In the spirit of Open Source web development, we’ve decided to share in detail the journey to our current LMS solution. Some aspects will be of more interest to web developers.
Our main project requirements
- Repository of information to support learning
- Online activities (quizzes, assignments, etc.) to enhance learning
- Go-to place for delegates to find out dates and locations of events
- Social features to encourage engagement between training sessions
- Customisable / brand-sensitive
- Provide a competitive edge for us / added value for the client
Learning from our Pilot Project with Moodle
Our initial research led us to Moodle as the best solution for us because it met our specification requirements, and was:
- Had a strong community of web developers issuing improvements, bugfixes, etc.
- Was customisable
- Open Source, meaning we could afford to invest more time in customisations
After installing a version of the software and customising it lightly to match our branding, Ricky attended a two-day training session to learn more about how we could achieve the greatest impact with its features. Whilst the training course revealed how powerful the software was, the software felt overly-complex for our needs and a little unintuitive – or ‘clunky’!
With the complexity of the software’s coding and its uninviting documentation, Ricky wasn’t well-equipped to begin customising it heavily. We decided to stick with it in the short-term and learn as much as we could about how we used it, before seeking an alternative solution. However, when our Moodle installation suddenly stopped working altogether one day, and we couldn’t repair upgrade to the latest version we were forced to end the Pilot Project and seek another solution – fast.
Finding an alternative – the hybrid solution
Returning to our previous research, the runners-up from the Pilot Project were no more attractive than Moodle. Luckily, we had just upgraded our main website to a customised version of the Content Management System WordPress, and were impressed with how easy it was to customise to meet the needs of our users, and for us to manage the content.
My research led me to some people who had attempted to integrate LMS features with WordPress, including the work of Stas Sușcov, creator of the Scholarpress Courseware plugin. Encouraged by the fact that there was an active group of Courseware users, and Stas’ continued support and development for the solution, I installed a copy and had a play around.
Whilst the functionality was great, we didn’t feel that the horizontal tabs provided the most modern user experience, the language didn’t quite match our own, and there were still a lot of buttons on screen.
The hybrid solution:
- WordPress v3.3.1 – Basic foundation for the site
- BuddyPress v1.5.4 – Adds social features
- ScholarPress Courseware 0.9.5 – Adds LMS features
- Fishbook theme v1.2 – Starts to get the site looking like Facebook
- BP Group Management v0.5.2 – Allows us to ‘enrol’ users in courses
So, now it was time to get customising…!
Our main customisations
1. Reduced the number of buttons in the main menu to three: Newsfeed, Courses and Help.
2. Removed all horizontal sub-navigation menus and filters. The screenshot below shows the Newsfeed screen when a user first logs in.
3. Simplified the course menu to a horizontal list of just five options: Modules, Events, Pre- and Post-work, Contacts and Forum.
4. Adjusted the language to match our own, across the site:
- ‘Groups’ to ‘Courses’
- ‘Lectures’ to ‘Modules’
- ‘Schedules’ to ‘Events’
- ‘Assignments’ to ‘Pre- and Post-work’
- ‘Friends’ to ‘Contacts’ (and removed the Friends functionality)
- ‘Activity’ to ‘Newsfeed’
5. Switched to a single column of content on each page, giving a wider area for things like the event calendar.
6. Simplified the administration options, to make it easy for our trainers to update all the content!
Planned future enhancements
As with everything Accelerator does, we never stand still – and already have some ideas for the future…!
- Turn back on the Inbox for Private Messaging between users
- Get the Notifications feed working
- Tweaking some more of the language
- Improved Internet Explorer compatibility
- Alphabetise the list of modules within a course