By L. Roxanne Russell Ph.D., Full Tilt Ahead
For The Association of Theological Schools newsletter Colloquy Online.

With the variety of structures, sizes, and missions of theological schools, there is no one-size-fits-all online learning solution. Each school faces complex decisions about how to design, develop, and deliver online education. And each of these decisions is dependent on the other. To help schools get started, one expert offers a jumping-off-point framework for the most practical part of this process: choosing a learning management system (LMS).

online learning decision frameworkThe learning management system you choose sets the parameters for how you will deliver online learning. You’ve heard praises and cautionary tales about all of the LMSs, so it’s difficult to know what is right for your institution. Should you go with a full-service subscription solution like Blackboard, Desire 2 Learn, or Canvas? Or go the open-source route with popular tools such as Moodle or Sakai? This system will be your administrative, faculty, and student interface and will determine the structure of much of the data associated with your online learning programs. From a pedagogical interface point of view, your best resources will be your faculty, students, and instructional designers. From the technology standpoint, your learning management system will need to be supported by IT staff and hosted, either by your institution, a cloud-based host, or a specialized service provider.

Key Points:

To consider what pedagogical features your school needs in an LMS, start by having your team (1) clearly articulate the learning goals of your online learning program, (2) explore how those goals translate into classroom activities, and (3) determine which tools are needed to support these activities.

  • Keep the size of your school or the scope of your program in mind when considering the budget, hosting requirements, and staffing needs.
  • The structure of your school—freestanding or embedded—will impact technology systems integration and the infrastructure of support for the LMS you choose.