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A Complete G...

A Complete Guide to Custom LMS development

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Learning is difficult without a dedicated system that is capable of delivering relevant knowledge to a target audience. In order to effectively educate your employees or users, you need a platform that will combine a wide range of learning formats to suit different types of learners. Learning Management System (LMS) is capable of doing so.

In this blog we take a look at the benefits of custom LMS development, go step-by-step through the process of building such a system, and give some insights that will help you better assess the average development cost for LMS for your organization.

Does Your Company Need a Custom LMS Solution?

You want to reduce training costs

When it comes to corporate training, many companies prefer to stick with on-site sessions. While face-to-face coaching still has lots of benefits, it also incurs additional expenses, which — in the case of longer training programs — may exceed the company's budget.

When setting up a live training session, a business owner needs to be ready to cover trainer fees, rent, transportation expenses (if training is to take place outside the office), the cost of handouts, food, etc.

As to the salaries of live instructors, these alone may cost companies tens of thousands of dollars per year — for example, such companies as Rockport, Ulta Beauty, and Blue Bottle Coffee pay their corporate coaches $71,000, $62,500, and $50,000 per year, respectively.

Custom LMS, on the other hand, helps to completely eliminate the associated expenses and focus all resources on the educational process itself, instead of the administrative side of it.

You want to shorten time spent on training staff

Depending on the nature of the work and goals — whether it is basic onboarding or more complex processes like changes in product, business strategy, customer support — it may take weeks and months to teach employees new tactics, tools, and skills. This also means that each time a live training session occurs, your staff will be taken away from their workplaces which also will have an effect on their daily productivity and overall KPI (key performance indicators).

Using LMS is a completely different story. You don't need to allocate days and weeks of employees' time entirely for educational activities. Learning management systems take only 20-30 minutes of employees' time a day, and what's more important, don't interrupt their daily activities. Such flexibility of 'on-the-job' training keeps companies from hurting their productivity metrics and helps to effectively deliver knowledge to the staff at the same time.

You are looking for custom features

A custom learning management system can be built according to the requirements set by your organization while generic features (offered by the market today) come with somewhat similar functionality but may not correspond to your specifications.

Another problem is that many off-the-shelf solutions are developed for large organizations, which means that if you have a small business you'll still be getting tons of features, some of which may be redundant or not relevant to your needs at all.

On the other hand, a custom LMS gives you more freedom in terms of functionality as you can add only features that you need — you can specify which types of content your platform will be working with, what will be the gamification elements, how the learning will be assessed, if there will be any social learning features or not, etc.

You need a higher level of personalization

The versatility and flexibility that come with the development of custom LMS give you better control over the platform's functionality. This means that you can tune the system to the needs of different job roles, company departments, etc.

With the help of dashboards, you can track the progress of each employee and personalize their learning experience based on their learning pace. By analyzing learners' data you can understand what's working for your employees, and what needs to be changed. You can also use this information to create personalized learning paths to make the educational process easier and faster.

Additionally, don’t forget about branding elements that ready-made systems rarely offer extensive functionalities for. With the custom solutions, you can create an appearance that 100% matches your branding strategy, uses correct fonts, colors, logos, etc.

Must-have Custom LMS Features

Content Management

This module defines the types of content that will be supported by your system and ways of managing this content. Generally, there are six types of educational content that can be used in the LMS:

  • Lessons — these are basically learning courses set up on a platform. Aside from textual blocks, these may also include media files, such as photos, illustrations, diagrams, videos, etc.
  • Downloadable documents — these can be attached to any course or module and come in the form of a manual or checklist. Such documents normally contain information that is used to support the main (course) subject or summarize course material.
  • Journals — learning journals basically contain notes that learners do while completing a course. By using the journal users can add some observations and write down important thoughts or insights. What's more, studies show that by reflecting on their learning experience users absorb knowledge more effectively.
  • Webinars — these can be either pre-recorded seminars or live webinars that come as online workshops. Webinars are considered to be quite an effective activity that helps to personalize learning and emulate face-to-face sessions with live instructors.
  • Slide presentations — standard PPT (power point) presentations that may come in the form of a video with the lecturer voiceover clarifying each of the slides.
  • Podcasts — these are basically pre-recorded lectures in audio format. What's great about this type of content is that learners can consume podcasts anywhere, without gluing themselves to digital screens.

Tests

Evaluation activities are as important as learning ones in the LMS, because they help to identify how well the educational content is being processed by learners. These activities may come in the form of practice tests, practical evaluations, and online exams.

  • Practice tests — include different question types, multiple-choice, true/false tests, fill-in-the-blank assignments, etc.
  • Practical evaluations — used when learners need to demonstrate obtained skills. Such evaluations may come in the form of marked tests or quizzes.
  • Online exams — as a part of the blended learning approach, such exams assume the participation of a live coach who will be in charge of facilitating the exam process. The advantage of online exams via LMS lies in the fact that for an exam to happen neither instructor nor learners are required to be physically present at the same place.

Statistics & Dashboards

In order to be able to measure the effectiveness of your LMS courses, you need data. By gathering information about learner performance and course completion it's possible to determine the weak points in the educational content and improve it accordingly.

Statistics allows you to measure performance indicators while dashboards help you to determine how potent your educational content is. Here are the seven most common stats typically included in LMS dashboards:

  • Completion rate — a percentage that denotes how many learners (from the total number of those who took the course) have successfully completed it.
  • Session times — show how much time is spent per session (on average).
  • Activity — show how many sessions were completed, passed, or failed on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis.
  • Easy questions — shows which questions more than 90% of the learners get right the first time.
  • Hard questions — shows those questions that learners struggle with the most.
  • Drop off — an important stat that shows the pages that learners drop off frequently. This indicator can help you figure out which pages have possible errors, which content is not engaging or less relevant, etc.
  • User navigation — this is a very useful metric (especially for those LMSs that have multiple course catalogs) as it shows where the majority of learners are going.

Integrations

Third-party integrations are not mandatory; however, they can greatly improve UX (user experience). By adopting third-party integrations you can get additional opportunities for streamlining internal processes and eliminating some redundant tasks that your employees need to perform to start using LMS. The most common integrations that can be introduced to LMS are:

  • Single sign-on — the feature that allows your employees to log into LMS using their Facebook (Google, LinkedIn, etc) accounts.
  • Video conferencing — this integration is used for hosting online exams or webinars. Such live events can be recorded and then reused for future course editions.
  • Collaboration tools — in the same fashion as video conferencing, these are used to boost the learning experience of the employees. Managers and developers can create shared calendars, collaborate on revising existing content, share feedback, etc.
  • Social media — allow learners to share their experience, photo, video and other information from the course on social media. This feature helps to establish a social media connection between your LMS and the audience.

Compliance With Standards and Specifications

Compliance with government-issued regulations regarding software development is what can make your product stand out from others — if your LMS is being developed as a standalone SaaS platform — or make it more accessible for your employees.

The differences in the application of compliance standards will mainly depend on the region that the software is developed for since the EU and US have their own policies in that regard:

  • GDPR — General Data Protection Regulation act that specifies the ways of collecting and processing of personal data of users located in the EU.
  • 508 Standard — the act issued by the US government that requires Federal institutions and private organizations to use/produce digital technologies that are accessible by disabled people.
  • FERPA — Family Education Rights and Privacy Act specify the guidelines regarding the storage and processing of children's educational records in the US.
  • PCI DSS — Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard defines the requirements that organizations have to adhere to when working with debit and credit cards from vendors like Visa, MasterCard, American Express, etc.

Gamification

Adding gamification elements to your LMS helps to advance the educational courses and gives learners additional motivation to complete them. Gamification is especially helpful in cases where users need to pay extra attention, and, at the same time, it's vital to ensure they don't get bored along the way.

There are literally thousands of different gamification techniques that you can incorporate into your platform — stories, challenges, rewards, gamified quizzes, badges, etc. — however it's better to refrain from using them all at once. Pick a few and test them first.

LMS Software Design Best Practices

Define the desired outcome

Defining what you want to get from your future platform in particular lays the foundation for all the subsequent development stages. In order to correctly set goals for the system, you should first ask yourself a few questions, like:

  • Why do we need to develop custom LMS platform in the first place?
  • What problems will our company be able to solve with the help of LMS?
  • Who will be in charge of creating LMS?
  • How much would it cost?

By answering such questions you'll be able to better prepare for the upcoming development process, figure out if there are any associated tasks that you'll need to get extra resources for to shape your future LMS.

Assemble production team

Obviously, if you want to get your project off the ground, you'll need a development team. Here, you basically have three options: you can hire freelancers, assemble an in-house team, or outsource LMS development.

  • Freelancers. One of the most common and least expensive options of sourcing needed specialists for your project is by using such platforms as Upwork, Fiverr, Toptal, etc. The major drawback of such an approach is that even though you get the possibility to create a product on the smallest budget, you don't have much control over a freelancer, which means they can simply disappear in the middle of the LMS development process.
  • In-house team. Hiring in-house developers is often a go to option for many large companies as it gives them complete control over the product development. As to the main disadvantage of this option — and what makes it actually less favorable among small businesses — it comes with significant expenses, such as office rent, wages, equipment and software purchase, taxes, etc.
  • Outsource. Outsourcing can be considered as a middle ground between all the options, and the way to get your platform developed fast and on a budget. Here, you don't need to directly hire employees or rent an office. All you need is an offshore software development partner, who will be able to create custom corporate LMS for you.

Design learner experience

When developing LMS try not to underestimate the importance of a good UI and UX system. The majority of learning activities are difficult by default, so there's no need to overcomplicate them even more with a cumbersome system structure or cluttered interface.

To create an engaging learning environment it's necessary to make sure that the design of the LMS interface is intuitive and straightforward. LMS developers also need to reduce to a minimum the number of possible 'distractions' that users may come across when completing a course.

Putting users in the center of the development process will help create a learning management system design that takes into account the needs of each individual group of learners and produces desired outcomes.

Decide on the features

Now it's time to decide which features your future LMS will have. We recommend coming up with two lists of features: core — those that are vital for implementing your vision regarding the product, and optional — secondary features that don't affect the educational process directly, and, thus, can be added later on.

Keep in mind that implementing each new feature in the LMS is a time-consuming process, so, when developing a platform, focus on the core features first. This way you'll be able to release the first version of a product as soon as possible, without spending months introducing small updates and additional features.

Choose a tech stack

Once you've settled on the list of features for your platform it's time to choose technologies that will back your functionality. Every LMS is built using its own unique tech stack, so we always advise you to stay away from copying other platforms, but pick those tools and solutions that would work best for your plan.

Keep in mind that the tech stack has a direct impact on the project budget, i.e. the more complex technologies are, the more time it will take to put a project together. Thus — in the same fashion as with product features — choose only the core technologies first that will help you to roll out the LMS faster.

Build an MVP

After all the preparation work is done, it's time to develop the minimum viable version (MVP) of your future product. MVP normally contains the minimum number of features (the core ones) that allow for stable product functioning and testing your product concept 'in the field'.

The importance of creating an MVP comes from the fact that it allows you to greatly reduce the development time and budgets while still getting a working version of a product. By testing MVP — instead of a fully fledged product — on a smaller group of users it's easier to collect feedback to understand how exactly your audience perceives your system. Information that may be really helpful later on, when working on the following updates.

Conduct QA

The very last step before introducing your product (MVP) to the public is the QA. Now, it's important to keep quality one of the highest priorities all the way through, so even in the case of MVP the QA process should not be overlooked. Conduct as many testing sessions as possible with your developers to ensure that the system is resilient and immune to crashes and other types of failures.

Once the QA stage is done you can continue working on your platform — collecting feedback from learners, adjusting UI/UX, introducing additional features, and producing further product updates.

Custom LMS Development Technologies

When it comes to choosing the right tech stack for your platform, it's important to take into account the flexibility, scalability and economical feasibility of the technologies you're about to choose. Try to always keep the long-term perspective in mind — the utilities you've chosen may work well for your needs today, but will they be able to do the same in one, three, five years?

It's hard to give precise recommendations regarding the choice of tech stack or LMS since 1) there are thousands of tools and utilities on the market today, and 2) everything depends on the requirements set for a particular project. However, to give you a general view, here's a list of suggestions for technologies that can be used in LMS:

  • Front-end — HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS, ReactJS, etc.
  • Back-end — Python, PHP, Ruby on Rails, Django, MySQL, etc.
  • Additional technologies — To this category fall all the marketing, business and analytics utilities, like Zendesk, Slack, Unbounce, G Suite, Hubspot, etc.

How Much Does It Cost to Build Your Own LMS?

When considering the costs of creating LMS we should focus on the hourly development rates in the first place, as the total number of hours spent by the development team building your LMS will form the final budget.When considering the costs of creating LMS we should focus on the hourly development rates in the first place, as the total number of hours spent by the development team building your LMS will form the final budget.

If we take the rates of European software developers, for example, these start from $40 per hour and may go up to $150 per hour. In this case, the average budget of building LMS can be anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000.

The rates of the development agencies from Canada and the US maybe a few times higher, amounting to $250-$300 per hour. This means that the budget needed to build your own LMS may be 1.5-2X higher as well.

Note: each digital product is unique and costs of custom LMS development can heavily vary from project to project — due to the individual set of features, project scope, requirements, etc. To get a precise estimate for your project, contact our managers.

Our Experience Creating Educational Solutions

At WTT-Solutions all projects are created in close cooperation with our clients to ensure that the final product meets their expectations and initial requirements. One of the recent edtech projects developed by our LMS development company is PLH — Parenting for Lifelong Health app that helps parents to establish healthy relations with their children.

It comes with modern parenting strategies aimed at preventing the appearance of adolescent behavioral problems in the future. This mobile app has quite a distinctive style and a simple yet intuitive interface.

Another project is LukLabs — edtech application that allows prospects to connect with college students to get insights, live college tours, and more. Our developers created an admin panel, introduced convenient search functionality, integrated a high-quality video tool for live meetings, and added a secure payment feature. The LukLabs team was completely satisfied with the outcomes of our cooperation, which also resulted in 5-star feedback from their CEO.

Sum Up

If you want to advance learning activities in your organization there's no better way of doing that than using custom-made LMS. It can centralize corporate training, make it more accessible to employees, and help your company move forward faster with employees expanding their knowledge more effectively.

The corporate LMS software development can be tedious though if you don't have the right team with the relevant know-how to meet your expectations within the project's timeline and budget. At WTT-Solutions we have more than five years of experience developing e-learning software for SMEs and large enterprises.

To learn how we can help you build an LMS from scratch, simply contact us by clicking on the 'Get in Touch' button in the top right corner of this page and filling out a corresponding form. One of our representatives will reply shortly!

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

How long does it take to build custom LMS?

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It may take anywhere from 200 to 400 man-hours to build a full-fledged custom LMS. This timeline includes business analysis, creation of project architecture, UX/UI, as well as testing.

How do we produce content for our LMS?

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When selecting content for your LMS, focus is on designing a quality learner experience system for the users. Selecting the media that will be appropriate to your audience and will deliver your messages in the most effective way possible.

Can we use our company branding elements in the LMS?

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The development of any LMS from scratch means that you will get a solution that will be tailored to your needs — both technically and visually. At WTT Solutions we can help create a platform that will fully correspond to your brand image and mission, as well as contain all the required branding elements.

How is a custom-made platform better than off-the-shelf LMS?

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When developing a learning management system from scratch you get a product that exactly matches your needs, while an off-the-shelf solution may be lacking some features that are critical for your organization. Also, the ready-made solutions are often distributed on a subscription basis in package format, which means that regardless of whether you need a particular feature or not, you'll still have to pay for it every month, quarter, or year.
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