Getting the Most from Your LMS in Online Courses

Wooden blocks labeled "LMS"
Online Learning
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Melinda Doty is a full-time Faculty Member at East Carolina University


Online learning has been around for decades. But with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this delivery method is more popular than ever. We, as educators, have had to adapt and pivot former in-person classes quickly to online versions without losing the integrity and quality of the former delivery methods. Online instruction has allowed education to continue, even when lockdowns were implemented.

Now, 73% of students prefer online learning to traditional, in-person methods, increasing the demand for online courses. As instructors, we must now look for ways to structure our courses to engage our students online while achieving a work-life balance for ourselves. To do this, instructors need to learn how to leverage tools within their learning management systems (LMS).

What is a Learning Management System?

A learning management system, or LMS, is a software application used to deliver online courses in an organized and systematic environment. Think of platforms like Canvas, Blackboard, Brightspace by D2L or Moodle.

For a successful online teaching experience, a well-developed course within your LMS is essential. By designing a course that students can easily follow, the instructor sets their students up for success. If required materials are hard to find, students could easily get lost simply searching for the assignment.

A Clear Course Structure

For a successful, straightforward online course, there are a few simple design strategies you can employ in your LMS.

First, instructors should always include a course schedule with the syllabus so that students can prepare for assignments prior to the deadlines. The course should also be organized into sections. Depending on your LMS, this can be done via modules (Canvas) or folders (Blackboard). In my experience, lessons and assignments organized by week or topic prove very helpful for students and reduce their questions down the line.

Communication with Students

Instructor-student interaction is also key for an effective online course. Instructors should begin an online class with a welcome announcement posted on the first day, followed by weekly announcements informing the class of what is ahead for the week. These pre-scheduled announcements provide much-needed information for students without much added work on the instructor’s end.

In my experience, students also appreciate a welcome video from the instructor formally introducing themselves. This humanizes the sometimes-stale online course material. The LMS Canvas incorporates an application called Studio that makes filming a video as simple as a click and smile. The recorded video is then stored within the LMS and can be easily shared via a link to the students in an announcement, module or page. To build further faculty-student rapport, instructors can pre-record and provide additional videos and tutorials throughout the semester.

Use Features in Your Learning Management System

There are many different LMS platforms available, some more advanced than others. As stated above, Canvas has an embedded video recording tool. Blackboard, along with many others, has video conferencing tools directly embedded as well.

You can also leverage additional LMS-embedded tools such as discussion boards to assist with your online course. With many online courses becoming a mix of hybrid or HyFlex with synchronous and asynchronous content, these features are highly valuable.

Overall Online Experience

Most of us have a favorite LMS. We may like one feature in Blackboard and another one in Canvas. Perhaps you’re a fan of Moodle or a Brightspace by D2L enthusiast. No matter what LMS you currently have, you can utilize all its features to make presenting and teaching information easier.

When you learn to employ your LMS to its full potential, it makes the overall design and teaching of your online class much smoother.

To learn more about online course delivery, explore the Peer-Proven Strategies for a Successful Online Course eBook.