We already know what a Learning Management System is, why we need it, and what its most important characteristics are. The next logical step is to take a look at it from the inside to see which functions and features an educator might need.
In the previous article I stressed how important it is for an LMS to be highly intuitive. The main page has to be as simple as possible and easy to navigate; in addition it is crucial that all of the individual sections within the LMS are well-organized and user-friendly. Once I log in, I should immediately be taken to my Dashboard.
It needs to be clear that this is the starting point to which I can return whenever I need to – the equivalent of the Home button on the main page. The most popular Learning Management Systems follow certain standards (with very few exceptions), like having a side menu on the left side of the page and/or another one at the top of the page. It’s not good practice to have duplicate menus in both places; but what’s more important is that if there are more than 10 tabs or sections, it’s better to have a structure with expandable/collapsible subsections. In my opinion there should be a large calendar in the very middle of the page showing all of my scheduled courses and lessons. This section would help me optimize and manage my most precious resource as an educator: time.
This is a key section that is usually positioned in one of the top corners of the page. I should be able to upload some information about my education, certificates, and qualifications, potentially even in the form of a CV, to this section. It is optional, but I believe it has become standard practice, to have the ability to upload a photo/avatar. After all, the learners will appreciate knowing what their teacher looks like. It’s not a beauty pageant; it’s more like “putting a face to a name”.
Since the platform has to have a logical flow to it – for example, from the must-haves to the nice-to-haves – this section comes in second place priority-wise in my ideal LMS. And when you think about it, this makes perfect sense because it’s all about how an LMS can make it really easy for any educator to create and manage their courses. It can have an expandable submenu with at least two items: one for new course creation and the other for changes to the already existing course. What counts for me here is that the platform allows for complete course design, i.e., I can mix and match educational activities, types of content, and even the very format of the lessons.
A good Learning Management System should offer the following two options: one that allows me to create courses consisting of multiple lessons and the other that I can use to organize single lessons and lectures. This gives the educators greater flexibility, and can be helpful for consultations. It should be different than the course management step, which is part of the course management process. From a functional point of view, they will both probably offer similar features.
User Profile Management
All users should have an account in the system with one of the following roles: learner, educator, parent, or observer. Naturally, each of these roles comes with larger or smaller differences in the levels of access and options, which is reflected in the user interface. As an educator and account administrator, I should be able to assign roles and provide assistance to them, as well as to check on particular users and pull reports whenever I need. These types of interactions with the user profiles would be learning related, while for technical issues, I should be able to rely on the necessary support from the LMS provider.
If there is some course-related information that I need to pass on to my students, I need to have a way to convey the message via some internal system. Emails get lost or end up in the Spam folder, mobile operators cannot always guarantee the quality of their sms/texting services, students are using social networks for an entirely different kind of interaction, and pigeons are a rather obsolete form of communication. This internal messaging system will also save the students’ time in terms of trying to figure out which of the channels of communication I have used to tell them there are some new online materials that they need to focus on.
Again, it should be all in there inside the LMS – no articles sent via email, no links to educational videos sent via sms/texts, and a file library with all of the resources that I need for my courses. It should have at least two levels: a main folder with all the files that I will ever upload and a sublevel with the files for the particular courses and/or lessons. If I am a prolific teacher, I wouldn’t fancy the idea of browsing through 800 files to find the right dozen for my next lesson.
This one is also rather standard. My students should be able to send their assignments to me from inside the LMS. It does not really matter if they will be creating the content in an HTML editor inside the system or that they have the option to upload the document from their device and hit the submit button. What matters is that I can receive the assignments inside the platform and then evaluate them.
It is not only about transferring knowledge. We also have to regularly check to see if the students actually remember any of it. Personally, I love creating tests, all kinds of them. They are a challenge for both me and my students, so I usually have a lot of fun creating them. Checking the answers is usually automated for time-optimization purposes.
Naturally, I would love to have this as part of my LMS. If someone missed three of my last five classes and there is a test coming up next week, I will be able to do something about it instead of just watch this particular student take and fail the test. Besides, this feature is usually required by corporations for both internal and external trainings so they can track exactly how much of their money goes into the proverbial gutter. Finally, and it’s a no-brainer, parents would like to know just how often their kids are skipping lessons.
I need to be able to pull all kinds of reports from the system. From a technical standpoint it’s not a big deal, because it’s basically granting me access to all the databases and tables related to my account via the LMS user interface. Just give me 5-6 dropdown filters and watch me go into a report creating frenzy. When I get tired of trying to pull the correct report, I will gladly pay the LMS provider a reasonable fee to have it sent to me.
There is another element, a key differentiator, which I left out of the equation on purpose. One of the next articles will be entirely dedicated to it. So, stay tuned…