In their earlier days, Learning Management Systems weren’t exactly what we’re used to seeing today. They had clunky interfaces that were designed entirely to act as a repository of e-learning courses and to facilitate course administrators in managing them. You didn’t need much from them to get the job done beyond basic tools that allowed you to upload course content, manage submissions, and deliver completion certificates.
The technology revolution of the past one-and-a-half decade, however, opened the e-learning avenue to much bigger audiences and so we were introduced to the now all-important concept of ‘learner-centricity’.
The success of any modern Learning Management System depends on having features that keep learners right at the center of the learning experience. Not to forget, they still need to streamline course creation and management for instructors and administrators. With so many LMSs out there offering a bit of each, it can get a little confusing for organizations to decide what is best for their university or corporation.
To sort that out, here’s a list of features that your LMS must have in order to make your online learning solution a surefire success!
1. Personalized Learning Paths
Whether it’s training in the corporate sector or imparting knowledge and education in universities, a personalized learning path is a must-have for the Learning Management System you choose. This provides learners with an individual learning path, tailored according to their needs and interests.
You may have noticed that ‘on-demand’ consumption has been on the rise lately. We’re doing everything on our schedules, be it watching television and listening to, attending evergreen online events long after their designated dates, or watching pre-recorded versions on live webinars. The same trend applies to learning as well where learners prefer to take courses that are self-paced which is why tending to this growing need becomes crucial for your Learning Management System.
Make sure that your online teaching and training process is up to the mark with features like:
– Adaptive Learning Engines: So that you’re able to track learner activity and responses in real-time while also offering highly customized learning paths.
– Non-linear Course Design: Your learners need to be able to pick the module they want to study, instead of having to sit through what they already know.
– Project Management Tools: With personalized learning paths, it’s important to keep learners focused and on-task. You can integrate these tools to enable learners to share documents, plan their workload, exchange feedback, and manage tasks effectively.
– Course Recommendations: With a little help of machine learning, your Learning Management System should be able to offer course suggestions to learners based on their interests. This is a great way to open more learning opportunities for them and keep them engaged with the platform.
2. Collaborative Learning Tools
Choose an LMS that comes equipped with features that support modern collaborative learning practices like gamification and social learning.
Learning is no longer a means to an end, but a process that must add value without the tedium. Therefore, when choosing your LMS, look for one that makes the whole process interactive, engaging, and experiential.
Gamification uses three elements – points, progression, and competition. Just like any other game, you cross levels to earn points, check your progress, and compete with others to remain at the top. Various platforms use different approaches such as leaderboards, badges, and bars, and the result is an engaged audience that keeps coming back for more.
The levels and progress are visible only to the learner; however, they can compare their ranks on their leadership board with others. The key here is finding an LMS that has these features built-in, so you don’t need external integrations or plug-ins to introduce them in your courses.
There’s no denying the power of social learning in boosting user engagement. Your LMS should incorporate features that foster learner communities like group discussion forums where learners can like, share, and comment on posts.
Some LMS’s also incorporate Facebook-style newsfeeds within the course to keep everyone updated on the latest announcements. Others allow you to do so much as integrating groups within popular social media platforms directly in the course so instructors and TA’s can access class discussions from one place.
3. Mobile Compatibility
To keep up with the busy schedules of most online learners, your LMS needs to be accessible on-the-go. Partnering with an LMS that functions seamlessly on tablets and smartphones is critical to expanding your learner-base and maximizing content consumption.
To make your online training experience smoother, your LMS must come with its own native app that takes remote learning and accessibility up a notch. This will open the gates to a personalized learning world for users which enable access to the entire LMS and its offerings through their device of choice. It will also allow learners to stream, download, and save eLearning courses at their pace earning you some extra brownie points for boosting usability.
4. Detailed Reports and Analytics
Comprehensive retrospective reports have been around ever since LMS’s came into conception. But what differentiates a legacy system from a modern-age solution is the latter’s ability to furnish real-time analytics that let you quickly look into learner progress, course popularity, and completion rates while the learning is in motion.
Don’t get us wrong, detailed completion reports are still important for many reasons. They let you gauge the performance of your courses and make crucial decisions on changes for the next enrolment. However, real-time metrics allow you to drill down into the learner experience at each stage of the course which truly helps in streamlining their experience, and sometimes, based on what you learn, even allow you to accommodate changes to upcoming modules while the course is still live.
Not to forget, you often have to justify each penny you’ve spent on technology and having a custom report that shows just what you want to see all the more necessary.
These are some basic metrics that your Learning Management System should be able to provide:
– The current progress of courses
– Courses yet to be accessed
– Time logs for course access
– Distinct individuals who have completed the course(s)
– Average viewing/learning time
– Breakdown of assessment attempts and responses
– List of popular courses
– Reports across regions
Data visualization is also a core feature here. The last thing you’d want is to have an onslaught of insightful quantitative data that you can’t make any sense of. So, look for an LMS that offers easy-to-use dashboards that make it simple to make sense of any type of data and also lets you manipulate data sources to see exactly what you want.
5. Multiple Software Integrations
Be it a university or a corporation, everyone is actively working towards digitalization. Hence, multiple software work in sync to build a seamless workflow. Solutions come with their unique suite of third-party integrations to supplement functionalities that are not built-in. Since these integrations will end up defining what you can and cannot do on your LMS, paying attention here will pay off in spades.
What integrations you should search for depends entirely on what your administrators, instructors, and learners will need. You can take cues from the current tools that are in use and others that have been in your wish list. Regardless, having the following few third-party integrations always comes in handy:
Video Conferencing Tools
If your Learning Management System of choice doesn’t provide built-in functionality for video conferencing, check with your provider if they integrate with tools that allow you to conduct instructor-led training through webinars and teleconference sessions. Popular tools here include WebEx and Big Blue Button.
Single sign-on or SSO
This feature allows users to access and control multiple software such as your CMR, HR management tools, and sales management tools entirely from one place. Have you noticed that nifty panel in Google that lets you navigate to your email, calendar, drive, and contacts? That’s the convenient little feature that we’re talking about but flipped in a way that lets everyone access various corporate software from one consolidated space, based on their permission and access levels of course.
This feature makes work more efficient and prevents the hassle of working on multiple platforms in isolation. Moreover, it reduces the burden on the IT cells and closes many security loopholes simultaneously. Most importantly, this also makes ROI calculations easier for the analytics department.
This is especially important if you plan to have paid registrations on your courses or up-selling opportunities through gated content/one-on-one sessions within a course. Depending on what you and your learners are most comfortable with, you should look for an LMS that offers secure e-commerce payment gateways for either or all of the prominent ones out there including PayPal, Stripe, Amazon Pay, and WePay.
Perhaps the biggest automation platform out there, Zapier houses the largest library of software and tools that can be connected with any system that allows integration with Zapier. With an LMS that enables you to do this, your options are unlimited and you can quickly access a plethora of third-party tools like Google Sheets, MailChimp, Trello, Slack and so much more from the comfort of your LMS platform.
6. Robust Content Management
During your search, you’ll realize that content management is a basic yet vital component of the Learning Management System. The questions you may ask are:
– Does the LMS address present-day international standards for eLearning? SCORM and TinCan/xAPI are two of the most widely recognizable standards for e-learning and you might want to look into a provider that complies with these.
– Are you able to upload exam content, videos, or links to the website content hosted elsewhere?
– Can you organize your curriculum, content, and assessments in meaningful learning paths? If yes, can content pieces be shared laterally across learning paths?
These are some important concerns that your new-age LMS must address.
Data security is another must-have LMS feature. An LMS has the personal information of a learner and the proprietary learning materials that are of commercial value, both of which are highly sensitive. Hence, before choosing your LMS provider, make sure to get answers to these questions:
– Are sign-ins the first point of contact and if so, how secure are they?
– Where is the data hosted and what’s the delivery method?
– Who can access what data? Most LMSs allow you to set multiple access levels allowing you to determine who gets to see, edit, and share what. However, this can backfire when you have multiple people who need to assume a certain role but you only have limited seats for that role to offer. Log-in credentials end up getting shared across multiple people in the process putting your system at a serious Information Security risk. To prevent this from happening, ensure that you have enough seats for each role so that everyone uses their account to log in.
– Who owns the data? This detail is very important because there needs to a clear distinction between the LMS provider’s right to store and process the content and data and ownership that is retained by you. It may sound simple enough to skip but check with your LMS provider to ensure that there are no ambiguities over this.
8. Support Services
The level of support you’ll need will depend on how different the experience will be for all stakeholders once you shift to the new LMS. Moving from a no-LMS environment will warrant more extensive training for your staff and picking an LMS provider that offers detailed onboarding will be crucial. On the other hand, moving from a legacy LMS to a new one will substantially reduce your need for customer support. However, in either case, it’s crucial to partner with a provider that has useful training manuals at the ready for when your team needs them and has a dedicated account manager to cater to your requests and needs to ensure both a seamless transition and an enjoyable system maintenance experience.
It’s also wise to enquire what the medium of support will be (email, video chat, audio call), what their operating hours are, how they respond to emergency support requests, and what their turnaround times are for problem resolution.
The Final Word
Switching to a new LMS is a big decision and you should be ready to undergo a thorough cost-benefit analysis to realize its success. With so many LMS providers out there, you have the luxury of picking the solution that fits your organization’s unique learning and development needs like a glove. Nonetheless, you’re far more likely to reach a high ROI-yielding solution if you prepare a clear LMS feature checklist of requirements before you begin your search. There’s a lot that a competent LMS can offer, and a lot that you can extract out of it once you know what you truly need.
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