• Mark Gash

5 ways an LMS is not a website (and why you shouldn’t treat it like one)

Updated: Jan 27, 2021

In a past life, I was a web designer. I created sites to sell people stuff they didn’t need, filled with endless pages of product information, links to barely-updated social media accounts, dull staff profiles, phoned-in blogs and made-up price lists. They looked like a tonne of other websites you’ve probably already visited today and were designed for SEO first, user experience second (I realise this made me a bad web designer but I was targeted and bonused - is that a word? - on hits).

Now I’m an LMS designer, creating themes for Learning Management Systems, so people can easily access online courses and e-learning. The roles are nothing alike and there’s a good reason for this - an LMS is not a website.

So, what is an LMS?

An LMS is an online space where organisations store their carefully-curated courses and learning resources. Users of an LMS are either content creators or people who are there to learn something.

Clients often see an LMS as an extension or back-room of their brand website and want it to look, feel and function in the same way. Whilst logos and colours can be used to place an LMS under a corporate umbrella, the layout, structure and user journey are different beasts entirely. Whether you’re using plug-ins to dress WordPress up as an LMS (it isn’t) or you’ve gone down the more respectable route of using Moodle, there are a few key points to bear in mind when planning, designing and using your learning platform.

1) An LMS is not a social media site

There are no insightful posts from friends about what they ate for tea last night, you won’t find fake news about pandemics and there are no insidious adverts popping up as you scroll your news feed - primarily because there’s no news feed. Social media sites are designed to keep you scrolling, so they can use your data to target you with advertising. In return, they provide a safe haven to while away your lunch hour and escape the monotony of that spreadsheet you need to review from Accounts.

An LMS is not a place to scroll away your working day whilst looking at funny pictures of your friend’s cat. In fact, a good proportion of the visitors to an LMS probably don’t want to be there at all - they just need to access a course to get a tick on their employment record. They want to log in, learn and get out of there as fast as possible.

Therefore, it’s important to clearly signpost different topics, courses and resources from the main page. The fewer clicks it takes somebody to access a course, the better. Disney+ isn't a social media site - much like an LMS, it's a platform for accessing curated content. It knows that I like to watch The Mandalorian, so when I log in, there’s a massive banner on my profile page which takes me to the latest episode in one click. I don’t want to have to wade through all 58 Disney Animated Classics to try and find what I’m looking for.

Your LMS is not Facebook.

2) An LMS isn’t selling anything.

Sticking with my Star Wars analogy, if I go on Amazon and type in The Mandalorian, I’m going to be knee-deep in Baby Yoda toys, colouring books and helmets. The homepage of Amazon will feature offers and deals and they’ll bombard me with as much stuff as possible, in the hopes that something will grab my eye and I’ll spend money. Amazon, as with any online - or bricks and mortar - store, wants me to browse and buy.

An LMS isn’t intended to encourage hours of endless browsing, it’s a portal to learning. Learning is hard, so accessing learning resources should be simple - you don’t want people to get lost and spend half their time aimlessly clicking through your library of courses or deciding it’s too much effort. This is why a clean, uncluttered interface is essential. Show your users relevant courses and make it simple to access them.

Your LMS is not Amazon.

3) An LMS is not an About Us

People who log in to an LMS know why they are there - they’re either enrolled on a course or they’re creating a course. They know who employs them, or which university they attend, so typically don’t need this spelt out to them on a learning platform.

If I work for Blockbuster Video (remember them?) and I need to take a refresher course on 80’s action movies, I want to login to the Blockbuster LMS and immediately be able to click on either the ‘Die Hard for Dummies’ or ‘Rocky v Rambo’ modules. What I don’t need is a ‘Welcome to Blockbuster Video’ page, with a badly edited video, that tells me all about the history of the company, its shareholders and its vision to remain at the forefront of home entertainment provision well into the 21st century. As an employee, I should probably already know this stuff and this page is just blocking the content I actually want to access.

The main thing to remember is that your LMS is primarily a resource for accessing planned learning, not general information that would be better suited to your corporate website, intranet or Wikipedia. By all means, build that information into a ‘Staff Induction’ course and add it to your library of e-learning for new starters but for staff who have worked at the organisation for years, it isn’t relevant or inspiring for them to have to see it each time they log in.

Your LMS is not Wikipedia.

4) An LMS is not a file-sharing repository

Ok, it can be if that’s what you really want to use if for but it’s so much more than that. The tools available in an LMS like Moodle allow you to build interactive courses, score users, track engagement and build out intelligent learning pathways. If all you do is post Word docs and PDFs with the expectation that users will log in to download these, you are sorely under-using your learning platform.

Imagine you’ve just started working for McDonald’s and you’re learning how to make a Big Mac. You could log in to your LMS and download a 20 page PDF with some photos and clip-art showing you the different steps involved in assembling the burger. By following and repeating these steps, you’ll soon become an awesome, burger-building robot, an essential cog in the McDonald’s fast-food machine.

Alternatively, you could have 5 mini interactive modules with video, quizzes and branching pathways to make sure you really understand the importance of onions in unlocking the flavour of the beef, what the secret sauce is made from and why sweetened bread goes best with a patty. A fully realised online course will cement this knowledge in your brain and inspire you to seek out even more exciting culinary adventures. You eventually become head chef of The Minetta Tavern in Greenwich Village, New York.

Your LMS is not Google Drive.

5) An LMS is not a corporate website.

Your organisation’s website is somewhere to shout to the world about your business and what it is you do. Tell everybody about your services, list your products, boast about your shortlisting for the Cleckhuddersfax Business Awards and list the credentials of your hard-working staff. This is what websites are for. When it comes to your LMS, nobody cares about any of that - they’re there for the learning.

Many organisations want their LMS to match their website and whilst that’s understandable, it’s an unnecessary entry on the list of things an LMS should do. As I mentioned at the start, colours and logos are all fine and can be used to dress up an LMS but when an overpaid Brand Guardian gets involved, that’s when things can get messy. It starts with a militaristic approach to obscure typefaces (Google fonts are best) and ends with the whole functionality of the LMS being compromised because the in-house Graphic Designer insists that the responsive LMS must look exactly like a Flash website from 2008.

We design Learning Management Systems that work - we’re professionals and know what can, can’t and absolutely shouldn’t be done when building an LMS. An LMS is a tool designed to help your staff or students learn. Just as Microsoft Word is a tool designed to help your staff or students write reports - nobody moans that when they open Word, it doesn’t look like their company homepage.

Your LMS is not a website.


To find out more about how we can help you plan, design and build your Learning Management System, get in touch with adaptiVLE.

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