How To Choose The Right Learning Management System For You
Whether you are hoping to better understand your current Learning Management System, about to implement one yourself, or starting an eLearning class, this article will explore how to successfully teach using the right Learning Management System.
A Learning Management System or LMS is essentially a digital learning environment and it manages all of the aspects of the learning process. Inside of the Learning Management System you are going to communicate your learning objectives. You are going to also organize the learning timelines and tell the learners exactly what they need to learn, and when. The real power of the Learning Management System is it’s also going to give you the ability to deliver the learning content straight to the learners themselves. Many Learning Management Systems have built-in assessment and tracking, so that the learner can not only see their progress, but you, the instructor, also have the ability to communicate the effectiveness of learning back to the learner themselves.
One of the most powerful things that a Learning Management System can do, and is often overlooked, is its ability to create streamline communication between instructors and learners. And finally, the Learning Management System allows you to provide ongoing resources. Often the learning process is not a static moment in time, and the learners need to have access to the learning well beyond the training.
Learning Management Systems With Todays’ Needs
As you start exploring whether or not a Learning Management System is right for you and your organization, it's important to keep in mind all of the ways that a Learning Management System can be utilized. Now, typically most of us think of a school when we think of a Learning Management System. That there are students in a school and those students have certain learning goals that need to be managed, and the Learning Management System can definitely help us manage those goals. However, we have also seen an increase in the number of businesses that use a Learning Management System as well. For example, if your organization has new software, you may want to train your employees how to use the software, and your employees may be all over the world.
Will the Learning Management System allow you to centralize the learning, and then disseminate the learning to whatever employees need? Another way we are seeing Learning Management Systems utilized in the corporate world is through compliance training.
Let's explore all of the ways that we can use a Learning Management System. Here are some of the best uses of the Learning Management System in today's Learning and Development:
- Learner progress.
The Learning Management System is going to allow us to create a digital website where we can upload a variety of learning materials, whether they are resources, quizzes, or even the syllabus for the learning goals that we have. Students can then access that material online. But one thing a Learning Management System also does, which is really valuable, is that it tracks the learning progress. The learners can not only log on and see what they have learned; they can also see what they need to learn.
- Gamification engine.
Many Learning Management Systems also give the ability to build incentives and rewards in the tracking learning progress. That can be combined with gamification channels to gain more engagement among the leaners. For example, in some Learning Management Systems the learners can earn badges when they have accomplished certain tasks. This is the gamification engine can be integrated within the Learning Management System so that learners feel motivated to attempt courses from the Learning Management System.
- Interactive learning.
The Learning Management System also gives us a variety of digital learning tools. Whether we are integrating video or even interactive learning modules, the Learning Management System can handle all of those packages built straight into it. The Learning Management System typically gives us the ability to create quizzes, so that we can also test the learners for proficiency.
- Learner communication.
Another valuable feature is the Learning Management System can help manage learner communication. Often you have got instructors that need to communicate with their learners and that can be really challenging if everyone’s sending emails. And maybe some of the learners have questions that would benefit the rest of the class. Things such as building discussion boards allow this communication to flow in a way that’s going to benefit all of the learners that are utilizing the Learning Management System and help save time for instructors.
- Courses to sell.
Sometimes we have training that’s valuable and we want to sell that training to other people. Many Learning Management Systems available today have built-in filters to allow us to sell the content or sell the courses that we create through that Learning Management System.
Now we have explored a little bit about what a Learning Management System can do for us, let's go ahead and dive in to selecting the right Learning Management System and take a look at some of the Learning Management Systems available.
Top Learning Management Systems With Advanced LMS Features
Based on my career experience in eLearning domains, it’s really hard to say if every Learning Management System is exactly designed for a certain industry. But there are definitely some LMS features that make them more applicable to certain industries. For example, Edmodo, which we'll look at in a second, is designed for K12 education. Its graphic interface, and the way that it's set up, makes it really easy for younger students to navigate, while Canvas can be used in a variety of ways; its simple graphic interface and easy to navigate menus make it perfect for the college environment. Then there is Learning Management Systems such as Saba that have a variety of built-in tools to help manage employee performance, which makes Saba a great choice for corporations. I will highlight the industries that I think would be best fit for that particular Learning Management System. But please keep in mind that most of these Learning Management Systems can be customized to work with almost any industry.
One of the most widely used Learning Management Systems around the world today is Moodle. Moodle has a clean design and is fairly easy to navigate. Furthermore, because Moodle is an open source Learning Management System, most institutions can use it for free. Moodle's best use is going to be for higher education and corporate learning. Moodle has a huge database of plugins available, as well as online help forums by their users; there are high levels of customization by the admin; you can even change the CSS or make Moodle completely custom in its appearance; also, it's a responsive design. So, if you have users that are accessing the Learning Management System on an iPad or an iPhone, or any internet-ready mobile device, Moodle's going to change its layout in order to accommodate the new screen size.
One of the most recognized names in educational Learning Management Systems is Blackboard. Now, Blackboard really got its start in the K12 market. And they have a product called Blackboard Learn, which is really designed for both the college and K12 market. However, Blackboard's also moved into the corporate market. And so Blackboard can be an appropriate Learning Management System for almost any learning need out there. When it comes to the cost, it really varies based on your organization size and how many people you would like to access Blackboard.
Canvas by Instructure is another great choice for higher education and the K12 market. Canvas has a very simple design and is very easy to navigate. Canvas is very appropriate for corporate learning and can be easily adapted for most institutions. Also Canvas is free to use at the user level. Your school can pay for upgrades, such as self-hosted versions, which can allow for some additional features, such as pre-loading student class lists.
Edmodo is a Learning Management System that was designed exclusively with the needs of teachers and students in the K12 market in mind. Because of this, the best use for Edmodo is always going to be the K12 market. And best of all, it’s free for both educators and students to log on. It's also really easy to use. Students have the ability to create profiles and they can post to a general class wall. And it gives the teacher the ability to do things such as moderate comments and posts. I believe that Edmodo is perfect for the K12 market, but because of some of the design features, as well as limited functionality, it may be a challenge to implement at the college or corporate training levels.
Desire2Learn, often referred to as D2L, is a Learning Management System that has done a great job of integrating additional features into the Learning Management System itself. For example, Desire2Learn is one of the first Learning Management Systems to integrate video feedback and video messaging as a standard option for all users. Desire2Learn is best used in the K12 or college education environment. Now while I say K12 or college, I can also see how Desire2Learn would be very applicable to a corporate learning environment. Typically, when the learner needs to be assessed and that assessment needs to be tracked, Desire2Learn can be used for this environment.
Schoology is a Learning Management System that's rapidly gaining ground inside of the K12 and college arena. One thing about Schoology that makes it really appealing is the fact that it has a great design. In fact, Schoology even won a CODiE award recently based on their design and overall use of their website. Because Schoology was designed with the focus on students, its best use is going to be the K12 education market.
- Cornerstone OnDemand.
Cornerstone OnDemand is the cloud based Learning Management System. With Cornerstone’s learning management software, organizations can ensure compliance, accelerate employee performance, engage the entire workforce, and support organizational goals.
Understanding Learning Needs
As you start the process of selecting the right Learning Management System for you and your organization, there are several things you should keep in mind. They will also require some attention to detail on your part to make sure that the Learning Management System is really appropriate for what you need:
- The first thing to ask yourself is: What data do you need to collect from your learners? If you are simply looking to send communication out, then a Learning Management System may not actually be the best choice. Simply having a website or blog may be the more appropriate solution. If you are looking to collect data from your students through the form of assignments or quizzes, then the built-in grading features to many Learning Management Systems is an important feature to take a look at, and to make sure it'll work for what you have in mind.
- You also want to ask yourself: Would our learners want to use this? Successfully implementing a Learning Management System usually means that the learners are going to be excited about using it as much as the instructors are. Taking a look at the overall aesthetic design, as well as the features available to learners, can really determine whether or not your Learning Management System will be successful.
- And, finally, you also want to ask what options are available. Some Learning Management Systems give you the ability to extend their functionality through plug-ins, and some don't. Whether or not these features are important to you and how limiting they are going to be to your learning environment, these are all things to consider as you start selecting a Learning Management System.
When you are choosing a Learning Management System, it's also important to keep in mind not only what the instructors are going to be doing, but also what the learners are going to be doing. Some Learning Management Systems give you the ability to change every little thing about it, including the look and even the code, but those Learning Management Systems can take a lot more to learn.
So, there's a balancing act between what's easy to learn and what's customizable, and also the organization that's available inside of the Learning Management System. You also want to make sure it's easy to access, and some of that's going to be how you set the Learning Management System up. Which brings us to a few additional considerations.
Understanding SCORM And The Tin Can API
For most organizations, the Learning Management System is typically desired to integrate with their existing or current systems. This can be something as simple as having the usernames automatically flow from a database into the Learning Management System. When it comes to integrating with other systems, there's two terms you need to be familiar with. The first one is SCORM and the second one is the Tin Can API. Integrating systems can be a complex process, but here's a breakdown of essentially what happens.
Let's say that we have students complete a certification through a certification program. That certification, we want to be available inside the Learning Management System. While using either SCORM or the Tin Can API, that code can be automatically sent into the database for the Learning Management System. The database, which is accessed through the Learning Management System, is now visible to students, and students can see their certifications, even though that test was not taken inside the Learning Management System itself.
The first and most common way that systems integrate with a Learning Management System is through SCORM. SCORM stands for Sharable Content Object Reference Model, which is a fancy way of saying that if anything is SCORM compliant, the two systems can talk together. Having a standard object reference model allows the Learning Management System to be expanded and to integrate with things such as Google Apps or even other Learning Management Systems.
- Tin Can API.
The second one is the Tin Can API. Now, the Tin Can API is often referred to as the Experience API, and it does the same thing that SCORM does, but with a twist. It also allows you to capture learner activity. For example, with the Experience API, you could understand exactly which learners accessed which part of the content and when.
As you are looking for Learning Management Systems, it's important to ask the question of whether or not the work was SCORM or the Tin Can API, in order to make sure it's extendable for both your current and future needs.
I hope you have learned a few tips and tricks to help you select the right Learning Management System for your institution, or at least feel prepared to start the search knowing the features that you'd like available. As you move forward, before you decide to purchase a Learning Management System, You need to get more clarity of your training needs. It will help you to put the right Learning Management System.