I might as well get this out quickly to avoid the suspense. The best system for the education market is Moodle. Nah, just kidding.

Moodle can be a worthwhile system but it requires heavy customization, dedicated IT person who has Moodle skill sets (ideal), in-house support (because when end users can’t figure it out – they will come calling YOU) and costs that many folks fail to realize.

In a nutshell, Moodle is not an out of the box system. It is not a turnkey solution and frankly it is just not that good.

Education Rocks!

There are numerous factors that have to be assigned when looking at a system for the education market. Factors that include:

  • System specifically built for the education market – some systems are universal – i.e. education & corporate; others are not
  • Easy to use & user friendly- this is crucial, because educators (teachers) are not always the most tech savvy folks out there – sure there are plenty of exceptions, but honestly do you think the person teaching Biology is going to be a Tech G-D? At the high schools I taught out – they definitely were not.
  • Student, Teacher and Parent portals – It goes without saying on the student and teacher portals. Parents are a mixed bag.

Some systems stress this as super important, but teachers in general find overly active parents as irritating, especially when they blame the teacher and not their wonderful child. As such, do folks really want parents to have their own portal?

  • Customized front ends – Education systems should have fun interfaces. Engaging interfaces, not sterile – blah interfaces. Attention spans for adults are around 45 minutes, what do you think it is for a K-12 student?
  • Feature sets – extensive and robust
  • Integrate with SIS (Student information system) or alike
  • Classroom management – attendance tracking is a plus
  • Combination of synchronous and asynchronous features. Most systems in the education space are still strongly focused on synchronous based learning. Thankfully there are systems that are starting to offer asynchronous as well (referring to systems that are not universal, rather education market only).
  • Testing/assessment – online proctoring is a bonus
  • Built in authoring tool – never hurts. The teachers I know, do not have several hundred or even a thousand dollars around to purchase a 3rd party authoring tool. Nor is it likely that their departmental budget will have the dollars as well. After all, there are more important things to buy than a 3rd party authoring tool (from the teachers’ perspective).
  • SaaS – I would prefer a vendor who offers SaaS only and not a SaaS or client hosted or G-D forbid client hosted only option

Grades

Systems that earn an “A”

Epsilen

I’ll be frank- this system is a feature thrill ride that you never want to end. Name me another system that includes the New York Times archieve with over 160 years of articles, continuum based assessments in the areas of writing, creativity, problem solving, global competency and analyzing.

Other cool components that are part of this system include Community Content Commons a repository of learning objects, resources – created, vetted and assessed by the Epsilen community. The system also has a course authoring tool, assessment tool (test wizard), eportfolios, gradebook and more.

They do offer a higher education version, but this is all about K-12. In my opinion they are trend setters, which is why they deserve an “A”. Oh, UI is average.

Frog Trade

This has always been a personal fav of mine, and its primary version K-6 is fantastic.

Features aside, I love the user interface which can change depending on the grade and school preferences.

Its user interface reminds me a little of the Mac interface because at the bottom of the screen a set of widgets are listed as icons.

Example of Primary:

Active directory, assessment tool, social learning features and SCORM are all bonuses.

Instructure Canvas

The K-12 version is a real screamer, and I say it in a good way. The UI is solid but very easy to use and while I’m not a fan of parent auto enroll at the same time of the student feature, it is chock full of useful components for teachers in general.

My personal favorite is the ability for the teacher to leave audio and video feedback to the students. Built in video chat and notifications that can be sent not only by SMS but also through Facebook just add real value. The product supports mobile, which is another plus.

Wizlearn – AsknLearn LMS

Never heard of them? You should, because this system’s user interface is crisp, clean and frankly a breeze to use. I love the graphical charts and the analytics are solid. The system is SCORM 2004 & 1.2 compliant which is sweet.

Other features include file repository, resource management, assessment tool, surveys, forums, school logon summary, blog and ePortfolio. One of the most bizarre features is the temperature taking. Not sure what the value is for that, but hey, whatever.

UniServity – Life

I’d love to tell you that this is just like every other system in the space, but I would be lying. Its a hybrid of a learning platform, learning exchange and social collaboration. It supports tablets and smartphones.

Uber features include

  • Widgets
  • SCORM and Common Cartridge
  • Avatars
  • Facebook and Twitter integration
  • Learning activities
  • Blogs, chat, favorites, wikis, forum
  • Personal, shared and school site
  • Administration features
  • Sound recorder and screen capture
  • Assessment tool
  • Instant messaging
  • Branding/Skinning
  • Slideshow
  • Apps
  • Polls
  • APIs
  • Life community consisting of over 3 million teachers and learners. Communicate, share and discuss.
  • Learning exchange provides teachers will access to share over 25 million resources, projects, learning spaces, partnerships and tools

Basically this system rocks.

B+ you say?

Desire2Learn

If you love comfort food than you will love Desire2Learn, which reminds me of being comfortable – and not in a bad way. UI is good but not necessarily a WOW factor.

Features include:

  • Social: Ability to add social profiles from Linkedin, Google+, Facebook, Twitter – what is strange is Linkedin, which is geared and used by professionals and not students.
  • Event calendar, ePortfolios
  • Course authoring tool – that is built in mind for education. It is not your typical LMS build your courses tool.
  • File lockers – think file folders for each learner or shared by groups
  • Dropbox – Winner!!
  • Capture Cast – basically a built-in audio/video platform for recording presentations live and which end users can see live – in real time or on-demand (as they call it)

Blackboard gets a “B”

Blackboard Learn

For a vendor who has been around for more than 14 years you would think they finally get the whole value of asynchronous based learning. Sadly, they haven’t. The system is still geared towards education, although they are targeting corporate as well.

Although this post is all about pure education systems, leaving Blackboard out would be considered sacrilegious to some folks.

The system is still about synchronous based learning, which is fine, but it is nothing more than sticking ILT online. Yeah it supports mobile and yeah it includes a nice feature set, and yeah its UI is strong, but while they were cool in the late 90′s and early 2000′s they seem to have lost their way.

Bottom Line

There are plenty of teachers you will never hear about, who provide outstanding learning, deeply care about their students and make a difference very day.

The same can be said about learning management systems in this space.

These systems offer features that are logical and value driven in the K-12 market. They provide a learning experience that is outstanding and which makes a difference every day for their learners, educators and schools.

Here’s to all the teachers out there and the systems that meet their needs.

It’s still not perfect, but then again, nothing is.

E-Learning 24/7

Note: Vklass and edu 2.0 were not included in this list, since they were previously presented in previous posts.

Note: Due to myself presenting as one of the keynote speakers at LearnX Asia Pacific in Melbourne, Australia, there will be not be a blog post for next week. This is due to traveling.

On the 29th and 30th (the days of the conference), live tweets and updates via my Linkedin group: E-Learning 24/7 will be provided. The week afterwards, my assessment of the conference along with products that were just “WoW”.