The choices are basically between renting a ready-made software solution from a third party (SaaS) or using your own in-house software solution.
Your in-house software can be built from scratch or through an eLearning development company with extensive expertise in the area.
However, this requires considerable time and effort. Also has some risks, since you need to hire programmers to develop it.
An eLearning development company will take care of all the programming for you, but will require payment for their services.
A SaaS solution is available immediately without any of these complexities. However, it will mostly be limited to what the vendor provides and is constantly being upgraded by them.
There may also be lock-in period that requires you to renew your license. After a certain number of months/years before you can transfer your courses over to another system.
If the vendor closes down due to financial problems (which happens often), then your courses may also become inaccessible!
Therefore, it is not enough just to check whether there are easy ways to build courses or training in the SaaS system – unless it is open source code that can be downloaded and modified by yourself!
You need to look into how likely it is that the vendor will succeed in the future.
How easy it is to transfer your courses over to another system if they close down, and whether you can easily export your data in case you want to move on at a later stage.
How easy it is to build courses or training in the SaaS solution?
The actual process of building courses is mainly a matter of personal preference. Most SaaS solutions have similar functionality and provide attractive drag-and-drop interfaces that are easy to use for a beginner. The main differences between them are:
The number of features available (e.g. can you build quizzes or exams?)
The level of sophistication (e.g. can you assign different levels of complexity for different topics?)
The amount of support available (e.g. tutorials, forums, live chat?)
Ease-of-use (e.g. good documentation, video tutorials?) – This is especially important for training new staff who do not have any eLearning development experience!
What are the available features for tracking students’ progress?
An important feature to look out for is how easy it is to track students’ progress over time and to generate a report of their performance. You can also build in a way for students to see their results!
An example of an eLearning system that has this feature is our own eLearning platform, which allows you to track student performance over time and show them their results to motivate them.
What kind of learning management system is available for staff training?
If you plan to organize staff training programmes in your institution, you need to ensure that the learning management system integrates with existing systems such as your student database.
The learning management system should also be able to identify students who are on staff training and identify the courses they have completed; otherwise you will need to go through the whole process of building a new course again!
Can the SaaS learning management system be easily integrated with other systems?
For most institutions, it is necessary for their SaaS solution to integrate with third party systems such as your student database.
The integration needs to be straightforward and easy enough that your IT department can complete it without needing much technical assistance or programming skills.
If this is not possible, then there may be another SaaS solution that can integrate with your current systems!
Many eLearning platforms also provide APIs/SDKs which allow other institutions or companies (e.g. HR departments) to interact with your LMS – but this could require some programming on their part.
Is the SaaS solution scalable?
You will want to be sure that the SaaS solution you choose is able to cope with an increasing number of users. If your institution has a very large student population, then this may be a major issue! In particular, you will want to look out for:
The number of courses and users that can be handled by the system without any major issues. This has often listed in the fine print!
It is also worth asking how many courses were created by other institutions using that software solution and whether there were any issues with scalability over time.
Try searching online for other institutions who have used this software. If there are no negative comments about scalability, then it is probably good enough for your institution’s size!
The way in which user accounts are handled. If your students need to create their own accounts at the start of each course. Then this can become very tedious since they will need to remember their login details and passwords.
With some SaaS solutions, you don’t have to worry about this, such as our eLearning platform.
Moreover, if you do have a system where students need to create their own accounts, then make sure that the system supports single sign-on integration!
What kind of support is available for the SaaS solution?
Once you have made your choice, you will want to ensure that you can get technical assistance when you need it.
This may be something as simple as a tutorial video or it could be more advanced such as direct email support, live chat or even phone calls.
You should also check whether there are online forums where users can help each other out with common problems!
How easy is it to export student data?
If you do decide to move away from a SaaS solution at some stage, then you will want to make sure that your data and courses are easily exportable so that they can be transferred over to some other system.
The learning management system should have built-in features for exporting their data in an open format (e.g. CSV) – which is easy to use for any third party system!
Ideally, the learning management system should also allow you to export all of the information about your students and their progress through their courses in order to integrate with your student database.
What kind of mobile applications are available?
You will want to ensure that your students can access their courses from any mobile device with an internet connection.
Most SaaS solutions provide mobile apps which can be downloaded from the relevant app store, and these usually provide an interface which is similar to the desktop version of the learning management system.
The learning management system should also be compatible with all major mobile operating systems – including Android, iOS (iPhone/iPad) and Windows Phone!
If you have many students who use Windows Mobile devices, then this should not be a problem for any eLearning software solution that you choose!
Is there anything else I need to look out for?
There are some other factors which you should consider:
The learning management system should be able to handle large volumes of data without any problems. This is particularly important for institutions with very large numbers of students!
You will want to ensure that the learning management system is regularly updated. Along with new features and that the vendor is committed to continuous development.
You do not want a situation where you will be stuck with an old version of the software for many years!
Many SaaS solutions provide real-time chat functionality, which allows your students to get in touch with you at any time. This is a great way of getting instant feedback and answering questions from students during office hours!
SaaS learning management system summary
In summary, you should try to find a SaaS learning management system that has all of the features you need and is easy to use!
You can also spend some time looking at some specific products. Such as our own eLearning platform (which is free to use for up to 5 users!).
If you are looking at buying a SaaS learning management system. Then it is worth doing some research about the vendor’s future plans. Especially, if you have a large student population!
It is also worth contacting other schools or training centers. For who have used the software solution in question and asking them whether they are satisfied with it.
If you have found another product that you think could be suitable. Then just make sure it has the same features. As the one that you have chosen – and look for reviews before making your decision!
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