K-12 Online Learning Platforms Overview
What Are K-12 Online Learning Platforms?
K-12 Online Learning Platforms encompass many systems that K-12 schools to facilitate student learning. It includes products that focus on administrative or learning management functions. The key unifier for products within this category is that they are primarily or singularly focused on serving K-12 academic institutions.
K-12 vs. Higher Education Technology
There are some key differences between education technology focused on K-12 and higher education. Distinctions emerge from nuances in each use case. For instance, parents or guardians are more likely to be directly involved in students’ affairs for K-12 students. The platforms themselves may also need to be easier to use for younger students. The administrative side may also be different, since teachers may manage fewer student records, especially primary educators.
These differences will usually lead to unique features among K-12 focused platforms. For instance, parent/guardian portals are usually standard for any platform that includes students’ personal or academic information. The interface and user experience may often more heavily focus on accessibility and ease of use for students and teachers compared to higher education counterparts.
Despite these distinctions, there are some products that bridge the divide between K-12 and higher education. This is most common among products that serve both secondary ed and higher ed. These products usually focus on the learning management component of education, such as assessments, grades management, and class discussion forums. Primary education platforms are far less likely to overlap with higher ed products.
Types of K-12 Online Learning Platforms
There are several standard areas of online learning platforms for K-12 schools. Many education tech vendors offer one or multiple products to serve schools’ needs across multiple areas simultaneously. Others specialize as point solutions and rely on integrating with other vendor’s offerings.
The “core” platform for schools is usually their Student Management System, also known as a Student Information System. These systems are the central repository for student data, including class schedules, student enrollment information and personal data, and provide students, parents, and staff access to this data.
School Management Software is more focused on serving the administrative side of K-12 schools. It is also called “School Administration Software” for the same reason. These systems help staff manage or automate administrative tasks around admissions, scheduling, billing, internal and external communication, and other tasks.
K-12 Learning Management Systems focus on the teacher, student, and classroom experience. They specialize in helping teachers create and manage course materials, often including assessment management. LMSs also allow students and parents/guardians to track students’ academic performance. In contrast with Higher Education LMSs, K-12 focused products will often offer more features to facilitate in-classroom learning and engagement.
K-12 Online Learning Platform Comparison
When comparing different K-12 online learning platforms, consider these factors:
Centralized Platform vs. Point Solution: Does each product provide a one-stop-shop for multiple functions a school needs, such as SIS and LMS capabilities? If it does not, how well does each point solution integrate with the other systems that the school or district uses? Comparing products’ scopes will help buyers understand the total investment needed to support a K-12 institution and what IT management or maintenance may be required to support multiple systems in the long term.
In-Person vs. Remote Learning: For primary education platforms in particular, are there features tailored to the school’s learning environment, whether that is in-person or remote learning? Many products serving younger learners have built out more robust classroom support features of in-person learning, but they may be less helpful or unusable in a remote context. This can leave schools paying for unused features.
Pricing: School budgets for education technology can be a substantial limiting factor that varies from district to district. When comparing products, consider the total cost of outfitting a school or district with the necessary education tech, including SMS, LMS, and other needed administrative functions. Evaluating the entire package holistically can help education buyers find the ideal platform deployment to meet their needs.
Per-student or per-school pricing, usually billed monthly or annually. Individual products can start a $2-10/student/month, but will vary based on volume and how comprehensive a particular product is. More comprehensive products are likely to cost more, but will limit the total number of systems that schools must purchase.