Google Classroom is one of the most popular (and free) learning management systems, but it has numerous (and frustrating) limitations. I’ve written on this before here. Todays post is about really attractive alternatives.
Google Classroom is a popular learning management system (LMS) that allows you to set basic lesson structures and share files for online learning. The LMS is easy to use, collaborative, and integrates with many educational apps (Google apps receive an unsurprising push over others). I use Google Classroom in my school, and interestingly (read unbelievably frustrating and ridiculously stupid), all of the add-ons have been disabled by the network administrators. I won’t name them (although I should) but if you know them, then you know my frustrations. As a Digital Technologies teacher, I also cannot access anything to do with games – it’s been blocked. I guess, they don’t accept that being able to do my job is important. The message here seems to be, do a little, but only as far as we allow you.
Although Classroom does offer some useful features, it lacks several classroom management elements that come as standard when considering hybrid learning. For example, Classroom doesn’t have a standards-based grading option. As we go through some of these learning managment systems that are exciting alternatives, you may begin to see how Google Classroom comes up short in many areas. If your school is in the process of deciding whether to move from Google Classroom, then these alternatives will certainly give you a lot to think about. They range from being free to paid LMS options, with many of them offering a high-quality learning experience and are well aligned with industry standards.
1. Blackboard Learn
Any theory or model for teaching can be used with your online course because Blackboard Learn is designed to be open, flexible, and centred on student achievement.
Blackboard offers the ability to setup synchronous and asynchronous learning, as well as blended, web-enhanced and fully online courses.
Blackboard offers both a student and teacher app that accompanies the website that enables instructors to view their course content, grade student assignments, connect with students in discussions, and launch Collaborate sessions.
Blackboard Learn like most LMS platforms is highly customisable and allows teachers to construct fully online, blended or hybrid courses.
Students and teachers can interact in a digital classroom with video conferencing, discussion groups, tests. Teachers can set assignments and receive them via digital submission, meaning that the days of transporting books home to mark are over.
Blackboard’s mobile apps and accessibility tools allow all students to participate fully and flexibly in classes.
TalentLMS is a well-constructed and one of the easier-to-use commercial learning management systems that lets you create online training courses. You can use the cloud platform to train online. TalentLMS is probably more industry/employment centred, but there are many tools that aren’t specifically designed for an education market but can be used for this application.
The LMS allows you to customise your portal to match your organisation and build training courses quickly. You can add tests and quizzes as well as host online live sessions to create an engaging user experience. These have benefits over Google classroom in that the platform contains these elements within the platform-to hold a live session, you would have to use Google Meet, but I am focused on the idea of working within the platform.
The platform’s course builder allows you to upload files and drag and drop elements to create courses quickly – making any potential transition from Google Classroom much easier. The platform allows you to embed content like audio and video into courses-which is very much an expected element in a modern LMS. TalentLMS makes use of resources that are designed to improve the knowledge and skills of users. This can fit well for schools who are embedding Rosenshine’s Principle of Retrieval. TalentLMS also includes materials for onboarding, compliance training, and analysing results with reports.
Unlike other learning management systems, the TalentLMS platform integrates with popular apps like Zoom, but also more industry focused apps like Zapier, Sage, Slack & Salesforce. This gives a completely different perspective to Google Classroom. There are a small number of third-party apps that can be used within the Google Classroom platform, but with TalentLMS, the integration list on their website is extensive and learner focused. Depending on the number of users that are required, you can use the free version or use the paid version, which ranges from $59 to $429 per month.
Moodle is the third of our learning management systems that we are going to look at and it is an extremely popular option. The free and open-source software allows teachers to create engaging online learning environments for their classes, whether they be fully online, blended or hybrid. This platform is free and open source (which means a lot of the progress is brought by individual developers who advance the platform for free) which as a result Moodle has taken a little longer to be comparable to other paid LMS options, but it is now at a stage where the platform has matured and offers a professionally comparable level service.
The platform is flexible, scalable, feature-rich and is great for creating digital learning platforms regardless of the size of student body. The most recent versions of Moodle come with a modern interface and a customisable dashboard that can display the list of available courses and pending student tasks. There is also access to a calendar for personal events and group meetings.
Moodle includes cohort-based user management and has been a continually good choice for educational contexts. Learners and teachers can collaborate via chats and forums. Online video sessions can be hosted through software called Big Blue Button. Moodle supports MP4, MP3, WAV, SCORM, and IMS and can add quizzes, badges, workshops, Google Apps, and a range of third-party plugins. You can drag & drop files from popular online cloud storage providers, like Google Drive, OneDrive and DropBox. Some third-party plugins do come with a cost, depending on the service being provided.
Moodle also supports Google Analytics tracking and is applauded for its security features. The platform is offered in two variations and has mobile apps, with a lot of documentation on its website. The first option is to download and host the platform yourself on your own domain for free (at moodle.org), or secondly, use the cloud-based version (at moodle.com). There are also professional organisations who will host the platform for a cost, but this might not be financially applicable for educational organisations.
4. Tovuti LMS
Tovuti LMS is another all-in-one learning management systems that gives you the required tools to create online courses quickly. As with every other LMS platform, you can build courses using the course authoring feature or start from the very beginning by importing presentation documents, videos, and SCORM files.
As a cloud based LMS, you can build, publish, and track the effectiveness of online learning courses. Different kinds of content including quizzes, interactive videos, and memory games can all be used to track learning. There is also the availability of live learning sessions.
The Tovuti LMS can be individually branded to match the school, businesses, or organisation selling their courses online. There are several customisation features, including options to change logos, colours, and most other elements of organisational branding.
Tovuti also offers whiteboards and virtual classes with breakout rooms-an option not yet available through Google Classroom. Students can access their classes, work checklists, and earned digital badges via their personal dashboards.
The powerful automation tool within Tovuti allows auto-assignment of courses, fencing of content, and segmentation of learners. Tovuti offers gamification, which makes learning more fun. It also includes a feedback feature that allows students to rate and review your courses, allowing for continual review and improvement.
In addition, it offers an open API and integrates with a host of third-party apps like Microsoft, Adobe, Articulate and Zoom to make communication with other platforms easier. The Tovuti platform offers a mix of marketing and ecommerce LMS features with course management functionalities. Pricing for this platform starts at $775 per month for up to 50 users and there is no free option with this platform.
5. Instructure Canvas LMS
Canvas by Instructure is a popular LMS with straightforward to set up and courses can quickly be assembled due to use and has a simple and clean design. The platform integrates with many third-party tools, supports SCORM files, as well as files from other platforms like Moodle and Blackboard. Instructors and students can also access G Suite along with a range of other third-party apps from inside the LMS.
The Canvas platform allows you to design courses, add students, import content, and add calendar events. With the Canvas LMS, you can create assignments, quizzes, and setup video conferences within the platform. Teachers can use the platform’s SpeedGrader to grade assignments faster. The platform can be developed in the background to use assignment grades to calculate overall course grades (particularly useful for FE/HE settings). Rubrics can be developed to aid grade decision making. The LMS automatically includes each assignment into the syllabus, grade book, or course calendar.
Canvas includes tabs for announcements, files, assignments, discussions, and a feature for students to track their progress in each of their classes.
Canvas also offers smartphone apps (separately for teacher and student) and will integrate with software like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and Adobe Connect Apps as required by the course.
The LMS lacks gamification, but it performs exceptionally well as learning platform, giving the teacher access to messaging tools, audio, video, other collaboration tools, along with an active forum with more than 1.4 million members. It’s free for individual teachers and students and has paid plans for organisations. Ther are different options available to different education stages, but with a free teacher option, you can explore the platform for free and make an informed decision about the platform. As part of the design process, you can view the course as a student. Seeing this perspective allows you to make better informed decisions about how the course should look.
As a platform, Canvas presents as a blank canvas which can be as innovative as the imagination of the course designer.
There are many great learning management systems that provide an alternative experience to Google Classroom. I appreciate that in many instances, there might not be the staff (or skills) to manage platforms fully, so opting for a managed platforms like Google Classroom does make sense to me. Unfortunately, I think in choosing Google, you are closing a lot of really interesting, interactive and powerful tools that could take your teaching to the next level – easily! A simple comparison between Google Classroom and Canvas will show this.
I have personal experience of building courses on Canvas and also run two sites that are in the content development stage that are built on Moodle. There are technical skills that are needed for Moodle, but it is a really strong option for those who have the skills or are prepared to learn. I realised relatively quickly in my current job that the digital platform that Google Classroom offers is ridiculously basic for an online platform (barely rising above a Word processing document, with only a handful of formatting features) and in the last week I noticed how closed Google Classroom actually is to third party (read non-Google) plugins. I raise this as an issue because it limits what we can do and link for our pupils. Our digital spaces should only be limited by our imagination, not by network administrators or platform owners.
While the idea of moving from one online learning platform to another mid-year would see riots, strikes, tears and a few swears from the teaching staff, making a move at the right time (and after the initial setup/teething problems) could ignite the imagination and kickstart some motivation among the different teaching departments to explore the new learning platform to see what it can offer for teachers and students. When this happens, the opportunity to build momentum in a school towards getting teachers excited about using education technology is right there to be grabbed. Providing lots of support to help build confidence and competence will see the first steps in using a new LMS (that isn’t Google Classroom) being positive learning experiences for all involved.
Most importantly of all, if you are the one pushing the move, then be available and do your research/homework. Be the source of all answers – either by video guide or the more traditional user guide (have both to cate for everyone); be prepared to put in the time with the reluctant/slow learners and always have a selection of good sweets nearby – nothing dissolves anger/frustration more than free sweets!