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Learning designLMS

Don’t let your LMS drive your learning design

Why do we ever let technology dictate our instructional approach? It’s the old “oh sorry our system doesn’t have that feature” or the “it’s just easier to use x activity within our system so we designed around that”. We need to take a pedagogy-first approach to digital education design, using technology as a tool to achieve our goals and not allowing technology to place any limitations on our chosen approach.

Technology should be used to assist in quality digital course design, but too often the features and functionality of an organisation’s Learning Management System (LMS) are a key factor in deciding how a course is designed. This can sometimes lead to sub-optimal course design, not based on the intended instructional approach, but based on the limitations of the LMS the course is being designed for.

If your LMS doesn’t have the functionality you require, don’t let that stop you from designing your course the way you intended while looking at options to get the functionality you need. The following sections introduce some possibilities for extending the functionality of your LMS to better meet your instructional needs.


Explore whether your LMS has the ability to install plugins. Some learning systems have the ability to be extended by installing additional extensions and plugins. Such plugins can add additional functionality and activity types, allow the use of external learning tools within the system, and allow the inclusion of additional/varied user interface elements to improve the student experience when utilising the LMS.

Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI)

LTI is a learning technologies standard which allows external learning technologies to connect with an organisations LMS. LTI allows data from external technologies to be passed to the LMS and vice versa, allowing a student to complete an activity using the external tool and have their progress passed back to the LMS. Most LTI enabled learning technologies do not only pass data between systems but allow the external learning technology to be embedded within an organisation’s LMS, resulting in a more seamless student learning experience, while providing additional functionality and learning activity types.

xAPI and a Learning Record Store (LRS)

xAPI is a specification for capturing data from learning technologies. Using xAPI-enabled activities, you can see what a student is doing within an LMS or even on external sites. To capture this data the xAPI-based activities need to be linked to an LRS which will store all xAPI-based data whether from an organisations LMS, external activities, or even remote activities (ie. virtual reality simulations)

Speak with your LMS provider

Most LMS vendors continue to upgrade and improve their systems over time and many are keen to hear feedback from their clients (some even use this feedback to drive their feature roadmaps). Speaking with your LMS vendor can not only help drive improvements in your system for the future but through this dialogue, you may become aware of additional existing functionality within your LMS that you were unaware of.

Design with your students in mind

Features of an LMS should not restrict your ability to design high-quality digital courses. Student-centred instructional design should focus on the needs of the students, not on which tool can be easily used within an LMS. Technology-enabled learning can be a powerful education tool, but it is just that – a tool – and it should be used to enhance and enable high-quality digital course design.

Catherine Duncan

Catherine Duncan

Catherine is a learning technologies and digital education practitioner with over twelve years experience across a variety of industries. She enjoys using her technical, educational and creative knowledge to assist organisations in determining their technical and/or training requirements and assisting them in finding the optimum solution.

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