Here’s a scenario we hear about a lot: You’ve created an awesome online learning course, but now you need to deliver your course to learners and you’re not sure where to start.
It’s tough to choose the right platform to deliver learning to learners, since different organizations have such different needs. One common approach is to use a learning management system, or LMS, which is a platform to help deliver and track online learning courses.
LMSs come in all shapes, sizes, and price levels. At the high end, costly enterprise-wide learning management systems offer tons of features and integrate with other enterprise software platforms. You can also find “freemium” LMSs, which offer certain features for free but require payment for additional features or users. But if you’re just starting out and don’t have a budget to pay for an LMS, you can choose from a variety of free open-source LMS platforms. They require more effort on your part to configure and customize them for your needs, but are great for getting your e-learning toes wet.
As with most software, there’s no “one size fits all, best” free LMS, and it’s a good idea to ask yourself these five key questions before you pick one:
- Is it easy to use? Ease of use is not only important for you, the course creator, but it’s also very important for your learners. Is the learner-facing user interface intuitive and at least reasonably easy to use? For you, the manager, is the admin interface reasonably easy to use? Can you easily figure out how to set up the system, or will you need a consultant to help you?
- Does it offer reporting? Some free LMS platforms only offer a way to publish the course but don’t give you a report of learners’ results. If reporting is important to you, you’ll need to verify that the LMS you’re evaluating offers learner tracking tools. Of course, that’s only part “A” of the question. Part “B” is: Does it offer the reporting you need?
- How many learners can you invite? If you’re looking at a freemium platform, you might find that it limits the number of users you can set up with the free version. Make sure to find out—up front—if the LMS you’re looking at supports the number of users you need to have access to the software for your e-learning course. If it doesn’t, you may find yourself with some unexpected costs or needing to switch platforms in the middle of course development.
- Can you create individual learning tracks? If you’re interested in assigning specific sets of courses to different learners, make sure your free LMS supports this feature. Some free platforms only support offering the same courses to a variety of learners, which can turn into a big headache.
- What course and media formats does the LMS support? If you have a lot of content in hand that you’d like to publish in the LMS, the answer to this question is critically important. You’ll want to make sure—in advance—that the LMS can play SCORM, AICC, TinCan, video, or other types of content, so you’re not left holding the bag with some important content.
For more resources to help you get your course online, check out:
- How to Get an E-Learning Course Online
- This compilation of forum threads about LMSs is full of great tips
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