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5 Steps to Find the Right CMS Product

Choosing a new or different course management system (CMS) can be a difficult and daunting task. With so many CMS products out there and even more available features, how do you know which one to choose? WCET is a great distance education resource that provides independent CMS reviews and comparisons through EduTools. Included in EduTools is the Decision Engine (DE), “a rational decision-making process to assist in selecting a course management system.” We compared several CMS products through the DE to show you how easy it is to decide which CMS is right for your class or institution.

Update: WCET informed us that the EduTools site is no longer being maintained. However, it is still up and can provide some useful information. 

Step 1. Choose which products you want to compare

You may compare up to 10 products out of the 40 products available. We compared the four CMS systems most commonly used by institutions according to the 2010 Campus Computing Survey: Blackboard, Sakai, Desire2Learn and Moodle. The DE does not always have the most recent versions of CMS software, but you can still get a good idea of what each product offers. We chose the most current basic versions of the products available: Blackboard Academic Suite 8.0, Sakai 2.3, Desire2Learn 8.3, and Moodle 1.9.

Step 2. Choose which features you want to compare

Select the features that are most important to your decision. We chose features based on a comparison of ten educator surveys** from institutions throughout the country. The 11 features educators used and preferred the most were: discussion forum, discussion management, internal email, content sharing/reuse, online grade book, automated testing management, automated testing support, file exchange, course management, and course templates.

Step 3. Determine how important each feature is in the overall decision

Weighting is not required, but helpful if you want to make some features more important than others in your decision. Using your own scale, assign weights* based on the importance of each feature in relation to the other features. We again used data from educator surveys**, weighting features based on how often they were mentioned. For example, internal email was mentioned twice as often as discussion forum, so internal email had a weight of two and discussion forum had a weight of one.

Step 4. Compare and rate features from each product

Once you pick your products and features, rate each feature for each product on a scale of zero (unsuitable) to nine (perfectly suitable). By clicking “view a comparison of these products on the features you selected,” you can get detailed information about the elements provided in each feature.

We created a rating system based purely on amount of elements:

Suitable (5/9) - Product contains the same elements as all the other products.

Very Suitable (7/9) – Product contains additional elements that some, but not all, of the other products have.

Perfectly Suitable (9/9) – Product contains additional elements that none of the other products have.

Basically the higher the rating, the more additional elements the product has that the other products do not have. We rated each feature this way and came up with a list of 11 ratings for each product.

Step 5. Calculate results

Finally, click “calculate results” to find your winning CMS product! You can also play around with the results, changing weights and ratings to recalculate a different score. In our case, Desire2Learn received the highest score, with Blackboard receiving a similar score and Sakai and Moodle receiving lower scores. Ready to try it out? Check out the EduTools site and start comparing.

*Note that weights can only be whole numbers, not fractions or decimals.
**Sources of faculty surveys below:

The University System of Georgia University of Central Oklahoma Washburn University Review Advisory Committee from Washington Community and Technical Colleges Florida Gulf Coast University Samuel Merritt UniversityKirkwood Community College Northwestern University Cal State FullertonHouston Community College

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