guides > web development
12 Apr, 2020 | 12 min read
Several weeks in, and some of us are starting to get to grips with the working-from-home lifestyle. For some, particularly in the education space, this requires a look at more robust ways of sharing content. In particular, there has been a rise in people looking for Learning Management Systems (LMSs), otherwise known as e-learning platforms.
But does this mean you should get involved? Well, if what you’re looking for is a way to share a PowerPoint and have a video call, these platforms are probably overkill for you. We’ll talk at the end about video conferencing and sharing documents, so feel free to jump down there.
If, on the other hand, you need to emulate a more ‘teacher/student’ type of interaction, and particularly a one-to-many style of learning, then read on.
There are literally hundreds of e-learning platforms available, and it would be impossible to scratch the surface of them all. Instead, we’ve picked four platforms that we have worked with. These are various prices, and require varying levels of technical expertise. The four we’ll be reviewing are:
All the options we’ve listed have a few common features that are common across almost all e-learning platforms. They all allow learners to sign up to the platform for free (meaning, at no cost to the learner), and consume content in a variety of ways. This includes access to PowerPoint slides, PDF documents, and video content.
All of the platforms also allow the educators to track the progress of individual learners. This can be done via simply tracking what materials have been accessed, or through quizzing / exam functionality.
Moodle is one of the most popular “free” LMS platforms, and is used extensively in the higher education space. Moodle is what is known as a “open source, self hosted” platform. This means that while the platform itself is free, it needs to be hosted on a server, which will cost money. We’ve recommended Moodle’s own hosting platform, Moodlecloud, which also removes a lot of the need for technical expertise.
As with a number of LMSs, Moodle comes with a mobile app for learners. It has recently included the H5P standard as part of its latest version.
It is worth noting that Moodle is the least intuitive of the platforms listed here, both for the content uploaders, and for the learners themselves. It will function well enough out of the box, and many organisations do just that. Where Moodle really shines though, is in its ability to be highly customised. However, in order to take advantage of this, you will need a relatively high level of technical understanding.
If you are self-hosting, then Moodle also requires a small level of technical knowledge to set up. There is a vast community of Moodle users, and the support forums are pretty active.
For those requiring a SCORM 2004 compliant platform, Moodle does not offer this out of the box. It does support SCORM 1.2.
If you don’t have your own hosting plan, or you’d rather not deal with setting the platform up yourself, MoodleCloud is a good option. Run by the team behind Moodle itself, MoodleCloud offers a range of plans that will help you get started, including a free tier, which allows up to 50 users, and a limited range of features.
The next tier up costs $80 per year, and includes features such as site backup, and the option to customise certificates on the site. This plan is limited to 50 users, with the next bracket up (for 100 users) coming in at $250 per year.
Moodle is a great choice for organisations with a limited budget, and who are not concerned with having the most visually stunning platform. If you’re just starting out with putting your educational content online, or are testing the concept for the first time, then this might be the right choice for you.
Easy LMS is a very popular stand-alone e-learning platform, boasting an easy-to-use interface for both learners and educators. Unlike Moodle, there is no need to self-host this platform, and the level of technical understanding required is relatively low.
One of Easy LMS’ premium features is its “Academy” add-on, which allows you to create custom learning paths based on the needs of the learners. This may be particularly useful for larger groups of learners with differing abilities, or if you are looking to replicate a more tailored approach for your learners.
While a fully-fledged Easy LMS platform is feature rich, some of the features may require add-ons that come at a cost.
Additionally, there are a number of manual processes that cannot be automated. For example, there is no functionality to support a common question bank, meaning that each quiz has to be built individually.
There are a number of price points available, and EasyLMS based these on the number of times a course is played during a month.
The basic package costs $50 per month, which allows unlimited content, and up to 1,000 learners. You get one administrator account, but the option of purchasing more if necessary.
The tier above, at $99 per month, allows for a much higher level of customisation, and the ability to link to third-party services such as MailChimp. This might be particularly useful if, for example, you wished to send out newsletters to specific classes.
The Academy add-on can be included in any plan, and starts from an additional $50 per month, or is included in the Enterprise Plan.
All of the Easy LMS plans come with a 7 day free trial, and if you buy a year’s subscription you get 2 month free.
Easy LMS is a good option for organisations with a little budget to put into online content. The ease-of-use means you can spend less time setting up your courses and more time educating your learners. If you’re looking to educate relatively large numbers of users (up to 1,000) then EasyLMS is a very cost-effective solution.
TalentLMS is a very popular e-learning platform, priding itself on its ease of use, strong feature set, and good customer service.
One of the benefits of TalentLMS over other e-learning platforms, is that it comes with video conferencing functionality built in. This means that learners can interact both with the educators, and each other, in a much more “true to real life” capacity.
There is a lot of functionality within TalentLMS that makes it a very good choice for an established e-learning provider. The platform can be completely white-labelled, and also includes iPhone and Android apps for learners.
Compared with Moodle and Easy LMS, the maximum number of users on the TalentLMS platform is relatively low. If you’re looking to educate large numbers of users, this might not be the most effective option.
While TalentLMS is very well featured out of the box, some of the more useful features - such as Automations - are not available on the lower priced plans.
TalentLMS has a free tier, though this only allows 10 courses and 5 users. Their premium plans start from $59 per month, and allow up to 40 users, with no limit on the amount of content.
Prices increase from there, with each tier increasing the user limit and adding additional features such as automations and custom reports. If you require 1,000 users, you’ll need their Premium plan, costing $429 per month. Alternatively, TalentLMS offers “Active Plans” which rather than limiting the number of users that can register, tracks the number of active users on any given month.
TalentLMS suits organisations looking for a more streamlined product from their e-learning platform. The wide range of features come at cost, but if you have the budget this makes for one of the most streamlined e-learning experiences available.
Unlike the other options on this list, LearnDash is not a standalone LMS. Instead, it is a plugin for the popular WordPress website platform. LearnDash leverages the existing infrastructure of your WordPress website, and adds functionality to allow users to login and start learning.
LearnDash stacks up well against the other options in terms of feature set, including things like drip-feeding of content, customisation of certificates, and built-in forums for courses. It is also highly customisable, with various themes and options to choose from.
Unlike other platforms, there is a flat fee for the plugin, meaning no limits on users, or amount of content (though, there are some caveats to this - see below).
If you’re looking to sell courses online, then LearnDash can link with WooCommerce - another WordPress plugin - to provide that functionality.
LearnDash requires a WordPress instance in order to function, and WordPress instances in of themselves require hosting, setup, and maintenance. If your organisation already has a WordPress website, this is less of a concern. However, if you are expecting an increase in traffic as a result of adding e-learning to your website, then you may need to check that the underlying hosting provider can handle this.
WordPress websites can also start to slow down with too many plugins, or even too many users, on at once. If you already have a heavily customised WordPress site, then adding LearnDash may impact your site’s performance.
LearnDash is available for $169 per year, which gives you access to updates and support from the LearnDash team.
You will also need a WordPress website if you haven’t already got one. WordPress itself is free, but you will also need hosting and a domain name.
If your organisation already has a WordPress website, and you’re not looking for a heavy-duty LMS, this is an option worth looking into. The relatively low cost, and straightforward setup, offers perhaps the lowest barrier to entry of the options on the list.
Even if you don’t have a WordPress site, but have the time and resources to set one up, then LearnDash is still a relatively low-cost option with a lot of functionality. If you’re looking for a small user base, but a powerful set of tools, LearnDash might be worth your time.
The reason there are so many LMS options available is that there is no one-size-fits-all. Which option is right for you will depend on any number of factors, including your budget, how many students you’re expecting, and whether you have the money and/or in-house capacity to maintain a platform.
If you do have the budget for it, generally speaking the ‘dedicated’ LMS options are a good investment. The extra money you spend means that you’ll spend less time concerning yourself with the practicalities of hosting, or applying patches and updates.
Whichever platform you choose, bear in mind that there will be some time and effort involved in switching later down the line. If you can hold out and get funding to start with one of the premium platforms, it may well save you money in the long run.
Part of the increase in interest in e-learning platforms is as a direct result of the COVID-19 outbreak, and a very real desire to maintain the interaction of a real-life classroom in an online setting.
Many e-learning platforms aren’t built with this in mind - in our list above, TalentLMS is a notable exception.
But that doesn’t mean that you have to spend vast amounts of money on a solution to provide you with face-to-face learning. Many organisations we’ve worked with are using a “blended learning” approach - supplementing the course materials on an LMS with video conferencing.
There are a number of things to consider when choosing a video conferencing option - including cost, performance, and whether what you are looking for is to host a video conference, or a webinar.
We’ve written a guide on choosing a video conferencing platform, which you can read here.
Google have also recently launched their Teach From Home site, which is full of content and resources to help you use the Google Suite of products to get as close to a classroom experience for your students as possible.