Why Is Your School’s LMS So Bad?

How Good People Pick Bad Software

Written by

Mark Johnson

on August 2, 2017

When I tell people about Pathwright, I often hear a version of “man, my university’s software sucks, we should use yours.”

Hating your LMS (Learning Management System) is not an uncommon sentiment. Google “[LMS name] sucks” for pretty much any mainstream LMS, and you’ll find outpourings of ire from students and teachers listing all the ways they’ve been screwed by these poorly designed platforms.

While I wish we could help students dealing with crappy LMSs, the problems with the Higher Ed-LMS market run deeper than poor software design.

Below are a few reason why bad LMSs end up at even the most prestigious institutions.

LMSs are not designed for students

Most mainstream LMSs were designed with little thought given to the students’ experience. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out (although it may take one to use the software). This seems like a bizarre choice from the outside since 80–90% of the users of an LMS are students, but it is intentional. Student experience isn’t a top priority to the big LMS vendors because the students are not the ones paying for the LMS!

So let’s Follow the 💸 . . .

LMSs are designed for the misinformed 💰people

Imagine a committee (when have committees ever made bad decisions?) composed of administrators, IT people, and the token student and/or teacher. For these committees, due diligence in LMS selection starts with a giant features list (one often found through a Google search or provided by fancy consultants). This list determines the “best” match for them.

I use quotes around “best” because the people helping them make this decision are often aggressive sales staff from LMS companies. As you might imagine, on the LMS side, this leads to an arms race of features— one that plays off the good intentions and fears of the committee.

The LMS with the most features #wins

The committee, with feature-FOMO, throws money at the problem. It’s the LMS that can check all the boxes on the list and that makes the most steakholders (this is a better way to spell it—you know it is)happy that takes the prize.

This leads to LMS software that is a rat’s nest of features that only “power users” can understand. Those features require conferences and time-sucking, on-site training for the primary users (students and teachers) to get any work done. The original committee might even regret their decision, but now they’re trapped by the contract—often a contract that lasts as long as 5 years (light-years in internet time). In the end, this is a losing game for everyone.

There is a better way.

Put your students and teachers first

So how should universities pick an LMS? Start with the needs of your students and teachers. They are the primary users of the software and unless their needs are being met, you are making an expensive mistake. Below are a few tips for picking an LMS that will serve your school well:

  1. Don’t fall into the money trap. Money won’t necessarily buy you the best software (repeat that 100 times). Also, signing a contract for any longer than one year makes no sense in the modern software world. Don’t do it!
  2. Write a list of features you actually need by talking to the people who’ll actually use the software. You don’t need a pre-made check-sheet or consultant for this. Every university’s needs are different. This will take time and research (but you’re good at research!). The energy will be worth the mistakes it saves you from.
  3. Remember, technology is just a tool. Software alone won’t turn bad teachers into good ones. And teachers are the key. Find software that helps them do their job better and then gets out of their way. They’re the ones helping students learn. And isn’t that why we’re all doing this anyway?

Thousands of teachers use Pathwright every day to design and teach courses to their team, class, or anyone in the world. If you’d like to design a course, we invite you to try out Pathwright for free. You’ve got nothing to lose!

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