Online ‘Learning Management Systems’ (LMS) have been around for a while now, and have been widely used for distance education for many years.
More recently LMSs have found their way into K-12 schools, to be used in conjunction with face-to-face teaching, providing a ‘blended’ online component within the regular curriculum.
A relatively new category in this space is the ‘Social Networking for Schools’ platform, built around the same model as popular on-line social networks.
So – which platform provides the best online option for your school? Do you need a full-featured LMS, or a discussion and sharing platform? Or something in the middle?
Below I have outlined information about three popular platforms used by schools implementing blended learning – Edmodo, Schoology and Moodle. These are not the only players in this field, but seem to be the most widely used – I have listed some other options at the Classroom Collaboration page.
Each of these platforms has pros and cons, depending on your intended purpose. Of course, the best way to decide the most suitable option for your school is to give each platform a try. All are free, or offer a free component for educational use.
My quick summary….
Edmodo is a social networking platform with some assignment/quiz options included. Particularly suited to Primary/Elementary schools and for light duty in Secondary classes;
Schoology leans more to being a Learning Management System, but still maintains a friendly ‘social networking’ feel. Suited to upper Primary/Elementary and Secondary school use;
Moodle is a full-featured Learning Management System, suited to Secondary or Tertiary institutions where there is sufficient technical support available.
More info about each platform is provided below. Please share any comments or thoughts you may have about your experiences with these (or other) platforms.
The Edmodo interface resembles Facebook, which makes it instantly popular with students! The platform is hosted by Edmodo in San Francisco, and is not able to be installed within your network. It is accessed using a web browser. (edmodo.com)
Edmodo can be implemented by a single teacher for their class, with no technical expertise required to get started. Simply visit the Edmodo website, sign up as a teacher and you are up and running. There is some District/School structure available for schools in the US.
Once you have created a class (or a school) you can invite students and other teachers to join the class by providing a unique code for that class. (It is worth keeping an eye on enrollments to ensure that students are enrolling as ‘students’, not ‘teachers’.) Each student has a unique ‘Parent code’ that can be provided to parents to view only their child’s assignments and contributions to discussions.
As a teacher you can create Groups (each with a unique enrollment code), which might be based on class structure, sports groups, interest groups, curriculum groups, etc. Teachers can also create professional development groups, special interest groups, or groups to support conferences.
You can store an unlimited number of documents in your Edmodo Library (max file size 100Mb) and these documents can be shared with your Groups using folders.
Edmodo integrates with Google Docs – you can access your Google Drive folder directly from your Edmodo Library and make files in your Google Drive folder available in your shared folders.
Edmodo can be personalised with a unique subdomain for your school, and a unique personal profile address.
Edmodo provides an option to make posts and assignments available on a ‘Public’ page, and to make resource folders Public too. In some cases just making a folder of links and documents available on your school Intranet may be all that is required to support a ‘blended’ or ‘flipped’ unit of work.
Edmodo provides both iPad and iPhone apps, a critical consideration for schools that are rolling out mobile devices to students, or encouraging BYO models.
Edmodo is a great social networking platform for schools, with group resource sharing and basic assignment distribution features. Ideal for Primary/Elementary schools, or for classes in Secondary schools.
The Schoology platform is hosted on the Schoology servers, and is accessed using a web browser. (schoology.com)
Schoology can be implemented by a single teacher for their class, with no specialist technical expertise required to get started. Sign-up, and away you go. There is a premium District/School structure available for a fee.
As a teacher (or, as Schoology describes you, an Instructor) you create Courses, add materials to the courses – assignments, quizzes, files and links, discussions, photo albums and web pages. The free version of Schoology provides 15Gb of space per 100 students.
Schoology also provides a Gradebook, which is auto-populated with Assignments and Quizzes that you have created for a course.
A neat Attendance register is also provided, where students can be marked as Present, Absent, Excused or Late within your course
Schoology includes an Analytics feature, where you can check student participation in Assignments, Discussions, and their use of provided course web links.
Groups are created as a separate function to Courses, with access regulated using a 10 digit code. You can also create a list of parent codes, that will provide access to only their child’s work.
Schoology provides both iPad and iPhone apps, a must-have feature for schools that are rolling out mobile devices, or encouraging students to bring their own technologies.
You can link your Google Drive folder directly to your Schoology account and make files in your Google Drive folder available as Course materials.
Schoology is well designed and fills the middle-ground between Edmodo and Moodle. Best suited to upper Primary/Elementary or Secondary students, though I still find the Edmodo interface more intuitive for both teachers and students.
Moodle has been used for some time in the Tertiary sector, and has now found it’s way into the K-12 sector via Secondary schools, distance education, and to a limited extent Primary / Elementary schools.
Moodle is installed on a server within your network and accessed through a web browser. With some technical expertise, the look and feel of Moodle can be completely customised for your school.
There are very few free online options for using Moodle with more than a couple of classes. (mdl2.com is one option if you want to explore Moodle online.)
Moodle has a hierachical structure that can be setup to mirror the structure of your school – faculties, stages, classes, etc. You create categories, then populate those categories with Courses. Courses can contain Resources and Activities.
Moodle has a comprehensive assignment/gradebook system. Assignments can be submitted and graded online. There are many other Activities and useful activity tracking tools available for use with Courses.
Despite being a popular LMS, and highly customisable, the Moodle interface is complicated and ‘clunky’ – usually setup by back-room technicians for use by teachers. In it’s default mode it is very ‘texty’, which is often a real ‘turn-off’ in schools.
However, with enough time and technical knowledge, Moodle can be made to be a little more user-friendly in a K-12 environment. I have posted some examples of how it might be setup for use in schools. (These examples include some demo courses and resources, but with guest access enabled I am not able to provide examples of activities.):
– Secondary school example
– Primary / Elementary school example
Moodle is ideal for Tertiary education environments or Secondary schools where there is a need to offer students structured courses in a controlled online school environment. But you will need some technical expertise to get it up and running – and to maintain it. You can download Moodle from moodle.org, or have it hosted in your school by specialist K-12 providers such as Sentral.
Update: in September 2014 Google released Classroom, which may be a game changer for providing an online environment for your students.