Episode 24

Tips For Choosing The Best Learning Management System

When choosing a learning management system, there are several points you need to consider. Chris Pappas outlines the most important of these considerations for enterprise level LMS systems in his eLearningIndustry.com article “Eleven Tips For Choosing The Best Learning Management System.” These points also apply to evaluating LMS applications for WordPress.

The first point is to determine learning development objectives in advance. This involves knowing who your prospective students are and what they need from your courses. Once you know who you are serving you can better evaluate which LMS system will deliver the content your students need. For WordPress systems this can include choosing extra plug-ins, configurations, and other options.

Next, consider the skill level of your learning and development team, including teachers, as they will be setting up the LMS and classrooms for your WordPress site. Look for simplicity and ease of use as well as functionality, creative control, and learning assessment capabilities. Your LMS will be a tool that many people will use, so varying levels of capability are preferable.

The third point is to assess your current learning and development strategy, including scalability for the future. This is an opportunity to discard elements that do not work while incorporating the things that do, and look toward new elements you want to develop as you update and expand your course offerings.

Fourth is the importance of getting feedback from students, teachers, and your learning and development staff. These are the people who will ultimately be using the LMS and shaping its environment, so they know best what they need to work with. Their insights will help you set up the best possible LMS for your applications.

Number five is to assess technical considerations and limitations. Find out what level of support and integration you need before choosing a system so that lack of compatibility and scalability will not present barriers. Project on areas of expansion to prevent limitations to usability in the future. After all, WordPress is endlessly expandable, so any LMS you choose needs to have that same degree of flexibility.

The next points include evaluating whether the LMS offers functions and features that are essential to delivering your content. It is also important to look into the background and experience of the vendors creating and presenting the LMS. It would be preferable to choose a system designed and built by developers with academic and knowledge-based backgrounds, who actively understand teaching and eLearning systems and processes.

Know what kind of support you can expect to receive because you will need it at some point. Ask what kinds of support are offered and how you can access services, including phone support, a contact form, a moderated user forum, ongoing reporting and information, and also know if there are extra fees involved. Research the vendor’s history and track record, too. Adaptability and maintenance are also vital services, as well as simple systems for making backups. You do not want your classrooms to be unavailable, or your vital data to disappear if something goes wrong.

Request a demonstration and preferably a trial so that you can see and experience the environment firsthand. This is the best way to find out if the LMS is compatible with how you want to present and what you need to accomplish. Make sure there is a warranty as well and what the terms for that are.

Finally, make sure the system produces relevant data and analytics that can be tracked and is accessible and usable for reporting and assessment. This is another area where feedback is helpful, so you know what kind of data needs to be collected and how it will be used. Students need access to their personal data as well while maintaining security and privacy.

Following these guidelines will help you choose the most effective learning management system for your users, your students, and your needs. An expandable platform like lifterLMS that addresses all of these eleven points is vital to helping your eLearning business grow.

You can post comments and also subscribe to our newsletter at LMScast.com for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us.

And if you’re an already successful expert, teacher or entrepreneur looking to grow, check out the LifterLMS team’s signature service called Boost. It’s a complete done for you set up service where your learning platform goes live in just 5 days.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Joshua: Hello everyone. Welcome to another episode of LMScast. I am Joshua Millage. I am on the road today, shooting from my home here in Indiana during the holiday season. That is not going to stop us from creating another podcast episode. Today we are going to do something a little different. I have been reading lots and lots of different articles from all over the web about eLearning and the LMS industry. I found an incredible article by Chris Pappas who is, I believe, the founder of eLearningIndustry.com.

Today we are going to go over his post about the eleven tips for choosing the best learning management system and give our input on those eleven tips; seeing that his article speaks directly to what I think is the enterprise level LMS systems. We are more WordPress LMS guys. I think his points are really valuable and I would love for myself and Chris to talk over and give a WordPress angle.

Chris, my first question to you man, is Chris Pappas says determine your learning development objectives in advance. What is your thoughts on that? First off, what is a learning objective? How should we determine those in advance?

Chris: Well it seems like something that you would think that people really do figure out before they get started building a learning management system; but, that is not always the case. You may have an expert or a teacher who just jumps right in and gets going. Determining your learning and development objectives is really taking a step back, taking that 30,000 foot view; looking at your perspective student or learner and really getting clear on what that audience needs.

Do they need a skill? Are they trying to get a job with the skill? Are they trying to develop in another way? Whatever that is, that is going to really frame in your best decision for choosing a learning management system. We have talked about this a lot in previous LMScast episodes just in general how important it is to know your audience. Once you know them, you will know the system that you need to deliver most efficiently and effectively your learning content.

Joshua: I think what I read in the article what I really liked is that is exactly what he was saying. You need to know which system is going to help you achieve those learning objectives. I think when you are coming from the WordPress LMS side of things, whether you choose our plug-in lifterLMS or you are choosing LearnDash or something else, it helps inform what plug-in to choose first off. Then I think it also helps you think about how to configure it and how to set it up appropriately to achieve those learning objectives.

I do, I think that is a great place to start. The second point he has is consider the skills of your learning and development team when evaluating an LMS. I am going to read a quote here because I think it is really informative. It says “Knowing the specific talents and skill sets of your learning and development team will enable you to choose a LMS that has the functionality and creative control you want and the use ability you need. If you choose an LMS that is simple and easy to use but doesn’t allow your learning and development team members to utilize their experience and know-how then you are missing out on an invaluable human perspective.”

I love that because I think one of the things that we fight in the WordPress LMS space is the WordPress membership plugins. People go well I want a membership plug-in. A lot of those membership plug-ins are simply just ability to create a login and protect some pages. There is no real nitty gritty assessment functionality and no real way to see if people are learning. The simplicity is there, but you are losing out on the insights into how your students are learning. I think that that is a really important point that he drives home that I think needs to be reiterated in our niche here and say yeah, think through that. Think through the capabilities of your team. That could be your teachers and things and make sure you consider those.

What are your thoughts on that? You run an LMS with Organic Life Guru, that is more than one … you have a learning development team in a way. It is not just you teaching.

Chris: Well, I would pull out something from your quote which was simple and easy to use. When you build a learning management system, there is a moment if you are new to it where you realize that this is not just another website. It is this whole other machine and tool with lots of moving parts and potentially multiple people involved in it. When you construct a machine that is of value and usefulness to people, it is going to be a tool for them too.

If you were to think of yourself more as a publisher; and you are going to bring in teachers, or like administrator and you are going to bring in teachers to plug into the system. If it is not simple and easy to use, you are going to start getting a lot of push back. The teachers may not maximize their potential with the platform; because they are just confused with the technology. Simple and easy to use is so important and that is one of our key ethos at lifterLMS is we want a tool that anybody can pick up and get rolling with a learning management system built on top of WordPress and extend out whatever level and complexity they need to go to.

Joshua: That is perfect. The next one is assess your current learning and development strategy. I think that is an interesting one. I think a lot of people kind of lump that into their needs. I think it is important to distinguish this is what I need and the strategy for me is more futuristic. This is where I am going.

Chris: That is a good one because if you are going to change learning management systems or it is your first time going to an online learning management system, it is such a big opportunity to not just throw everything away that you have done before. Just leave the bad parts, take the good parts and then get some new parts that are even better that fulfill your learning objectives and meet the skills of your learning development team. It is such a big opportunity when you are changing or just starting with a new LMS.

Joshua: I like this next one. It says get feedback from your learning and development staff. I think that is incredible. I think feedback is something that most of us do not even consider when we are building out a learning development system, or LMS system. Especially if you are someone who is an edupreneur or something and you already have a couple students. Maybe it is not that you are asking your internal people what you think, but you are asking your students what do you think. Feedback, 360 degree feedback is really important and I think will help set up the best system for your learning management system.

Chris: Absolutely. That kind of feedback is critical to making sure that you make smart decisions in how you customize your LMS so that everybody is on the same page and supports it and you get buy-in. It is all about buy-in.

Joshua: Absolutely. Then the next one is assess any technical considerations or limitations. You got to know where you are going if you need things like SCORM support or you need to integrate with it a MailChimp or an AWeber, or you need it to integrate with some other sort of platform. You want to make sure that those things are on the horizon for what system you are choosing.

That is something that we have really considered in developing lifterLMS was what are the things that people need. What are the bare bone things people need and then as we have developed it out, what are the next things that people need based on their feedback.

Chris: That is one of the beauties of WordPress is it is so extendable. You can snap in other plug-ins and you can extend and add functionality very quickly and easily. That is one of the beauties of that.

Joshua: WordPress now is known for powering some of the internet’s largest publishing sites and so the framework itself is very scalable if you have a team behind it that knows what to do. I think there is a lot of opportunity for even the people that are looking at enterprise level LMS systems to come back to WordPress and look at it. I really think WordPress is going to outdo a lot of those systems soon. Especially things like what we are developing and the other people in the space are developing.

Chris: It sure looks like it.

Joshua: Maybe we are a little biased. Let’s see. Does the LMS offer the essential features and functions you really need? Again, I think that plays right into the next one. I do not think we really need to rap on that one because we can lump those two together. It is just taking the time. I think people, at least in my experience, they go out and they go plug-in crazy and they just buy a bunch of things. They are not taking the time to think through these questions.

The next one is really interesting. Review the experience and background of LMS vendors. I think that is a huge one. Where have you come from? Who are you? What do you know about learning? I think that is what makes our team unique. Again, not to focus at all on us, but I have a background in academic publishing and knowledge management. You have a background in developing your own LMS and eLearning businesses and that sort of thing. That lends to the way that we are developing our plug-in.

I am not sure the background of LearnDash or any of the other ones, but it would be interesting. It shows who the people are behind the scenes who actually are supporting and building the product.

Chris: I think in the lifterLMS example, we are a team. There is you, there is me, there is Mark, there is Thomas with very different skill sets and life experience. Some other learning management systems come from a more top down one person’s product. There is not really that diversity that a team brings which that goes into the product.

Joshua: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. It makes for a much more robust product. What support services are offered by the LMS? I think that really is a good question to see where, what support you need. For us it is everything from go do it yourself and we will support on a yearly basis all the way up to if you need custom development help, we will be there. I think with anything it is what type of support is behind the product and how far is that support going to take you.

Chris: Absolutely. Support is critical. I think we are a little fanatical about support in the sense that we have the support forum, you have our e-mails, you have a contact form. We have a bi-weekly webinar right now with our customers where we offer mastermind presentations and live question and answers. People just love it. They need it. People need to be supported when they are building a learning management system.

When you choose it, you should definitely investigate what the company is offering in terms of support.

Joshua: Absolutely. I would agree with that. Adaptability and maintenance are key to ensure the future success of your LMS. Again, it goes right back in to the support. I think that the thing about the way that we look at it. It is a onetime fee then it is a yearly service fee. That is so we can continue to adapt our plug in to the way that the WordPress core is being developed. I think it is really important to know that and know how we approach adaptability and maintenance. It is cost effective. We are not charging that much money for that.

When you get into the upper echelon of LMS’s I am sure it is a little different. You want to make sure you know those numbers so that you know the cost of buying it now and implementing it now and in the future. Anything to add Chris? You have seen … we have both seen systems that get locked down because the people have not considered what the support and maintenance will be in the future.

Chris: Well, I would say in the WordPress ecosystem, maintenance and updates, it is a mixed bag. One it is nice that you can just click one button and update a WordPress and plug-ins and stuff. The other thing is sometimes things break. That is why what you need to do is have a backup system in place so that you can run a backup, which you should do regularly anyways to protect all your data. Then you can do the quick update. As long as you did not go plug-in crazy you are going to be … like get fifty plug ins going that are going to start conflicting with each other if one of them does not update and that sort of thing. You will be fine.

We update lifterLMS. We have these small, incremental updates that are happening all the time and these bigger feature releases that happen. I think the community, they ask us about that. When is the next update? What is your update schedule? What is the product roadmap? How do I extend it this way if we want to get into adaptability?

I think really exploring that and looking not only at the present of the LMS and what they say they are doing in the future, but look where they have come from in the past and then you can really see the rate of change and adaptability the company has presented.

Joshua: That is good feedback. Give me one second Chris, I am boiling some eggs and I just realized they are going to be really boiled if I do not go shut it off. I am just going to keep the recording running and I can snap it back in.

Chris: Okay.

Joshua: Sorry.

Chris: It is all right.

Joshua: Sorry.

Chris: It is all good.

Joshua: It is like I looked down and it has been twenty minutes and I am like oh boy. That is not good. That is not good. All right.

Chris: I think you are on ten.

Joshua: Yeah. Let me go back and look at that. Cool and number ten is ask for a trial or demonstration. I can see how this would be really, really important in the larger enterprise LMS systems. That makes a lot of sense you want to get a walkthrough of how it is going to work. In the WordPress LMS space, I think it is less of an issue because you usually, like us, we have a 30-day money back guarantee. You can actually download it and utilize it and work it into your system and if it does not work get your money back. I do think it is important to try before you buy and that sort of thing.

Chris: Absolutely. It is like a car. It is a complicated machine. Because of that, you take it for a test drive. If it is something more simple like a dry erase board or something, you just buy it. You do not need to take out the markers and write on there before you buy it. You know what it is going to do. With complexity, you should always be able to test.

Joshua: I think that people should be able to, the important thing is you do not want to put all this time and effort in setting up your LMS and then know that it was not going to work. It is really important to do that.

Eleven is consider the data tracking capabilities of the LMS. I think that is huge because the data, I think we are at the very beginning of a huge trend in the eLearning and LMS industry. I think that having data associated with your student and being able to take that data with them is going to be so very important now and in the future. I think that understanding how data is stored and understanding the availability and the analytics behind the LMS is crucial.

I am really interested to see what is going to happen to with things like Tin Can and SCROM support and more of a personal usage standpoint. Will I be able to have a open source profile where all that data can be attached to me and I can take that from LMS to LMS? I do not know the sky is the limit. The point of the matter is it is definitely interesting to ask that question and see what type of support is around that point there.

Chris: Absolutely. That is something that we are working on at lifterLMS right now is really developing out the analytics capabilities within the learning management system and listening to the user base and the audience in terms of what types of data they are most interested in. How they want to use it? How they want to sort it and manipulate it and that sort of thing?

Then there is the whole thing you are talking about with an LRS, a learning record store. If that is important to you, that is an important part in choosing your LMS and making sure it meets the data requirements that you need.

Joshua: Yeah. Absolutely. Cool, well I hope that this helps and I hope we can get Chris Pappas on the line here to give us some feedback on this and we would love to have him on LMScast for maybe an interview or something like that. Until next week, we will see you soon.

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