If you’re going to be offering a course online you’ll need Learning Management Software (LMS) for your online educational environment.

Learning Management Software is more formally known as a Learning Management System but you’ll hear the phrases thrown around  interchangeably. There are important differences between the terms, however, generally when people mention that they’re looking for Learning Management Software they are more often than not stating that they are looking for a platform which will allow them to offer their course(s) online.

So if you’re in this group of educators where do you start? Well you should start at the end. At the very end. Let me explain.

WORK BACKWARDS AND START AT THE END

Learning Management Software can be as complex or as simple as you want. It’s easy to get excited about the many interesting features of an LMS without thinking about how useful they will be for your online course users. You need to ask yourself questions like “do my online students need this feature to help them achieve their educational goal”? Or “do my online teachers need this feature to be better able to teach or administer their online course(s)?”. If the answer is “no” then you might want to consider doing away with the feature.

As we mention in this podcast, sometimes all you need your Learning Management System Software to do is provide the digital equivalent of two chairs and a table for the teacher and student to interact. If you don’t need more… why complicate things? Start with your students’ educational objectives in mind and go forward from there.

LMS features need to be “must have” tools for the sake of educational advancement not “nice to have” tools for the sake of technological coolness.

ASYNCHRONOUS VS SYNCHRONOUS FEATURES

Next you need to decide how you’re going to teach your online course. Will you use asynchronous technologies, synchronous  technologies or a combination of both?

Asynchronous technologies break the time space barrier and don’t require that teacher and student be online at the exact same time. However, communication can still take place through discussion forums, emails, video tutorials, wikis, lecture notes and blogs (to name only a few asynchronous technologies).

Or you might decide to teach using synchronous technologies that require student and teacher to be at the same digital place at the same time. For example, an audio / video conversation through Skype would be considered a synchronous technology.

Knowing which of these two methods you’ll use will help you start to define a list of features you would like your Learning Management Software to have.

GRADING AND TRACKING FEATURES

For a lot of adult learners and lifelong learners grades are generally not considered as important as having some tangible new skill to take away from their learning experience at the end of their journey. After all, at some point your students will likely know if they have learnt what it is you set out to teach them.

Finding a way to incorporate progress measurement tools into your LMS is hugely important and will likely become more important as learner outcomes is becoming increasingly important as education becomes a more competitive field. This could mean the inclusion of features like grade-books, progress bars, progress reports and so on.

TEACHER CONVENIENCE

Learning Management System Software not only needs to meet the educational needs and students, but it also needs to meet the teaching needs of educators. For instance, how will teachers be notified when a student submits an assignment? How do they communicate with students? How do they access the class’s grades? How do they send out bulk communication to their students? How are their online classes organized?

An LMS needs to be equally concerned with teachers’ needs as well.

A PLATFORM THAT UNDERSTANDS STUDENT NEEDS

The technology used within an LMS is pretty fascinating… but it can also get pretty complex and daunting pretty quickly. Don’t’ forget, you’ll be the one working with the LMS all of the time. You’ll know it inside and out. Your students on the other hand may not “get it” as quickly as you do.

An LMS needs to be designed in a way that is intuitive and inspires the student to stay involved and engaged in their online course experience. An LMS which is overwhelming or complex will just add to the feeling of isolation for the student. You don’t want students focused on the technology. Instead, you want them focused on the content and their unique educational journey.

For this reason, no matter how simple you want your LMS to be, it’s always nice to include a short video or tutorial in their first section of their course that walks them through the LMS software they will be learning on. This tutorial should teach them how to send emails, contribute to conversations, submit assignments and so on. That way, once they are done educating themselves on the technology, 100% of their energy can be put into their course work.

SOCIAL FEATURES

In a recent blog post on online course development we chatted with Rosemary M. Lehman, Ph.D. whose book “Motivating and Retaining Online Students: Research-Based Strategies That Work” points out that some studies show that as many as 50%-70% of students drop out of their online courses! one of the main reasons that students give for dropping out of their online classes is the “feeling of isolation”.

For this reason, it’s almost always beneficial to find a way to incorporate some type of social platform that allows your students and teachers to interact using both proactive and reactive communication strategies.

We have published an entire blog post on Social LMS as one of the key components on online education.

IT’S NOT JUST POWER… IT’S BEAUTY TOO

Lastly, don’t underestimate the importance of educational beauty. What is educational beauty you ask? Well I’m not entirely sure… but it’s just something you know when you see it. For example, when your standing in the hallway of your university and you feel proud to be there.

In another interview we conducted on the topic of classroom management strategies, author and teacher Michael Linsin points out that traditional school classrooms should be designed in a way that matches their call for excellence. Why should it be any different for an online school or classroom? Design your educational website in a way that makes your students proud to be enrolled in your eCourse.

Good luck!