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Teaching in the age of COVID-19: The learning management system

Yusuf Yilmaz, PhD |

learning management systemGiven the epidemiological data from China and Italy, educators should be prepared for the likelihood that online learning will continue to be the norm for many weeks to months. Simply running disconnected weekly educational sessions without an overall organization will hinder educational success for learners. Learning Management Systems (LMS) are a tool that can support educational leaders with the delivery, assessment, and organization of learning.

Previous posts have discussed content delivery, remote interaction, and remote assessment. Organizing these separate platforms can be simplified through the use of an LMS to bring the content together into 1 virtual “classroom.” This allows the learners to easily locate the content while educators can monitor progress and easily support the learners. Learners and educators can interact in real or near-real time, keeping the learning conversation going even when live conference has ended.

learning management system

Google Classroom

Google Classroom is a free educational solution by Google in which educators and students can benefit from multiple g-Suite services on a learning management platform. By the latest announcement in regard to SARS-CoV2, using Google Hangouts Meet advanced features now is unlimited and free.


  1. Very simple to set up and does not require technical knowledge.
  2. Multiple classes can be created to host various cohorts of students.
  3. Use Assignments function to collect students’ works, and make the process of grading simple.
  4. Use Originality Reports to ensure that students’ work is genuine, and to avoid unintentional plagiarism. This feature is currently in the Beta version and can be only used when subscribed to it. To sign-up click here


  1. Google Classroom is dependent on Google services.
  2. Gradebook is limited and you may need to keep better records elsewhere.
  3. Account management is hard and students without a Google account cannot use it.

Tips for success

  1. Reuse the same post if you need to copy over different cohorts of students.
  2. Use a class code to enroll your students.


ALiEMU, EM Foundations, and other existing emergency medicine learning management systems

ALiEMU is the homebuilt site by ALiEM. It serves as home to asynchronous content that can also be used for flipped classroom exercises including the ALiEM AIR Series, the capsules series, and an exam preparatory course. The AIR series curates recent content from the most impactful FOAMed sites on a specific organ system. After reviewing the quality assessed content, learners can take a multiple choice quiz;  explanations reinforce key learning points. The capsules series is an online e-curriculum of high-quality, practical, and very current information about practical pharmacology for the EM practitioner. Lastly, the exam preparatory course consists of 400 high-yield, multiple-choice questions with thorough explanations.

Foundations of EM is designed to be used as a flipped classroom exercise in which residents pre-read specific materials relevant to the upcoming case asynchronously. Then, they walk through the case. Though residency programs use Foundations differently, it seems to be most often used in a small group setting with a faculty or senior resident mentor leading the case discussion. This could easily be adopted for an internet-or phone-connected learning exercise.


  1. Both ALiEMU and Foundations of EM are free and easily available to all residents. Additionally, residents may already be familiar with these resources.
  2. Both are high quality through either post-publication curation or peer-reviewed content.
  3. Customizable options for level of learner.


  1. While the content is high quality, faculty will need time to review content and select the most relevant material.
  2. Faculty unfamiliar with flipped classroom or effective small group teaching methods may be uncomfortable with these platforms.

Tips for success

  1. Use a faculty champion to review and select modules.
  2. Keep groups smaller; consider splitting by PGY level or allowing senior residents to teach junior modules.
  3. Be consistent with the content selection so that learners are prepared.
  4. Review facilitator materials in their entirety; consider what supplemental material you may provide (e.g. additional X-rays, images, EKGs, etc).
  5. Share additional resources after the sessions to further support long term retention (e.g. Foundations pathways).
  6. Consider follow up quizzes to capitalize on the testing effect and spaced repetition.



We’ve previously described this, but for the purposes of being an online teacher, this can be the place where you integrate discussions and link learners to other teachers or content. Many large learning management system platforms (e.g. Blackboard, Desire2Learn) have really bad chat functions. With Slack, the chat functions are well ironed out (from Emojis to polling to threading), which can help drive the conversation.


  1. Great way to archive multiple long conversations.
  2. Easily invite others to join the platform via email link. Great for onboarding new (and older) faculty to discuss issues and problems online.


  1. Harder to adopt/learn than WhatsApp. Again, it can be difficult to communicate across purposes online via text and to sustain a deep conversation from start to finish. The best forum for emotionally charged discussions.
  2. Multiple, simultaneous conversations can be difficult to keep up with.
  3. Despite separate channels, going back through conversations to find a specific topic can be challenging and time-consuming
  4. Slack has numerous beeps, buzzes, alerts and can be distracting.
  5. The free version only stores up to 10,000 messages after which it will start deleting your oldest messages. You can (and likely will have to)  pay for unlimited messages and more than 5GB of file storage, for large groups and/or long-standing projects.



Moodle is a free, open-source learning management system with a fully customizable and accessible platform that can be used to design instructor-led, self-paced and blended course designs. This is one of many open-source LMS platforms where one is able to create an online course, module or learning activity without requiring an institutional license or paying fees. Different sites have different affordances, or technologies, that can be utilized. Each has different customizable options and platforms. There are many open-source LMS to choose from and here we briefly review a few popular options:


  1. Extend core features of Moodle using plug-ins for your needs from the repository.
  2. Designed for easy accessibility via mobile platforms such as smartphones and tablets and is available in over 120 languages
  3. Customizable with multiple affordances such as comments, messaging, statistics, networking, RSS feeds, web services, emojis that users can choose to turn-on or turn-off.
  4. Restricted access is available to tailor content to different audiences or subgroups
  5. It can accommodate small groups to large audiences.


  1. Technical knowledge is required to effectively own your installation.
  2. The free version of Moodle on cloud is supported by up to 50 users and 200MB file storage space. Your own installation on your own hosting is unlimited.

There are several other platforms like Canvas, Sakai, Desire2Learn, Blackboard, EdX, Schoology, and Coursera. Many universities and hospitals may have affiliations with certain platforms. Of note, Coursera just recently announced that they have made their platform free to all during this era of COVID-19.


Course Networking

What it is:

As opposed to a strictly LMS platform, Course Networking is uniquely designed based on the concept of utilizing social networking for learning where users are able to expand their interactions from a single course’s platform to global interaction similar to social media using a social constructivism learning theory. This supports collaboration and eliminates traditional limits and isolation of an online or in-person classroom, opening virtual walls. In addition to public courses, content can be shared via posts similar to a Twitter feed tagging a specific content area.


  1. Users are able to network with other learners and instructors.
  2. The site is designed for easy use on computers and mobile platforms.
  3. Courses are searchable and instructors can set whether the course is public for anyone to join or public.
  4. There is a reward system; users can earn badges or points as they engage in social learning.
  5. Course pairing exists to group similar course content for further collaboration.
  6. Assessment tools and grading functions are available.


  1. There is inconsistent peer-review and evaluation of the quality of content on others’ sites, leaving the possibility that learners in your course are exposed to misinformation in their networking
  2. Many courses are private, limiting the capabilities for collaboration and limiting the course networking to a traditional LMS platform
  3. The search function for courses is imperfect where users need to sift through minimal descriptions of courses in order to find appropriate content
  4. The global posts function, similar to social media, does not allow for tagging others, or following trends or topics as efficiently as other social media sites and does not have a search function

Tips for success for using open source LMS and course networking sites:

  1. For all LMS, learn what affordances, or tools, each offers to help determine which is the right fit for your needs
  2. Embrace that with any new technological platform, there will be a period of trial-and-error both for the instructors and the learners
  3. Open-source LMS have many customizable features, so continue to explore and modify your course to fit the needs of your learners
  4. Seek feedback from your learners regarding the new LMS and how to best utilize it in your setting

For your convenience, here is the summary infographic for thist post.

Conflict of Interests: The ALiEM team would like to thank Slack, Inc. for their generous support of the ALiEM Connect project during this difficult time. None of the ALiEM team members are receiving direct funding from their company.

Stay tuned for the rest of this burst series, and if you missed them, check out our introduction post and posts highlighting real time videoconferencing, recording technologies, small group conversations, asynchronous chats, and learner assessment. For more information regarding remote work and education, check out ALiEM Remote.


Author information

Yusuf Yilmaz, PhD

Yusuf Yilmaz, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow, McMaster Faculty of Health Sciences Education Research
Innovation and Theory (MERIT) Program, McMaster University

The post Teaching in the age of COVID-19: The learning management system appeared first on ALiEM.

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