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10 Questions everyone asks about an SMS

June 25, 2019

Even for those of us working in vocational education and training it can be challenging to understand exactly what a student management system (SMS) does and how it works alongside other applications. With so many learning and business apps on the market, old boundaries between systems are increasingly blurred and gathering relevant information to make decisions about software is more complex. 

Starting at the basics, here are some of the common questions asked about student management software systems:  

1.What’s the difference between an SMS and LMS?

SMS vs LMS - whats the diff? Think of an SMS as the administrative platform which manages and integrates all the processes involved with running a training business like enrolment, assessments, scheduling, invoicing, reporting and compliance. A Learning Management System (LMS) is more focused on the creation and delivery of courses (particularly eLearning). While a LMS is primarily used by teachers and students, an SMS is used by administrators, as well as trainers and students.

SMS and LMS occupy different spaces but due to the nature of the systems, and the tendency for training providers to want to stick to ONE system/platform, the features often overlap. You will find a comprehensive SMS including LMS features like eLearning and online assessments. Those wanting the best of both worlds opt for an SMS that integrates with an LMS like Moodle or Canvas in order to create specialised learning environments.

2. Is an SMS the same as RTO software?

References to ‘RTO software’ or ‘RTO system’ generally refer to a student management system (SMS), which essentially manages the day-to-day operations of a training organisation. Aside from SMS, you may come across other acronyms like SIS (Student Information System), SIMS (Student Information Management System), SRS (Student Record System) and TMS (Training Management System). 

Once upon a time, most RTOs could scrape by without the help of an SMS, relying instead on custom-built spreadsheets and Microsoft Access databases. However, with the release of AQTF standards in 2010 stipulating that RTOs must have a management system capable of providing AVETMISS-compliant data, the SMS, and specifically cloud-based SMS, have become the norm.

3. Do all SMS systems integrate with other applications?

System integration refers to the process of bringing together different components or subsystems into a single system and ensuring they communicate with one-another and function as a coordinated whole. What data interoperability means in practicality is that rather than needing to copy data from one system (i.e enrolment details) into another system (i.e accounting), you can capture everything in one place and there's no double-handling of data. This means more accuracy and it makes things easier at reporting time.

Obviously integrations are a big deal due to efficiency and time-savings. Bear in mind that each integration must be engineered, so you will find not all SMS's are the same. Some important integrations to look for with an SMS are: LMS (Moodle, Canvas), accounting (i.e MYOB, Xero, Quickbooks), payment gateways (Debitsuccess, Ezypay), eCommerce (eWay, SQID), website (Wordpress), USI tools and government portals (training.gov.au). Selecting a system that integrates with your existing apps and infrastructure will save a lot of headaches.

4. What should I consider when choosing an SMS provider?

Selecting an SMS provider is a big decision. The SMS you choose will be the platform which connects your organisation’s business applications as well as your people - admin, trainers, students & government. Some considerations when choosing an SMS are:

Training & Support - will you be able to easily access a support service, at what cost? Will you speak to someone in Australia? What kind of training options are available - online as well as onsite training and client forums?

Industry expertise - does the SMS provider have proven experience in the VET sector? The VET regulatory environment is complex and constantly changing so you need to know that your provider is updating the system to keep on top of compliance and reporting requirements.

Ease of use - A good SMS prides itself on ease of use. Features are accessible, screens are fast, the software is responsive across devices and the overall appearance of the software is appealing and enjoyable to use. Ask questions about on-boarding, training and support. Some systems come with built-in help guides, e-learning tools and in-app help assistants.

Special features - when selecting an SMS think about the present and future needs of your RTO. Features that provide scalability like workflow automations, online assessments, integrations and eLearning options that will set you up well for future expansion.

5. How do I know which RTO student management software is right for my business?

The hassle of changing systems and costly data migration can be avoided by selecting an SMS that is progressive and scalable - a system that will support operational needs as regulations change and as your RTO taps new markets, offers new courses, provides new training and new assessment delivery modes. Selecting an SMS is an opportunity to renovate and improve your overall business model. The SMS you choose should expedite processes in every department—not just AVETMISS reporting—so include leading staff members in the decision-making process.

For more on how to select an SMS visit here.

6. Will an SMS take care of AVETMISS compliance?

This is a tough one. While an SMS will provide the tools to ensure your RTO remains compliant, it is still the onus of responsibility of the RTO to ensure it fulfills ASQA requirements. So even if you have a fantastic student management system, it is not fool-proof and non-compliance may result if the RTO falls short in delivering quality training and assessments, is financially unviable or fails to collect and report data to ASQA.

Australia’s strict compliance environment can be an RTO headache—but it doesn’t have to be. An SMS will provide you with the tools needed to make sure that AVETMISS data is both stored securely and reported correctly. The SMS will provide the relevant fields to accurately capture and store AVETMISS compliant student data as well as generate AVETMISS data reports ready to submit to government. 

Top tip: look for an SMS that integrates with NCVER API. This will provide you with more in depth error reporting. Rather than having to download data, upload it NCVER, validate the data and then action errors, an NCVER API integration will enable users to see all AVETMISS errors in a report and fix them prior to submitting to NCVER or relevant reporting body.

7. Do I need a separate SMS specifically for CRICOS and ELICOS?

No. You do not need a separate SMS to offer CRICOS and ELICOS courses but you will need an SMS that has full functionality to support both local and international students. Not all things are made equal and not all SMS systems have the same capabilities. A comprehensive system will certainly facilitate compliance and reporting with tools to manage CRICOS and ELICOS.

The regulations for overseas students are very stringent so it’s important to be informed and up to date on reporting requirements. The ESOS (Education Services for Overseas Students) legislative framework governs the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students (CRICOS) and English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS).

If a CRICOS RTO fails to notify students of their attendance and progression rate, the student is at risk of deportation! All CRICOS providers must submit information about their overseas students to the Australian Government electronically through PRISMS - the Provider Registration and International Student Management System. A good SMS will help you do this by providing reporting templates, PRISM reports and automating emails to students.

8. Will I lose data if I switch to a different SMS?

No. Whenever an RTO decides to change their SMS, the current SMS must release all their data. Most SMS providers will charge a fee to export all your data, aka ‘data dump’, but some do it at no additional cost. 

The process of transferring all your data from one SMS to another is called data migration. The old SMS provider will perform a final data ‘export’ and provide your data generally within a spreadsheet format, however the exact format of data export will vary between providers. Your data can then be ‘imported’ by your new SMS provider so that it fits within the framework of the new SMS. 

Each SMS provider has different requirements as to how the data is formatted in order for it to be imported and will work with you to format the files. The data migration process may take several hours or even days depending on the amount of data involved (i.e number of students, enrolments and years of data).

Top Tip: All RTOs must hold student data for a minimum of 30 years

9. Are all SMS providers registered with NCVER?

NCVER provides an AVETMISS Compliant Software Register to help RTOs choose an SMS that is AVETMISS compliant. An SMS vendor can only register the software if the system produces files in the correct format according to AVETMISS compliance criteria. 

But, even though a system may be registered as AVETMISS compliant with NCVER, this will not ensure that your student data is error-free. It is still the onus of responsibility of every RTO to ensure their data is correct. A good SMS will help you to do this by running AVETMISS validation reports which flag errors and enable you to correct them prior to submission.

10. Will an SMS help administer VET student loans?

VET Student Loans commenced on 1 January 2017, replacing the VET FEE-HELP scheme. Meeting the VET Student Loans requirements (VSLs) can be finicky. The process is tightly regulated and ASQA regularly conducts VET Student Loans audits of VSL providers in order to ensure good education and training outcomes for students and employers.

A comprehensive SMS can help make the process a whole lot easier. An SMS that integrates with HEIMS web services will enable your RTO to validate data for CHESSN (Commonwealth Higher Education Student Support Number) and download all government-mandated reports. An SMS should also enable you to enrol students into VET Loan-approved qualifications, generate relevant templates such as CAN Notices (Commonwealth Assistance Notice) and Statement of Fees (or Fee Notice), and automatically calculate census dates based on start and end dates.

Top Tip: Not all RTOs are approved to offer VSLs. You can find the list of approved RTOs and approved courses at MySkills. If your RTO wants to become a VET Student Loans Provider visit here.

Want to know more?

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