The current global Learning Management System market is on the rise and will continue to grow. It is expected to double in the next five years, increasing from $13.4 billion in 2020 to $25.7 billion by 2025. The potential is huge. So, how to develop an LMS, you might ask?
The answer is simple. At MindK, we believe that the success formula of creating top-notch products involves two key factors – a clear well-turned development process and an experienced tech partner to make it happen.
At MindK we’ve developed dozens of successful software products from the ground up (including solutions for e-learning). Based on our experience, we’ve prepared a step-by-step guide on how to launch a learning management system from scratch without hasty or precipitous decisions.
Let’s proceed to the action strategy.
How to develop LMS platform from the ground up and hit it big
If you think that you can jump up to the learning management system development phase right off the bat, that is not quite the case. Building each and every solution (LMS is not an exception) starts way before writing the first line of code.
The development flow involves two major phases, namely, business and technical stages of the process. They go one by one and cannot be ignored. The business side of product development has a direct impact on the technical one. That’s exactly why we build up our action plan considering these two factors.
The Business Side of Building an LMS
Step #1. Define the type of LMS you want to build
Every business starts with an idea. When you develop learning management system, defining its type goes along with the product idea, because like many software products, there isn’t just one type of LMS.
Depending on the services offered, learning management systems conveniently fall into four types, which are:
- Traditional LMS. Such systems, as a rule, offer basic functionality to create courses, store them, manage learning profiles, and report on progress and achievements. Such systems cover almost every industry including education, corporate training, medical industry, etc.
- Modern Learning Management Solutions (MLMS). Unlike the admin-focused traditional learning management systems, modern LMS focus on creating a learner-centric environment. They turn the learner from an inactive recipient of the content into an active participant. They usually involve gamified elements, mobile learning, learner involvement techniques, and much more. NovoEd, for instance, enables the creation, management, and delivery of highly engaging learning experiences for enterprises, training providers, and executive education.
- Learning Management Ecosystems (LMS Ecosystem). Such platforms make use of different tools and solutions of e-learning and integrate them into a single learning ecosystem. That is exactly what Visa University did. The company turned a simple ineffective learning experience platform into a sophisticated learning ecosystem that helps Visa to run a responsive and agile digital learning organization.
- Custom Built Learning Platform. These platforms, as a rule, are highly customized for specific learning solutions like courses, training programs, etc. Harvard Business School Online, for example, was developed exclusively for Harvard Business School.
Aside from the above classifications, learning management systems differ based on their deployment model and on the industry.
Based on their deployment model, LMS can be сloud-based (situated in the cloud and accessed from everywhere), self-hosted (located and maintained on your own cloud server) or hosted on a private cloud.
Based on the industry, systems fall into corporate and education. Corporate LMS is typically feature-rich to cover various training needs like onboarding, employee, compliance training, etc. Meanwhile, education learning systems are targeted at schools, universities, and other educational institutions.
Now that you are aware of LMS types, it’s time to ensure you have the right target audience in mind to move on.
Step #2. Make sure you have the audience to target
In general, all learning management systems we have on the market are either generalized or specialized. Generalized systems are created for a wide audience and offer courses of all sorts. Specialized is quite the opposite – almost all of them concentrate either on niche or the target audience.
Niche-specific learning management systems may focus on industries like real estate, arts, agriculture, hobbies like chess, guitar playing, language learning, and so on. Specialization by the target audience makes your system even more specialized and may focus on any group like students, adults, parents, pupils, etc.
When building a LMS, always try to make it specialized. Many successful companies have started in a niche and then expanded globally. You can try to replicate their success.
Step #3. Create an LMS requirements checklist
A balanced set of features is what makes a good learning management system. That is why this step is mission-critical.
You need to analyze business requirements for learning management systems and set up the core learning management system features.
This will help you to get a rough estimation of the LMS system cost at a later stage.
Although all learning systems have their own unique functionality to help them stand out from the crowd, there is a standard set of features any self-respecting eLearning LMS platform offers. Here are some of them:
- Course building. The main goal of any LMS is to create and deliver learning content to users. Therefore, do your best to create a platform that makes course creation and management as simple and straightforward as possible. Double down on multiple content formats like text, videos, audio, live sessions, etc. Their smart combination creates an engaging learning experience.
We’ve implemented this feature on a number of our learning management projects. One of them was an easy-to-use learning platform Tyoch. It brings together the best trainers, large companies, and individuals. Besides course builder, it has such great features as an inbuilt online shop, quizzes to track the participant’s progress throughout the course, detailed coach profiles, clear dashboard for students to preserve course records, evaluations, and much more.
- User & group management. The ability to manage users, as well as courses, is what puts the letter “M” in the acronym LMS. The system typically involves two kinds of users: instructors, who create courses and access the progress, and learners. There also can be administrators who help to run the system.
Managing users involves a possibility to add them to the system, organize them into groups, assign courses, track the progress, set up notifications, and much more.
- Build-in assessment module. This enables creating assessments from the ground up or working out prepared test templates. This not only improves the satisfaction of learners but also saves your time, resources, and betters online training ROI.
- Advanced reporting. Analytics and reporting are highly valued features. Make sure your reports contain descriptive data on learning progress, test results, training history, and more. Just as important is an ability to export and schedule reports to be sent straight to users’ inboxes.
- In-app collaboration. This feature facilitates collaborative learning and provides an online community, real-time discussion and problem-solving. It may be a forum, collaborative game-based learning, learner-generated content, and much more. The main goal is to make learning a collaborative activity. For example, learners and teachers in Coursera communicate through online forums, and within working groups.
Integrations. A winning LMS should be able to integrate with other systems via an Application Program Interface (API). It acts as a bridge to transfer data between different applications. Integrations save time, cut down manual tasks, offer better data, reports, and insights. For example, if you plan to sell courses then you definitely need an integration with a third-party gateway for secure purchase and payment.
Sure, API development requires time and effort, but the result will make your learning management system website a much more powerful platform.
- Automated alerts and notifications. Even with a feature-rich LMS, educators cannot control the whole learning process manually. That is why auto-alerts and notifications are necessary features of a good LMS. By sending notifications to users about their training deadlines or informing trainers on a learner’s completion rates, your system will provide feedback to the right people at the right time.
All the above is only the backbone of custom LMS development. With that in mind, you need to work out your own functionality set considering the type of your learning system, its goals, target audience, etc.
Finish this step by considering the edtech business model to make money from your system. Most models look pretty similar to other industries. Yet, there are some specifics you should know before you move forward.
Step #4. Validate the idea on the market
One of the biggest mistakes that most LMS creators make is ignoring market validation and demand. As a result, they end up building a learning system with sales results that fall short of their expectations.
What exactly should I validate, you may ask?
Everything. However, the most important factors are the user/product, market, and business model. You need to find out whether there’s a need for your product, who are the current players and their proposals, and, finally, whether you can succeed with a chosen business model.
There are a great number of approaches to market validation. Among them are landing pages, prototypes, and even explanatory videos.
For example, the founder of Dropbox created a 3-minute video demonstrating the product idea only. As a result, their beta-waiting-list increased from 5000 to 75000 people IN A DAY! Can you imagine?
The market validation process will give you up-to-date market knowledge and a better understanding of user pain points.
The Technical Side of Building an LMS
Now that you have a clear understanding of your future system, it’s time to proceed to the more technical aspects of developing a learning system.
Step #5. Build up the development team
LMS implementation checklist starts with a reliable software development partner. If you don’t have the right people in the right positions then your venture may turn out to be a hard nut to crack.
In order to develop a top-class learning system, it is better to look for a full-stack software partner. Such companies put business analysis, design, development, quality assurance, project management, and support at your disposal.
By building an LMS “under one roof’”, you save your time and avoid a lot of risks. Lack of coordination resulting in poor product quality are a couple of those risks.
Selecting LMS experts that can become your solid tech partner is a challenging task and involves things you need to consider. We’ve packed them all in our ultimate guide on working with an outsourcing web development company.
After you find the right company to move forward, proceed to discuss your LMS product vision, features set, and engagement model.
The discussion, as a rule, results in a rough estimate of your project. The development partner usually provides it in several days. Rough estimates at MindK consist of five sections: the estimate itself, our assumptions, suggestions, limitations, and questions. We also have a number of technological experts who can pick the right tech stack for your LMS requirements (including the choice of programming languages, frameworks, and libraries) both for the application’s back-end and its front-end.
When it is done, decide what software development methodology you will use on the project – Waterfall or Agile.
We believe that the Agile mindset is one of the most beneficial approaches to create LMS from scratch. What’s more, it is an effective and flexible way to build any system from almost any industry. Over 85% of projects at MindK are delivered using Agile approaches like Scrum or Kanban. That is why the following steps in our action plan will be based on this methodology.
Agile presupposes splitting the whole project into manageable iterations. It allows you to get a working product when each iteration is completed and gradually improve upon it.
When all previous steps are complete and communications channels set up, you can finally proceed to the most interesting part – shaping and building an LMS.
Step #6. Create the product backlog
The product backlog contains the complete list of LMS features the development team should work on. To do this you need to assign or obtain the role of Product Owner. This role is focused in promoting your interests for the development team and taking responsibility for managing the product backlog to reach the desired outcome.
The Product Owner together with the learning management system developers list the number of features for the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). MVP is a 1.0 version of a new product possessing enough features to satisfy customers and collect maximum data about their opinions in order to continue improvements.
The MVP is crucial because the sooner you introduce your LMS to the market, the better your chances are. All because there is no other way to receive true feedback except putting your learning management system (even if it’s a basic version) into the customer’s hand.
At this stage, you need to go back to Step 3 and choose the most crucial features from your LMS requirements checklist.
We highly recommend focusing only on the meat-and-potatoes features. You can include standard functionality like course building, user management, assessment, together with some unique features like gamification that will make the platform stand apart.
After you finish with the product backlog, prioritize the features. Prioritization will help you and the development team to plan each iteration down the road.
Step #7. Design learning management system
The great design of your learning platform is one of the key success factors. That is why at this stage you’ll run one or several sessions with a UI/UX designer to discuss business goals and expectations.
The designer typically, first of all, builds wireframes for each screen and interconnects them in a smooth user journey. If necessary, you can even ask for a clickable prototype so that you can test the app before the design stage.
When accepting the final design for your LMS, pay attention to:
- Navigation that defines how easy your LMS is to use; learners should find what they’re looking for intuitively and without fuss.
- Сolour palette and styles should contain colors that engage people, as well as keep them focused.
UI and illustrations styles from MindK’s current project – an analytical tool for meaningful career choices
- Appearance meaning how your brand is represented, including corporate logos and other brand identities.
- Responsiveness since responsive design is no longer an additional aspect of LMS, it is a must. In most cases, we highly recommend a custom design for various screens like mobile, tablet, and desktop.
- Simplicity just because learners won’t use LMS with tons of pop-up, heavy texts, or a poor balance between elements.
- Personalization so that the user profile and personal dashboard look engaging and informative.
If everything is great and you have no remarks to design, you’ll receive all the layouts along with icons, pictures, style guide, and other graphic elements used during the design process. The design also goes to the development team for implementation.
Step #8. Check the intermediate result along the way
It is hard to say for sure how long the development process will take. Depending on the size of your LMS project and the number of features you’ve included in the first version, it may require a different number of iterations to deliver the necessary functionality.
Typically, developers and quality engineers work in parallel. One of the main advantages of this agile approach is that every iteration results in a piece of working and tested software.
What could this possibly mean to you?
First, you can observe the results at regular intervals. In the second place, it helps you adapt the product to changes in the market and provide feedback on the work of your development team.
This way you stay connected with the team during the whole development process. It eliminates possible blind spots and reduces the risk of receiving a finished product that doesn’t meet user expectations.
After you review the first iteration, it’s time to start over again. The next iteration starts with the planning. Together with your development team you can pick more tasks from the backlog and repeat the process.
Before the release of your LMS, the system goes through final testing to make sure that the application meets all the requirements.
Step #9. Launch MVP and generate feedback
It is time to rock the world with the minimum viable product of your LMS.
Reach out to your potential target audience through social media, email, and other communication channels. The main goal here is to collect real feedback from people and use it in the future to achieve 100% user satisfaction.
If it is not a system for internal corporate use, but for selling – start selling your learning management system. When you sell the MVP, you begin to understand how features you’ve considered important perform. You can also analyze why clients purchased the system or why they don’t want it (which is even more important).
This experience provides you with the best indicators of what LMS features and improvements should be implemented next.
Step #10. Improve your learning management system
After you’ve gathered valuable feedback from the target audience, you have a clear picture of how to develop LMS further.
This is where your development process becomes more strategic and less hypothetical.
Reopen your product backlog and update it. Add or remove features. Take into account the feedback you received to plan the following iterations. Iteration after iteration takes you all the way to your final product.
LMS vendors should pay great attention to human-centered design. It means to build a system with the user at its center. This way, your learning management system has a much higher chance of survival into the future than systems built around content.
You should also think about enriching your solution with cutting-edge features. To make it happen, conduct the EdTech market trends analysis. Interactive interfaces, personalization, gamification, and comprehensive smart analytics powered by Big Data will definitely help your learning management system cut through the clutter.
How do you understand that the product is completed?
The LMS is completed when your iterations no longer produce enough marginal value to justify your software development process.
Ready to transform your LMS idea into a successful product?
If you are ready to get things going with a custom LMS, send us your set of features and requirements, or let’s discuss your expectations and build the requirements together.
MindK doesn’t just act as software providers. Our team tries to give our clients more than simply end-to-end development of digital products. We set our heart on working together with our clients as partners.
This way you get an experienced development team focused on your success. Check out the complete information about our eLearning software development services.
The learning management system of your dream is only one contact form away, so drop us a line and let it roll!