Comparing Learning Management Systems

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The type of learning management system a school uses can greatly influence the nature and perception of a learning community. As a graduate student I want to help my district determine the best possible solution for the instructors and learners in Madera Unified. Below I have attempted to compare five of the most common LMS products.

1. ANGEL Learning Management System
ANGEL is a suite of Online Learning Management Tools. In fact it is such a great suite of tools that Blackboard has recently purchased the company so that the features included in the Angle suite will soon be added to Blackboards features and functionalities.

Communication Tools
The ANGEL discussion board includes tools that allow users to add mathematical and scientific functionality to discussion board entries. ANGEL is both synchronous and asynchronous, and includes an internal email system, blog, wiki, podcasting and live chat capacity. ANGEL also provides a whiteboard feature that allows teachers to offer online synchronous learning opportunities. Instructors and learners can initiate discussion forums and set permissions for subscribers.

Content Organization and Platform Interface
The home page interface tends to be less busy than Moodle, the page format is much like a two column web template that includes one column for resource links and a larger area for content. The interface is visually and aesthetically pleasing and the design and presentation is professional.

Content Development and Course Delivery Tools
ANGEL follows a dynamic VDILS model, allowing instructors to customize activities to meet the needs of the student. ANGEL also offers an assessment feature with testing module and an automatic gradebook and reporting feature that tracks student progress. Report generation is much more robust than other comparable learning management systems. The report generator includes customizable features and graphs that help instructors monitor individual or class progress for intervention purposes. ANGEL also offers templates and a design wizard to help administrators and instructors with the design and development of courseware.

Student Interface Tools
Students have the capacity to use a built-in drop box to turn-in assignments or they can place them in a portfolio to share with the instructor. Students can also choose to share their portfolios with other members of the class. That would be a handy tool for use in collaborative assignments. ANGEL also affords students with the opportunity to customize their home page with tools that allow the user to create menus and links to course resources.

ANGEL has some great, useful and robust features, including professional tutorials and IT support; but it also comes with a hefty price tag.

2. Moodle Learning Management System
Communication Tools
Moodle affords administrators and learners an asynchronous learning environment. It also includes instant messaging, blogs and chat communications that are considered synchronous features. Versioning is available to cover both educational and government agencies through enterprise solutions.

Content Organization and Platform Interface
The simplicity of the Moodle interface makes administration and content design simple because the platform is so intuitive. Moodle upload capacity is limited in the free version, but may have greater storage volume for video and audio in the enterprise edition.

Content Development and Course Delivery Tools
Moodle does contain an authoring tool; it can be used strictly as a communication tool to assign course content. Instructors and students can form their own groups. Instructors can upload documents and create pages or they can choose to link to URL's as part of the course resources. The content development tools are easy to use and there are many features that are desirable in all LMS. Those features include: searchable email, blogging, chat tool, a course calendar and a students portfolio. The Moodle LMS is very intuitive for the administrator and instructor; the interface incorporates a sequenced order for ease of use and learning. The system includes, a calendar, student portfolios assessments tool with automated management community networking and content sharing option.

Student Interface Tools
The Moodle educational version is simple, intuitive, free, and easy for students to use, making it a good choice for schools. It features drop boxes for student assignments as well as synchronous and asynchronous communication. Moodle also offers a built-in e-mail and forum communication. The platform interface is easy to use and intuitive for the learner. Although the interface can become too busy, the page format is divided into three easy-to-read columns. Moodle's LMS features are simple yet robust enough to supply both administrators and students with excellent content tools and resources to support learning.

Likes and Dislikes
In these tough economic times, Moodle is a good solution for both university and K-12 education because it is open source; but free also means that there is no available support hotline to call if you need help. What Moodle lacks is the ability for students to customize their own start page or create a class portfolio. The online assessment, grade book and reporting features are excellent. Thank goodness that Moodle supporters developers and users have free tutorials and support materials and resources available online.

3. Blackboard Academic Suite Learning Management System
Communication Tools
Blackboard offers both synchronous and asynchronous communication but does not include any video or sound options, although video and audio clips may be uploaded for use by learners. Versioning is available to cover both educational and government agencies and enterprise solutions.

Content Organization and Platform Interface
The Blackboard interface is more complex, requiring advanced knowledge for administration and content design. Upload capacity in the education version is limited, but may have greater storage volume for video and audio in the enterprise edition. The installation of Blackboard is more complex which means more support time for IT folks.

Content Development and Course Delivery Tools
This platform can assign courses and provide a communication tools to learners. The course delivery tools are adequate, they include: whiteboard, calendar, students portfolios assessments tool with automated management community networking and content sharing option.

Student Interface Tools
The Blackboard student interface is simple and fairly intuitive which makes it a good choice for most colleges and universities. It features drop-down menus and offers a built-in e-mail and forum communication. The bog feature can be formatted to accept comments from communities outside the blackboard walls, or restricted to just the members of the course. The home page interface tends to be less busy than Moodle, the page format is much like a two column web template that includes one column for resource links and a larger area for content.

Likes and Dislikes
Blackboards LMS features are simple, yet robust enough to supply both administrators and students with excellent content tools and resources to support learning. Blackboard works well for independent learners in college and university settings, but it is not a good solution for K-12 education. The interface is not interactive and the format is too stagnate. You can however bridge the interactivity gap with tools such as Wimba or Adobe Connect.

4. eCollege Learning Management System
I am not at all familiar with eCollege. According to the evaluations and comments I read, the platform does not contain all the features and resources that are available in Moodle and Blackboard.

Communication Tools
eCollege does offer asynchronous communication tools such as instant messenger and chat. One of the best features is the ability for students to share file folders with one another. eCollege also includes whiteboard capacity that is not included as a basic feature in Moodle or Blackboard.

Content Organization and Platform Interface
Although the format is more complex than Blackboard or Moodle, it contains features such as ClassLive (math tools) Webliography (web links posted by students and instructor), journal and document sharing capabilities and student drop boxes.

Content Development and Course Delivery Tools
The eCollege format includes a Virtual Editor (authoring tool) that allows instructors to design instruction online or offline including the use of html features. The built-in whiteboard supports MS PowerPoint uploading, two-way chat sessions and web browsing. The management tools include a Group manager feature, calendar and announcement that helps instructors and learners stay organized. eCollege offers a more limited selection of online resources and tools, making the development of a comprehensive course model difficult. Assessments are formatted to support true/false, matching, multiple choice, and essay questions.

Student Interface Tools
eCollege integrates a student portfolio that allows students to collect their work throughout the duration of the course. This can also be accomplished through the use of forum uploads. Groups can be created by the instructor, but that eCollege does not allows student learners to create groups.

5. Desire2Learn Learning Management System
Communication Tools
The Desire 2 Learn LMS product includes both asynchronous and synchronous communication. The platform's synchronous capacity is supported by instant messaging, chat capabilities and blogging. It also incorporates a robust discussion board feature. The LMS also includes both sound and video capacity.

Content Organization and Platform Interface
The developers use versioning to include all aspects of LMS learning: government, corporate, and education. The interface is easy to use and includes templates for ease of design. The backend requires more IT support during the initial set-up, but the interface is simple and uncomplicated.

Content Development and Course Delivery Tools
The content development tools are easy to use and there are many features that are desirable in all LMS. Those features include: searchable email, blogging, chat tool, a course calendar and a students portfolio. The platform includes a course authoring tool that allows instructions the ability to create professional, engaging and interactive training content. The Desire2Learn LMS is very intuitive for both administrator and instructor; the interface hosts a logical sequenced order for ease of use and learning. The system includes available whiteboard, calendar, students portfolios assessments tool with automated management community networking and content sharing option.

Student Interface Tools
The Desire2Learn platform includes course assignments, resource downloads and communication tools. The platform interface is easy to use and intuitive for the learner. The page format is divided into multiple easy-to-read columns. The product allows flexibility, learners can divide their courses into units of study.