Essential Tools for Online Teaching and Learning (LMS vs. Video Conferencing)
By — Kisaru Liyanage, Lecturer in Computer Engineering, University of Peradeniya and Roshan Ragel, Professor in Computer Engineering, University of Peradeniya | Consultant, Lanka Education and Research Network (LEARN)
Online teaching and learning have been becoming increasingly popular among teachers and students for the past few years. Recently, a great deal of attention has been drawn towards this online teaching and distance learning, due to the ongoing COVID19 outbreak. There are numerous tools available on the Internet that facilitate online teaching in different ways with several pros and cons.
These tools which aid in conducting classes online can be classified into two main categories based on the primary intention of their usage; Learning Management Systems (LMSs) and video conferencing tools. In brief, LMSs act as a platform for delivering lecture material, assignments, etc. in an organized manner while video conferencing tools help teachers conduct interactive lecture/discussion sessions online.
Learning Management Systems (LMSs) can be listed as one of the greatest ways to manage online classes in a very effective manner. In LMSs, users can have different roles as teachers, students, administrators, etc. and perform their relevant activities. Administrators can create course pages for different subjects and enrol students to the courses. The teachers can then use these course pages to publish the lecture notes, assignments, quizzes, etc. related to that particular course. Further, LMSs are often equipped with features to collect assignment submissions and download them with one-click, auto-mark quizzes, etc. so that the teachers can conduct the course while evaluating students’ performance easily. Typically, the functionality of an LMS can be extended as per the need of the institution to have more features by installing plugins/addons to the existing system.
The cost associated with configuration and continuous usage of LMSs could heavily impact the decision on deciding which LMS to choose. Based on the cost associated with LMSs, they can be again categorized into three main groups as open-source, free to use online and commercial. Open-source LMSs are free to install and use in our own servers if needed. The ones that are free to use online require no initial setup and can be used by just accessing their website, but these tools might have limitations such as the maximum number of users (students, teachers) allowed to register in the system. Commercial LMSs usually come as monthly/yearly subscriptions where you need to pay monthly or yearly to get their service uninterruptedly and the service is hosted on the cloud. Some of the tools fall under both the categories open-source and commercial, since both the options are available for them.
A list of LMSs is given in the Wikipedia page available at  categorizing them into different groups. Further, there are many recent articles published on the internet (, , , ) listing top LMSs being used today providing good details about each of the tools’ capabilities as well. Given below are 9 examples of top-rated and popular LMSs that fall under the 3 subcategories mentioned before.
- Open-source — Chamilo , Moodle , Totara , Canvas 
- Free to use online — Google Classroom , Edmodo 
- Commercial — TalentLMS , Adobe Captivate Prime , Blackboard Learn , Totara , Canvas 
These tools vary slightly in the set of features each of them offer, the different options available to set-up/use them and the cost associated. Out of these popular tools, Moodle is widely used in Sri Lankan state Universities due to its rich feature-set and that it’s free of charge and can have unlimited users when you set it up on your own university server. Moodle has been ranked 2nd globally as well in a survey performed by Capterra () making it the 2nd most popular LMS in the world. However, a comprehensive comparison of these tools is included in the table so that anyone who would like to use one of those tools can have a better idea about different options available.
Another interesting set of tools that can be used to make the online teaching-learning experience more interactive is video conferencing tools. The original purpose of most of these tools was to conduct online meetings. These tools are usually bundled with features to do group video calling, group voice calling and text chatting. Teachers could use these tools to conduct live online classes in an interactive manner. Most of them support additional features such as screen sharing — which could be used to share the screens of teachers to explain the lecture content using other aids such as slides. Online articles ,  list popular video conferencing tools and their features. Zoom , Microsoft Teams , Google Hangouts , BigBlueButton  are some popular examples of such tools that are being used worldwide for the purpose of interactive online meetings/teaching. Out of these example tools, BigBlueButton is open-source while others are free to use online with several limitations (maximum number of people in a conversation, maximum conversation time, etc.) and therefore are needed to be upgraded to premium versions to get the full benefit (called Freemiums). Interestingly, some of these tools can be integrated to previously discussed LMSs (e.g. Zoom can be integrated with Moodle) so that the integration ends-up as a completed package for distance learning. Moreover, some of the LMSs have in-built support for video conferencing (e.g. TalentLMS).
The table above presents a comparison between each of the example tools mentioned above in the article which will help you identify different ways in which each tool aids online teaching-learning. It is important to note that only a set of essential features, that we think are important in online teaching-learning activity, are being selected and considered for this comparison. The information available in tools’ websites and the articles on the Internet ( — ) have helped in generating this comparison table.