Custom LMS Development: Why to Invest and Key Features to Have

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With online learning becoming more relevant than ever, many companies jump on the opportunity to introduce a new way of upskilling their employees while maintaining the remote mode of work. You may say that alright, you know all about it. After all, everyone is using Zoom for everything right now. However, this goes beyond Zoom which can’t realistically provide the proper functionality to create a full-fledged learning environment and give the students or employees the experience of in-person learning. What you really need is a learning management system, or LMS for short.

Learning management systems aren’t a completely new concept, they have been around for a while as facilitation for online learning. As eLearning has been gaining in popularity over the decade, they are being used alongside regular classes in educational institutions or for in-company training. Moreover, using these specialized systems has long been common in the niche for self-education and life-long learning. The tendency is going to continue as the share of eLearning grows by 10% annually and is expected to reach over $25bln by 2025.

eLearning industry growth statistіcs 2020-2025

Benefits of having an LMS for your business

LMS creates a multifaceted learning environment that facilitates the employees in their journey from providing the learning materials to testing and evaluation of retained knowledge. A system as such can be used for a multitude of purposes in an organization: employee onboarding, personnel or customer training, compliance and security awareness training, reskilling, certification training. 

It’s an interactive online portal that recreates the learning experience with many additional perks, like 24/7 availability and the possibility to learn on the go. Moreover, an LMS may provide advanced features and functionality to enhance the learning process and help develop new skills and retain knowledge. A properly developed LMS system allows providing the learning experience akin to that of a classroom at a fraction of the cost. 

So, the main benefits of using an LMS for your organization would be as follows: 

  • Time-efficiency that benefits both the employees and the company. 
  • It saves the company costs in the long run. 
  • The system is easy to update and scale
  • Improves team performance and increases knowledge retention. 
  • Learning is targeted and therefore more efficient, meaning that your team gets the skills that they actually need. 
  • May be used both internally or offered as a service. As in case of our client, Intuition, creating an LMS helped them grow client base and increase revenue.

Must-have custom LMS features 

When developing a custom LMS, some features will be common for all systems, as there are many functionalities that are considered a must-have, so they will surely be of use for different business verticals when delivering training and courses. Let’s look at some of the must-have features that a developer should consider when creating a learning management system. 

  • Cross-platform accessibility allows for users to access the LMS on any device, no matter the software platform or operating system. For example, this means that the mobile version of the learning app should be available for both Android and iOS. If the LMS is web-based, you want it to be compatible with most browsers, like Chrome, Opera, Safari, etc. 
  • Intuitive UI is a must-have as it helps the user to quickly get familiar with the functionality of the learning management system. You want the user to actually learn rather than try to figure out how to access the learning material or take a test. A UI should be simple, visual and intuitive. 
  • Admin dashboard that provides automation of basic functions where possible so that admins don’t have to spend time on mundane tasks like enrolling users into a course, making reports, any bulk actions, etc. 
  • Personalized learning roadmap to track the learning process, obtained certifications, skill level. This should be individual for each student. With the help of AI technologies you can go far with personalizing the learning experience. 
  • Course content and catalogue management. Create a marketplace where the users can browse the available courses, filter to their preferences, and choose what courses they want to enroll to. Likewise, the mentor should be able to add and edit courses, manage the materials, have access to the work submitted by users for review, etc. 
  • Compliance with standards and specifications. These are technical standards and specifications for eLearning software (e.g., SCORM,  AICC, WCAG, xAPI (Tin-Can), IMS). They allow creating learning content that is compliant with different eLearning software products. You’ll need to comply with these, if you want to introduce outsourced learning materials into your LMS, or decide to monetize your LMS by offering your courses to other companies. 
  • Licensing and certifications. Certification management feature in an LMS allows the users to get proper accreditation for their accomplishments. If you ever consider providing your LMS to other companies, this feature can become a strong selling point. 
  • Gamification – point system, badges and prices, levels to make the learning experience more game-like and stimulating. As an element of gamification, the learner could track their progress and celebrate achievements on the way. 
gamification in elearning software
  • Accessible for mobile devices. Mobile learning is the talk of the town with people often having to learn on the go and always having the learning materials at hand. As you sneak out minutes out of your busy work day to study, you’ll want to have the learning platform as easily accessible as possible. 
  • Microlearning is another idea that can be implemented in a LMS for quick learning at the point of need but it may not necessarily be regarded as a must-have. 
  • Analytics and reporting, tracking metrics and learner activity, how it impacts the organization.
  • Socializing and group activities. This can be both formal and informal, discussion forums, mentorship programs, tools for collaborations on the platform. Another way to make the learning experience more social would be to integrate social media apps into the platform, like, for example, allow users to share their achievements and badges on their social media accounts. Instant messaging, chats, and calls are another way to make the platform more interactive. These can be used both as an element of learning and for interpersonal communication for users and mentors. 
  • Branding. You can create a unique platform with distinct branding, something that makes you recognizable and lets you stand out. 
  • Globalization. With an LMS you can learn from anywhere and at any time. To make it even more accessible and expand globally, consider adding language localization, global payment gateways for e-commerce, etc. 
languages studing app interface
  • Third-party integration may enhance the overall learning experience of the user. Consider creating a platform that can be integrated with other plugins, tools, or platforms (e.g., videoconference tools, SSO, API and plugins, CRM, e-commerce, calendar integration, etc.). 

LMS software development process 

Now that you know what enterprise LMS stands for and why you need one, you can proceed with designing and developing a learning management system for your company or organization. Generally, the process doesn’t drastically differ from that of any other software development. The LMS development comprises the following steps: 

  • Market research is a step that cannot be overlooked if you want to create something that will be relevant to the current eLearning industry. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel or use methodologies and tools that have become obsolete. That’s why market research is important to discover what products and tools are available and what you can use to your benefit. There may already be easier ways and better solutions that you can apply to your product. Or research what is presented on the market to get even better ideas, deliver more efficient product and become the innovator in the eLearning niche. Then again, if you ever decide to roll out your LMS as a product or service that you offer to customers, you want it to be competitive. That’s why market research is so essential.  
  • Assessment and estimation is a necessary preparation step before you start building anything. As an LMS can become a complex and scalable project, there are many aspects of it to account for, going beyond budget and deadlines. Proper assessment and estimation is a must. 
  • Requirements gathering comes as the next essential stage for any project. It determines what next steps you’ll have to take in the development process. As you’ll be investing time and money in learning management system development, you also need to account for your budget and deadlines. Fleshing out the idea and gathering all the requirements helps with planning and setting milestones for the development team. Later on the requirements can be adjusted, but this first step is still important and can’t be skipped. 
  • Choosing a tech stack based on requirements comes as the next step in the development process. Tech stack consists of front-end, back-end parts and additional technologies you might consider to integrate into your eLearning platform. Many technicalities need to be considered here, as you’ll be working with data storages, large amounts of data, and sensitive information. 

Front-end. The popular options for web development in the eLearning industry are web  frameworks, such as AngularJS, ReactJS, Laravel. 

Back-end. Speaking about the backend of your LMS platform, the best-choice solution is  cloud architecture, namely serverless, as it offers a vast range of benefits: pay-as-you-go,  easier maintainability and scalability, security at scale. It’s a proven versatile solution with  decreased TTM and improved latency and geolocation. The most popular public cloud  provider that you can choose from are Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud,  Microsoft Azure and others, that may suit the main part of requirements for eLearning  software development on cloud. 
But in case that databases of cloud providers don’t suit your requirements, then you can  choose a dedicated database instance. When choosing it, it is very important to consider the  type and volume of data stored and other mandatory requirements for the system, such as  performance, security, the cost of storage, etc. There are relational, hierarchical, network,  object-oriented, graph, ER model, document and key-value databases. The choice, as you  can see, is not as simple as it seems at first glance. 

Additional technologies. As your LMS evolves, you might want to introduce more complex  features: 
– AR/VR integration introduced into your app can be the gamification element in eLearning to make the studying experience much more engaging.  
– AI personalization and ML algorithms collect and use data to improve the eLearning experience of the user and create a custom learning environment. 

All these require custom front-end and back-end infrastructure development for sure, but rewards with cutting-edge user experience. 

  • Prototyping and wireframing. Next, when you’re done with choosing the tech stack and have all the requirements prepared for your eLearning platform development, it’s time to proceed with prototyping and wireframing. LMS platforms may be content heavy and provide many different functionalities which inevitably renders them complex. Wireframing helps create the screen blueprint, which means structuring and laying out all the content and functionality. And a prototype is essentially an advanced wireframe which is visual and interactive. 

Still in the initial stages of the SDLC, after the prototyping is done, you will want to create an MVP which is the very first usable example of software that you will get in the course of your project. A minimum viable product, or MVP,  has some minimum set of features that makes it something that can already be used and tested by the actual user, for whom the LMS is intended. It can show you if your idea is foolproof and if you are ready to move onto UI and full development. 

  • UI/UX is immensely important when it comes to how to create an LMS website or app that’s engaging and interactive. The learning experience that you provide should capture the interest of the users and have them coming back for more. The LMS platform should be easy enough to use and provide the kind of experience that is both educational and entertaining. This is why gamification and socializing are now often considered must-have features for LMS. 
  • Development is when you do all the coding and create all parts of the LMS. The development team meticulously goes through the list of features that you want your platform to have and does all the programming. 
  • Testing is another important part of the SDLC. As you are working on development, adding new features and functionality, you need to make sure that it’s working in accordance to requirements. You want your product to be bug free and do what it’s supposed to be doing. Apart from that, you also need to test all the content and visuals, compliances, compatibility. Then, whenever you make a change or add something new, you need to run regression testing to see that you haven’t broken anything. So make sure to implement QA practices and expect it to be an integral part of your process right up until the launch of the LMS. 
  • Deployment is making your software system or application available to the user. When it’s running mostly bug-free and has all the necessary functionality to provide the proper experience to the user. After you have launched your product, deployment can happen as often as every two weeks, when you roll out new features, bug-fixes, or improvements. 
  • Maintenance and updates follow the project for as long as its viable and marketable. This is not just about fixing whatever gets broken. As the time passes, there will be new advancements in technologies that you may want to implement for your LMS. It’s not likely that a product like an LMS can be done and over with, which stems from the specifics of the eLearning industry. Also, at some point, you may want to scale the project and so it will need adjustments and revamping. In this regard, you may want to opt for managed services for your product where your development service provider carries on maintaining your LMS for as long as you need it.  

As an LMS is developed in an Agile SDLC, this tends to be an iterative process and loops on the development-testing-deployment steps whenever a new functionality or feature is introduced. This allows the development team to make sure that the system works in its entirety and provides the proper functionality to the admin and users. 

custom learning management software development process

Implementing Agile practices when developing an LMS, such as continuous improvement of the product and frequent releases, is crucial to the integrity of the eLearning system as it cannot be built start-to-finish in one go. That would go against what learning stands for in its essence. An LMS evolves with time and needs to keep up with the outside world, reflecting its changes and new findings. Otherwise, it would become obsolete in a couple of months if not weeks. As the world is overloaded with information and knowledge is the force that drives progress, if anything, a product that serves to provide this knowledge should always strive to remain relevant and provide proper information and resources. 

The cost of building an LMS 

The budget you may require to build a custom LMS varies depending on the scope of features that you want to have, what tools you choose, are you intending to scale it up in the future, etc. Generally, when discussing costs of development, you need to ask yourself a few questions. 

  • Is it going to be local or cloud? 
  • What is the expected load on the system? 
  • What is the scope of work? 
  • Will you need to scale up in the foreseeable future? 
  • Will it require continuous maintenance? 

Depending on these aspects and more, the cost of building a custom learning management system may start at $5000 for an MVP and go as high as $50,000. Then you may also need to pay extra for any additional features that you want to add later on, and of course there’s the fee for maintenance and continuous support. 

With online learning trending it has all the potential to become an integral part of our life. Symphony Solutions is specializing in custom software development and has experience in building eLearning platforms for our clients. 

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