So you decided to deploy an e-learning solution for your enterprise or organization. Or maybe build an e-learning school of your own. As long-time e-learning experts we welcome you to this exciting endeavor.
In this post we’ll try to give a comprehensive list of all the tools, services, accessories and software you’ll need for your e-learning deployment.
To Cloud or not to Cloud?
You of course are going to need a LMS. And we hope you consider using our industry leading e-learning solutions, TalentLMS and eFront. But even if you go for an inferior LMS (well, we had to say it), there are several things you have to consider, the most important being whether you want a Cloud solution or a custom LMS deployment (either hosted or internally deployed).
A Cloud based LMS is one that’s made available for you by a third party usually under a subscription model (like our flagship TalentLMS). The benefit of this approach is that you don’t need to be concerned with installing, updating and managing servers and software. Those are all taken care for you, and you essentially get a turn-key solution that’s known to work smoothly and that is maintained for you by the very team that created it in the first place.
You’ll still have to add your own content and customize some aspects of its operation, but that’s just the essential configuration that you have to do with any LMS solution. The complexities are hidden from you (and the architecture can get quite complex underneath, e.g files may be stored out of server in flexible storage services like Amazon S3 and there would be multiple web and db servers deployed, alongside CDNs and load balancers). You can start and stop your Cloud LMS use at anytime, easily add more e-learning sites, and even scale your projects automagically to multiple nodes and millions of users as your needs grow.
A Cloud is perhaps the preferred solution for most basic LMS needs, except if you want total flexibility and the ability to make changes to the e-learning environment (as Cloud solutions offer limited customizability). Another possible issue about using a Cloud LMS would be if your corporate policy doesn’t allow hosting your learning material with a third party (e.g because it contains sensitive information about your company). You might as well prefer a non-cloud solution if you want to avoid recurring charges.
Self-hosted (internally deployed) LMS
If you fall into the above category, then you probably need to invest in a deployed (or self-hosted) LMS platform (in which case, may we suggest our best of breed eFront product?). A self-hosted LMS platform is basically a web application, usually sold as a licensed product, that you get to install and maintain in your own server. You have (depending on the license) full control on all aspects of the LMS operation, as well as the option to alter its code to fit any special needs your might have, and you can even restrict access to it so that, for example, only people connected to your company’s intranet (or VPN) can use it.
With the increased power, though, come greater responsibility, as you’ll be responsible for things like backing up your data, updating the server software and scaling to more machines. You also need to contact the vendor and license updates and upgrades (though some might be included for free in the licensing price).
A hybrid option between those two would be the hosted LMS, were you have access to a full blown installation of an LMS platform on a dedicated server. This option, which we offer in the form of our hosted eFront product, gives you full customization abilities combined with the managed backups, updates and upgrades of the Cloud version. You also get the benefit of having an expert team making sure your server and LMS run smoothly.
The downside to the hosted LMS solution is that it takes some time to deploy a new one (usually 1-2 business days), as a new server has to be setup and provisioned for you. Also, like in the self-hosted case, a hosted LMS cannot scale without extra technical support, (although, in the hosted LMS case this can sometimes be provided as an extra service for a fee).
We’ll begin with the tools you’ll need if you opt for a self-hosted LMS solution, as they are more numerous and complicated:
– A server [or a hosting provider]: a machine that is setup with a server operating system and a network connection capable of serving web content to your users. That can be a machine provided and setup by your company’s IT deparment, or some server that you lease from a third party hosting provider.
– A web server and a database server: those are software solutions that serve web applications and store data respectively. The most commonly used are Apache and MySQL, but there are several options, including IIS and SQL Server in the Windows side of the fence. You’ll also need to install some web server add-ons to handle your LMS code (e.g the PHP modules if your LMS is written in that language). What kind of web and database server to use depends on the requirements of your chosen LMS platform, so you don’t have total flexibility in this matter.
– An email server: you’ll need to configure your server to be able to send and receive email. This is essential for some LMS features like Notifications.
– A domain name: you might not need one, if you just use your LMS inside the company. But if you want to have it accessible from the web for everybody, you’ll need to give it a domain name (e.g “www.mylms.com”). You can register a domain with any web registrar such as GoDaddy or Name.com – it will cost you something in the range of $10-$20 per year.
Those are just the basics of course, and it all depends on what extra services and functionality you might want to add to your self-hosted e-learning system.
If your deployment is intended as a commercial operation with paid users for example (as opposed to internal employee training for your own company), you’ll also want to invest in tools for monitoring your server’s health (there are several services that offer this, such as Pingdom and New Relic) and in a support system were your users can report problems and raise issues (e.g ZenDesk).
With a Cloud LMS, all of the above have been taken care of for you, with the possible exception of the domain name (and that’s only if you need a totally custom one. If not, then the subdomain you get that’s based on the LMS provider’s domain name is more than adequate).
In the next post in this series we’ll get to the tools and services you’ll need for your e-learning content creation and consumption.
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