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Courses and the Learning Management System

Clearly the courses you license must be able to function smoothly in the LMS. The selection of courses and the learning management system in which they are housed is a critical step in the life of a new program. Deciding on a platform and the content can sometimes be a chicken or the egg question. Some programs choose the platform first and then only select content that will run on that platform, while other programs choose the content first and then limit their selection of platforms that will host the selected content. Yet other programs attempt to make these decisions simultaneously. Regardless of the strategy used, there are issues related to several aspects of both the courses and the LMS, including questions about technical details, content and cost.

The compatibility of the content with the LMS includes both technological and educational aspects. The tools available for interaction, the content file structure, and the function of the content’s assessments are all critical to a system that works well for students and teachers. Major content providers will have a list of LMS’s that work well with their content, and they should be able to identify any known issues related to compatibility between their content and the LMS’s that you are considering.

The following questions provide a starting point for some of the details you may want to ask your content and LMS providers about prior to finalizing any content or LMS decisions. (See also the Learming Management System topic in the Admin Systems section.)

  • Does the content have any particular instructional philosophy, and is that philosophy supported by the LMS (e.g. highly interactive, teacher directed, project-based).
  • Is the content you are reviewing native to a particular LMS? In other words, was it developed specifically for one LMS? What modifications will be or can be made to customize the content for your choice of LMS?
  • When the content provides instructions to students regarding participating in discussions, submitting assignments and other LMS functions, can you modify those instructions if necessary to match your LMS if yours is different than the native LMS?
  • What interactive tools does the content assume are available, and does the LMS include all of them (e.g. discussion boards, chats, electronic white board)?
  • Does the content include group activities, including synchronous or asynchronous activities? Does the LMS provide flexible ways to create various groups, and does it allow for small groups to work together privately?
  • Do the content and the LMS comply with any technical standards for online learning such as SCORM or IMS Content Packaging?
  • Does the content’s file structure allow teachers or administrators to easily substitute alternatives for images, audio, videos and text?
  • How well will the file structure of the content and navigation within the LMS mesh to provide for easy navigation around multiple parts of the course?
  • Does the LMS accommodate the level of flexibility you want to have regarding how students can begin, pause, or re-enter the content?
  • Will integration allow for single sign on (SSO) for the content, the LMS and any supplemental materials that are part of the content, or are multiple logins required?
  • How well do the assessments in the content link to the assessment tools and the grade book in the LMS?
  • What are the options for integrating the content and the LMS with the SIS?

In some cases, the desired level of integration is achieved as part of the installation of the courses into the LMS. Some content providers charge for this installation and others do not. If the content and/or the LMS need to be modified, achieving the desired level of integration may introduce significant additional start-up costs. Software modification by the LMS provider can be expensive, and modifying content can be very time consuming.

Finally, if you are using multiple content providers, consider the need to have an LMS that is flexible enough to handle the different types of content you anticipate using.