appear interested in maintaining their content behind paid-for wall. They are not as interested in free knowledge as their K12 partners. A college LMS experience is viewed from the K12 perspective as content-centric over student-centric.

How Should an LMS Behave in K12?

The article from MindShift “Techniques for Unleashing Student Work from Learning Management Systems” that concentrated on how students learn being as important as the content to learn was highly interesting. Personal production for a genuinely honest audience like The Internet realigns student intention and hopefully extends learning opportunities. Such a practice would generally enrich the Internet while giving a demonstration or practical experience in curating or aggregating information from a much larger area than just an LMS.

Despite what some will tell you teaching via an LMS does not equal blended learning. An LMS has features which could be used for blended learning, but only if the instructor utilizes them and applies philosophy of blended learning, and there is no “district administrator setting” for it. A teacher must give individualized opportunities, mini-tutoring chances, throughout the content and additionally must not impose time windows on the mastery of content. Often the LMS environment is just a mirror to the physical learning environment but with extended access. If no shift occurs in offering customized experiences to each learner, or changing the time on a concept to await mastery there is no blended learning. When we move on before a learner is ready or present an idea which depends on the mastery of a prior idea without respect to if that prior idea was mastered we have lost the promise of an LMS helping to achieve blended learning.

What is an LMS – a program which costs a lot of money to purchase or is it a system of an educational conversation between teacher and learner? Because the latter does not require a contract. It does require an activation of teacher empowerment and the spirit to introduce oneself to and try many web 2.0 technologies. This cannot be a large scale district project to be managed by your district. And such a movement involves many divergent thinkers, those which may not feel as free to try and invariably fail with a couple of these tools – instead those teachers look to/wait for the district to provide an LMS-like solution. It would need to be a grass-roots action from individual teachers with their own highly-specialized ways to accomplish that conversation between themselves and their learners. There is no promise of a scalable solution at the district level, but there is the promise of empowered teachers doing what it takes to work with their students.

Consider the course Massive: Learning at Scale and how the syllabus reads:

The central metaphor of T509-Massive is the potluck. As an instructional team, our job is to lay out a spread of opportunities, but students in the course will also need to bring dishes to the table. Each of us then as learners will need to create a plate for ourselves—a meal that meets our individual needs.

The syllabus for #t509Massive also provides ways to participate which engage the larger Internet and aggregated back to the course the relevant contributions. See “How To Participate” and watch for the hashtag still active in social media.


There is learning beyond any one program, like an LMS, in the way that there is learning beyond any one teacher. Invest in developing your own wider net which you can help students to cast into the Internet. It may be a replacement for or in accompaniment to an LMS, but your students will be better learners for your efforts. Your learners will not throw their thoughts and artifacts of learning into a black hole from which reciprocal learning never returns. They will own their own learning if we the teachers take care to structure their experience right.


Bower, Matt. “A”Typology”of”Web”2.0″Learning” Technologies.” A Typology of Web 2.0 Learning (2015): n. pag. Educause. Educause, Jan. 2015. Web. 3 Mar. 2015.

Groom, Jim, and Brian Lamb. “Reclaiming Innovation.” Reclaiming Innovation. Educause Review Online, May-June 2014. Web. 07 Mar. 2015. EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 49, no. 3 (May/June 2014)

Horn, Michael B., Heather Staker, and Clayton M. Christensen. Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Boss, 2015. Print.

Reich, Justin. “Techniques for Unleashing Student Work from Learning Management Systems.” MindShift. KQED, 13 Feb. 2015. Web. 08 Mar. 2015.