5 Best Free LMS Software Systems for Online Teaching

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These software systems can help you quickly transition to an online teaching environment at no cost.

header image shows icons depicting an online class

If you work in education, you’re used to putting out fires every day. But nothing could have prepared anyone for the sudden spread of the COVID-19 virus that has caused major disruption to schools around the country.

With many states declaring public health disasters and closing schools to contain the disease, educators are scrambling to find the right software to move their class to an online teaching environment. Enter the learning management system (LMS).

An LMS is the ideal tool to create and administer online courses, host a virtual classroom, assign homework, and monitor student progress—all from your computer, tablet, or phone. Better yet, there are many free LMS solutions on the market that can provide a pandemic stopgap without upending your technology budget.

If you’re considering a free LMS for your class, school, or district, we’re here to help. Below are the five top-rated free LMS software systems for online teaching, according to data from real user reviews.

5 top-rated free LMS software systems for online teaching

Product (click to jump to that section) Average overall rating (out of 5)
Google Classroom 4.62
TalentLMS 4.54
iTunes U 4.52
Thinkific 4.52
Schoology 4.43

Products are ordered from highest overall rating to lowest. To learn more about our methodology, click here.

1. Google Classroom

Google Classroom logo
Average overall user rating: 4.62
Average ease-of-use rating: 4.52
Average functionality rating: 4.41

Completely free for schools, Google Classroom allows teachers to create classes, distribute and grade assignments, and send feedback to students. Permissions for students, guardians, and co-teachers are customizable, as are the options teachers have to share their screen, share a student’s screen, or lock everything down for something like a pop quiz.

Teachers can augment their classes through free apps that integrate with Google Classroom. Different apps can support specific areas of knowledge, add more flair to online presentations, or foster better learner engagement. You can also push grades to your student information system (SIS) if you sign up for a beta program and have a compatible system.

Limits and the cost to upgrade

Google Classroom, along with the rest of the G Suite for Education, is completely free with 100GB of storage and no limits on the number of users. G Suite Enterprise for Education, which includes extra features, starts at $48 per user, per year.

What users say about Google Classroom

  • Simple and intuitive
  • Great if you already use Google products
  • Highly versatile

A screenshot of the home screen in Google Classroom.

The home screen in Google Classroom (Source)



2. TalentLMS

TalentLMS logo
Average overall user rating: 4.54
Average ease-of-use rating: 4.55
Average functionality rating: 4.37

TalentLMS is built to support blended learning curriculums that mix self-paced learning and instructor-led online teaching. On the self-paced learning side, teachers can import existing courses, or create whole new courses from scratch, then set customized learner paths to dictate how and when learners can consume them. Features such as discussion forums and personal messaging enhance class interactions.

Instructors can schedule real-time webinars to teach students face-to-face. Automated grading eases the burden of assigning homework, while detailed reports and student analytics allow teachers to uncover which students need help and which courses need to be improved.

Limits and the cost to upgrade

Though the free version of TalentLMS has no storage limit, it only supports up to five users and 10 courses, making it an option for only very small classes. The “Starter” package, which allows up to 40 users, starts at $59 per month.

What users say about TalentLMS

  • Great reporting functionality
  • Easy to set up
  • Flexible to different teaching or learning styles

The course creation screen in TalentLMS.

Creating an online course in TalentLMS (Source)



3. iTunes U

iTunes U logo
Average overall user rating: 4.52
Average ease-of-use rating: 4.42
Average functionality rating: 4.40

Longtime Apple users may recognize iTunes U as the company’s prebuilt library for free education content, but the app also operates as an online teaching tool that supports course authoring, assigning homework, grading, and course discussions.

Teachers can upload and share materials with students in a variety of formats, including documents, photos, and videos. They can also leverage podcasts, books, and other resources already available in iTunes U. One-on-one chat functionality is included, as is the ability to see when students have viewed or completed assignments.

Limits and the cost to upgrade

With iTunes U, you can have up to 12 courses with 50 students enrolled in each, alongside 20GB of storage. The app is completely free. However, it is only compatible with Apple devices such as MacBooks, iPads, and iPhones.

What users say about iTunes U

  • Extensive library of existing teaching assets to leverage
  • Easy to use for students
  • Clean interface

screenshot of how to add instructor information in iTunes

Adding instructor information in iTunes U (Source)



4. Thinkific

Thinkific logo
Average overall user rating: 4.52
Average ease-of-use rating: 4.39
Average functionality rating: 4.28

Billed primarily as a platform for e-learning entrepreneurs to sell their courses, Thinkific is nonetheless an option for teachers who want to set up a place for their students to learn from home. Teachers can create and brand their own lessons as they see fit using a drag-and-drop course creator.

Thinkific courses support a variety of different content types (text, video, quizzes, downloads, discussions), and teachers can customize their courses to fit their curriculum needs by setting prerequisite lessons, hiding courses from certain students, or creating a drip schedule for courses to become available.

Limits and cost to upgrade

Thinkific is free for up to three courses and unlimited students. For unlimited courses and additional features, Thinkific’s “Basic” package starts at $49 per month.

What users say about Thinkific

  • Highly customizable
  • Intuitive course creator
  • Helpful support

An online course example in Thinkific.

Previewing a designed online course in Thinkific (Source)



5. Schoology

Schoology logo
Average overall user rating: 4.43
Average ease-of-use rating: 4.32
Average functionality rating: 4.31

Schoology combines instructional tools, assessments, collaboration features, and advanced analytics into one comprehensive LMS platform. Within the system, teachers can develop and distribute course materials, facilitate discussions, assign tests and quizzes, and even give parents visibility into their child’s progress.

Teachers can browse community groups to leverage free resources provided by other instructors and integrate external tools and games into their courses using Schoology’s app center. A dedicated mobile app allows for anytime access for instructors and students alike.

Limits and cost to upgrade

The “Basic” package of Schoology is free for instructors and learners. The “Enterprise” package, targeted at whole schools and institutions, has more functionality and customized pricing.

What users say about Schoology

  • Easy to communicate with students and parents
  • Integrates with a lot of other educational tools and platforms
  • Intuitive calendar and shared lesson planner

A list of course materials in Schoology.

A list of course materials in Schoology (Source)



You get what you (don’t) pay for

These free online teaching software systems will work great for some, but they’re not for everyone. Severe limits on storage or number of students hinder who can use these systems, and even then, a free system may not have all of the functionality your school or district needs.

Luckily, there are a number of affordable paid options that can fill the void. Head to our LMS software directory to compare your options, learn pricing details, and see how users rate each system’s value for money.


Methodology and disclaimer

To be considered for this report, products first had to meet our LMS software market definition, our definition of free, and our review count minimum.

  • LMS software market definition: In order to be considered an LMS software system, products must have course management and learner tracking functionality. Any LMS systems that don’t cater to schools were removed from consideration.

  • Free products: For the purpose of this article, we classified a product as “free” if it offers a free, stand-alone version of the software—it isn’t a trial version of the software where you must purchase a paid version after a limited amount of time.

  • Review count minimum: Products had to have 20 or more unique reviews over the past two years, between Mar. 19, 2018 and Mar. 19, 2020.

From there, the five products with the highest average overall user rating were selected for inclusion.

NOTE: The content in this piece provides opinions and points of view expressed by users. It does not represent the views of Capterra.

Looking for Learning Management System software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Learning Management System software solutions.

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About the Author

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Brian Westfall

Brian Westfall is a Senior HR and Talent Management Analyst for Capterra. His research has been cited in various publications, including TIME, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Undercover Recruiter.

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