Instructional Technology/Learning Management Systems/A Non-Techies Guide to Selecting a LMS
Prior to determining the suitability of a LMS for use in a particular environment we need to have an understanding of the technical issues that surround such a purchase. Along with the technical issues we need to understand the terminology and physical equipment needed for an installation of an LMS. This article attempts to provide the reader with an understanding of the technical issues, terminology and physical equipment that influence the selection of a learning management system.
As training professionals we may have similar needs when it comes to selecting a Learning Management System. Some of the basic needs may include the following:
- A system that tracks student records
- A system that allows for development of training courses
- A system that allows for the use of third-party courseware
- A system that track student needs/requirements for training
- A system that tracks student requirements in relation to certifications/licenses
- A system that includes standard and customizable reporting
- A system that allows for a variety of forms of communication
- A System that allows for easy retrieval of stored information
Basic Components of an LMS
One of the first questions you may want to ask is what type of browser does the LMS work with? A browser is a program that allows a user to view and interact with information on the Internet. The three most common browsers are Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. Since there are different versions of browsers you will also need to know what version the LMS works with.
In a similar vein you need to know if the LMS will work with your current operating system. An operating system is the program that manages all the other programs on your system. Examples of operating systems are: Linux, Windows XP, VMS, OS/400, AIX, and z/OS.
The following components should be familiar to you as they are utilized in most LMS systems.
- LDAP Directory
- Most organizations use a LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) directory to centralize user accounts. LDAP is a software protocol (or set of rules) for enabling qualified individuals to locate individuals and other resources in a network on a corporate intranet. It stores information such as user information data, phone numbers, address and reporting structure. It also manages authentication, meaning it makes sure that you have the right to access applications. It may be used by multiple applications such as email or online expense account forms.
- Relational DBMS
- Maintains three or more databases used by a LMS and may also contain other databases not used by the LMS.
- LMS Server
- This server is the central point for access of information by users of the LMS. A server is a computer or device on a network that manages network resources. For example, a file server stores files, a print server manages one or more printers, a network server manages network traffic and a database server processes database queries.
- Delivery Server
- Used by some LMS's to display course structures so that students can navigate through activities. The delivery server may also track student progress data and transmit it to the LMS server.
- Content Server
- This server stores content files for use with the LMS.
- SMTP Server
- The SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) server transfers all Help Desk requests and LMS-generated e-mail.
- FTP Server
- The FTP(File Transfer Protocol) server stores uploaded courses prior to importing into the LMS.
- Authoring Tool
- Authoring tools usually run on the client workstation and enable the course developers to create content and assessments.
Basic Configuration of a LMS
When addressing vendors and working with your IT departments the following issues should be considered:
- Does the LMS integrate with back-end systems? The need to pass data to other applications such as Human Resources is an important feature. You may not have the need currently, but check to see if it is possible as it may come up as a future need.
- Does the LMS comply to your IT department standards? What standards does the LMS comply to? Is it compliant with Section 508 Americans with Disabilities Act?
- Is the system able to connect to other applications? Does it have documented API's? An API is an application protocol interface which allows the LMS to connect to other applications. The API's should have documentation to describe how to perform the integration.
- Is the system interoperable? Can it pass information back and forth between another application like the Human Resource department system?
- How is the LMS built? What are databases, operating systems and clients upon which it is built? Will your IT department be able to support this configuration?
- Does the LMS support an LDAP directory?
Without a basic understanding of the technical issues, software and hardware associated with an LMS it would be difficult to understand what vendors are offering. Hopefully this short article has given the reader some information to begin to understand what goes into purchasing and implementing a LMS.