The joys of a generic LMS — Spoiler alert: there aren’t many

written by Paul and Sophie – two sorely afflicted students

Don’t forget to complete our survey on the role of the learning platforms and get a chance to win tickets for the football game between France and England on 17 November 2015 at Wembley Stadium, London

It’s that time of the year again: Thousands over thousands of new students have started University recently, which brings along countless little obstacles they have to overcome. It seems a bit hard to understand that an LMS is one of them. Don’t get us wrong, it is indeed a wonderful platform, as it provides loads of functionalities and enables a fantastic remote workflow. We just want to get the message across that organisations which use an open source software should not take this ‘out-of-the-box’ but instead go for a bespoke version which is customised to their specific needs. This post shows why saving costs at the outset will eventually annoy everybody to no end: students, teachers and most of all IT administrators. So if you are in the position of choosing an LMS for your organisation, please do consider the following five stories, fresh from University:

1. Even a blind squirrel will find a nut once in a while

Homework is a big deal and so are our grades. It is like that for every student on a course. However, to find these grades in our university’s LMS isn’t as easy as it should be. So one day, we were just casually discussing what our average score on this term’s JavaScript exercises had been so far. Surprisingly, Paul just shrugged and told me he didn’t know exactly as he was unwilling to look up every single score and calculate the average from them. I glanced at him perplexed not knowing what he was talking about, because I simply used to look up the average score from a table online. As it turned out Paul had no idea such a thing existed.

As you can see key elements, such as an average score, should always be easily accessible on an LMS. A bespoke LMS delivers exactly that and more: a well-structured and sophisticated navigational concept embedded into a minimalistic and pure design.

2. Do we really need yet another messaging service?

Texting, Whatsapp, Facebook messenger, Telegram (the app, not the actual old school telegram), good ol’ email, Skype messaging. The list just keeps on growing, year on year new instant messaging apps are popping up. And, guess what, even some learning management systems have their own little messaging system – oh joy! We actually never knew about this feature until two of our professors discovered it for themselves. We know, this doesn’t sound too bad so far, but it gets worse. Not only did we have to look at our teachers’ admonishing faces every time we logged into our university’s LMS, but we couldn’t even get the pop-up to disappear. This truly was one of the most annoying experiences with our LMS, and even more so if you consider the fact that it already has several places where asynchronous communication is used, i.e. two separate forums which usually appear by default in every course (one for discussions and one for general messages).

It’s time to realise that an LMS is not really the perfect place to introduce a completely new messaging service but rather a place to manage an organisation’s knowledge. This is why it’s advisable to combine an LMS with a messaging system that is already used like Skype for Business, which is way better than the most native messaging tools anyway.

3. Smartphones – need we say more?

“Hey, how’d you do on last week’s exam?” That’s one phrase you’ll hear annoyingly often in Uni. What’s even more annoying is not being able to look up the score on your phone to answer that question due to the fact that it would simply take ages. The mobile experience on most learning management systems is just not up-to-date, so it’s easier to just switch to desktop version, which, as we all know, is a real pain to do on a phone. Don’t get us wrong, we are not demanding an app, but a properly responsive platform is an absolute ‘must’ these days.

Best practise would be to have a menu that is resized to a compact dropdown-box and the content conveniently aligned with smartphone-sizes, so everything is easy to tap on.

4. So little time, so many platforms

When you think of your ideal knowledge management system, surely you would not expect its content distributed onto several platforms. When we started Uni we found ourselves confronted with not two, but even three entirely different systems. So it’s no surprise that even after two years we struggle to find the right content on the right platform. It’s quite hard to understand this concept especially when considering the enormous amount of features most systems now provide.

A bespoke LMS will deliver exactly the functionality it needs to in one well-harmonised place. The only thing that’s left to do is integrate it into existing structures.

5. Quality before quantity

It’s a great thing to have a workshed full of tools, but it’s an even greater nuisance if not a single one of them works properly. That’s exactly the way we feel about our university’s LMS. Simply put, there are just too many features, of which we use only the tiniest percentage anyway. There is really no need for us to access our profile in more than two ways or to know the difference between our time and the server’s time.

So why not reduce the amount of tools to the ones the user actually needs and concentrate on improving them to be incredibly easy to use?

That right there is Saffron’s way of doing it.

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About the author

Paul Pirkelbauer - Instructional Designer

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