What is a Learning Management System?
A learning management system, also known as an LMS, is a software application platform that delivers, manages and tracks results and generates reports for online courses and training programs. The platform can be either hosted on local company servers or hosted remotely in the cloud.
Why Use an LMS for e-Learning?
An LMS provides all the functionality necessary for educational institutions, businesses and organizations to offer online training opportunities that are accessible to users 24/7. All you need is an Internet connection to work on courses—anytime, anywhere. An LMS provides e-Learning developers with valuable insights on how learners are using and navigating through a course. The ability to track course results and generate reports helps ensure that an organization meets its e-Learning and course management goals. With many systems hosted in the cloud, an LMS can enable you to quickly customize content for individual learners, along with helping your organization reduce associated labor and infrastructure costs.
Factors to Consider When Purchasing an LMS
- InterfaceA customizable interface allows you to modify the appearance of the centralized location where end-users can access information, training materials and tests. Some learning management systems offer greater customization options than others and provide easier setup tools that require little to no programming skills. The system’s interface should also be easy to navigate for end-users. Studies show that users look at websites in the pattern of an F, eyeing the top of the site and the left-hand rail first, so look for a user interface that positions main menu items on the top left.
- AudienceConsider your learners or audience. LMSs should be accessible via multiple platforms, whether by desktop or laptop computer with an Internet connection, or by smartphone or tablet (iPhone, iPad, iPod, Android). With the continued growth of mobile devices used at work and in schools, consider an LMS—like CourseMill LMS—that has the capabilities to deliver and track courses on mobile devices. Analyze your learner base, and determine which devices and browsers need to be accounted for in your organization. If you have a global audience, choose an LMS that includes versions in multiple languages, such as Spanish, German, French and Mandarin.
- Hosted vs. Self-HostedA hosted LMS is cloud-based and hosted by the software provider. The software provider typically offers 24/7, 365 support, plus full back-ups every night. This LMS solution does not require an IT department or server resources from your organization. A self-hosted LMS is hosted on your organization’s server and behind your firewall. Support is provided during business hours and emergencies. This works well for companies with a dedicated IT staff and the infrastructure and resources to provide support for possible issues.
- Social Learning ToolsMake sure the LMS offers Social Learning Tools features and capabilities. Social Learning Tools refer to websites that encourage interaction between users. Many LMSs include social media features such as real-time interactive course discussion boards and built-in instant messaging. These tools help increase learner engagement, collaboration and interest, which can then be monitored by administrators. In addition, administrators should have the ability to allow or reject comments made on discussion boards.
- ComplianceTo make sure your organization is using the best practices available, it’s best to use an LMS that is compliant with the Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) and the Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee (AICC). SCORM was produced by the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative from the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense. It includes a set of technical standards, guidelines and specifications that call for durable, interoperable, accessible and reusable content and systems. SCORM is widely followed across many industries. SCORM compliant products are evaluated at independent testing centers. The Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee is a nonprofit group of software vendors, courseware developers, and trainers that generates guidelines and recommendations for hardware, digital audio, software, peripheral devices, computer-managed instruction, courseware interchange and digital video. The AICC offers formal certification testing for systems and software. CourseMill is compliant with both SCORM and AICC. It also has additional features that are helpful for the compliance process. For example, with CourseMill you can track users and report on their progress toward a compliance due date.
- IntegrationLMS software should work together with third-party systems. For example, CourseMill includes a personal calendar that integrates with iCal, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes, as well as student information and enterprise resource systems. LMS platforms should also provide MySQL (by Oracle) or Microsoft SQL database and e-commerce support for registration functions. An LMS should also have the ability to be integrated with ERP, HR and Payroll systems.
- SearchMany LMS platforms offer a variety of ways to search content, including by keywords and phrases, location, date and instructor name (note: this feature only works with courses that include metadata). Another quick way to search an LMS is to filter user lists, curriculum and courses. Make sure the LMS you select includes an excellent search function that performs quickly and accurately.
- Automatic Student RegistrationThe best LMS systems allow learners to automatically enroll online, reducing staffing and paperwork requirements. The automatic enrollment process lets learners check out course descriptions before registering and sign up in one location. It also lets students unregister from courses. Automatic registration allows for important notifications to be delivered to the student’s e-mail account such as confirmation of enrollment and a reminder several days before the course is slated to begin. An LMS with a one-click entry point allows learners to click on an email link that takes them directly to their course. CourseMill includes this convenient feature, allowing learners to get from an email to the course in just one click.
- Transcripts and CertificatesLMS systems should provide learners access to their own grades, so they can track how they are doing and make improvements if necessary. CourseMill also includes the ability to retain and track certificates by course or system.
- Automatic ReportingLMS platforms should give administrators the ability to generate automatic reports showing progress of learners. It should be able to break down information by subject, export reports into another application, such as Microsoft Excel, and be customized to include specific predefined variables. CourseMill has a Report Locker, where you can save reports to schedule and assign to users. You can also customize reports and change the settings in hundreds of ways, such as including graphs or charts.
- Email FunctionalityA good LMS gives administrators and instructors the ability to restrict e-mail functions. They can block e-mail messages between learners and only let instructors have the capability to receive e-mail messages. A must-have feature for an LMS is notification emails for due dates, reminders or completion status of courses.
- SecurityYour LMS should work with Active Directory, LDAP Authentication or Federated Services, which means that administrators don’t have to include separate permissions for users. This time-saving security feature allows you to administer security settings behind a firewall or in the public domain.
- Administrative MonitoringLMS systems should let administrators see a log history of all learner and instructor activity, including learner information, curriculum, changes made to courses and the gradebook. CourseMill allows administrators to audit reports, so they can see a history of everything that has happened in the course.
- ContentLMSs often offer a variety of options for course content training libraries in a variety of subjects. They also let instructors load content they have previously created. Find an LMS that offers the right content options to fit your needs.
- Implementation and TrainingMake sure the LMS you choose provides onboarding and continued support for installing and managing the system through various local and distanced training options like on-site training, video tutorials and live or on demand webinars, so you can quickly and easily learn how to use and manage the technology.
- PricingBefore you purchase an LMS, research all start-up, maintenance and support pricing details and find out if there’s a free trial available. The free trial will provide your organization a hands-on look into product features to determine their values and ultimately aid in making a final purchasing decision.