ANY GOOD LEARNING management system
(LMS) must achieve multiple goals.
It must add value to the performance
of instructors and administrators,
integrate with other widely used applications,
and introduce students to the
types of technology they might encounter
in the workplace.
While Cornell University had been
using the Blackboard LMS since 2001,
we wanted to see whether a different
system might better suit our needs. In
2017, we decided to evaluate how Brightspace,
Canvas, and Blackboard Ultra
might work for us going forward.
I was a member of the Academic
LMS Evaluation Committee that was
tasked with choosing the system that
would be installed for the entire university.
Committee members focused on
these key features as we discussed the
Training systems. Training reduces
time to competence and the frustration
factor for new users. If products did
not include this feature, we conducted
cost-benefit analyses of implementing
Transferable skills. We examined
whether the technological skills and
integrations of a given LMS would be
useful for the careers of the students
once they graduated. We also considered
whether the LMS setup indicated
a commitment to keeping up with the
changing technological patterns of
Ease of use. We wanted an LMS that
would be easy, intuitive, and convenient
for students and faculty at various levels
of computer literacy.
Customization. We wanted a truly
customizable LMS that allowed us to
modify the appearance of the interface where end users access
materials, and tests.
looked for LMS software
that would easily integrate
with other systems
that were part of the
as well as enterprise resource
resources, payroll, and
Support. We considered
how responsive the
LMS vendors were at the
initial inquiry stage, as
well as which companies provided onboarding
support in addition to ongoing
on-site and online training options.
Organizational structure. Finally,
we considered which platforms would
enable our systems manager to see all
learner and instructor activity.
To assess the options of different
platforms, the evaluation committee
gathered feedback from stakeholders
and asked faculty members to test various
LMS offerings. As one of the testers,
I shifted in one of my courses from
using Blackboard Learn, an established
platform in use since the late 1990s, to
Canvas, which launched in 2011.
After reviewing basic information, I
shared with the evaluation committee
my own observations, as well as feedback
from my students and teaching
assistant. All of us noted how each of the
systems we were evaluating performed
on key measures such as tracking functions,
calendar functions, and ease of
use. We also described what we particularly
liked about each system, including
specific applications that they offered and how they interacted with outside
providers such as Dropbox or TED-Ed.
In addition, we noted the features we
found frustrating or difficult to master.
Our evaluation of the LMS systems
took a little over a year and involved
testing in 32 courses. We believe that
any university could benefit from undergoing
a similar evaluation, because
it gives faculty the chance to step back
and answer core questions about why
operations are conducted the way they
are. For us, an additional benefit is that
the process we used to select our LMS
has taught students to appreciate the
strategic decisions they must make
when they choose the systems that they
will use throughout their careers.
Mona Anita K. Olsen is an assistant professor
of entrepreneurship at the Cornell
SC Johnson College of Business and a
Faculty Fellow for the Risley Residential
College for the Creative and Performing
Arts in Ithaca, New York. The article was
written with input from Charity Karanja,
a lead teaching assistant at the school.