With the onset of COVID19 pandemic, learning over the internet is now becoming more prevalent as the new normal is forcing schools to move online completely.
If you are in the same boat as someone looking to start an online school but aren’t sure of how to proceed with it, you’re in the right place. 🙂
When taking your school online, there is a need to carefully search and select from various solutions available that will enable you to make this online transition smoothly.
Hence, in this article, I’m going to help you identify various critical elements and Learning Management Systems (LMS) that are essential in order for you to build your online school.
Step 1 – Understanding Learning Management Systems (LMS)
When it comes to building your online school, it is extremely crucial to have an LMS in place.
But first, let’s understand….
What is an LMS?
Similar to how physical schools are run, an online school too needs a Learning Management System that allows you to create, organize, manage and deliver education courses/knowledge through a software programme.
An LMS is like a super fast brain that performs multiple functions like creating courses, assessing student performance, monitoring and tracking student activities, administering courses, etc. that comes with a layer of security and privacy to ensure your eLearning school functions smoothly.
Now that you know what an LMS means, let’s quickly understand how an LMS will benefit your school.
Benefits of an LMS
- Save time – With an LMS, you can automate the entire grading process on your online school which will save your Instructors/Teachers the valuable time which can instead be used to better their courses or interact with the students to solve queries.
- Provide personalized learning experience – An LMS increases the scope for a blended learning experience by allowing Instructors to talk to each student face-to-face through live classroom sessions and allowing them to learn at their own pace provides an opportunity to create a personalized learning environment.
- Engage in a flexible manner – You can teach or provide information to your students in different formats that are more engaging and meaningful. For eg: You can present content in the form of videos, presentations, podcasts, games, etc. that will resonate more and can be accessed through mobiles thereby, improving your students learning experience.
- Track student progress – Through an LMS based software, you can easily track your students’ progress, identify their problem areas and develop immediate solutions and take actions in order to further their progress.
- In-depth analysis – An LMS will give you a more detailed understanding into your students performance with its detailed analytics. You can use different metrics like time spent on each assignment, device used, learning documents downloaded, etc. This data will help your Instructors to identify the gaps and hence, improve the learning experience for your students.
While I’ve mentioned only a few major benefits here, feel free to take a look at other benefits of implementing an LMS.
On that note, you can now move on to the next important step in building your online school which involves identifying various functions all the stakeholders in your online school will require.
Step 2 – Identifying the features you need for your online school
Imagine the LMS to be the brain of your online school, without which, your school will collapse within seconds.
So, before you go ahead and select an LMS, you first need to carefully examine all the considerations and requirements of different stakeholders involved in your online school, i.e, all its users like the Teachers, Students and Administrators.
It’s important for you to involve each stakeholder in the selection process and address their needs since your school will affect each in equal measures.
For an Instructor/Teacher, you will need different features or tools on your online school that are essential for them:
- A simple interface to create, edit and manage courses, quizzes, assignments, etc.
- Tools to evaluate student performance and grade them.
- Ability to conduct live lessons, interact and communicate with individual students.
- Track commissions and revenue.
- Make quick changes to content with very little to no interaction with coding.
- Support for different gamification elements to create engaging content.
- Simple navigation options, etc.
Since students are the ultimate users, they will be expecting features from your online school that lets them:
- Toggle through the course, submit assignments and answer quizzes smoothly.
- Communicate with other students to discuss projects through discussion forums, etc.
- Access LMS and course content through mobile phones, tablets, etc.
- Communicate with Teachers/Instructors and engage with content in the most meaningful fashion to improve learning experience, etc.
- Quickly scroll through pages.
- Leverage social media for learning.
This will include members of the management, technical staff and the owner. For them, the major features and concerns would involve:
- Cost of the LMS.
- Expenses involved in training different users.
- The ability to add multiple Instructors to the courses.
- The ability to manage bulk students in a class.
- User-friendliness of the LMS.
- Preferred approach of lesson management (content-centric, activity centric, synchronous or asynchronous learning, etc.)
- Alignment of different user goals in line with the LMS.
- Technical support team, etc.
Mind you, these are just some basic parameters and features that different stakeholders might consider however, once you approach these stakeholders for their views and requirements, I’m sure there will be many other major elements that will develop and come through.
Step 3 – Comparing your alternate LMS options
When it comes to selecting an LMS for your online school, there are 3 main popular options available:
- SaaS-based or Cloud based LMS
- Open Source LMS
- Closed-Source LMS
Let me quickly shed some light on each of these options so that you can base your selection depending upon which LMS fits your requirements in the best possible way.
1. SaaS or Cloud Based LMS
A Cloud based LMS is a web based LMS that is hosted on the servers of the service provider (vendor) which allows you to access your course and LMS content from anywhere and from any device.
It is completely managed by your vendor which means you don’t have to worry about adding any plugins, extra functionalities, updates or even maintenance. Docebo LMS is a popular example of a Cloud based LMS.
Advantages of Cloud-Based LMS
- Flexible pricing model – A Cloud-based LMS is usually available on a monthly or an annual subscription plan. The pricing model is usually a Pay-per-user model and is quite flexible depending on your requirements.
- Easy setup – Since hosting and support is taken care of by the provider, setting up a cloud-based LMS becomes as simple as merely creating an account and logging in.
- Data security – Your entire online school data security and maintenance is handled by your service provider which means you don’t have to spend extra on adding security layers.
Limitations of a Cloud-Based LMS
- Lack of control – Since the entire data of your online school is stored on a cloud, the risk of data being compromised and exposed is relatively higher. Plus, you’ll have no control over it.
- Limited Customization – Since the cloud based LMS’s don’t have an open source code, you can’t customize, add or remove features or functionalities as per your wish. It has to be done by your hosted server’s support team which can take days.
- No integration capabilities – With most Cloud-based LMSs, it becomes difficult to integrate other softwares or functionalities that you might need for your student management or anything else as it can take a lot of time and requires permissions from your server to implement any integration.
2. Open Source LMS
An Open Source is a pretty popular LMS and as the name suggests, it has an open source code which means you can customise the LMS to add any functionalities that you can dream of. The best part is – it is completely Free!
With an Open Source LMS, the entire data is maintained on your server and you’re entirely responsible for its maintenance and any doings. WordPress is a popular example of an open source LMS.
Advantages of an Open Source LMS
- Scalable Pricing Model – The basic Open Source LMS is usually free or offered as a freemium software. For eg: WordPress as an open source is Free but for any additional functionalities, you might have to add plugins which may be paid. However, most of the functionalities that you can dream of are usually easily available in the WordPress space.
- Unlimited customization – Since it’s an Open Source LMS, you have the freedom to customise the code and add designs, change the appearance of your LMS or functionalities as per your wishes.
- Data security – Your entire data and security is maintained on your server rather than a 3rd-party server which gives you entire control over your data and ensures lesser risk of data being compromised.
- Huge community support – An Open Source LMS like WordPress has a huge active community of users who are willing to provide support and can help you out instantly without having to wait for days unlike in a Cloud-based or a closed source LMS.
Limitations of an Open Source LMS
- Additional Hosting & Maintenance – In an open source LMS, you’ll have to invest and bear the hosting, set up costs and are solely responsible for maintenance of your online school security. However, in a space like WordPress, there are many security plugins available that can do this job for you.
- Might need IT support – When it comes to customization, you’ll need to make changes in the code and if you don’t have coding knowledge, you will have to get it done by an IT expert.
3. Closed Source LMS
A Closed Source LMS is a software usually developed by companies that does not let you make any changes or modifications to its code. In order to use this platform, you’ll need to purchase a license.
Much like the Cloud-based LMS, here too, you’ll have to pay an additional fee to ensure the security and maintenance of your online school. Blackboard is a popular example of a Closed Source LMS.
Advantages of a Closed Source LMS
- Technical Support – The closed source LMS usually offers good technical support and is useful if you’re not a tech savvy person.
- Security – You don’t have to worry about your online school data security as it is taken care of by the software company. However, they might charge you extra for maintenance.
Limitations of a Closed Source LMS
- Pricing model – Acquiring a closed source LMS for your online school is not cheap. You have to pay for its license which can keep rising every year. If you’re a small to mid level school, then this may not be the right option for you as far as costs are concerned.
- No access to code – You have no access to the code which means you cannot make any changes or modifications to the LMS to include your functionalities or designs that you wish for.
- Risk of discontinuing the LMS – Since the LMS is run by a private company, it may happen that the company may discontinue updates to the current LMS if they develop a new one or the chances of the LMS becoming irrelevant is quite high if there’s a merger or acquisition of the old company.
These are the most popular types of LMSs that are available at your disposal. You can match your requirements and the needs that you’ve listed down for your LMS with the characteristics of each of these LMSs to see which one suits your needs the best.
Step 4 – Choosing your LMS
This is the moment that will eventually become the foundation for your online school.
Before you make the final choice of an LMS, remember that it is important to strike a balance between various elements of an LMS i.e, Security, Flexibility, Pricing, Designs, etc. in order to ensure efficiency and avoid frustration among Teachers and Students.
Hence, in order to achieve this balance, I’d recommend you to choose an Open Source LMS as it gives you complete freedom to customize and add as many functionalities as you’d like to your LMS.
You do not have to compromise on data security at any point as you’d have full ownership of your data at all times, which is pretty important for an online school.
Step 5 – Setting up your online school
Now that you’ve decided to go ahead with an Open Source LMS, then let me quickly guide you through some insights on how you can go about setting up your online school.
When it comes to an Open Source LMS, there are plenty of platforms available for you to base your online school on. However, I recommend going with WordPress, the most popular open source Content Management System to kickstart your online school.
The reason I recommend WordPress is because:
- It has a plethora of features as plugins – Its huge directory of plugins enables you to add almost any functionalities to your online school. There are several LMS plugins available to help you get started immediately.
- Active community support – WordPress, being one of the oldest open source platforms, has a HUGE active community of users from all walks of life who are extremely helpful and can guide you if you run into any trouble with your online school.
- Full control and ownership – Since security is an important element, WordPress gives you complete control of your data and security with a complete ownership at all times.
Setting up your school with WordPress is pretty simple and straightforward. Once you do that, you can then go ahead and add LMS functionalities to your school.
Like I mentioned earlier, WordPress has a plethora of LMS plugins for you to choose from, but, I suggest you go with LearnDash LMS as it is the oldest and the most widely-used LMS plugin that comes with robust set of features, a great track record, easy set up, steady updates and most importantly, the experience it carries.
Moreover, with its incredible dedicated support team, you’ll have your online school up and running in no time!
So, whether you’re setting up an online school for the first time or simply moving your physical school to an online platform, WordPress + LearnDash LMS is a great start to get things into motion.
In the end,
Creating an online school can be overwhelming, and it’s totally understandable if you’re still confused about the options to go with in order to build your school.
However, you can always seek professional advice from experts who can help and guide you to set up your online school right from the scratch.
Besides, if you have any other doubts, feel free to reach out in the comments section below! 🙂