A Timeline of Google Classroom’s March to Replace Learning Management Systems

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Image credit: Google

Over the last two years, Google has taken its popular applications and outfitted them for the classroom. While many schools and districts continue to use existing learning management systems, such as Blackboard, CanvasMoodle and Schoology, Google’s Classroom platform is increasingly catching teachers’ eyes.

Many schools already use Google’s suite of productivity tools — Docs, Sheets and Slides. What Classroom aims to provide is a way to package these apps together and add features unique to what teachers and students need. In short, Classroom wants to be a lightweight learning management system.

Google Classroom launched in August 2014 and advertised itself as the one-stop-shop to save teachers time so they can focus on teaching. By October 2015, Google estimated some 10 million students and teachers were using it. According to Google, another 50 million students and teachers around the world were using Google applications, from Gmail to Chrome.

Along the way, the company has added features for teachers to manage several classes and invite collaborators, as well as adding the API for administrators and developers to integrate Classroom with outside applications.

In August 2016, Google added a guardian summary feature for parents to receive updates on their student’s work, missing assignments or classroom announcements. Now comments, grading, assigning and working all exist on the free platform built on top of Google Drive.

Zach Yeskel, a product manager at Google, says they spent about a year and a half researching and talking to educators about the tool. Features like the guardian notifications and adding multiple teachers to a class were developed out of user feedback, he says.

“We tried to make it really straightforward. Just invite the parents and then they get these digests, and it all just works behind the scenes,” Yeskel adds.

Teachers also wanted to plan ahead for classes, and in Classroom they can draft and schedule posts. Although Google did not mention specifics on what’s ahead for its product, Yeskel says they will look at doing more for other users of the platform.

“So far we’ve been laser-focused on the needs of teachers,” he says.

“I think you’ll see us expand to really understand and meet the needs of students and administrators as other important users in the products that we’re building. The other really important audience is other creators and developers that work alongside Classroom.”

One industry observer doesn’t think Google will replace existing learning management systems.

“I suspect this will have a bigger impact on individual faculty adoption in higher ed or as a secondary LMS than it will on official institutional adoption, at least for the next two to three years,” Phil Hill, consultant and author at e-Literate, wrote in 2014.

“My original thoughts on Google Classroom still stand,” he tells EdSurge in an interview.

That doesn’t mean Classroom is an inferior tool, Hill notes, but it isn’t designed to replace the full LMS as it is right now. The fact that this is a Google product makes a difference in how it develops, he says.

“Remember that Google is a technology-vision company that is comfortable putting out new tools before they understand how the tools will be used. Google is also comfortable playing the long game, getting more and more instructors and faculty using, giving feedback and pushing forward the new toolset,” Hill says.

Hill estimates another two to three years before the market may see the release of a full institutional LMS. One advantage he sees in Classroom over the legacy platforms is the “open nature of Google apps” and how it works with other apps.

“It is still not a threat to institutional LMSs in higher ed, and is not fully a threat to Schoology and Canvas in the K-12 institutional market,” Hill says.

“But it's a great tool for individual teachers and innovative faculty in higher ed. It is still worth watching and an important edtech tool.”

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