Key Features of a Successful Learning Management Software
If you have ever been in the market, shopping for an LMS (a learning management system) software, then you are probably aware of the plethora of options available. Today, there seems to be an LMS software available for just about every industry or situation that you can think of. And when there are options, there are advices; from people telling you why a certain LMS is better than the other and what features you should be looking for in a successful Learning Management System.
You have probably come across articles and blogs talking at length about the importance of specific features of an LMS- reporting tools, compliances, segmentation, etc. But is that all you need to prepare yourself for the excruciating demands of the future learners?
The world is changing at a rapid pace and learning technologies have been striving to meet this challenge. With time certain features have evolved to make learning more task-oriented rather than tool-oriented. Certain learning platform features have become an absolute necessity for a modern LMS and it’s these features that are eventually turning out to being the difference between a successful learning environment and ones that also ran. Let’s talk about these feature today.
Gamification is the thing everyone is talking about today, and with a good reason too: when implemented properly, it has proven to be an extremely effective learning methodology.
Gamification is the art of deriving the fun, interactivity, engagement and other addictive elements found in games and applying them to real-world non-gaming activities. In our context, it is the process of integrating game mechanics into a learning resource to drive participation, engagement, and loyalty. Typical gamification techniques implement badges, points, leaderboards and levels to learning platforms.
Badges and point systems motivate learners to put in more work towards completing the learning content. A good LMS should allow course creators to design and implement awesome badges, so you could then sit back and watch as your learners slog it out to earn the most number of badges!
Leaderboards and levels (a common feature in games) drive learning by encouraging healthy competition. Leaderboards allow your learners to see how many badges or points they require to claim their spot at the top of the leaderboard.
Any LMS software not incorporating this fundamental component of modern learning is is probably a relic of the past!
While some learners still prefer to access their online courses via their trusty old desktop PCs, their numbers are fast declining. Most online learners are now using their mobile devices to for truly immersive and engaging mobile learning experiences. Chances are that you’re yourself reading this article on your mobile while you wait for your subway car. Mobile learning is a trend that will only grow as time goes by. And therefore, it’s important that a modern learning management system is responsive – that is, optimized for use on all devices and platforms.
Customization / Theming Options
Having a responsive LMS software is good, but that’s not all. Aside from being functional, a successful Learning Management System should be able to offer quality user experience (UX). Today, as you browse the Internet and hop from one website or application to another you are sure to come across beautifully designed interfaces that provide a perfect blend of aesthetics with functionality. So much so that when it comes to an LMS, the UX is not simply a “nice to have” feature anymore. It is a must-have feature.
Learning Management Systems that still rely on clunky and dated user interface patterns, are subject to be scoffed at by modern learners and course creators in equal measures. An LMS with a dated feel to it can create similar perceptions about the course content as well.
Having the ability to customize the interface by way of incorporating themes (and other features like CSS customization), is important to an organization from the branding point of view as well. Brands are splurging large amounts of money towards carving out a unique identity for themselves and for visual consistency. If they are going to use an LMS, it better allow them this customization.
Any modern LMS that incorporates the importance of consistent messaging is bound to be successful. Towards that end, it's crucial that LMS software include enough relevant theming options that make it possible for brands to maintain uniformity across all their channels – websites, apps, social media, online communities and so on.
Bite Size Learning
With the rapid proliferation of mobile devices, depleting training budgets, and time constraints, the nature of training is shifting away from 45-minute long lectures to bite size learning. If your learners are accessing their courses on the go, then in all probability, they do not have 45 minutes to spare! And this has led to the emergence of new bite sized learning modules.
Bite sized learning is an e-Learning methodology that consists of small (10-15 minute long) course modules that allows learners to dip in and out of their training whenever they have spare time. The concept has taken the corporate training world virtually by storm. According to Mygrow:
“Information is most likely to be meaningfully processed when it is presented in small chunks (Millward, 2005). Bite sized courses are perfectly “tailored” to our brains, which are more effective in comprehending morsels of information compared to mountains of data.”
Needless to say, the modern LMS should allow for creation of short trainings and assessments for the benefit of the modern learners. Special add-ons like like mini-challenges, quizzes, and summarized versions of larger courses are an added benefit.
I mentioned this at the beginning of the article: a modern LMS should be task oriented as opposed to being tool-oriented. Instead of offering learners a list of tools as the main structural element, the LMS should provide users with a functional course. In a task oriented LMS, it’s the schedule (whether time-based or one that supports modules/units and assignments) that is the primary structural element. And while important, the tool part of the LMS is simply a seamless integration into the module approach. This allows learners to easily transition from, say, reading an article, to participating in a discussion without having to navigate up and down the hierarchy of tools. They could even directly link or annotate on social channels. Advocates of this approach promote the following characteristics:
- Task-oriented modular architecture
- Open and highly compatible
- Scalable: serving numerous participants and stakeholders across different environments
- Informative: with easy-to-access details of student progress, deadlines, opportunities, events, etc.
- Iterative: tracking and visualization of all intermediate states of the learning process.
The idea here is that the choice of an LMS should be based on individual needs, and not just a bunch of tools that would hardly be used or required.
Tin Can API Compliance
For several years, most legitimate LMS adhered to the SCORM (Shareable Content Object Reference Model) standard, which is basically a collection of standards and specifications for online learning. In other words, it was made up of “things” that were recorded when someone took an eLearning course and as well as quiz results.
If you have ever created an eLearning course using applications like the Adobe Captivate or Articulate, then you are probably aware that you could publish it via SCORM and upload to an LMS. Unfortunately, the last major update to SCORM was in 2004. Needless to say, it’s a dying technology (if not dead already)
Tin Can API (also known as the Experience API) is the next generation system that replaces the clunky and rigid SCORM specification. Tin Can records learning in the form of “Verbs”, or Action Statements.” For example: “Martha passed Java 201”, or “Samantha read Hacking Ethics”. These statements are then stored in a database that is known as the Learning Record Store, or “LRS.”
It should then be an obvious choice of a feature inside any modern day Learning Management System. If the LMS software you are considering is promoting SCORM only, then it’s probably best to look the other way. Even worse are systems that don’t support either the SCORM or Tin-Can API.
Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away…
Sorry for that Star Wars reference! Actually right here and not a very long time ago, all software was proprietary. As a result, when you bought an application, you were pretty much tied to the software ecosystem that had been created for it. Today, this approach isn’t acceptable, or even viable. Most modern applications come with an ability to “talk” to hundreds of other applications out there, and it only makes sense that your LMS does too.
Third party integration allows software developed by other companies – software you’ve probably grown used to – to be successfully “plugged in” into another system. In this case, it’s our bespoke Learning Management System and a whole world of other third party applications (more than enough to keep everyone happy).
Third party integrations are in high demand today due to the fact that our daily lives require us to be using a multitude of apps and devices. Our work becomes a whole lot easier when these various platforms are able to interact with each other seamlessly. As an example, there are many software applications available that allow you to sign-up (or log-in) to their administration dashboards via Facebook (or Twitter), thereby eliminating the need for you to create yet another username and password. Fast and simple.
An ideal LMS, should therefore have built in integrations with other popular services, such as CRM systems, email service providers, Google apps, Evernote, DropBox, OpenBadges, and so on. Even if you aren’t using any of these programs currently, there is no guarantee that you won’t need it in the future.
User Generated Content
Today it’s easier than ever to create content. With the easy availability of open-source (free) software for creating and editing media, the cost aspect has virtually been removed. All it takes is some imagination, dedication and time to learn to best use these software and you can get started with content creation in no time. No wonder than that modern instructional designers and learning managers are able to produce high-quality training materials and assets in a very short span of time. But the demand for new and quality content is also soaring proportionally.
Social learning methodology has opened up a new world of possibilities where learners are now able to their own experiences and observations as they go through a course. An LMS with an ability to incorporate user generated content, or discussion groups, is therefore a great asset for instructional designers tasked with creating new learning materials.
The process of learning is both gradual and iterative. And iterations are very important; not only to the modern learner but also to the assessing instructor. While learning, there are bound to be some “intermediate stages” of learning that should be saved and be accessible to both the student and the teacher. At the same time, the course itself can be in a continuous formation, where the students and the instructors are able to suggest new content, participate in new activities, define new goals, and potentially, discover new directions. In order to be truly successful, a modern LMS needs to be flexible to support such changes of direction.
Ever thought of selling courses online? Maybe you did, maybe not. The point here, is that many people make a living with creating and selling courses online (Udemy, Teachable are some good examples) and they are using some kind of a learning management system to accomplish this. A good LMS should not lock you down into something that just provides a couple of payment gateway options.
Content Delivery Options
Finally, a good LMS should allow users to be able to schedule content by specific dates, or to deliver it by drip feeding over predetermined intervals. This allows additional learning methodology to be implemented.
When it came into existence, an LMS was focused on one main aspect – functionality. The primary objective for course creators (as well as learners) was to get the system to do what they wanted it to, in terms of course creation, distribution (how well and easily is it delivered) and reporting (does it track key performance metrics?). The modern crop of LMS software still need to fulfill these goals, but now there is a much bigger emphasis on the overall usability and personalized experience. The features mentioned above are a pretty good indication of desired feature sets that modern users have come to expect of their Learning Management Systems.
Author Bio: Kamy Anderson is an ed-tech enthusiast with a passion for writing on emerging technologies in the areas of corporate training and education. He is an expert in learning management system & elearning authoring tools - currently associated with ProProfs.