What To Think About Before Starting An Online School
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What To Think About Before Starting An Online School

Digital is the new normal for schools in a post-COVID world. Schools, colleges, universities are all taking classes online to keep up with the coursework virtually. If you are thinking about setting up your school online too, there are a few things you need to figure out first. Unlike an eCommerce website, building an eLearning platform is not a day’s work. If you are doing it, you have to think long term. Having worked with eLearning website development for a long time now, I see that most people struggle with where to start.

Should you think about which software to use? Should you think about the cost? Should you do the research on your own? Should you go to someone for advice?

So many questions!

Well, not that I want to add to your list, but here is a set of handy questions, which we ask someone who wants to build their own online school. So take a look, jot down the answers, and then you’ll have a good idea of what your online school will look like!

Let's Delve Into The 10 Questions Right Away

1. What Are The Most Important Features You Need For The Online Version Of Your Institution?

The first and most important question—what do you need, want, and wish to have in your online school? Here you should list down all the features you can think of that you want your teachers, students, and administrators to have.

2. What Is The Educational Philosophy Of The Institution And Where Do You See Yourself In The Next Five Years And Beyond?

While setting up an online school, you aren’t thinking only of the immediate future. After all, you don’t go building a website every other day. Think in terms of the next five years.

What are your plans for the school in the post-COVID era? Where do you see the school going? What are the foundational principles that need to be seen on the school website? This is where you address the philosophy of your school, in the present and the future.

3. What Is The Current Enrollment Of The Institution And The Expected Enrollment In The Next 3-5 Years?

Think of the number of students that are enrolled at present, and how much do you expect that number to grow in the next few years.

This is important from a technical standpoint, as you will have to choose an LMS that can support all these students studying simultaneously. In addition, the solution you choose should also scale easily with your growth without costing you a ton of money.

4. How Much Existing Data Do Your Instructors Currently Have To Guide And Support Online Student Learning?

This includes all the lessons, course material, and miscellaneous digitized data that you have ready, as you undertake setting up your school. It can also be things like CSV lists of your students, eBooks for your online library, student information, and so on.

Now, as we think of choosing an LMS platform, you need to assess it for a lot of things. Your LMS is going to be the foundation of your online school, it needs to be a powerful one.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself and your advisors to narrow down your choices and select the one that suits you the best.

5. Does The LMS Satisfy All Your Important Requirements?

Right in the first question, we have listed down all your requirements for your online school. Now check if the LMS you are considering has or supports all these features. It can be fine if some tiny features are absent, but don’t compromise on your core essentials.

6. Is The Software Proprietary Or Open Source, And Does That Matter?

A lot rides on the type of software that you choose as your LMS. It can be:

  • Proprietary: meaning you get it created exclusively for your site;
  • Cloud-based: meaning you use an existing software solution like TalentLMS and get the software owners to customize it as per your requirements;
  • Open source: meaning you build and own your school from scratch, using options like WordPress or Moodle.

I advise fully understanding the difference between these before you proceed. Effectively scaling your school in the future will depend highly on the choice you make here, so study this in comprehensive detail.

7. What Is The Cost Of The Software? Is It Available For A Trial Period At Low Or Minimal Cost?

You probably have a fixed budget for setting up your online school, which is fine. However, note that the cost will vary with the type of software you decide to choose.

For proprietary and open-source LMSs, you can try out demos of the solutions you are thinking of. If you decide to go with a cloud-based LMS, you can see if the software offers a free trial of some days so you can actually explore whether the software meets your requirements.

8. How Long Has The Solution Been Available? Does It Have Good Reviews And Support?

The age and development of the software over the years give a decent idea of its popularity and its consistency. That’s not to say new software cannot be equally good. However, it is always comforting to know that you have proper, experienced support to fall back on, in case you need help with your online school.

Cloud-based LMSs like TalentLMS or Adobe Captivate have been around for years and have nearly perfected their offerings. Similarly, open-source software like the WordPress-LearnDash combination or Moodle has evolved tremendously over the years presenting formidable options for setting up an eLearning platform.

Before choosing your LMS, make sure you see what are its reviews, how well do the LMS providers offer support, and whether they have consistently added features to the solution. Steady and focused growth is a great way of measuring how the LMS will grow in the future as well.

9. Which Other Educational Institutions Use This Software? What Is Their Feedback?

Social proof is a great way of checking whether the LMS actually works well in real-time. Demos and trials are all very well, but getting first-hand proof from an institution whose function closely matches your own is a great way of validating its effectiveness.

You can connect with other schools and universities who are using the same LMS and ask for their feedback and experiences with the software support team. In addition, also check out popular eLearning groups and forums on the internet to see genuine feedback and reviews of the software from the public.

10. What Are The Integrations And Collaborative Tools It Supports?

Ideally, your LMS should have all the features you need built into its core. Having said that, no LMS solution can anticipate all the needs of all eLearning websites as every site has its own unique set of requirements. A better way is to choose an LMS with a strong core of features and then adding integrations and extensions to obtain the features you need.

Open-source LMSs have the advantage here as they can be designed and developed as per your specific requirements as opposed to the one-size-fits-all solution of cloud-based LMSs.

Nevertheless, the point is to check if the solution integrates with additional tools, such as social platforms for your students to showcase their achievements, third-party video hosting tools like Vimeo to store your lecture videos, or apps like Zoom and Google Meet to conduct your live webinars.

Your list of requirements will come in handy here, as you will know exactly what integrations you need from your eLearning platform to turn it into a full-fledged online school!

The Last Word

To be honest, this is a very small sample size of the questions you need to ask yourself before starting an online school. You can delve a lot deeper; nevertheless, these are a good enough starting point.

I would like to add one more thing, create a team of people—an LMS-choosing committee, if you will—to brainstorm your ideas with, and do your research. Include people from various spheres, your IT guys, your teachers, even some students if possible, to understand their expectations from the online school.

Not to make it a case of too many cooks, but remember that your online school is going to be a platform primarily used by your teachers, admins, and students, and hence, their comfort, ease-of-use, and accessibility is of utmost importance.

If you are hiring website developers to create your online school for you, make sure they come recommended, do a thorough background check, and get on a call with them to understand their expertise and experience.

And that’s it!

All the best! Have a great time building your online school!

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