How to choose a learning management system for your online course.

When it comes to online education, very few decisions are as critical for the success of your course as your choice of Learning Management Systems (LMS). Of course, you have to create a good course, market the course, and maybe even hire the right staff to help you teach and administer the course. But your LMS is the engine that makes your course run.

Your learners will access and engage with your course material through your LMS. If you can’t use it, or if it doesn’t do what you want, it will limit your ability to deliver your ideal course. And if your users struggle with the LMS interface, it will impact their ability to learn the material and affect their satisfaction with your course.

So, given the central role your LMS plays in delivering your content, it’s important you make the right choice. Here are six things to look out for when choosing an LMS to help you decide what platform Is right for you.

1. Functionality

Features you should look for in a good LMS include user profiles, course organization and content protection, membership access, and the ability to include a variety of rich media files. In fact, a good LMS will probably present you with more functionality than you’d thought of. After all, if this is your first online course, you may not have considered some of the key administrative functions you will need to make it work. But your LMS provider will have thought of them, because that’s what they do.

However, just because an LMS offers these features doesn’t mean you need them. Instead, think strategically about the features and functions you actually need to offer your online course.

For instance, is your course straightforward, or complex? Some LMSs offer a service that trims away some of the bells and whistles in favor of a simpler program at a more affordable price point. Others are high-powered tools designed to accommodate a variety of course materials and program offerings. Don’t pick the cheaper option just to save money if it can’t serve your needs. But at the same time, don’t overpay for functionality you’ll never use.

2. Usability

Usability matters on both the front end, where your learners will be accessing their courses, and on the back end, where you and your team will conduct administrative functions. You should expect documentation from you LMS supplier that shows how to use the software, as well as other tutorial resources. But you shouldn’t find the program frustrating or complicated to use.

Check to see if your LMS offers a demo so that you can get a feel for how it works before you commit to it. This is the software you will be using as the primary platform for your online course material, and switching platforms comes with costs. You don’t want to find yourself disappointed with what you have and contemplating a move to another platform—especially if you don’t know if that platform will be any better.

3. Communication

Can you send your learners notifications and emails through your LMS? Are there any automation tools to make that communication easier? Is there any limit to the number of emails you can send or receive? Some LMSs, for instance, will restrict your ability to email your learners unless you’re paying for a certain tier of their monthly plan.

Student-to-student communication is less crucial, but still important. A class forum allows learners to discuss and help each other with course content, and it creates a sense of community that is sometimes missing from an online class experience.

4. Access

How do you plan to manage access to your course content? Do you want students to move through content at their own rate, or would you rather drip feed course materials on a schedule? While the former model will appeal more to self-motivated learners, the latter ensures that students move through your course at a similar rate.

This subject touches not only on the way you deliver your course, but on the pricing model you chose as well. For instance, you may want to offer your course as a one-time purchase with unlimited access to course material. Or you may wish to have access expire after a certain date, or offer subscription-based service. All of these decisions will affect how you create, manage, and market your course.

5. Tracking

Being able to see how your students perform on tests and quizzes is one of the basic features your LMS needs to be effective. This is important for grades and student evaluation, but also for the bigger picture view you will need to find areas in your course that might need supplementary material, which can help you lower your dropout rate.

User feedback is also crucial for making improvements to your online course. That means you need an LMS that can give you detailed data about how your learners use your course. Find a platform that can show you the progress students make through the course, as well as how long they spend on lessons.

6. Compatibility

If you use other software or programs to run your course, make sure they are compatible with your LMS. A good LMS will support developer APIs so that you don’t have to change programs to accommodate it. After all, if those programs contain content, data, or tools you need to make your course work, switching to a new program may be more trouble than choosing a different LMS.

Choosing the right LMS can set you up for success.

There are many elements you need working together to create a strong online course. While your LMS is just one piece of the puzzle, it can make the rest of your work a lot easier. By focusing on the needs you have for your course and trying out some of the options available, you will be able to find a solution to fit your course.

Laura Lynch photo

About Laura Lynch

Laura is a marketing specialist with experience presenting at WordPress events in Ann Arbor and Vienna. She speaks Russian and German and holds a double MA (Hons) in History and Russian Studies from the University of Edinburgh.

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Unfortunately LearnDash does not have good Tracking features, just a very-very basic set of reports (Pro Panel), nothing fancy, nothing deep like some competitors
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Undoubtedly these things are the core factors that make an LMS great. Thanks for this well-discussed article. It will help us to choose the best one from available LMS solutions in the market.

I love Learndash LMS.

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