If you are looking at putting some educational content online and you have wondered how you might do that? This article discusses the use of Learning Management systems.
Learning Management Systems (LMS) have some core features like security, hosting content, communicating with students and payment processing are seen in most LMS. Then some extra features like gamification and social media can be added with plugins.
The Common Features of a Learning Management System are
- User Security
- Course Content
- Marketing & Social Media
- Multi-Lingual Support
- Mobile Learning
- Tracking & Auditing
Commonly added Extra Features
- Social Learning
Before we look discuss each of these details further lets look at what in general a LMS is?
What is an LMS?
A Learning Management System or LMS is a website that is designed to make it easy to update for people with limited technical knowledge. They are a type of Content Management System (CMS) designed specifically for education. Most LMS come with some core features and the ability to add new ones as you need them. You can do this with the use of a “PlugIn”.
What is a Plug In?
Most LMS have some core features as well as the ability to expand them using modules that are called Plugins. A plugin is a single click installer that allows you to add functionality to your website.
Each plugin has a particular purpose like the ability to process payments, the ability to create a newsletter email list, connect with social media and thousands of more optional features depending on the purpose of your website. If you can think of it there is normally a plugin that will allow you to do it. Whether you start with a CMS and add the LMS functionality through the use of plugins or use an LMS directly you get the similar core features.
A LMS already has all the educational plugins installed as part of the core product to save you installing the extras yourself. An LMS also assumes that any new plugins must be able to link to the core educational components of the website. Here is a link to Moodles Plugins page so you can look at what ones are normally available. Moodle is an open source LMS and also has a simple Sandbox Demo here.
The ability to manage the access of students, teachers and administrators access to the system is a core feature of all LMS websites. It allows you to provide access to manage students enrollments and access to resources and features.
It provides the ability to provide teachers access to create, update and maintain their courses. Finally, it allows the system administrators and support staff to make changes to the system. By forcing users of the LMS it also allows you to track, audit and report on how the system is being used and what parts of the system are the most important to each stake holder.
We will talk more about this in the two sections below.
The ability to create, update and maintain course content and resources is another primary feature of all LMS websites. The management of content and keeping it up to date is the largest part of you or your staffs time on the system. This is dependent of course on how you are using your LMS but on average the content is the most important asset of the business and where most important to your students as well.
The ability to manage this content and provide quality content and resources will be the main factor contributing to student sanctification, completion rates and engagement. Making sure your LMS is SCORM or Tin Can compliant for uploading your reusable training content is also important. SCORM and Tin Can are just two ways of structuring a standard zip file so that any LMS can load your eLearning and is created by eLearning bundling software.
This method of packing up your eLearning means you can easily port it between LMS and update your existing content.
When you are considering scheduling courses online or in person this feature is used by most Learning Management Systems. If you allow your students to do instant enrollment and don’t have specific scheduled start dates you still normally have a period they can access the training for.
Some of the online third party websites like Udemy provide lifetime access but for subscription or certified programs there are set time frames for course access. Depending on what you are teaching you also may be evolving your content for new hardware or software versions and no longer schedule out dated content. So a flexible scheduling system that suits your particular needs is an important feature.
No matter how a student learns nothing is as important to management and certification bodies, whether they are private or government, as much as how you assess your students. There are a huge array of plugins for assessment both built in or as third party in Learning Management Systems.
For simple exams you can do simple single and multiple choice style assessments or interactive graphical style questions. You can do inline quizzes in your content and also short exams at the end of each module. You can have your students upload files for assignments whether they are written or any other file type including images and video.
All of these different methods can then be built into your formative and summative style approaches.
Whether your certification is bases on a single course or a serious of course subjects that build into a full course you need to be able to provide some sort of certificate for the student to prove completion. For most cheap online courses they just provide a digital certificate.
For more formalize training courses you normally issue a printed certificate and an educational transcript listing all the subjects and results as well as a GPA. These can be released digitally as well or an email sent automatically to your printer for print and send to the students.
There are many communication methods that you have built into an LMS or that can be added through the use of Plugins for internal business communications. While a majority of these will be email based you can also add on SMS, browser and app notifications as well.
You can choose to email students about enrollments, payments, with newsletters and updates, when they change their profiles and for any other reason that they may be interested in.
There are also tools for popup messages for important messages when they log into the course as well as notifications in the course for updated content and tools.
Marketing & Social Media
While communication above is all about the internals of running your business these features are more about marketing your organisation. The social media tools are commonly built into most LMS websites and are the start of your marketing plan to promote your website and training.
You can then add other tools whether back end tools like linking your website to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or to third party websites that you can run advertising on. Understanding how online marketing works and the basics of how to do it is critical in targeting to the right people for your business.
If you are targeting your content not just to a specific country you may wish to think about multiple language support for your LMS. By increasing the languages you support with your courses you dramatically increase your audience with support for English, Spanish, Mandarin and Hindi.
This will give you access to over 1 billion potential students and as long as your website is supported on mobile devices you can dramatically increase revenue if executed right.
There are many reasons to test your website for mobile learning and this doesn’t mean having to create a phone application (app). Most common phone applications are just a web browser in a application window anyway these days.
So having a mobile friendly version of your site means you can bundle your mobile web page in an application wrapper and have your own installable application. Alternately, you can just let them use a internet browser on their phone.
The good news is that all LMS provide a mobile friendly version of the website as long as the theme you pick does too. A theme is a pre built look and feel for your website that you can customize made by a professional web developer.
They are simple to install and provide the main user experience for your website. Then with minimal effort by you when putting content in you have a mobile ready website.
Just making sure you optimize your graphics sizes and resolution will make sure it loads quickly on mobile devices. Google has a site tester for just this reason and as well as testing your full web page size it will also test your mobile site as well.
There are also plugins to help your website load quicker for both full size and mobile devices. So with a mobile version of your website whether viewed from an app or browser on your phone you can make learning more accessible to your students and also make it more available to a global audience.
Tracking & Auditing
Watching where your student go on your website and auditing how your site is actually used compared to how you designed it to be used is very important to both student and teacher satisfaction. You can use this tracking to watch what resources are important to students and which courses need more work or are too simple.
You can look at how your teachers setup and enter their course material. You can look at what prospective students look at on your public pages to see how to increase your enrollment percentage and keep them on your website longer. You can also see which news and updates people actually care about. You can see where your traffic comes from which allows you to make decisions on where you spend your marketing budget as well. There are plug ins that allow us to do all of this and then we just have to set up a regular time to review the data collected.
Whether you are reporting on business metrics or how your students and teachers use your website a decent reporting tool will allow you to base your business decisions on fact rather then assumptions. There are many different forms of reporting and creating a core set of Key Performance Indicators into your LMS for everyone to see will focus you and your staffs efforts on the right areas of the business.
Most LMS have course completion rates, student marks and teacher and student satisfaction surveys built into the system. Putting a mechanism in place for students to report bad content or unclear material is another area you can report on to ensure they feel like they are heard and to not leave it until the end of the course when it is too late.
This means you can raise your student marks but making content easier to understand. The other two key areas you will be reporting on are your financials and your system reports like the tracking and auditing above.
No matter what LMS you have the ability to process payments is extremely important to revenue generating websites. There are multiple plugins you can use to accomplish this from the most used WooCommerce plugin for most CMS to specialist plugins developed for third party integration or offline transaction order forms. Most organisations opt for online payment with a PayPal or similar account with a Credit Card payment option.
A current mega trend in online learning is Social Learning. This is not really something new as students have been doing this before and after class for as long as there has been something to teach. The deliver method has just changed and having tools built into your LMS that allows for this means that student can engage with each other and not feel so isolated.
You can use forums although this is a fairly passive approach and unless you monitor and ensure all questions are answered quickly and categorized properly they fall into disuse. The more common tools being used are social media style chat systems like Slack or RocketChat its open source equivalent.
Once it is set up you can link them into your LMS for students and teachers to converse in an open forum like a classroom that allows for private chats and classroom chats as well.
The introduction of game like elements to online training has been done to increase competition and student engagement. Some of these tools have had a great effect on learning for students and some have not. Knowing your age, background and learning styles of your students will let you know whether these would work in your LMS.
The introduction of points, leader boards and rewards whether virtual or in the real world can motivate some of your students. Like with any learning aid they are only as good as how well you use them so if you implement them make a regular review of these elements and add a section to your news letters or updates to students and teachers.
Remember that you can implement similar type systems for teachers as well although this feedback is generally student surveys and assessment results based.