Online Courses, Learning Management Systems, and Functional Specifications

NMLS has seen an increase in the number of course providers seeking to offer online courses (both PE and CE).  Offering courses online has many benefits: anytime, anywhere course available is convenient for MLOs who don’t want to take the time to be out of the office; and course providers can grow to offer courses beyond the confines of a physical classroom.  However, a significant barrier to offering an online course is acquiring and employing new teaching skills, and overcoming the technical challenges associated with choosing and deploying a Learning Management System (LMS).

Fact:  Course providers that employ a commercial LMS generally get their courses approved more quickly than those providers who try to build their own LMS. The reason:  learning management systems developed in- house struggle with meeting the different requirements associated with delivering content appropriate for the course type (either instructor-led for PE or self-paced for CE) and doing it in a way that is user-friendly, ensures rigor,  and meets specific time-requirements.  Maintaining the technology also becomes an issue.   Unless the organization has significant experience in technical aspects of delivering online courses, providers are strongly encouraged to use a commercial LMS.

We recently came across a good resource that can assist providers in choosing an LMS that is right for their organization.  Capterra has put together an outstanding decision guide and directory of all the leading learning management systems currently available.  Users of the site can input filtering criteria and  compare up to four different learning management systems side-by-side.  For providers seeking to find an LMS that meets NMLS criteria, you can search for both instructor-led courses (for PE courses) or for online self-paced (for CE courses).   The site will then display the results and will provide an overview of the company and a link to their web site where you can find out more information, see a demo, and learn about pricing.  Here is a link to the web site:  (Please note that NMLS has not been in contact with Capterra and does not endorse or has any opinion regarding the consulting services they provide).

NMLS Demonstration of Online Courses

To assist providers to better understand the technical requirements of course formats and how to deliver online courses, we are developing a “catalog” of sample online courses.  These courses, which will be available in early December,  will use different learning management systems, and will enable providers in gaining a better understanding for how various requirements of the functional specifications are to be met.  Additional details on this initiative will be made available in November.

A Note About Updates to the Functional Specification for Courses

NMLS has written functional specifications for online PE courses, online CE courses, and classroom equivalent (webinar) courses.  We are sensitive to the fact that when we make a change to one of the specifications it has an impact on the provider community, because changes have to be made to courses that are either in development, and those that were previously approved need to be brought into compliance.  To try and make this process easier, we are moving to annual update calendar for each of the functional specifications.   What this means is we are going to release updates to each of the functional specifications in late October with an effective date of January.  This timeframe was chosen since we’ve observed that most providers make changes to their courses in the first and second quarters of each year to ensure they are ready and approved in time for the licensing renewal period which begins to pick up pace in the third quarter and reaches its peak in the fourth quarter of every year.

Changes to the functional specifications are being made to address frequent questions and or issues we’ve observed over the past year.  For example, for online CE courses, we have received a significant feedback about the requirement (and burden) of an end-of-module quiz and the final test for short courses (less than 2 hours).   Lower student satisfaction of the webinar courses is something that we have been concerned about for some and this is also being addressed.   To address concerns about the falling test pass rates, there will also be a requirement for all classroom formats to have some sort of end-of-course learning assessment (e.g. an end-of-course test).  As previously stated, the draft versions of the updated functional specifications are scheduled to be released in mid-October.  We will host a webinar in the third week of October to review the specs, collect any feedback, and intend to have the final specs posted by October 31 with an implementation date of January 1, 2012.

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