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5 LMS Implementation Lessons I Learned From My Online High School

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I might be the most qualified person for my job ever.

I don’t say this lightly. I write about learning management and eLearning technology, developments, and software. To say nothing of the industry news I follow for work, I have a ton of background in eLearning. About six years of it, actually, and that’s before I ever touched college learning management software.

That’s because I went to middle and high school online. All of it, exclusively online.

Basically me, but with way better hair.

I wasn’t in a flipped classroom, my lesson plans were not blended. And I wasn’t home-schooled by my parents, either. I woke up every morning, shuffled to a dedicated desktop computer, and logged in to my school. Every lesson, every teacher, every homework assignment, for six years, was fully online.

The Learning House predicts that online-only learners will make up almost 25% of all college students by 2020, but this was primary school in the early 2000s, so I was pretty ahead of the curve.

I learned a lot, and not just what my lessons were supposed to teach, either. I’ve been wanting to impart some of my “other side” wisdom on this blog for a while, so here are five major lessons I learned from being a full-time LMS user that, hopefully, you can use to improve your learner experience.

1. Online learning takes serious dedication

How I learned:

I was in 6th grade when I started going to school online. Now, 12 year olds aren’t exactly famed for their focus, and I was no exception. I got terrible grades that year, scraping by with a D-average. It took me until 8th grade before I started making all As.

I had to learn how to focus and marshal myself. Many adults would struggle with that amount of change—it took an astronomical amount of self-control for a kid.

Why it’s important:

If you take someone from an environment where they’re monitored and coached through every part of the day (like grade school or a hands-on, in-person training program) and plop them abruptly into a very unstructured environment (like an online school or a fully digital LMS), you’re going to have growing pains. This is equally true for adults as well as children.

Take a good, hard look at your workforce, at the folks you’d like to train entirely online. Is this a good move for them? Will this method of training be effective?

What you can learn:

You might expect adults to have more self-control and discipline than children, and hopefully you’re right. But that doesn’t mean that you can send a quick email and expect everything to go smoothly. Offer coaching throughout the transition process, and have help readily available.

At the time, I’d never heard of blended learning programs, but in retrospect, I probably would have done a lot better in one. Your workforce might be the same, so consider blended programs or flipped classrooms instead of going fully digital right away. Or consider a transition period where the work is online, but with heavy coaching and frequent check-ins.

2. Tech problems can throw off a whole day

How I learned:

I believe I was a high school sophomore when I broke eight computers in the span of a week.

When I started at my school, I was given a free computer. It was a Dell, not very current, and would end up being replaced four or five times over my years in school. It crashed frequently, forcing me to call the school’s help desk, often sitting on hold for hours while I waited for individual or systemic problems to be fixed. I became very accomplished at resetting my home’s internet connection.

I forget what the underlying issue was, though it may have been a virus or some strange electromagnetic force field situation, but the point was that I managed to take down the system on my computer, my sister’s computer, and all six of the sample student computers at my school’s office. All this within the span of about three days. I’ll tell you what I told my mom, dad, and all the irritated tech folks: I was not doing it intentionally, it just kept happening.

The system eventually fixed itself, but not before I got behind a full week of classes, throwing off my school schedule and driving my teachers batty.

Why it’s important:

A tech problem in a traditional learning environment is a minor inconvenience. A tech problem in an eLearning environment is crippling. You stand to throw your schedule off by days because of the chain reaction of being locked out for even a few hours. And downtime can be majorly costly for a small business.

All the benefits of an eLearning system come to nothing if you or your learners can’t access it.

What you can learn:

We’ve left the early 2000s and their archaic tech issues behind (hopefully), but modern computers can crash, contract or spread viruses, and lock you out of the system just the same. Luckily, there are a few ways to combat this.

The first option is to allow “BYOD,” or bring your own device policies. 74% of employees in businesses using LMS systems have a BYOD policy already, according to Tech Pro Research. If you make your eLearning material available cross-device, in and out of the office, you’re more likely to avoid system-wide crashes because of hardware. This may not be an option for the more security-conscious businesses out there, though, since you’ll need to let your learners take their lessons home, as well as out wherever they might go with a laptop or a phone (so everywhere).

Your other choice is to invest in a robust help desk, either in-house or through your LMS. Many learning management software providers actually include a customer service and help desk built into their software package; as a paying customer, you gain access to that assistance. That might be all you need, but if you have a large company or many LMS users, it’s good to have at least one or two help desk folks in the office as well.

3. It’s really easy to get overwhelmed

How I learned:

There were some pretty glaring design flaws in my school’s original user interface. I’ll go into it more in my next point, but the result was that I had a hard time navigating my lessons, especially in my first few years at my online school.

One of the problems could have been easily avoided but, for some reason, wasn’t: My teachers would post the entire semester’s worth of work all at once. It made for a cluttered main page that distracted me from the content of my lessons, and that was if I could even find the correct lesson for the week in the first place.

I also had the opposite problem when teachers would post only a week of work at a time, but wouldn’t post it on a sensible schedule. Sometimes teachers (not naming names—they were probably as baffled by the back end of the system as I was by the front end) wouldn’t post lessons on time, throwing off my schedule and leaving me rushing to get my work done by its due date.

If you’re wondering if I was a stressed out kid, the answer is yes.

Why it’s important:

This is just a small example of how easy it is, with a mere design choice, to totally overwhelm your learners. A few different decisions anywhere in the process, like a standard schedule for uploading lessons, or a layout or even just a font that makes the current lesson more obvious, would have made a huge difference to me as a student.

What you can learn:

Make thoughtful design and posting choices. Listen to your content designers, especially if you hire a professional in the field who knows what they’re doing when they make design choices. (Want those good employees? Attract and keep them by picking a good course design software.)

Before you implement any eLearning software, devise a plan for how you want to introduce content to your learners and then stick to it. The more standardized methods you can create and hold to across your different lessons and instructors, the more consistent and less confusing of an experience your learners will have.

4. Your LMS tools make a huge difference

How I learned:

My school used two different learning management systems over my six years with them.

The program they used while I was in middle school… was no program at all. The site was raw-coded in HTML and CSS. Let me tell you: it was a mess. I had my own courses I could access, but I could easily navigate (accidentally or intentionally) into any other class’s coursework. Had I been more malicious or easily confused, I could have done a lot to mess up the testing curve or discussion forums for other classes, not to mention give the teachers some huge headaches. My own coursework was poorly-curated and confusing, as I explained above.

By the time I began high school, we finally got a shiny new system I now know to be an LMS. The software my school used is targeted specifically at K-12 education, so I can’t really recommend it for my readers. But that said, having even a limited LMS was miles better than not having one at all.

With an LMS in place, I could no longer drop into any class I felt like. It was clear what my courses were, as they were the only ones I could access. The forums were locked down and required teacher approval for all comments. The email system was built-in, rather than a sloppily tacked-on Microsoft Outlook account. The quizzes and worksheet drop boxes were built-in. Everything looked much more sleek, and I can only imagine how much the reporting and admin functions must have improved. The tools you use matter.

Why it’s important:

The lack of an LMS has a huge impact on user experience. For me it meant suffering through a terrible design experience, and wasting hours of time trying to find and complete my lessons. Do you really want to squander your employees’ on-the-clock time that way?

What you can learn:

I cannot stress this enough: the system you use to host your eLearning course content matters. It matters to your learners and their retention rate, it matters to your course designers who are creating the material, and it matters to your instructors and admins who have to try and scrape some data out of your system.

It doesn’t matter as much which system you choose to host your content. If you want to be offbeat and stylish, try WordPress. If you don’t have much of a budget and need a cheap solution, try a free or open source LMS. Moodle in particular is a great mix of customization and low cost.

If you’re struggling to convince your management department that this is a necessity, feel free to use this article along with Capterra’s free LMS business case package. Do whatever it takes to convince them—your users will thank you for it.

5. Not everything translates well to digital

How I learned:

When I say I took all my classes online, I mean it. I took biology online and “dissected” frogs by clicking on an animation. I took chemistry online and went through a lot of picture slideshows of science experiments I couldn’t replicate at home. I took physics online and read descriptions of how simple tools like pulleys work against gravity, but I was really just taking the lesson’s word for it.

Something was clearly getting lost in translation in science class, but my favorite example has got to be gym.

That’s right: I took gym class online. Five semesters of it. I read about how to play various sports and then took quizzes on the rules. On occasion I would submit blatantly falsified Excel sheets claiming I’d done a certain number of jumping jacks or push-ups. It was every nerd’s dream!

Why it’s important:

Was I learning anything in my online gym class? Perhaps. Was I really getting the impact of the lessons? No, certainly not. I was one of the least physically active kids I knew. The spirit of those classes were destroyed by putting them online.

Not every lesson can be taught online.

What you can learn:

Just because you can teach something online doesn’t mean you should, and it certainly doesn’t mean that it’s the most effective way to teach something. No matter how much time, money, or effort it seems to save, if a lesson demands a physical example or hands-on, kinetic learning, you need to facilitate that.

For me, the biggest damage I suffered was being a little out of shape and admitting to the world that I fibbed on my 10th grade push-up chart. But in an office environment, a lack of hands-on learning can lead to anything from ruined paperwork to industrial accidents. Think hard about what you’re trying to teach before you decide that eLearning is the best way to teach it.

OK, but did you turn out normal?

If you’re looking for overall impressions, I’ll say that this method of learning isn’t for everyone. I did very well and had some amazing teachers, but I had a lot of problems with the administration. So in that sense at least it was a pretty typical high school experience!

I turned out OK despite never setting foot inside a “real” high school until I had already graduated. When I did visit my cousin’s school, I was disappointed. “Glee” and “Mean Girls” set a high bar for snarky dialogue. I went to a real college and got a real job after graduation. Most people who meet me today never even realize I went to school online, because high school doesn’t come up as often in your mid-20s.

Still, when I say I know what’s up with online learning, learning management software, and computer literacy in general, trust me. I can’t say that my “eSchool” taught me nothing: I learned how online schooling works just as much as I learned my core subjects. And I can type 98 words a minute, which is pretty cool, so thanks eLearning!

Want to know more about eLearning from an insider’s perspective? Check out some of my other articles and follow me on Twitter @CapterraHalden

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Looking for Learning Management System software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Learning Management System software solutions.

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About the Author

Halden Ingwersen

Halden Ingwersen writes about HR and eLearning at Capterra. She’s a graduate of Agnes Scott College and a TEDx presenter. You can follow her on Twitter @CapterraHalden, just don’t get her started about her zombie survival plan.

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