Your organization decided to implement LMS? Or perhaps you want to replace your old system with a new one? Either way, you probably need an action plan to make LMS a complete element of your well-established workflow. In this article, we will take a closer look at the main steps to get an LMS implemented.
What is LMS?
There are different types of training platforms such as LMS, LXP and so on. All of them are aimed at involving users in the learning process through online tools. We are going to focus on LMS as one of the most widely used and preferred training software.
Behind the acronym LMS stands the Learning Management System concept. By breaking this term down into components, it turns out that LMS is a software solution that allows conducting training, i.e. to create, manage, conduct courses, and other training activities. With the help of LMS, it becomes possible to organize the process of distance learning for both employees and customers/business partners. It is aimed at organizing a centralized and integrated training process, providing end-users with a tool for professional development, mastering a new product, and other educational opportunities. LMS bridges the gap with employees' productivity, improves the quality of their work and customer service.
LMS can be described as an engine consisting of two main parts: the server-side (also known as backend) and the client-side (it’s also referred to as a frontend development part). The first one includes functionality with which it is possible to create courses, manage data, provide user authentication, i.e. everything that remains invisible to students. Conversely, the latter means the appearance of the system, consisting of an interface, a student, and an administrator panel.
Who is using the LMS?
Any organization can use LMS:
- From large-scale international corporations to medium and small businesses. It serves the purpose of the professional development of employees.
- Educational institutions, where online training is mandatory, as well as those who switch to online training due to the current circumstances caused by the pandemic.
Some examples of LMS usage:
1. Employee training. Employee training is of utmost importance for any serious enterprise. Thanks to a properly configured LMS system, it is possible to save money on traditional training format, as employees will be able to learn online at any convenient time and at their own pace. Once you have set up the LMS with all the necessary training materials, you can ensure a continuous learning process without interruptions.
2. Employee onboarding. Those onboarding tasks, which used to be performed manually, are now automated. By joining new employees to the system, you provide them with free access to mandatory materials such as new hire welcome letter, job responsibilities and career opportunities, employee code of conduct and other significant policies. Any working issue can be quickly solved by accessing data in the LMS, resulting in time savings and workflow optimization.
3. Knowledge accumulation. LMS is a convenient way to accumulate and share valuable knowledge among employees. Everything related to professional growth, as well as adapted to the latest requirements and innovations in your industry, will be put together in one place and available to the next generations of employees.
4. Distance education. Over the last decade, online courses have been undergoing rapid change. However, the Coronavirus pandemic has clearly demonstrated how important it is for any business to have an online educational platform through which training can be organized for both employees and customers. Not to mention educational institutions for which it is vital to ensure continuity of the learning process.
Any e-learning platform is designed to upload content, create and combine lessons into courses, bring the content to students, monitor the learning process, and evaluate students to determine their level, career progression, etc. We'll next consider the main components of LMS, without understanding which further implementation of the system becomes more complicated.
Crucial components of the LMS
Creating a training course
At this stage, it is required to decide what kind of content to use. It can be created from scratch or existing materials can be used in any format. Modern eLearning platforms can handle various data formats - from Word and PDF to audio and video footage. It is also necessary to make sure that the used LMS system makes it possible to work with PowerPoint presentations and YouTube videos, as well as provide Internet access.
Student levels, departments, faculties, topics, etc., are considered during the structuring process. Levels of training materials need to be specified as well. The main thing is that LMS provides the necessary flexibility in this regard.
Once the materials are structured, it is important to decide how to deliver them to the learners. Your courses can be designed for such an audience and such purposes:
- Training of employees within the company;
- Training of clients or partners;
- Free use by external audiences;
- Paid use, for example, as online courses available for users around the world.
LMS users categories
As a rule, three key user groups have access to the eLearning platform:
1. Administrators. They are responsible for setting up the system;
2. Instructors. These are the people who are responsible for preparing the training materials and managing the downloaded data, as well as the training process;
3. Learners. This group of people uses learning materials directly for training.
Anticipating your possible question, we hasten to answer: the function of administrator and instructor can be performed by the same person, especially considering the fact that modern LMS is easy to configure.
Administrators are responsible for user management, namely:
- They are to register students in the system;
- They give them access to the necessary materials and restrict access to others;
- Conduct testing with a mandatory evaluation of results;
- Process payments;
- They answer users' questions, and much more.
Administrators and instructors have automated access to course enrollment data and can track students' progress, attendance records, and academic performance.
When set up properly, the LMS must automate all these routine tasks and facilitate interaction with the platform itself.
Must-have LMS features
This is the minimum services set that any LMS should provide:
- The functionality needed to serve a different number of learners with different skill levels and for different purposes;
- Real-time notifications and alerts;
- Reporting, filtering data by user, topic or course;
- Responsive user interface and offline access mode.
Advanced LMS features
Additional features can be added if necessary to scale the system and when new business tasks arise:
- Video and audio conferencing capability with a group of students;
- Interactive whiteboard for sharing materials and results;
- Ability to integrate with third-party platforms, including payment platforms such as PayPal, Stripe;
- LMS ability to be extended with custom options, scripts and plug-ins through a customizable API;
- Data exchange via SCORM, xAPI.
LMS deployment methods
Self-hosted LMS. This is usually referred to as a licensed product to be installed on your own server. By purchasing a product, you become responsible for backing up and scaling it up, as well as for license updating. At the same time, you can integrate into your own infrastructure or modify the code according to your company's needs or training goals.
Cloud-based LMS. You will be given access to LMS by a third party within the "subscription" model. The cloud-based format is most convenient if no maximum flexibility in using LMS is required. All questions connected with backup, updating, transfer, extension are solved by developers of the LMS vendor team.
Private cloud-based LMS. This format is something between cloud access and self-hosted. According to this concept, a private environment is available only to the one who has purchased LMS, and its resources are not distributed among other customers of the vendor. Basic data and configuration operations are performed by the provider, while you have access to LMS for further integration with other platforms.
Now that you have an idea of what an LMS is, who uses it, for what purposes, and how to provide access to the platform, it's time to get familiar with the main stages of LMS implementation.
Implementation of LMS is worth planning considering the following key issues: who, why, what, where, and when?
Who? Find out who your learners (employees, partners, or customers) are; what their position or customer type is; what salary level, transaction value, or type of partnership; what product line, re-seller type, and more. These are examples of user values that can be stored in the LMS and according to which system users can be classified. Feasibility and details have a positive impact on the accuracy of reports and the quality of offers being delivered.
Why? Why do you plan to train your audience? It can be professional growth, health, and safety training, or other industry needs. Understanding the reason for the training and the ultimate goal makes it easier to enroll in the course. You can, for example, set clear enrollment rules and timelines for a specific course, set up notifications on various parameters, perform correct certification, and so on.
What? This question concerns the course content. You may already have content in PDF or video format. You can upload them to LMS or convert them to SCORM. In fact, if you need to start working with LMS as soon as possible, you can upload existing materials to the system in their format, and then gradually add new content and improve existing content.
As an option, courses can be organized as live training - no additional content settings are required, or self-paced courses - there is room for any training materials.
Where? To answer this question, it must be clear how students can access an LMS. The system can be accessed by employees of your company (LMS is a particularly suitable tool for remote work) who have access to the system via mobile devices or a computer. It is of great importance to understand whether they need the LMS in multiple languages and how quickly they can access the Internet.
When? Before launching LMS, it is necessary to be aware of when your learners have to pass the training course and how they should be enrolled in the next stage. It may be either an automatic enrollment or enrollment based on the test results. You also need to know when to set expiration dates or deadlines, when to set up automatic reports, etc.
LMS implementation is not a step that you can miss or save money on. Implementation of LMS, like any other software, is a challenging process that involves several steps. A clear LMS implementation project plan with certain steps will streamline the process, as well as increase the chances for end-users to use the system properly.
Meanwhile, there are two fundamental points before getting down to business:
- The team;
- The time frame.
The team. It is useful to create a core team and an extended one. The first should consist of decision makers and those bringing ideas into the system covering all areas of business. These people are responsible for all major issues, namely: implementation of each stage of the approved plan, correct use of the system by the end-user, performance of each element of the system, communication channels, etc.
Role allocation in the core team:
- Team leader. This is the key person who connects the enterprise and the LMS provider. He/she is responsible for how the project progresses and solves all the difficulties arising.
- Project Manager. He or she is responsible for getting all tasks done on time and correctly before moving on to the next task.
- An e-Learning technician. This person has an understanding of basic training models, platforms, and schemes. He or she takes charge of the correct LMS setup.
- Administrator of the e-learning process. This specialist makes it clear, what functions and configurations of the system are necessary. The administrator is tasked with configuring compliance, managing user profiles, creating and comparing reports.
- IT-architect. He or she is responsible for any IT task that may arise during data migration. This list of tasks also comprises security management, integration solution implementation, system settings, system element authentication, etc.
At first glance, it may seem that the core team is enough for LMS implementation and management. Nevertheless, there is a need for an extended team as well. As a rule, an extended team consists of course authors and managers, system designers, and administrators. They are responsible for training administrators and key users before running an MVP (minimum viable product) of the system on a corporate-wide level.
The time frame. Since the situation with the team became clear, it's time to set a time frame for system implementation. Each company has its own time frame as it is tied to the internal processes of the organization, the number of employees involved, and their level of understanding of the issue. More time should be allocated for unplanned situations and large-scale tasks such as data migration or system configuration.
LMS implementation steps
In terms of implementation steps, there is no difference between running LMS or MVP of other software. This process implies these steps:
- List of technical tasks;
- Task allocation;
- LMS requirements prioritization;
- Configuration step;
- User testing;
- LMS goes live;
- Collecting user feedback;
- Creating a culture of continuous learning.
Let's look at each of the above steps in detail.
This step is a key one in terms of LMS implementation. Many people are involved in the process. A communication plan between them must be established in advance so that each participant could be aware of the work process without interfering with the work tasks and keeping the process consistent.
Still, it is worth starting not with a random implementation plan, but with the implementation template provided by the vendor. This template, although flexible, can still be a reliable entry point. In the future, it can be complemented by other steps and processes while answering such questions:
- What is the purpose of LMS implementation?
- Which settings are necessary?
- Is integration with other software and solutions required? These may be customer relationship management systems, accounting software, HR solutions and so on.
- How to train administrators to work with the system?
- Who will provide technical support for the software after the LMS is implemented?
At this stage, determine why you are implementing this particular LMS, how it fits into your corporate training strategy, whether it meets your company structure and corporate training and knowledge needs. Metrics should also be installed to help determine whether the LMS is implemented correctly and serves its purpose.
List of technical tasks
Before implementing an LMS from scratch or replacing an old LMS with a new one, make sure that no data is lost during the migration. To that end, check with your system provider, how data will be transferred, how files will be downloaded, and what API functions are available.
The implementation of LMS implies meeting clear deadlines and tasks. You can use a calendar or other online tools with similar functionality to set tasks and schedules. Allocate tasks to each team member with clearly defined timelines, so you can keep up with the schedule and be able to deal with any changes or unpredictable situations that are out of the plan established.
LMS requirements prioritization
It is necessary to make a list of must-have LMS features as well as nice-to-have ones. The migration from an old LMS to a new one must be carried out as smoothly as possible. Employees should also be trained according to the same, i.e. simple, way. This is the only way they can see the benefits of an LMS to increase their productivity in the workplace.
This stage involves setting up the system according to the needs and peculiarities of the company. To do this correctly, both the core and extended team must have a clear understanding of the company's activities and the information required to set up.
Some configuration solutions need to be made first of all:
- Data to be kept in user profiles;
- Domain configuration for different audiences;
- Access levels for each user role;
- Must-have skills and knowledge for an employee/client to work with LMS;
- List of reports for each group of employees;
- Course structure;
- Notifications, reminders, warnings to be set up within the system.
Although there is a proven scheme for configuring and working with the LMS, there is still no one-size-fits-all template. To set up the system in the best possible way, you should first consider the possibilities and tasks of your company, as well as communicate with the system provider to find out how a customized LMS can handle your tasks.
Typically, LMS provides the ability to integrate with other software, so that data can be accessed, exchanged and updated. These are the main solutions to be integrated:
- Solutions for user data and profiles maintenance;
- Single sign-on (SSO) platforms for employees who use different software solutions to access the system;
- LMS portals with hyperlinks through which it is possible to reach any page or APIs through which technical specialists can put LMS data on portals;
- Enterprise Search. This is a platform that provides access to LMS content using other corporate solutions related to courses;
- Accounting solutions, credit card processing systems, other software solutions.
At this stage data migration and course structure take place. This is where incompatibilities between the old and the new version of the LMS can occur. The best option is to transfer a minimum amount of data first to avoid big failures and troubles in the future.
Make sure, together with your legal department, that you comply with data retention policies during the migration. The information about previous courses, where special rules apply, should also be taken into account.
By dividing the data migration into several stages, you can prevent possible difficulties or data loss:
1. Migrate a small sample of data and test it to ensure if the migration program works as expected.
2. Migrate the rest of the data.
3. Before making the LMS available for use, you should migrate any additional data that may have appeared after the full migration.
What the data to be migrated can look like:
- User data - both from the HR system and from the previous version of LMS.
- Software, including standards for academic institutions, non-profit organizations, government compliance and SCORM.
- Course data: names, metadata tags, schedules, etc.
- Transcript data that track course progress and user completion.
Before being launched, LMS should be provided for testing to a small number of employees.
Each team member must perform the specified functions and mark which menu is selected, which checkboxes are checked, which buttons are pressed, which fields are filled in, etc.
The information obtained should be used to create tests, schedule tests and assign testers in the system. It is also necessary to assign the main tester, which can assign other system testers to detect errors.
Each stage of testing should end with a discussion of errors and setting priorities for their correction.
LMS goes live
After thorough training software development and testing, the LMS becomes available for use. This stage is considered to be a finish line in the project implementation process. It is necessary to train users to work with the system, as well as to provide your company's IT helpdesk with an action scenario and communication plan.
Course administrators, designers, trainers should be aware of the updates in advance to be able to prepare for them and adjust deadlines.
It should be remembered that when switching to a new LMS, the company will be in the grey zone for some time, also called "the eclipse zone". It means that there is neither old nor new LMS. During this period, full data transfer is carried out, as well as verification of coding performed. To avoid unexpected failures, it makes sense to schedule the start of the new LMS on weekends.
Collecting user feedback
LMS can be available as a web application and mobile application as well. Not only engineers but also end-users should use an app to check its capabilities on different devices and submit feedback using a pre-designed feedback form.
Building a culture of continuous learning
LMS provides the necessary conditions for knowledge exchange and equal cooperation. Access to the application should be possible from any device and the tasks should be as fast as possible, so as not to waste too much time of users (clients, partners).
What to consider when implementing LMS
To make sure everything is configured properly, make a quick review of all the things that are important to consider before LMS implementation.
Business objectives along with technical aspects. Before getting into the technical aspects of LMS configuration, you need to make sure that there is a business need. Its implementation should be aligned with business goals and tasks in advance.
How to agree the need for LMS with business goals?
First of all, it is important to have an understanding that the money invested in training will increase the average cost of the deal, increase income or improve the quality of customer service. Then the metrics come into play.
Training metrics to be achieved and aligned with business KPIs. The list of training metrics to improve the skills and knowledge of learners, and thus increase profits, must be determined upfront. Instead of being a point of expense, LMS should become a point of profit. An aspect of importance in terms of LMS implementation is to establish a procedure to align training data with performance data.
These indicators are best presented on the training panel to make their correlation clear for business stakeholders.
Technology is not the only thing to succeed with LMS implementation. It is also important that people involved in the training process have the necessary skills of the video presentation, storytelling, micro-content strategies. They must be able to competently combine different types of training and be skilled in community engagement.
With all these skills and knowledge, participants can achieve results that are aligned with business goals.
Do not consider implementation to be the ultimate goal. The culture of continuous learning is cultivated in today's world. The variety of LMSs must serve this purpose. The system implementation itself is only half the way. The next step to take is to set up the best possible conditions for continuous learning and improve interaction with LMS. The implementation of the system is, in fact, only the first step, followed by a race, competition, and the main part of the way.
Well-designed and implemented LMS solves those problems with corporate training that HR managers usually face. Among the key issues we would like to highlight the following:
- Distance learning available with any device and from any place;
- Centralized training mode with approved practices;
- Aligned learners' assessment modules and schemes;
- Easy way to learn using innovative methods and techniques.
Implementation of an LMS is just a part of the way to introduce eLearning within your company. And yet it is the most tedious part, as it requires increased attention to detail to ensure correct data migration and correct future operation of the system. For system adjustment, good technical and system knowledge and skills are required.
And yet, not every company copes with the correct web and mobile development and further configuration of the training system.
Having experience in LXP/LMS development, the DDI Development team is open to cooperation and ready to provide you with the best solution you may need.