What are the main features of an LMS…and which are custom?
Posted by Kelly Newcomb on October 1, 2020
What features come as standard in an LMS?
Whether you’re a training provider looking to move from an off-the-shelf system to a more affordable or scalable option, or you’re a marketing manager in charge of overseeing the development of a new elearning system for your company, we know how difficult it can be to select a learning management system. With mixed messaging around core features and add-ons it can be confusing to understand what features an LMS has out of the box and whether your chosen system will tick all the boxes.
What is a learning management system?
A learning management system is the cross between a customer relationship management (CRM) and a content management system (CMS); allowing you to deliver learning materials to your users through your own remotely accessible system.
“The role of a Learning Management System varies depending on the organization’s objectives, online training strategy, and desired outcomes. However, the most common use for LMS software is to deploy and track online training initiatives.” – Christopher Pappas, Founder of eLearning Industry
Who can benefit from a learning management system?
There are numerous advantages of having a learning management system to distribute your online training. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just internal learning and development teams in big businesses that use learning management systems to deliver their training. In fact, a number of clients here at Plume are solo entrepreneurs or SMEs looking to deliver their unique training through a custom LMS.
At Plume, we have a number of clients across a range of sectors including:
- Higher education institutions; schools, colleges and universities
- Corporate training; offering training to other organisations
- Course content creators; entrepreneurs selling their training courses
- Training academies; larger organisations sometimes offering training through a subscription service
- Social good and not for profit organisations; provide training to charity workers, councils and government staff
- SaaS software training; often delivering training for their platform through a knowledge base
Should I go off the shelf? Read on.
Sometimes, a custom online training system fits the bill, offering them the flexibility and scalability their business needs, without the hefty fees associated with off-the-shelf systems. Click here to learn more about the fees associated with an off the-shelf system.
Most importantly, don’t get ripped off…
A lot of off-the-shelf systems will try and make what we would consider to be ‘standard features’ look like premium add-ons to try and get you to spend more with them. Don’t get caught out! You shouldn’t be spending a penny extra for some of these things which are pretty universal across various providers.
Examples of our learning management systems
Key features of an LMS
A login page
Your LMS should have a custom URL which takes users to a login page where they can enter their details and access their learning. Sharing a login page URL with another business or the name of the system instead of your company or brand is NOT RECOMMENDED.
Is better than
By having a unique URL you’ll improve your users’ experience by directing them to a page that is branded and consistent with the rest of your product.
Every LMS will come with some kind of user management: the ability to add users to the system, add them to different courses and even to promote them so that they can take on some administrative or managerial duties. Furthermore, users will be able to change their account details just as you would with any service you sign up to with an account.
Most modern LMS will have some kind of course authoring tool. At the very least they should allow you to add text, images, videos and files (like PowerPoint Presentations, PDFs and Word documents) as well as audio files.
Quizzes and assessments
In almost all cases, an LMS will give you the ability to add basic quizzes to your course through the course authoring tool. Just bear in mind that marking and receiving assignments (in the form of documents) may not be as standard.
Once a learner has finished their course they should be sent out a certificate via email or to their dashboard for download/printing. Some LMS may generate their own, while others might require you to create one as a PDF that’s then automatically populated with the user’s name upon completion.
At the very least, an LMS will show you how many people are on the system, how many are enrolled on a course and where individual users are within their course.
Email / notification automation
Basic automation logic can be set up in most LMS’ to send custom emails to users who are just starting a course, completed a course or lesson or who have been inactive for some time. These emails can be populated with custom content that might signpost learners to the next section, to helpful resources or they might contain a nudge encouraging them to continue with their learning.
A simple dashboard
After your users have logged in they should be taken to a page which shows them their enrolled courses, course completion progressand account information at the very least.
A number of learning management systems, both off the shelf and open source, will give you the ability to add in your own branding, tailoring the platform to look more like your business’ own product. In some cases creative control might go as far as uploading logos and adding custom colour schemes, while open source frameworks will give you complete creative control over the styling. In some cases you might need a developer to do this, but usually when you buy an off the shelf system you’ll be given limited tools to make the platform look like it’s yours.
Custom LMS features
If you’ve decided to go with an LMS and not an app, hooray, you made the right choice; Apps are restricted by store policies, operating systems and device storage. By choosing a web app people can access your system from any device connected to the internet and for this reason, should be responsive across mobile, tablet and desktop.
We design all our LMS with accessibility and ease of use in mind. From our Needs Analysis we’ll have an in-depth understanding of your users, your system’s functionality and purpose. We know to craft pages that signpost people to the right content so everything is easy to navigate and easy to find.
As we mentioned, most systems will have a dashboard of some kind, but what if you need to incorporate more information? Although not standard,, we can absolutely do that as part of a custom build! Our client, Absolute Dogs, has a video library of training videos, online courses, subscriptions and an affiliate program all which needed to be accessible from one location: the dashboard. We created an easily navigable dashboard that acted like a hub for the user to access every part of Absolute Dogs diverse offering.
You might have heard the term ‘scalable LMS’ and thought ‘eh?’ That’s fair enough. A Scalable LMS is one that can grow to accommodate more users over time without slowing down. Most LMS will allow you to do this to an extent. If it’s an off-the-shelf system you have then you’ll probably be restricted by paywalls (ie, upgrade your plan to allow more users) whereas if you go custom you only need to worry about building your system on the right framework and ensuring you have the capacity to host as many users as you need. Find out how we helped a client scale their LearnDash to host 1 million learners.
Custom design throughout
Out of the box, off-the-shelf systems and open-source frameworks like LearnDash look pretty basic and, errrrrrr, ugly. Off-the-shelf systems don’t let you customise much else beyond the colours and branding, but thanks to our specialist design and development team we can mock up a total custom design that is consistent throughout your system regardless of whether it’s an out of the box feature, custom feature or plugin.
Internal messaging system
Whether you need to ensure that students can message tutors, or you just want to ensure no one is using their personal emails for communication, an internal messaging system is the way to go. By keeping all your communications within the platform you can offer an integrated and secure experience like no other!
Online course sales pages
We have created the perfect formula for selling more online courses through our structured course sales page. We can create the building blocks for you to fill out with relevant sales copy that’s proven to help you sell more courses. To find out more about course sales page creation and sales copywriting click here.
Pre course assessment
A pre-course assessment will help direct your users to the right course based on their skills or needs. With a pre-course assessment, you can ascertain your users’ skill level and get them enrolled on the right courses for them. This leads to increased engagement with learning materials and streamlines the learning journey.
Zoom webinar integration
This is a big one that’s on everyone’s lips following COVID-19 and the global lockdowns. As we move towards video calls for everyday meetings, Zoom became the platform of choice for business users, families and online teaching. Rather than taking you to the Zoom site, we’ve found a way to integrate the platform directly into the LMS so users don’t have to go anywhere else in order to access lessons and take advantage of Zoom’s features.
Subscriptions, deposits and payment plans
If you’re running a monthly subscription then you’ll want to automate this through your platform; receiving and processing payments without having to get involved is easy with this kind of integration. If you’re not using a subscription model then you should be. Click here to find out why! Similarly to subscriptions, we can also set you up with the ability to take deposits and create payment plans for users who might need to spread the cost of your course out over several months.
Contextual discussions/ definitions
Regarded as one of the ‘cooler’ features we can build for our clients, contextual comments or contextual definitions, are those that are embedded within the learning material which improves engagement and understanding of the material without the need to leave the page or platform. With contextual comments students can spark conversations, share concepts and triggers social learning, while contextual definitions source these from a dictionary or webpage to provide clarity to the text.
What are the costs associated with an off the shelf?We found that the average cost of an off the shelf system for around 1000 users comes to a whopping £50,000 a year on average. What’s included in that will vary platform to platform but for the most part you’ll get the features listed in the first section as well as hosting and maintenance.
I’m not sure if I need a custom system, who should I talk to?We take the time to understand your business and user needs before recommending to you the best path. If a custom system isn’t right for you we can point you in the right direction.
How much does a custom system cost?It varies depending on what you need. More complex, feature rich systems cost more because they take more time to spec out and build. What’s important to consider is that we are used to working within the confines of a budget. We can spec out everything you need and give you an estimate and then work with you to descope or launch in phases if you’re limited by a fixed budget.
I have an existing system, can I add custom features?As LMS specialists we have experience in designing and building all manner of systems, including developing on top of systems that have been built by other agencies and professionals. Just get in touch with us if you would like us to carry out some ad hoc work or support you long term.
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