Choosing a Learning Mgmt System
Stop in at a gas station, you may find that you have to ask for the key to get to the restroom. I'm not saying Learning Management Systems (LMSs) are those little buildings where you go to drop waste, but rather, more like the baseball game concession stand. You drop in to pick up some food, pay a few dollars, then move on and consume your info-meal elsewhere.
For organizations that find it worthwhile to lock up their content and parcel it out to buyers, learning management systems retain their worthiness. That is, if they can afford them. In these times of growing inflation, tough economies, organizations are cinching their belts like anyone else. The more they save, the more they can pass onto their customers.
One challenge I've seen in my own work with learning management system providers is the cost per user. School districts and others organizations have turned to LMS providers. Those offer several benefits:
- Lock up proprietary content behind a username and password
- Handle bandwidth for an ever-increasing amount of online traffic
- Provide unlimited file storage for videos and the flotsam/jetsam that accompanies an online course
It's a trade-off, right? You pay something, they handle all the big issues and you don't have to rely on in-house staff. You're outsourcing and that works great until you realize you're paying too much.
In Texas, the most popular LMSs are Schoology and Canvas. Schoology has been undergoing acquisition by PowerSchool, and trying to maintain support. Whether you like Schoology or not depends on how reliable it's been for you...or whether you've suffered the effects of its outages.
For Canvas, the key is per user cost. Canvas offers a nice solution but don't look too closely at how they negotiate annual contracts. Why not? The cost of these is dependent on NEW users. For schools with a fairly steady enrollment, that's not a big deal. But add new users to the count, you get a bill. If that new user doesn't sign in for six months, then decides to sign in, you get dinged again.
Ouch. The billing also goes up on the estimated number of users. Of course, who can blame LMS vendors for making money? And, who can blame organizations for finding an alternate way?
Take a look at the alternatives, and you may find yourself wanting to rely on third-party hosting to run your own Moodle or Wordpress-based LMS plug-ins.
While Moodle has been around forever, I find myself irritated when trying to work my way through the endless settings for site administration, courses, themes, and more.
Moodle has made it easy for anyone to download and set up a development server on their Windows/Mac/Linux computer. You don't have to know much about setting up a WAMP/LAMP/MAMP environment. Still, those settings can be a pain.
Could there be an alternative possibility?
Wordpress LMS Plugins
It's hard to tell if Wordpress-based courses work. I haven't had to set one up yet, and since most of my experience these days with Wordpress is in the loathsome editors (give me TinyMCE any day) available, I'm just not sure I want to dive into another example of FOSS bloatware.
But these are the tools we have right? I mean, when I had to cart around a boat anchor of a laptop back in the 1990s, it was special. Now, I look back with nostalgia at those days, and wonder, in what underground lair did that muscle-inducing piece of equipment end up?
A few of the ones I'm considering include:
What am I looking for?
This is the important question, isn't it? What is that list of critical features that will make the right LMS standout? Whether it's Moodle, or a Wordpress LMS plugin, what are my top 5 features?
- Create modules and units
- Add images, video, files for easy access
- Automatic certificates and badges
- Easy to customize look and feel
- Quick or immediate login for participants to buy and sign up for a course
- Back up courses created easily, either in bulk or one at a time
- Duplicate course template to create new courses
- Tiered access for course admins, course developers, etc.
- Integration with some Single-Sign-On (SSO) solution, some commerce solution (e.g. WooCommerce)