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Important LMS features for blended learning

Important LMS features for blended learning

Blended learning is so popular because it allows combining instructor-led training (ILT) with purely online learning through the use of an appropriate LMS. The trainees and instructors gain benefits from both approaches. Below we will list what the blended learning model has to offer for corporate training and other fields of application and what LMS features are important to support these offers.

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Important LMS features for blended learning

Blended learning is considered by many as one of the most efficient model of education and training delivery, with it accounting for almost 30% of all employee training process in the US, as of 2015. It requires using a learning management system (LMS), as at least some part of the learning content and instruction should be delivered through online channels, according to Innosight Institute definition. However, not all LMS’s are equally suited for this purpose. In this article we’ll try to depict the most important LMS features for blended learning.

Flipping the classroom to increase the learning efficiency

In brick-and-mortar education the classroom is used for delivering more theoretical than practical knowledge, while most of the practice is done elsewhere (at home or in the lab). The classroom role in the blended learning is quite different. The trainees learn theoretical knowledge at home (or anywhere and anytime over the Internet) and spend classroom time collaborating and solving practical tasks together, which is much more efficient.

24/7 availability of the learning materials online makes the learning much more convenient. Thus said, an LMS has to provide access to these materials both through web-based and mobile apps, so that the classroom time is devoted to collaboration, not lecturing.

Centralized storage for learning materials, statistics and personal data.

If a bunch of standalone software is used for creating and managing learning materials, delivering statistics and keeping track of the user’s personal data, exchanging data between them can become quite cumbersome, lowering the overall training speed and efficiency.

Therefore, the LMS should be able to easily integrate with the existing software ecosystem to ensure simple training process for all participants. When all training-related resources are stored and managed within one software, which smoothly integrates into the existing software ecosystem, all involved in blended learning benefit from a clear and streamlined training process.

Convenient learner enrollment and management.

Learner management is a complex process involving such important parts:

  • Learner enrollment (gathering and securely storing the learner’s credentials, personal and billing details, etc.)
  • Learning process management (who is enrolled to a certain course, can the learners enroll by themselves or should they be invited by the course staff through email, .csv import from other systems (convenient for the HR team), etc.)
  • Learning materials access levels management (who has access to which courses & depending on which factors , updating the learning plans if the learner’s position changes, etc.)

Such management can be done manually for each course and each group of learners, which is a time consuming routine. Alternatively, it can be done automatically, if the LMS is able to use the existing data.

An LMS of choice for the blended learning helps deal with all of these questions smoothly and efficiently. For example, LMS integration with HR systems allows linking certain employee roles to certain courses or automatically adjusting learner’s access levels when their position changes – or even building a custom learning/training plan automatically…

Self-paced or synchronous learning.

Each learner is different, somebody  comprehends new knowledge faster, while the others need some more time. As the learning materials are accessible 24/7, every student can learn at their own pace (self-paced or asynchronous learning). Quite opposite, an instructor might choose to provide access to the new course parts only after the whole group passes the test on the previous topic (synchronous learning) to ensure all the learners get all the material within required time (which is important for rapid retraining of a geographically diversified workforce).

Ability to provide both self-paced and synchronous learning is a very important LMS feature for blended learning.

Student communication and collaboration.

In face-to-face learning students communicate and collaborate with each other easily as they are all learning together in a classroom. In online education, however, the learners can be geographically spread across the continents and they need efficient means of communication with each other and the instructor. In blended learning the classroom  becomes a collaboration centre, where the learners can quickly communicate and concentrate their efforts on the most pressing questions. The instructor can also gather immediate feedback and channel the discussion in the right direction to maximize the learning material comprehension.

An LMS chosen as the main tool for blended learning should provide multiple communication tools like discussion forums, wikis, social media channels, etc. and inspire students to better interact and collaborate with each other and the instructor.

Various learner engagement methods.

In blended learning the instructor has a much wider learner engagement arsenal, as compared to face-to-face or fully online learning. Various leaderboards, possibility to publish the best-done or the most quickly completed tasks online and appraise their authors, contests and badges for achievements, serious games both in educational materials and in the classroom – the blended learning process helps keep the learners engaged and productive.

The LMS of choice for blended learning should provide immense gamification options to keep the learners thriving to reach the pinnacle of their possibilities and improve faster and better.

Precise training progress tracking, grading and analysis

As blended learning most often takes place in companies and corporations, their Learning & Development (L&D) and  Human Resources (HR) teams should report to the stakeholders on the success of the chosen training strategies and the resulting increase of the employee’s performance. Blended learning using an LMS allows convenient achievement grading, tracking of the learners’ progress and providing detailed statistics, both per-learner and course wide.

Therefore, the LMS used for blended learning should provide various analytics and tracking tools to help measure every learner’s’ progress in the most convenient  and efficient way.

Open edX® LMS features for blended learning

Blended learning remains one of the dominating forms of the eLearning market. According to TechNavio report blended learning market share is expected to grow for additional 13% in 2017 and will account for around 53% of the eLearning market by 2020. Another report states that 77% of  the US companies offer eLearning training to their employees, with another 8% considering trying some eLearning solution. But what LMS should they choose? We believe that Open edX platfrom is the perfect match for implementing the blended learning model, and here is why.

We conducted a market analysis of the eLearning solutions offered for blended learning, including Bersin by Deloitte, Absorb LMS, TotaraLMS, TalentLMS, UpsideLMS and others. These LMS vendors consider a certain list of LMS features important for blended learning deployment. These features differ a bit from our list of the most important LMS features, as they emphasize blended learning in particular over the eLearning in general:

  1. Low subscription fee or an open-source LMS
  2. Broad branding and customization options
  3. Content import and LMS integration
  4. Convenient content authoring and management
  5. Simple learner enrollment and management
  6. Possibility to choose between learning models
  7. Detailed learning process statistics and training efficiency measurement
  8. Engaging learner communication and collaboration tools
  9. Convenient exam proctoring instruments
  10. Social and mobile integration to enhance the learning process

Let’s explore how these features are implemented in Open edX  platform.

Open source LMS platform with vast functionality range

Open edX is an open source LMS written in Python and supported by a huge international community. After initial installation/setup investment and some minor maintenance expenses it  is essentially free for the owner. The platform includes both the Open edX Studio CMS for online course development and LMS for the learning process management.

Highly customizable eLearning solution: “Everything is possible!”

Open edX provides immense branding and customization options, from choosing fonts, backgrounds and button locations for your portal to complete themes branded under a company, campus or faculty style. Custom module development allows meeting any company requests and fulfilling the training tasks.

Content import and LMS integration into existing corporate ecosystem

Corporations almost always have some kind of in-house employee training programs in place and want to use these materials after transition to blended learning. Open edX is SCORM compliant, which means the company can fairly easily transform existing online materials into an Open edX course. The costs of online course design and development from scratch to deployment vary greatly, however. The other important feature is the fact that Open edX has lots of API extensions, allowing it to integrate seamlessly with existing HR and employee training department software.

Content authoring and management in several clicks

Open edX uses XBlocks content structure – minor complete course elements that can be easily composed into a ready content. There are hundreds of ready XBlocks out of the box and custom ones can be created relatively easy. The course content can be easily managed, adjusted and reorganized if need be, empowering intense reuse and diversification to meet the business goals set.

Convenient learner enrollment and management

Open edX utilizes multiple ways of learner enrollment (self-enrollment via platform, email invitations, .csv import, etc.) and management. All the learners enrolled for a course can be split into groups and easily transferred between these groups, which is especially important for corporate training.

Different learning models for different courses

Open edX supports synchronous, asynchronous and blended learning models. The learners can study fully online or have their exams in class (On-Campus proctoring), they can gain access to the new course stages only with a group (synchronous, instructor-paced) or on their own, as they advance the course (asynchronous, self-paced). This is the approach corporate training departments value a lot.

In-depth learning statistics and per-learner training efficiency measurement

Open edX provides detailed learning analytics through its Insights module. Overall course learners’ statistics or per-learner individual data, all aspects of learning process are covered by this powerful tool. This allows precise measurement of different learning approaches and strategies, which is also very beneficial for corporate training.

Variety of engaging channels for communication and collaboration

Open edX platform delivers a variety of channels of communication and collaboration between educators and learners. Discussion forums for all learners of certain course, separate groups or cohorts of learners for working on different projects, chats and push notifications, even a Telegram bot – all these channels help augment the learning process greatly. By implementing the “learning by teaching” approach, collaboration helps learners comprehend new knowledge better and improve their skills much more as compared to passive knowledge consumers.

Ample selection of exam proctoring models and tools

Open edX allows multiple approaches to the exam proctoring process. On-Campus proctoring system helps monitor the students passing the exam in class, while Examus integration into Open edX allows precise control of online testing. Any campus or corporation can choose amongst several proctoring modules due to multi-proctoring functionality and select the model that fits their goals best.

Mobile access and social integration to enhance the learning process

Open edX delivers multiple social integration tools and houses a convenient mobile app to ensure the learners can access the course and stay in touch with each other (and the educator) anytime, anywhere. This allows the learners to receive corporate training without spending time and money on commuting to the class or devoting work hours to it, which helps improve their skills without reducing productivity.

Conclusions

Let’s sum up the most important LMS features for blended learning:

  • Convenient access to learning materials through desktop and mobile devices on various platforms
  • Smooth integration with various software to form a viable ecosystem
  • Polished learner enrollment and management tools ensuring the data security
  • Ability to provide both synchronous and asynchronous learning
  • Multiple tools for learner communication and collaboration
  • Various learner engagement tools and gamification options
  • Precise grading, analytics and progress tracking tool
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