Ben Franklin once said:
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
Till date, one of the most advanced sectors of the industry is the education sector. With advanced technological solutions available today making distance learning, as close to classroom teaching as possible, easy at-home tutoring, and a favorable process during the tense COVID-19 lockdowns, online education brought the world closer by every bit.
Among various modules developed that have made e-learning a success across the globe, learning management systems (LMS) have contributed immensely towards making the entire process streamlined and systematic. This blog will help understand what an LMS system or software is, what kind of applications can this software integration offer, and how to create LMS website from scratch.
LMS, as in its expanded english form, a learning management system is basically a web application. Developed to perform all the functions involved in the execution of e-learning courses, training programs, as well as learning and development programs:
The software thus harbors the ability to house, deliver as well as track all the training and teaching content, enabling efficient management of the online learning environment developed.
The ultimate goal through custom LMS development is to identify and assess individual learning graphs, orienting the learning aids and content so as to bring all individuals on a common platform and meet the end goal of the program.
Assessing and supervising the performance of every member to analyse the skill gap through an adept software enables ample time in building a targeted approach. The software enables the trainer to manage onboarding, course material alignment with organizational goals, and compliance of learners to the training schedules.
A single type of LMS software however cannot perform different levels of learning management. With custom LMS development, the kind of learning program or hierarchy of individuals in an organization who need additional skills through online programs, decide what kind of an LMS is desired.
Based on who the target audience is, the number of learners onboard, as well as what needs to be the outcome, the custom LMS development activity can be pursued. The scale of LMS to be developed can be decided from these factors as well. Based on the application of the LMS software being developed, they are classified as:
In this blog, we will discuss in detail about the fundamental components that are important to create LMS website, which can enable developers to build a system suited to any of the situations mentioned above.
For custom LMS development, one must gain insights into its essential components. While certain components appear straightforward to develop, there are many components that determine the robustness and usefulness of the LMS website. In this blog post, in-depth information on essential components is shared to enable entrepreneurs make well-informed investment decisions.
The LMS uses the internet to establish connectivity between the users and the learning resources. So, whether the LMS operates within or outside an organization, links to basic technologies need to be established from the beginning.
With a few key components, an LMS needs to be developed with well interconnected modules for an uninterrupted learning experience across any organization. The LMS hosting or installation can be done via two ways – off-site through a service provider or with the organization’s intranet.
Further, from the service providers, it can be accessed through an extranet using internet protocols. Through a public telecommunication system required to share important internal information outside the organization, the internet being the second option using the standard TCP/IP protocols.
New user registration and sign up process may consume a lot of time. Considering the average attention span is around 8 seconds, a standard new user registration process may take more. Thus, a lengthy signup process may result in poor user experience.
To bring ease and shorten the process, single sign-on (SSO) enables a user to login using a single ID and password. The feature is almost similar to social media login functionality provided by Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to name a few. The time is saved as SSO uses information from an existing account and often enables one to login using a single click. Automatic imports such as profile image, name, and email add to the personalized experience, thus strengthening the user’s connection with the LMS mobile app.
Image Source: Facebook Login Overview
However, for a learning management system to work effectively, more information is required on any user. Other relevant details may include department, team, responsibilities, tools, and more. Needless to say, not each detail can be fetched through SSO. Once basic details are finalized to create LMS website, it can be made to work in such a way that at an initial stage, only necessary information can be fetched using SSO. Later, when the account is created, other profile details can be filled manually by the user.
Learning management systems often require more information to complete a user’s profile. To improve the user experience (UX), it is important to ask essential details first to create an account and fill other relevant details later using a separate form.
Consider the following image. It shows a simple signup form using which the user can register himself. The single sign-on capability is provided that may enable the user to sign up using a single click. In this specific case considered while creating the image, the SSO functionality is delivered through Facebook and LinkedIn social login.
For example – Consider a simple use case, where a registration form in a custom learning management system requires information. To understand the concept in a better way, here is the breakdown of information into 2 information sets.
Information Set 1 – Basic information for registration:
Information Set 2 – Common information required by learning management system:
|Video||Short films, Documentaries, Tutorials, Stand-up comedy, and
|firstName||The first name provided by the user.|
|lastName||Last name provided by the user.|
|profilePicture||Meta information on the profile image of a LinkedIn member.|
|id||Unique identifying value for a LinkedIn member.|
Table 1 – Information Set 1 – Basic information for registration
|fieldOfStudyName||Field of study or major.|
|Name||Name of a skill.|
|fieldsOfStudy||Name of the education degree earned.|
|companyName||To fetch the company name entered by the LinkedIn member.|
Table 2 – Information Set 2 – Common information required by
learning management system
Using the LinkedIn API, the above fields can be accessed using OAuth authentication. Each of the above-mentioned fields has a unique significance that might turn out to be useful at a later stage. Here are a few additional examples to elaborate the role of the above-mentioned field.
fieldOfStudyName – Information from this field can be used by course recommendation algorithms to analyse what the user already knows and present him with an advanced course in the same line of work.
Name – This is another field name that can contribute towards providing better and more relevant course recommendations based on existing skills of the user.
fieldsOfStudy – An important field name to make sense of the career track a user is pursuing. Based on this data, a package of relevant courses can be suggested that can enable the user to advance in a specific area and fulfill his professional goals.
Once a member registers into an LMS, they usually land onto a dashboard where they are presented with different courses or content packets.
Content within an LMS can either be created or imported from an external source on a licensed agreement. Considering there will be different forms of learning with courses including recorded audios and videos, content inside an LMS can be uploaded in different formats:
After a thorough analysis of different tasks that shall be accomplished through the learning process, a detailed design of content needs to be created. An instructional design document (IDD) will elaborate on how many screens or modules need to be created for displaying the content.
The course structure can include different elements of content prepared as modules or blocks to be made part of the LMS course architecture.
Once different components are placed in line, as per the IDD, each screen is readied to display different content structures. The scripts can use both word and power points.
Now, there are ways and standards in which these content/courses designed will be able to interact with the main LMS. Every piece of content and code written must comply with either of the 2 prominent learning technology standards – the AICC (Aviation Industry CBT Committee) and the SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model).
SCORM is the most popular amongst the two, and the majority of LMS support SCORM compliant content. Content created within SCORM standards allow a variety of content authoring tools along with the ability to know more about the learner’s journey and habits. This way, tracking progress, and decisions on how much time a learner must spend on the program can be decided easily.
The AICC standards, despite being high on security, are unpopular, and do not provide the freedom to track or report user/learner progress.
As SCORM incorporates all components of the AICC, IEEE, as well as various other technical standards, it is best suited to comply with e-learning content being prepared for an LMS. The latest version, 1.2 has 2 parts that manage the e-learning content creation for the LMS.
This gives specifications on how to package the content, along with creating XML files for the LMS to read, import, and launch. Further divided into the content model, meta-data, and content packaging, this model is responsible for building the e-learning content in an LMS conformant manner.
The content model gives directives on the type of content being driven onto an LMS. with different modules of content available, this model defines the relationships among these modules along with the file types needed for content structure.
The entire content, as per this model, needs to be broken down into reusable units, called the Sharable Content Objects (SCOs) and Assets. All images, sound as well as movie clips comprise Assets. The SCO precisely could however be a single web page of content, or a huge web-based course with many pages of image and video content organized into a complex course.
Each SCO per say should be prepared in a way that it is unconnected to other SCOs and should not derive any context with other SCOs.
This component helps to describe the content. A predefined vocabulary helps generate a rich data model. Some basic categories into which content is classified for better understanding as per the meta data model are:
All these help place data into defined categories so as to suggest better classification of the content.
Implementation of the above 2 models, content model and the content aggregation model, is done by the content packaging component. Not only facilitating a smooth interaction and operation between all the content, this specification also makes sure all content is packaged in a similar manner. For packaging, all content is transferred into a ZIP folder called a PIF with an XML file “imsmanifest.xml” at the base. This file contains all information from the content model as well as the meta-data format.
Once the courses, web pages, and content packets are written and implemented as per SCORM, the next feature to be worked upon is organizing this content into different styles and places inside an LMS.
Content within an LMS is the primary concern for an LMS administrator as well as the user who signs up to a learning journey. Efficient learning outcomes desire systematically organized content packets for users to access with ease. In order to place all content, of different types, at a single reach location within the software, the developer has to understand functionalities that need to be or are supported by the system in place.
While developing the LMS software components, the goal of whether to create the entire content or simply deliver and manage it, needs to be set right at the beginning. This will define the pathways to be built in order to access content internally or from an external licensed source.
Organising this content in efficient ways for users to learn is done with the help of a content management tool or the Learning Content Management System (LCMS). In a nutshell, the content management tool will enable an LMS to store, retrieve, and access the different content types within an LMS.
The tool facilitates import and export of content as per learning program requirements and content availability. Now, with all kinds of content at-hand, the administrator or stakeholder must be able to re-use these content packages for various purposes and engagement models with the learners.
The LCMS will label the learning objects, and deliver them in different combinations as per user requirements. It can deliver the content either as individual components created by the authoring tool, or as entire learning modules.
A content management tool or software is successfully deployed only when the meta-data component or system of the e-learning content creates reusable learning objects, the SCOs. The role of an LCMS is to create organized dashboards or libraries for the users to choose. All content, either LMS-built or external author-built, is placed inside libraries, and the LMS allows the administrator to decide which course or content piece can be accessed by which users.
Developing a content management feature for an LMS requires creating detailed course structures and comprehensive IDDs. Once users sign-up, they should be able to view the list of all courses. Once LMS in-house built content goes live, the admin can ‘turn off’ access to outside licensed courses. Another way to organize the content could be to create different user types or hierarchies: teachers, students, editors, parents, visitors. Controlling who can access which part of the different content will play a big role in providing quality in the learning process.
To organise the available content, the developer needs to create categories based on content similarities or subject domain. Once categories are built, placed in separate folders, there can be 3 ways of placing these for learners to access:
When the content is organised in a path representing succession of the topic to completion, a learning path is generated. Based on the topic complexity and length it can be either uploaded directly inside a learning path folder, or separated into smaller chapters with intermediate quizzes which will open in a systematic and step-wise manner.
The content organization will then take a path that presents as:
The key feature of putting content inside various topics is for direct navigation results by learners. Identifying what they want to learn, learners can directly jump to topics of interest with a search option landing them on the folder/topic desired.
The only difference from the learning path approach of arranging content is, replacing the complete learning path of the folder containing chapters into course topics.
When the content structure is complex, and a single course includes many elements of study, it is best to follow both the above approaches. A learning path guides the student to take up the elements one at a time, with regular assessments before progressing to the next stage. The chapters allow easy picking of topics and a better reception of the entire course structure.
So, at the beginning a topic is placed and inside it, chapters are listed for easy navigation across the content.
Selected content when bundled together for a systematic learning experience accounts for an efficient LMS. There is also an option to include integrating a custom learning path, where the user curates and places different content packets according to his/her understanding and learning pace.
Where a pre-designed learning path is desired, a prerequisite is to gather the skill level or learner level information, and generate a skill matrix so as to understand learner needs. For a custom learning path generation, the user chooses relevant content and is able to create their own library and learning path.
Further, reminders, alarms, assessments, and progress reports can be scheduled as per the journey of a user across the course. These can be included based on analysis done by the LMS from the data captured, or manually fed by the learner themselves.
This feature is about giving different rights and responsibilities to the LMS admin, or course manager. Giving access to the right person can have a major effect on the LMS efficiency.
The admin is the main management, who is at the center of the LMS structure with all the privileges. The LMS is thus configured so as to allow the admin to make desired changes to the portal, and assign different roles, users, and to manage the learning program.
From creating different users, to deciding tasks for each one to manage and cover, the admin must be able to generate different responsibilities from the LMS platform. On a broader level, when a manager signs up or logs in, they should have the dashboard, user enrollments, generating various report types, and resource allocation to manage.
While developing the LMS management feature, details towards creating each component and division must be taken care of. The admin controls must be developed in a way so as to ease the LMS operations from all directions. From general visible settings to decisions about what analytical details need to be reviewed daily, the admin must have all the necessary access to make appropriate arrangements.
After logging in, the admin should land onto a descriptive dashboard with options to make different changes, allocations, and settings. The dashboard should display all running LMS stats for the admin to quickly refer to for any immediate action to be taken.
Also, the admin should be able to add or edit the heads for which numbers are displayed on the dashboard. Which stats are visible should be at the discretion of the admin.
Within the dashboard, the admin should be given the facility to manage all LMS activities with a unified catalogue. The catalogue thus will become the platform for admins or managers to set up learning activities. Using the catalogue system integrated, the admin should be able to:
This again can be based on the type of users that will be able to access the content. Along with providing user access, the admin must be able to create various learning modules. The ability to group courses into learning paths, and certifications to measure learner progress.
A settings tab should be equipped with the source where the admin or LMS manager is able to create different environments. With options to set a language for a particular course or the complete program, activate APIs as per requirement.
The admin must also be able to enable various components through access to different third-party APIs. Linking activation of these components through secure keys will authenticate hitting the correct APIs. These keys are granted to the business, software, or web admin when they purchase certain APIs for specific business needs.
Further, different settings for payment options integration, commission adjustments, managing the currency, email templates, and other Progressive Web Application (PWA) components can be made available through this tab.
A section inside the admin dashboard is dedicated to the kind of reports needed for different users and different course designs. From here the admin can choose various templates for custom report generation, as well as choose the user for whom the report needs to be made.
These help manage course competencies as they help monitor progress and performance of different members on the LMS. Once a course is completed successfully by a member, the admin can update and compare competency profiles. Prerequisites for successful completion can also be set by the admin along with courses that are mandatory to be completed before moving ahead in the learning journey.
Different interfaces like for the learner, instructor, and manager need to be created so as for the admin to build different workflows for each of them. Using control access features, the admin can be given the charge of allowing access to different content categories as per requirement.
Miscellaneous components like managing wait lists, automatic enrollment, attendance record extraction, fee control, and security maintenance all must fall within the admin’s jurisdiction, for a streamlined LMS operability.
Let us look at the custom report generation feature in detail to understand how segregation of function is done at the developer’s end.
There is a difference between standard reports and custom reports in the way they add value. Standard reports are straightforward with pre-defined fields whereas, customized reports enable one to select different fields manually, time frame to be considered, and much more.
When developing the custom report generation feature, one has to consider different factors and possibilities. Consider an example where the size of the report data exceeds what a web server can handle. In such a case, the web server may crash.
The custom report generation feature in the learning management system includes other features like the option to download reports in PDF or XLS format, report scheduling to receive the same via email after regular intervals, and internal checks to ensure the robustness of the feature.
To understand this feature in more detail, refer to the image below which shares information on essential components.
Data visualization plays an important role in the life of a manager or decision-maker. The statistical information enables one to make well-informed decisions. However, charts with statistical information often require more attention and time for analysis. While the information itself is helpful, time can be saved through data visualization.
Creating simple charts takes less development time when compared to creating functionality that leverages graphics. Hence, when data visualization requirements are shared by a client, the overall cost of the project often goes up by multiple folds. At the same time, the importance of data visualization has to be emphasized as it improves the user experience (UX).
There are multiple challenges associated with data visualization. One such challenge includes the creation of visually appealing reports in PDF format. To develop the same, one has few options out of which, two most popular methods are – using CSS and manipulating SVG. A brief overview of both methods is shared below:
In this method, the web designer creates the layout of the custom report using HTML and CSS. After this stage, the developer connects the backend with the design.
The developer can directly program the SVG format to display the custom report in a visually appealing way. In this method, there is little or no requirement of a web designer. However, as this method involves programmatic manipulation of SVG using PHP or any other scripting language, chances are certain formats may not work well with a web server that is not run by Linux operating system.
The most common use case associated with this feature is emailing the custom report after a regular time interval. To create this feature, one has to understand the two critical components associated with scheduling – administrative management and automatic scheduling functionality. Here are more insights on both components:
The admin should be provided different options to manage the scheduling of reports. While there can be many use cases, one important example can be where the opt-out option fails to function as expected. Explanation – When a scheduled report is shared via email, the user may want to click on opt-out. While the LMS may remove the subscriber automatically, the admin should have an option to manually remove the subscriber.
The scheduling mechanism can be developed using a job scheduler tool. The two most popular job schedulers used widely are – Cron and Celery. The purpose of using a job scheduler is not limited to the creation of report scheduling. Consider an example where a user forgets the password while logging into the learning management system.
When the user enters the email address, the system generates a unique URL which can be used to reset the password. Here, the job scheduler is responsible to render the URL as invalid after a predefined time limit has passed. Doing so adds an additional layer of security. Needless to say, job schedulers are a critical part to develop this functionality.
A learning management system is a complex system that can be created from scratch. In this blog post, we looked at the essential components of an LMS that contribute to building a strong and efficient learning environment. The idea is to create an LMS website that offers a streamlined workflow for all users.
Requirements with regard to well organized content along with appropriately placed assessments and reports can be achieved by sharing specific learning goals for custom LMS development. Software development companies that cater to custom requests and follow agile practices can well incorporate these components in a simple yet robust manner. Designing secure learning environments built over configurable frameworks with efficient content sharing is going to be the future of online learning.
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