Which Learning Management System?

7 Aug

Choosing the right learning management system for your organization can be an extensive and time consuming project.  Navigating through the forest of  Course Management Systems (CMSs), Learning Management Systems (LMSs) and Virtual Learning Environments (VLE’s) can lead to information overload because  there are so many options and features to choose from.

A common question is how learning management systems differ from web sites.  One of the biggest differences is that web sites deliver information and are usually updated only by a single person (the web master). In contrast to the dominant form of one-way information delivery found in web sites ,Virtual Learning Environments are primarily dynamic, participatory, and interactive. They provide an environment where users can interact with the information presented, manage their own pages, teachers can facilitate their own classes and customize reports for analysis. Teachers and administrators can present courses and enroll users  as students, teachers, administrators or other guest to provide a forum for each user that is  tailored to their specific needs.

Definitions and Acronyms
First of all some general definitions should help clarify what you are searching for. The differences between the acronyms that describe software that supports e-learning are really separated by age rather than meaning. VLE’s  (Virtual Learning Environments) are more widely known as Learning Management Systems (LMSs) now.  The acronym CMS (Course Management System) can often be confused with the term Content Management System, which is  more about web pages  and web design has become replaced by the term Learning Management System which describes software that supports educational courses  instructional design.

A Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is a software system that supports and enhances teaching and learning within a school or educational environment. The VLE acts as a medium for students and instructors to access resources both in the classroom and at home. The VLE works over the Internet: users can log on and access a range of subject specific teaching and learning resources extending the possibilities for learning, both in school and at home.A virtual learning environment (VLE) is an online system available on the Internet, designed to support teaching and learning in an educational setting.

A Learning Management System (LMS) is a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, and reporting of training programs, classroom and online events, e-learning programs, and training content. A learning management system can facilitate a VLE but often the terms are used interchangeably and there is no formal distinction between the two. The terms Course Management System (CMS) and Learning Management System (LMS) are similar with little or no significant differences between them but it seems that due to the dual use of the acronym CMS for Course Management and Content Management, the e-learning community is using the term LMS more frequently to establish the educational priorities of a management system that services a community of learners.

Available Products, Features and Pricing
Acronyms  and definitions aside, the next step is to decide what kind of Learning Management systems will suit your organization’s specific needs. This can be a challenge if you are not sure what is available and whether it is something that will be a benefit to your organization.   At this point it is useful to document exactly what you are trying to achieve by implementing a LMS in your organization. Capterra Inc. have produced an extensive list of  Learning Management Systems along with a brief summary of some of the key features in each product which is an extremely useful guide for finding out more about the features and prices of all the products. This collection can be a little overwhelming, Capterra clearly know this and offer a service that with match your needs with the right product for a fee.

Comparing and Contrasting different products
Those who are more cost-conscious might want to consider some of the free Learning Management Systems that are available for all sizes of organization from small early childhood organizations to large Universities. One of the most widely used of which is Moodle. One company that markets a LMS called Joomla has developed a chart that compares their Learning Management System to SharePoint and Moodle. This LMS_comparison places these three learning management systems together and compares 90 different features  in an extensive collection of categories such as communication tools, quizes, learner’s performance, reporting, course materials and user management. If you are not sure what features are available in a Learning Management System, Learning Management System Features available from the Capterra Inc. web site may be useful to help you develop an initial list of that may help your organisation finalise what they want to accomplish with the LMS and how it will be implemented.
Technical Aspects.
Learning Managements can be hosted outside of your existing network and are provided and maintained by the product provider who may be called and Applications Service Provider (ASP). In this situation, the provider will grant access  and support to the user for a fee which is usually determined according to the number of users that they are providing service to. Another alternative,which offers an organisation more control, is to install a LMS on their existing network. In this scenario greater customisation is possible, but sometimes support can be compromised. Some products are available for both of these options. Consider the type of platform that the LMS will be working on/in, and other elements such as web sites and data networks that will need to work alongside or inside the LMS.

Here is a suggested list of steps in the process of choosing a LMS for your organization.
1. Determine prioritised LMS  requirements such as features and overall organisational objectives related to the LMS adoption.
2. Conduct vendor research to narrow down a manageable list of vendors to approach.
3. Prepare a formal Request for Proposal based on LMS application, technical and business requirements.
4. Review vendor proposals.
5. Schedule meetings and demos.
6. Select LMS
7. Prepare a schedule for LMS adoption, integration and launch.

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