Learning Management Systems

Report: Consortia-Wide Adoption of Common LMS Improves Efficiency, Reduces Costs

Up-front cost savings and operational efficiencies are two of the main reasons some education consortia adopt a common learning management system (LMS). Over time colleges have also seen pedagogical benefits to using a common LMS, according to a new report from the California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative (CCC OEI) and Mindwires.

In 2015, the CCC OEI selected Canvas by Instructure as its common LMS, and since then more than half of the state's 113 community colleges have announced plans to adopt Canvas. The CCC OEI and Mindwire wrote this report "to curate and describe the primary lessons learned from other consortia that have evaluated similar decisions."

The report, A Retrospective on Implementing Common Course Management Systems: Motivations, Benefits, Drawbacks and Recommendations, is based on interviews with representatives of several higher education consortia that have experience implementing and operating a system-wide LMS, and compares their findings with consortia that have not adopted a common LMS. The report identifies the reasons for adopting a system-wide LMS, as well as benefits, drawbacks and challenges of a common LMS, and it concludes with a list of recommendations for consortia that are considering whether to adopt a system-wide LMS.

While cost savings and operational efficiencies where the two main reason for a common LMS, the report found additional motivations, including equity across large and small institutions, improved negotiating power and centralization of support, professional development and instructional design services.

As anticipated, the adoption of a common LMS did result in cost savings, operational efficiencies and increased equity. However, the consortia also reported other benefits such as streamlined efforts by instructional designers and course developers, more targeted and scalable professional development efforts, continuity of experience for students and increased access to support services and educational tools. Perhaps surprisingly, use of a common LMS gave individual institutions more flexibility because they had "access to a wider range of tools that can be used to enhance the online learning experience" and "flexibility to define a pedagogical approach within the chosen CMS."

When a common LMS is good, it's very, very good, but when it's bad, it's awful. In other words, when a problem develops with the LMS, it affects everyone. Other drawbacks to using a common LMS include inability to take advantage of strengths of various platforms, lack of adoption of system-wide tools and inconsistent usage. The report also found challenges to a common LMS, such as academic culture within individual institutions, bureaucratic hurdles and balancing central concerns with local needs.

Based on the findings of the report, the authors developed a list of recommendations for consortia that are considering a common LMS:

  • Bridge the potential gap between information technology and education technology teams;
  • Focus on meeting the needs of students and teachers when selecting technology;
  • Facilitate consortia-wide communication and buy-in;
  • Take advantage of vendor support to free up internal resources for instructional design and other projects; and
  • Use a new LMS as an opportunity to redesign courses.

The full report is available on the e-Literate blog within a post by the author.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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