I had the pleasure of delivering the Kick Off Keynote at the CUE Conference last week where I shared my technology philosophy. 

Learning Management Systems (LMS)

Many teachers have had success with large learning management systems (LMS) that offer an all in one solution to integrating technology. Conversely, I know many educators who have been turned off from technology because of an LMS. I’ve also heard stories from teachers in districts that pay for an LMS and claim to be a “technology rich,” when the reality is very different. 

I equate most LMSs to big virtual backpacks. If you want to use what is inside, you have to take it off, unzip it, unload the contents and find what you need. It holds a ton, but it is heavier, more cumbersome, initially more intimidating to use, and has a steep learning curve if you’re new to technology integration.

Chey with backpack


My Technology Tool Belt

I like the tool belt approach because in life, where is the LMS? It doesn’t exist. In life different tools work to solve different problems. Technology is the same.


Image credit: Cambria Souza
Check out her online gallery: http://weaslrocks.deviantart.com


When I present, some teachers baulk at how many different tools I use. A few have said, “That is too many destinations for students.” I believe that is our issue. I do not think that is as much an issue for many of our students. Look at their cell phones. Check out how many apps they have. Kids choose from a diverse collection of tools in their daily lives. They are more nimble in their approach to using technology.

It is increasingly important that they build an arsenal of tools they can leverage for a variety of tasks if they are to be at the least technology literate…and at the best, technology fluent. 

Technology Literacy vs. Fluency

Some may be asking, “What is the difference between technology literacy and technology fluency?” Technology literate students are perfectly capable of using tech tools. They know how to use them and what to do with them. In contrast, students who are tech fluent know when to use a tool to achieve a desired outcome, and why that tool is the best tool to get a particular job done.

Cultivating this technology fluency is easier to do with the tool belt approach, because students experiment with different tools for different jobs. They understand each tech tool has strengths and limitations. They are not going to love every tool and that’s okay. We really can’t get too attached to any one tool anyway because they come and go so quickly and are constantly evolving.

I encourage teachers to select a tech tool, experiment with it, make mistakes, learn a ton, then expand. This is how I developed my technology tool belt…one tool at a time!



19 Responses

  1. I couldn’t agree more. There is nothing worse than technological overload! I think students and teachers should discover, learn and use the tools they need when they need them.

  2. The toolbelt is so important, to build it over time and build up your tool kit. I would say, however, for younger students, a basic LMS such as Edmodo is crucial to building the tool kit. Not because we use everything directly through Edmodo, but it becomes a place to post models and share digital work done with these tools. Without it, younger students have no medium for this.

    • You make a good point about younger students, Jaclyn.

      I teach high school, which is a whole other animal. Many of my high school students struggle to remember information and passwords. I imagine this would be exponentially worse with younger kids, not to mention issues with having an email address and needing other personal information to set up accounts.

      Thank you for speaking to the benefit of the LMS for younger kids.


  3. I do agree with your point about schools purchasing them though and claiming to be “tech rich”. Though Moodle is free, I hear that people feel it is complicated with minimal support and doesn’t serve the basic purpose of being a home base for students.

  4. Thanks for the article. I have been thinking about this alot lately. I have a 1 to 1 iPad Middle School and what I see is frustration with the number of options students have. While it is great to have those kind of resources available, where is the app that organizes that learning. I have been searching for the “One App to Rule Them All” and I hope to find it soon.

    Edmodo, MyBigCampus, Moodle, etc. all seem to have have some kind of organizational missing link. When you grab an iPad or other mobile device, you are given an interface that is simple and easy to use. Edmodo, et al, seem to overly rely on the legacy of their web interfaces which is informational overload.

    I am looking for something that brings all these things together to help the teacher and the student organize their learning in a simple, powerful way.

    Our toolbelts seem to be pulling our pants down. The traditional LMS seems to be a toolbelt that is too tight.

    • Great points, Troy.

      I think you are articulating what many teachers are feeling. The LMS is limiting and the tool belt is overwhelming.

      My tool belt fits fine, but that may be a result of not overloading it. I may also have a higher tolerance for trying new tools…everyone has their limits.

      If you find that app to rule them all, let me know! I created a Google site for my classes this year. It is a “one-stop-shop” for my students where they can go for directions, links and video tutorials. That has worked well for me. It creates a single place to go for information. It also helps kids keep track fo the tools we use as I link out to them.

      I appreciate you sharing your perspective!


      • Hi Caitlyn,
        Can you elaborate on your google site? I’m new to google classroom and trying to decide between classroom and my district’s LMS. I like the simplicity of classroom but it’s easier to organize in the LMS–sort of once I figure out how it works!

        • Hi Emily,

          I’m actually using a Blogger site this year instead of a Google Site. I have a “blog” for our daily agenda/lesson, a tab for each subject, and a resources page with links to all of the tech tools we use.

          I use Google Classroom too, but I use that in addition to our class website.


  5. Yes!!! I love discovering new tools for my tool belt! Why limit our students when the possibilities are endless.

  6. Have you considered looking at LMS systems that support LTI tools? With that integration, students can enjoy the benefits of all of your web 2.0 tools mentioned, yet still be simplified through a SSO.

    Our students are fed up with the multiple sign ins, passwords, etc. They want to access the tools (and I definitely want them to as well) but the multiple locations is frustrating and hard for them to stay on track. I think the LMS is a great way to standardize certain aspects of the learning, but I do not agree that it should be the last stop for accessing learning tools!

    Thank you for the perspectives. I’ve struggled with what is best for the students, especially since I know how beneficial some of these tools can be for student achievement.

    • Hi,

      I tried Moodle years ago. I also researched popular LMSs for my book, because I know for many teachers they offer an all-in-one approach to tech integration.

      I think using an LMS as a launching pad to connect students to other tools is a great approach, especially for younger students. That said, as students get older, they will inevitably have multiple sign ups, passwords, etc. It is a reality of living in our digital world. I believe there is value in making that visible to them, and teaching them how to organize their personal information in a safe way.

      If technology is going to be truly transformative, then the online space must be used to engage students in active learning – communication, collaboration, and creation. Often an LMS is more of a “teacher management tool” and less of a “learning management tool.” If teachers are simply using an LMS to disseminate information, collect information and assess student performance, then students are missing out on some of the most exciting aspects of blending online work with the physical classroom.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


  7. Great concept! I too have the tool belt mindset in my world of training firefighters.
    We are seeing a large influx of vendors pushing their LMS to our industry
    With the “added benefit” of pre built content for CEU hours.
    I like to create content in house that is specific to my students, so this is not a plus in my eyes. I often feel that most of these systems do many things at an average level instead of using tools that do one thing amazingly well. With the tool belt concept, you can add or subtract new tools as needed. With the large LMS it is often difficult to personalize, or to enact any system wide changes.

    Thanks for the post.

    • That’s an interesting perspective, Frank, given that you are training firefighters yet seeing similar trends. I agree that personalizing training or instruction using an LMS can be challenging. In my work with students, my biggest fear is that working exclusively with an LMS for all the technology components in a class won’t help them develop technology fluency. I want my students to feel confident using a variety of tools when they leave my class.

      Thank you for your comment!


  8. Interesting idea and to a point I agree, you must have a suite of tools( and base knowledge on their use), but more importantly is the digital toolbox must work with the faculty member’s workflow. The faculty must be able to use the tools with a repeatable workflow. If its not repeatable then productivity suffers and normally the tools are the first to receive blame. Its not always the tools but the knowledge of those tools.

    Lots of times stuff is thrown at faculty and say hey go learn this new thing that we bought. Lots of times there are not scheduled training sessions or very inadequate ones. This can make it hard to keep up.

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