Designing A Learning Management System? Here Are 3 Tips To Make It Better

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learning-management-systemby Victoria Rojas

 What makes a great Learning Management System?

This was a question answered in 2012 by this infographic that ranked the top 20 LMSs based on things like total number of users, customers, Twitter followers, and Facebook likes.

Not surprisingly, the number-one spot was filled by Moodle, the free, open-source Learning Management System that allows anyone to assemble the LMS that’s just right for them.

But creating a custom system can be a daunting task, and without the right planning, a simple project can turn into a big headache.

Having helped a number of schools design and build custom systems, here are the top three things I recommend considering when designing or adopting a Learning Management System.

3 Tips To Design A Better Learning Management System

1. Focus on Data 

We’re obsessed with data these days, and for good reason: it’s relatively easy to get if you know what you’re looking for. While you won’t be able to identify everything that’s useful up front, take a step back and evaluate what you’d hope to learn. Come up with a list of the information you need and a list of things you’d like to have. For example, do you need to know the average test score for students in History? What about attendance rates during the month of December?

Knowing what you’re looking for up front helps you determine what specific information you’ll need to capture from your users.

2. Design for Usability

Once you know what you need users to tell you, you should make it easy for them to do so. Design each component of your LMS with usability in mind. Create a hierarchy of actions you need users to take, ranking them in order from essential to nonessential, and use prominent buttons, obvious links, and clean copy to direct people to them.

Also, take advantage of what’s out there. Things like calendars, message boards, and forms are all commonplace on the web and users know immediately what to do with them. Take inspiration from Google, Facebook, Microsoft Word and others to learn the common themes of web interfaces and copy them. Your users will thank you.

For a great reference on designing easy-to-use interfaces, I recommend Stephen Krug’s book “Don’t Make Me Think.

3. Plan for Mobile

Consider this projection from Cisco’s Visual Networking Index: “By the end of 2013, the number of mobile-connected devices will exceed the number of people on earth, and by 2017 there will be nearly 1.4 mobile devices per capita.”

This, paired with a recent report that 25% of mobile Web users in the U.S. are mobile-only means that the likelihood that students, parents, faculty, and staff will need to use the LMS on a mobile device is pretty high.

To optimize their experience, adopt a Mobile-First design approach. Rather than building a full, standard website and then cutting features or scaling back functionality for a mobile version, start by focusing solely on how your LMS looks and works on mobile.

Ask yourself, what are the core tasks teachers, students, parents, administrators need to perform? What information and tasks need to be accessible at all times? How does information look on small screens? How do you interact with information?

It’s always easier to layer complexity for a desktop experience, but designing for mobile first ensures a seamless experience for users—wherever they are.

While the options for customization can be exciting, taking the time to consider these three things will help you build the system that meets your needs so that you can focus on the thing that matters most—providing a great education to students.

Previously, Victoria Rojas taught English Literature and Composition and used tools like Blackboard, Basecamp, Facebook, Twitter, and good ol’ fashion RSS to inspire her students. Today she is a product manager at Log(n), a San Francisco-based design and engineering firm, where she helps schools, teachers, and others in the edtech community create tools for learning in the 21st century. You can reach her at victoria@logn.co