Most educators that I know, regardless of their age, education, or gender, are struggling with one major problem that I have mentioned in one of our previous article “What is an LMS – Part 1” – the lack of time. Those who are experienced have the structure of their course, including the individual lessons, already mapped out in their heads. They know what and when. In many cases they also know why, but that’s a topic for another article. All they have to do is add substance to the structure by gathering the materials and presenting them in the best possible form and format that will guarantee that the knowledge will… stick. It takes them between 20 to 30 minutes to prepare for one class.
Now imagine those educators that lack experience, in addition to the above-mentioned lack of time. Struggle does not even begin to describe what they have to go through. Add a chaotic Learning Management System into the mix and you have a nightmare. That is why it is so important for an LMS to be intuitive and well structured. And it all starts with the core element: the course management section.
I have used several different platforms so far. Some of them are too simple and lack crucial components, while others are full of features and buttons that an educator would rarely use. There are also some LMSs that give you just the right tools to conduct your lesson, be it in a synchronous or asynchronous format. So, how does the perfect LMS allow me to quickly create and manage my courses and lessons, and, in effect, allow me to make the best use of my most precious resource – time?
I see it as both part of the main menu as well as a medium-sized button somewhere near the top of the page with the simple text: Create Your Course. Now, some platforms require that files for the courses and lessons be uploaded in advance to a Library and then added to each particular class. I don’t mind this as long as it is not the only option. I like the drag and drop option, but if the Library is the only way, I guess I can live with that. Let’s say the files that I will be using for my course are already uploaded. I could then click on Create Your Course and from that point on I would expect everything to go quite smoothly, as there would either be a step-by-step guide with clear instructions or it would be intuitive enough to use even for an 80-year-old teacher.
Step by Step
Step 1. This is the page where I enter the name of the course and provide a short course description. It has become quite popular to present this information in a short (one to two minute) video. I believe this will become standard soon. In any case, if the LMS that I’m using allows me to add such a video, that is big plus. Usually, it is the same page where the teacher is expected to add more information, such as the number of sessions in the course or an image that is relevant to the course topic. There is no point in multiplying the steps and, respectively, the pages. It all just has to follow a certain logic.
Step 2. Naturally, this step is about the course materials. I’d prefer to be able to add materials to each lesson individually, i.e., I could add two text files and one video to Lesson I and only a quiz to Lesson II. If there is an option to add a note or to set a message to be triggered to students for that particular lesson – great. But these are nice-to-haves. What is important here is that I can upload files directly from my laptop, from the LMS Library, or use templates from previously conducted lessons (the latter being my favorite, of course). Should I change my mind as to what the next lessons will be about, I should be able to easily modify the content and everything related to them. Anything additional is a bonus here.
For example, the system I currently use allows for lesson splitting: I can literally divide my lesson into two separate sessions and even present them on different days!
Step 3. What is a course without participants? This step needs to be pretty straightforward. Assuming that the accounts of the students have already been created, I should be able to just upload the list containing all of the accounts and then select the ones for the specific course. Later, when choosing a test date, for example, I should have the same option to split the entire class into smaller groups and assign them the particular lesson that the test will cover.
Step 4. In terms of schedules, there are teachers who prefer to have flexibility here. This is a good thing to have, but we should be aware of the well-known danger – too many options are quite often confusing and the end result is definitely not what we wanted. So, if I am allowed to set schedules for my course, as well as for each lesson, I will be happy. If I can change the dates of the sessions due to unforeseen circumstances related to me or my students, perfect.
Step 5. Make the course active. Once everything is loaded, set up, and double and triple checked, I can click on the button that will make my course active. Now, if the LMS has it in the settings, an automated email should be sent to all of the participants and teachers with a detailed course schedule and description.
Two is More than One
This is especially true in education, not just mathematically speaking. Teachers get sick, have to take their kids to kindergarten, and deal with all kinds of crises. Sometimes they just cannot teach the session and if the LMS allows for a substitute teacher to step in, awesome. We usually know who would be able to temporarily replace us, so this has to be part of the initial course settings. If a particular situation were to arise, the substitute teacher would just log in and conduct the lesson.
There is one more reason to have additional teachers per course. If the subject is more complex, some teachers tend to work in pairs to cover different elements of the course. Or, if as part of the course I plan on inviting a guest lecturer, I can add them to the course and invite them only for one of the lessons.
The Price Tag
Yes, it is part of course management. And it is an important one. Did I mention I highly value my time? It means that I firmly believe that as smooth as the course creation and management should be, the same smoothness should also apply to the financial side of things. My students should be able to pay for the course in as many ways as possible – including in cryptocurrency if the LMS is advanced enough – and it should have low fees and short transfer times. Things should be made as easy as possible for us so that we can focus on the transfer of knowledge.