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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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.