Thursday, April 9, 2009

Top 5+ LMS tips and tricks

A top 5 is usually a random list of ideas that you can take or leave, so feel free to take what you want from this random tips and tricks for managing a learning experience through an LMS. Here is my top 5.

1. Make external links open in a NEW window please, so the learner can still stay logged into the LMS and NOT lose half their work eg. discussion posts. All it takes is one click and your users will navigate away from their learning space. Let them explore a link in a new window and you will keep them happy. So always set links to "Open in New Window", or in HTML, type target="_blank" in side the link tag.

eg. Same Window or New Window

In the near future you should be able to specify opening new tabs or new windows through CSS.

2. Discussion Groups/Forums, need to have critical mass to be affective. Obvious. But how do you build a healthy level of participation from learners?.

What has worked for me so far, is making Discussion posting a compulsory part of the course. This may sound extreme, but a discussion forum without discussion is dead. Some training organisations simply use a participation point system.

The other way to keep forums alive is to give relevant, current and stimulating material for learners to talk about. Add a little spice to your topic headings, invite some controversy and/or play the Devils Advocate.

Lastly, get involved. Learners want their teachers to join in discussion and be part of the online learning experience. After all we are all learning together and it shows you actually care about what people are posting!

3. Keep it fresh and personal. Learner don't want to visit the same old looking site week after week. Add student photos, funny videos, interesting posts on your front page and in your course areas. Pick the 'forum post of the week' and put it at the top of your course page for all to see. Change the style of your page, just a little, a couple of times a year, or even better, some sites allow for custom color schemes for users. I also invite learners to contribute to blogs, and content to give users ownership of the site.

4. Keep your pages and menus simple, and don't assume just because you know where to find everything on the site that learners will too. Before we started using Accordion, and drop down style menus, our pages looked like a maze of links confusing learners and sometimes even myself. The worst course area we had at one stage, was a list of topics down a 2 meter page that had forums, links and pdf's icons scattered all over the place, and embedded video content of all shapes and sizes making matter worse. Never again.

What you want to do is break down your core course elements and only display what users need to find under clearly defined headings and sub headings. All your menu headings should be consistent throughout the site to help build intuitive navigation amongst your users.

5. Be open and available for feedback, in fact go further, and invite feedback from user on how to make the LMS experience better. Learners are more forgiving with a 'system error' error or a login issue, if they know that you are dedicated to improving your LMS for learners all the time. Plus, users are in the best position to find what works or doesn't work for them in your LMS.

+ I invite comments from others to continue this list.

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