This article highlights certain general guidelines for developing an online learning management system. In developing a good learning management system, it would possibly be required to take care of three things.
- A technical development strategy.
- A content development strategy.
- Two teams of experts each one of which would be involved in the development of the technical development and the content development strategies.
In what follows, a brief reflection on each of the above clauses is given.
A Technical Development Strategy
The purpose of a nice technical development strategy is to broadly see as to which types of software development tools would be required to develop an LMS. Once the tools have been decided upon, it should be an inherent part of the strategy to develop a plan of development and deployment of the required software. The details of a typical software development life cycle are omitted here. However, it would be nice if good software engineering principles are practiced.
Since it is sought to develop an online LMS, it would be nice to reflect on some of the most suitable online content management systems (CMS). There plenty of open source CMS present online, that can be suited to the development of an LMS with varying degrees of convenience, ease of customization and affordability. Some of them are described as follows.
Moodle: It would be pertinent to discuss Moodle here first. The reason is that Moodle is one such CMS that is purposefully designed to create online LMSs. Moodle is implemented in PHP and it has come a long way in which it offers a wide range of options to its users to create a highly customizable LMS. Moodle can be installed nowadays using one click installers in the control panels of most of the web hosting service providers. Once installed Moodle provides its user with a graphical dashboard. The dashboard offers its users a huge galaxy of plugins and themes to choose from. It must be mentioned that a theme governs how a website would look like to its viewers. In this regard, it sets the facade of the website for its viewers. On the other hand, a plugin dictates the behavior of a website. A plugin for social sharing would allow users to share the content on social media websites like twitter and facebook. Whereas, a plugin for images may allow users to attach licensed images to their posts. As stated earlier, moodle has a wide variety of plugins that are particularly suited for LMSs. For instance, it has plugins for plagiarism detection that are similar to the famous plagiarism software such as JPlag and MOSS. It is the availability of such plugins that has made Moodle a very strong CMS for creating LMSs, and that is why it is very popular.
Having a large number of plugins to choose from and having the possibility of tremendous customizations comes with certain associated problems. Hence, a common problem faced by the users of Moodle is that they can be easily overwhelmed and confused by the presence of so many options to choose from. The novice user can simply get baffled by so many plugins and other switches that he may simply not get a clue on as to what is actually desirable.
This confusion can be overcome by experience, however. As people play around with the dashboard of Moodle and get more experience about what various plugins and widgets are for, they become more comfortable in using it.
Moodle is much easier to use nonetheless. The person who develops an LMS with Moodle is not required to have any prior programming experience after all. Everything is installed through clicks in the dashboard, which is pretty much like a web page on normal websites. A person having even mundane browsing experience can learn Moodle very fast and develop an LMS within a very short time.
Once a good LMS is developed using Moodle, it has tremendous benefits for its users, who can be teachers and students. Teachers, for instance, can easily develop video lectures and embed them in their courses and lessons, which can also be created inside the LMS. Teachers can also manage to take students’ attendance online, assign grades to lessons taken and implement submission deadlines for submissions of assignments. With plugins for plagiarism detection, it becomes even much easier to impose stricter grading policies and, consequently, to maintain much higher academic standards.
Similarly, students can use Moodle for distance learning and for online submission of assignments. Similar other benefits can be thought about. All in all, Moodle is a great CMS. It does require some training on the part of the user to build an LMS, however. Once an LMS is developed, it can be easily used by the teachers and students alike. Given this, it could be very nice to have a separate small technical team to help in developing and maintaining the LMS.
Due to the fact that Moodle is open source, it evolves very fast just like many other open source systems and platforms. This can be very helpful for the teachers and the students alike to benefit from the latest developments for free.
After reviewing Moodle, it would be quite pertinent to say a few word about another famous CMS known as WordPress. WordPress is also open source and is implemented in PHP. The initial purpose of the developers of WordPress was to develop a blogging platform. However, in its current form, WordPress has evolved a great idea from the initial goal of its creators to be a leading CMS. One of the greatest benefits of WordPress is its ease of use. It is possibly the easiest thing to use on earth. And a user can create stunning websites within minutes. Most web hosting providers have one click installers for WordPress too. It comes with a great variety of plugins and themes. Many people have made multi-million dollar enterprises that sell plugins and themes for WordPress. Having said that, it is important to say that there are plenty of plugins and themes for plugins and themes for plugins that also open source. There is a plugin for almost everything in WordPress. There are plugins for selling cars, managing real estate sales, creating online bookshops, developing websites for schools and universities, managing barber shops, selling used goods and advertising designs for interior designs. Anything a user can conceive nowadays is implemented in the form of a plugin for WordPress. To this end, there is a wide spectrum of highly customizable plugins for LMSs too. WP Courseware, Namaste LMS, WPLMS, GURU, Academy, LMS and Learn Dash are to be named but a few. The purpose of most of these LMS plugins is, of course, to develop LMS in WordPress. Most of them come for free. Some of them also have premium versions which offer additional functionality to the users. All in all, all of them provide the users means to easily create and manage lessons, assignments, and quizzes. And all of them allow the users to easily embed multimedia contents such as audiovisuals to their lessons. With purpose built themes, LMSs created with WordPress simply look beautiful, stunning and have the ability to draw the attention of internet users to themselves.
WordPress can also be integrated with other software through plugins. To this end, it is worthwhile to mention that wordpress can be integrated easily with Moodle through various plugins. It would be particularly useful to mention the plugin wordpress2moodle. This plugin allows users to fetch courses from a Moodle-based website into a WordPress-based LMS. To this end, by integrating WordPress with Moodle an LMS developer can provide its users with the extensibility of Moodle all wrapped up in the usability of WordPress. This is to say that on the back-end of the LMS, a user has Moodle running with all of its extensive features of a thorough LMS. On the front end, however, the user only gets to play with WordPress, which is a lot more easier to use, and makes the life of the user a lot more easier and enjoyable.
A Content Development Strategy
Once an LMS has been put online, the designers of the LMS should have a nice strategy to fill it with valuable contents. These contents normally comprise of courses, which are in turn composed of lessons, assignments and quizzes. Filling the whole LMS with the desirable contents has to be a well thought out process. It is needless to say that it would consume considerable time of the order of months or even years to fill the LMS with valuable contents. The reason is that while it is much simpler to conceive the creation of lessons, assignemts and quizzes, in reality it requires a lot of effort to create that sort of contents that will really fulfill the needs of the users of the LMS for the long run. This is not supposed to be a difficult process, however. As a matter of fact it can be very enjoyable depending upon the propensity of the team involved in designing and developing contents for an LMS. If the members of the team enjoy content management, they will naturally find it enjoyable. Whereas, if the members of the team are too much obsessed with other disciplines, say proving esoteric mathematical theorems, they would find this whole exercise mundane, boring and rather futile. So the vigor one may have for content development is a matter of perspective for the designers. It must be mentioned here that the overall process of content development and management can be tedious nonetheless. The design team will have to keep track of many things. When to record certain lectures, what sort of mutimedia equipment to use, how to edit the recorded lessons, how to assign exercises to the students and which ones, how to prepare quizzes, finding suitable sequences for lessons quizzes and assignments are all questions that require delicate planning. To this end, developing of the overall software for the LMS may naturally sound a lot more easier than developing the contents it is going to host. The reasons, as cited above, are a lot more obvious.
It should be an inherent part of the content management strategy to leverage from other sources of knowledge. For instance, in the case of designing a language lab, the members should have a scheme for benefitting from various online sources which could help in learning. Hunting for appropriate multimedia, such as, lessons, music and films that are available for free use online should be a part of a good strategy. Movie clips from documentaries of the National geographic and the discovery channel etc. could be used for developing lessons for improving and testing listening comprehension of the listeners.
Technical and Content Development Teams
This is possibly the last aspect that merits reflection, although many more could be thought about. It would be nice to maintain two separate teams for the management of maintenance of the LMS. One of them can be thought of as a technical team, while the other one can be thought of as the content development (or management) theme, depending upon which nomenclature is more suitable to the developers of the LMS. As the name suggests, the technical team will be involved in developing the LMS software. After the software is developed, the team can be assigned to keep track of the technological developments and to catch up with them. To this end, it would be nice to have a dedicated technical team, even if open source technologies such as Moodle or wordpress are to be employed that have their rather user friendly graphical user interfacfes.
Similarly, a separate content development and management team should be prepared that can be expected to work in close collaboration with the technical team and the teachers and their assistants. The role of the content management team is slightly above. So this team would keep track of all the content that is to be uploaded to the LMS for each course offered through the LMS. They would be involved in recording, editing and uploading of lessons, designing assignments and quizzes in collaboration with the teachers and their assistants and to work with the technical team and provide them with their changing requirements so as to keep the LMS in the best possible state.
The content development team should also be provided with required paraphernalia, such as good camcorders, movie editing tools such as iMovie, Camtasia, RecordMyDesktop etc. It would also be nice to have a reasonably powerful IT infrastructure to satiate the adventuresome instincts of the people involved. Deploying a cloud-based IT infrastructure on the campus laboratories could be really good to this end. Members of the content development team could be assigned the roles of content management once the whole LMS has been developed as initially anticipated.
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