How to implement a LMS
This is a comprehensive guide to implementing a new LMS or migrating to a new LMS.
In this guide we provide some generic advice about implementing an LMS, although each LMS within an organisation will be different. LMS providers and partners also have their own implementation frameworks.
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The state of Learning Management Systems
Technology is forever changing. The first generation of LMS simply focused on the Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) and booking face-to-face learning. With the adoption of eLearning, businesses were focused on compliance tracking and saving money, however learning has shifted. We’re now seeing the development of learning platforms that allow a more blended, integrated and journey-based experience. Often, these offer a mixture of social learning experiences along with self-paced ones. This type of platform focuses on bringing learners a variety of rich learning experiences, as opposed to classic PowerPoint presentations. This means more organisations are switching their Learning Management Systems and looking for platforms that allow them to build learning ecosystems.
Some organisations are looking toward what has become known as Learning Experience Platforms to meet this need and have their LMS to focus on compliance. This doesn’t have to be the case as there are new types of Learning Management Systems, such as Totara Learn with comprehensive features for enabling learning ecosystems.
How to choose a Learning Management System
If you’re reading this guide and you’re in the process of choosing an LMS, there are a few things to consider. Choosing an LMS is not as simple as ticking off a list of requirements. As a software category, LMS’ are mature and most systems will meet the majority of your requirements. This means there isn’t much of a difference when you measure the different systems.
A better way to decide, is to work with three important factors, which are perhaps harder to measure than the simple checking of a box against a requirement but will allow you to differentiate the offering of each vendor.
- Does the company’s vision for learning align with ours?
- What's the price?
- What will the vendor be like to work with?
You’re not just selecting a platform you’re selecting a new business partner. You need to be comfortable with the vendor’s ability to guide you, both technically and from a learning point of view, so that you get the most out of your investment in that platform. When you’re implementing an LMS, it’s not just an IT system you're bringing in but a whole new way of learning.
Sprout Labs has written a eBook on how to choose an LMS if you’re interested in more of this topic.
What are the business drivers for implementing your Learning Management System?
When you’re implementing an LMS it’s important to have clear business drivers. Having a clear, shared understanding of why you're starting digital learning or moving to a new LMS, helps your decision making during the implementation process. There are obvious reasons for this, such as your business drivers leading to the content you’ll focus on in the beginning and it can also help with less obvious reasons such as deciding what data needs to be integrated in your LMS and HR systems.
How will you measure the success of your Learning Management System implementation project?
It’s common for a project team to be formed around the launch or migration and then once the platform is live, the project team disappears and the project is closed as for them, going live is the end. However, for the L&D team, the launch of the platform is the start of the journey transforming your learning.
When defining your business drivers, you also need to define what the success of your implementation project will look like. And you will need to define how you are going to measure its progress.
Who needs to be on your learning management implementation team?
For your LMS implementation to be successful, you will need a team. With more corporate systems moving to be cloud based platform services, at first it might seem like your IT group doesn’t need to be involved, however this is not the case. Your IT team is key to making the integration happen and in managing aspects such as security.
- IT account executive or project manager: Often, different areas of IT need to be involved in the LMS implementation process at various stages. An account executive or project manager works to ensure the right consultations are available at the right time.
- A HR representative: The way data is recorded in your HR system and your HR processes often need to change as your new LMS comes on board. To help with this, you need someone knowledgeable in your HR system and the processes surrounding that system.
For instance, if you’re planning on your corporate induction being online, this changes when people need to be added to your HR system. It’s common for new employees to not be added to the HR system until their first pay cheque. If the LMS is integrated with the HR system and that date is being used to define the learning pathways to be completed, then new employees need to be added to the HR system before they start or on their first day. Your HR representative should enable those changes.
- If you're a training provider, you may need a representative with CRM experience as well.
- Communication and branding representative: Someone from your communication and branding team is needed to guide the look and feel of the platform. They may not need to be a core member of the team and can just be brought in as a stakeholder.
- Multiple L&D team members: One mistake that can often happen with an LMS implementation is one person takes too much responsibility for the LMS. A team-based approach to the LMS implementation builds a richer, deeper understanding of the possibilities of digital learning
A Framework for implementing a Learning Management System
The rest of this guide steps you through the framework for implementing a Learning Management System. It’s a two-pronged approach, one focus being on IT and the other on the learning experience. At the start, IT issues can seem overwhelming but these are only the foundation for the platform. It’s how you use the platform to achieve learning and business outcomes which leads to the real success of the platform.
Implementation of a Learning Management System from an IT perspective
When implementing an LMS, IT issues such as integration and how people login must be dealt with at the start of the project. During the later stages of the project, the focus is more on the learning experience.
IT issues can often feel overwhelming for an L&D person but they must be dealt with because they lay the foundation for the learning experience e.g. if you want to offer customised learning pathways based on job roles, then during integration with your HR system, you need to make sure those job roles are in the LMS. Also, just having your HR system integrated with your LMS is not going deliver your business outcomes. Your actual learning experiences are key in achieving those outcomes.
IT issues you need to address in your Learning Management System implementation.
Accessing your Learning Management System - authentication
Many LMS platforms have a separate login from the rest of the company’s systems leading to a frustrating user experience. The ideal is a single sign-on process where the username for everything else at work is also used for the LMS. Ideally systems should be set up so you don’t need a login at all.
Dealing with IT jargon
Below is a guide to authentication options and some non-technical explanations. But as the L&D person you don’t need to be involved in the detailed conversations. Focus on your outcomes and don't get caught up in the details. Which in the case of authentication, often means making sure the right people are talking and working together.
Employees don’t have a separate username or password for the LMS.
An older way of doing single sign on. Employees still need to type in their usernames and passwords to get into the LMS.
A simple way to do single sign on. In some cases, it can be set up so an employee doesn’t need to type in their password again.
A Microsoft version of SAML. This can be set up as part of Office 365.
A cloud hosted SAML service.
Security issues with your Learning Management System
More IT services are moving to the cloud which creates new security issues. Many LMS’ are now only offered as cloud services. Cloud servers are often more secure than internal hosting because the cloud LMS providers have more resources than your team does to focus on security. Your organisation needs to be confident your vender has made sure their platform is secure.
Most of your security requirements should have been decided during your LMS selection process. When implementing your LMS, you need to ensure those requirements are realised during the project. If your new LMS is a cloud service, your IT team might run tests on the service or they can ask your vendor for evidence from their tests. The most common of these is a penetration test, often abbreviated to PENS test. During this process a security expert attempts to gain access to data in the LMS platform
Accessing your Learning Management System - web address
You need to decide the web address (URL) for your LMS. The bit of jargon you need to know for this decision is the yourname.com in your web address is called a domain name and these are controlled by Domain Name Servers (DNS). Often, lower end cloud based LMS offerings don’t allow you to use your own domain name. If you’re switching LMS and keeping the same domain name, then the switch-over needs to be planned. You also need to decide from what domain name the LMS sends email messages. This is something your IT people and your vendor need to work together on. Like authentication, it’s a part of the process in which you simply need to make sure the right people are working together.
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Integrating your Learning Management System with other systems
The most common integration with your LMS is with your HR systems. This integration is perhaps the most complex technical challenge of your LMS implementation project. Some of the reasons to integrate your LMS with your HR system are:
● The ability to allocate and report on job roles-based learning
● Reporting on learning based on your organisation’s structure e.g. which parts of the organisation haven’t completed their compliance training
● Allowing managers to review the learning their team has done
● Giving managers the ability to approve face-to-face training courses
Integrating your HR system and LMS provides a higher level of power and flexibility in driving and coordinating learning within the company.
Scoping your Learning Management System and HR system integration
The integration of your HR system with your LMS often needs its own scoping project. It’s not unusual for LMS requests for proposals to include a statement such as “The LMS must be integrated with ...“ This is often a broad requirement. Even if the vendor has done an integration with an HR system in the past, the way the system is used in the organisation could be different. Vague requirements such as this increase the “unknown” of a project leading to increases in cost.
A different approach is first ensure it’s possible to integrate your LMS and HR system and then do a scoping project separately with your new LMS partner at the selection stage. Then you see what your new potential partner is like to work with before you finalise the full LMS contract. This reduces the unknown in your LMS integration project and is frequently cheaper, easier and faster in the long term.
The table below has some of the jargon used during your LMS integration project
Stands for Application Programming Interface – It’s a way pieces of software communicate with each other. If your HR system has API’s it’s a lot easier to integrate the LMS. If your LMS doesn't have API’s there may be other ways to get data out of your HR system.
A type of API
SSH keys or HTTPS
Secure Shell keys / Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. These are related to security. Integration needs to be secure and your techs should be using these words to make sure the data between systems is secure.
Comma Separated Value file. These files have data organised into columns and rows like in Excel but are not formatted. CSV files are often used to move data between systems when an API does not exist.
An LMS integration project has a number of considerations and questions you need to answer.
With which systems does your Learning Management System need to integrate?
If you’re dealing with external clients you should consider integrating your LMS with your student management system or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system . This means you can store the courses people are interested in and what they completed in your CRM.
What data needs to move between your Learning Management System and your HR system?
There is obvious data that needs to be integrated, such as the organisation’s structure with managers, job roles and the locations where an employee works. But does your LMS also need to send the completions back to your HR system? In the past HR systems were seen as the single place where all data about a person should be stored but this has changed. Most HR systems are not good at storing the complexity of modern learning data, as they are often designed just for recording face-to-face training. Now, most organisations store their learning records in an LMS or a learning record store.
For instance, one useful piece of data to store in your LMS is a person’s start date with the organisation. Other data you may want to integrate into your LMS includes pay level, job location for allocating site inductions and/or demographic data.
What is the quality of your HR data?
Your LMS might be the first time an HR system has been integrated with another platform. Suddenly, you may discover that people are in the wrong team in the HR system people have the wrong job roles or are on the wrong training pathway. Your LMS implementation project is often an opportunity to question the quality of an organisation’s HR data and often a sub-project is needed to update and check its integrity.
How often does the integration need to run?
Synching the data between systems often needs to run as a batch job. In a perfect world, the HR system APIs would notify the other system of changes; in reality the API’s from most HR systems don’t work like this and the data needs to be loaded into the integration system and the LMS in a batch. This means you need to decide how often and when the integration needs to run? Can it just run once overnight, or does it need to run multiple times during the day?[C5]
Migrating and importing your data learning data
There are different challenges with learning data if you’re migrating to another LMS versus implementing an LMS for the first time. A good question to ask yourself is “Does that really need to be migrated/imported?” Often, all you need to do is make sure the existing data can be accessed and that it’s needed in your new LMS.
Importing your data learning data when getting started in digital learning
If you haven’t had an LMS in the past it’s likely your training records are in some other digital format such as Excel documents and you to need to make the following decisions:
- Are you going to move all or just part of the data into your LMS?
- How do want to show employee’s pass records? Do you want them shown in the learning record or do you want them shown as a completion for an online or face-to-face course in the LMS?
Often, if the LMS is only going to be used for a single purpose, such as induction, then organisations don’t worry about importing data. In this case, the critical data to import is mandatory and compliance course completion data, especially if completing a course is a recurring compliance requirement.
Migrating your data to a new Learning Management System
There are two components to migrating your learning data:
- Migrating your learning experiences
- Migrating your completion data
Migrating your learning experiences
Hopefully, as you have been building and uploading material to your LMS, you have all the source files in shared folders so you can simply rebuild your learning experiences. However, this is often not the case and the only place your learning resources exist are in your LMS. If don’t have a well organised repository for learning files, your LMS implementation project is a good opportunity to create them.
Some LMS will allow you to export your courses and your new LMS vendor can help you reformat or rebuild those exports. If you’re moving from Moodle to Totara Learn you can back up your courses in Moodle and restore them in Totara Learn allowing you to move both the learning material and course completions.
However, if you’re moving LMS’ because you want to deliver different learning experiences, then you need to do more than just migrate courses. When you launch your new LMS you’re want to be able to showcase those new experiences. This is discussed more in the section on learning experiences.
Designing the visual look and feel of your Learning Management System
The design of the look and feel of your LMS crosses between an IT issue and a learning experience issue. We have chosen to talk about it as part of the IT and set-up stage because it’s something you need to do before you launch.
The process of designing the look and feel of your LMS is often more challenging than you expect. It’s a stage where there are more stakeholders involved, although it’s made easier if your organisation has strong existing branding guidelines to be followed. This means the design process is not driven by individual tastes and preferences. If you don’t have strong branding guidelines, it’s an opportunity to build a brand for your learning experiences. The look and feel you develop as part of your LMS can then flow into your learning resources.
Currently, there’s a trend towards ‘tiled interfaces’ looking like Netflix. However, just because an LMS interface resembles Netflix doesn’t mean it has the same features users might expect from such a familiar interface, such as a recommendation engine and thus the learning experience may not match user expectations.
Designing the homepage for your Learning Management System
People often ask during an LMS implementation project, ‘What should we put on our homepage’. The answer depends on two things:
- What are the business drivers for the LMS?
- What do your employees need to access quickly?
If your LMS is used primarily to book face-to-face courses to start with, you need to make sure your event calendar is easy to access and a learner can quickly get to their current course bookings. Often, small L&D teams don’t run many face-to-face courses, which means it’s irrelevant to have a calendar on the homepage.
If you’re going to use your LMS to manage compliance training, then a learner needs to be able access the required course quickly. If you’re working on building a culture of continuous learning and self-directed learning, you need to think how a learner is going to browse and choose courses.
These are just a few examples of different business drivers and how that leads to a different focus for your homepage. You can't just copy someone else’s approach; you need to think about it in your context and business drivers.
A good mindset for your LMS homepage is thinking about it as a dynamic dashboard not a normal static website. Most LMS users go into an LMS for a reason, e.g. to do a course they’ve been told to do or to develop a new skill. Thus, the platform needs to be as easy as possible for people to navigate and find what they need.
Naming your Learning Management System
When deciding on a name for your platform, don’t use the product name. Use a name such as, ‘My Learning Hub’ or ‘The Learning Hub’, so when you need to get an upgrade or a replacement LMS, you don’t need to rename it.
Supporting your Learning Management System
The final IT issue to tackle is how the platform will be supported. Support for an LMS can be anything from problems with logins, to questions by the end users about how the system works, to whether courses are showing up correctly. You will need to decide who will take responsibility for dealing with the different types of assistance your users need.
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Implementation of a Learning Management System from a learning perspective.
When you’re in the middle of an LMS implementation, the IT challenges can seem overwhelming but in the long term it’s the learning experience you provide to learners that is critical to get right.
Below are three options for dealing with content. L&D teams, where there is already a strong culture of digital learning and the L&D team has a digital mindset, will use a combination of all three and thus create the right approach for their business problem However, often when a team is getting started, they choose just one approach.
Commissioning custom content development
Building your own content in-house
Using off-the-shelf content
Partner with experienced learning designers and developers to create a customised program.
Internal subject matter experts develop the program.
One rule of thumb if you're moving from face-to-face training to an online program is if you don’t already have someone in the organisation with the job title of trainer or facilitator, then you shouldn’t be developing your own eLearning. It’s considerably more complex.
With this approach you buy or license pre-existing program material. From somewhere such as
You can expect these programs to be high quality, effective learning experiences that deliver business outcomes. If eLearning is new to the organisation you get to experience the development process.
This approach is the cheapest.
This is the fastest way to get a learning program live in your Learning Management System.
Often more expensive than the other options.
Generally, offers a lower-quality learning experience.
Great eLearning is not easy to create – it takes a mixture of instructional design skills, visual design and media design skills.
It can take an in-house team three times longer than professionals to develop the program.
The programs are often not linked to your organisation's business outcomes.
If your core business is training then part of what your clients want is your expertise. In this case, buy-in content is not going to work.
Commissioning custom content development
While this is the highest cost option, it’s also the option that should get you the highest quality learning experience. Learning should be specific to your business and learner’s needs. If eLearning is totally new to your organisation, commissioning the development of a program means you see how experts work. Also, you will have a lot of content that needs to be developed at once and this project will go faster if you have a team of experts e.g. 10 modules might take an external team two months, whereas it might take a single internal developer 10 months.
Building your own programmes
One driver for eLearning is often to save money. Building your own eLearning is the cheapest option but it’s also the most complex. Building eLearning is often seen as a matter of using software but in reality the skills needed to design and build great eLearning are called “renaissance skills” which are a complex set of skills rarely found in a single person. These renaissance skills are:
- Learning design
- Visual design
- Media production
- Project management
The most complex part of this skill set is the learning design. If an organisation already does their own in-house training, the learning design expert may already be in-house. They might be focused on face -to-face programs but some of the instructional design approaches from face to face training can be translated online.
If your organisation doesn’t have this expertise in-house, one of the programs Sprout Labs runs is called the eLearning Superhuman Program. It’s a project-based learning experience, where you’re guided through the steps of developing an eLearning module.
A halfway approach between commissioning custom content and building your own is to bring in an instructional designer to work on a series of modules.
Using off-the-shelf content
With this approach you buy or license pre-existing courses from a library such as LinkedIn Learning or SkillSoft. Or there is GO1, which collects materials from existing libraries and provides you easy access to material. Using an off-the-shelf library of content is often the fastest way to get started with digital learning.
There are some negatives with this approach. These libraries are often huge and you need to curate the content from this massive selection that is right for your organisation. Also, the material in a content library is not geared towards the specific needs of your company. It can’t offer courses that speak to how the organisation does things, why it does those things, or the job roles within the company. Additionally, many content libraries are from the U.S. and reflect U.S. cultural attitudes and methods.
One way to get around this issue is to take a content curation approach going beyond just choosing courses. With this approach, you use material from the library as a resource and then build a learning experience around it. This might take the form of a self-assessment before starting a course, with a reflective question at the end about how an employee will be able to apply what they have just learnt.
Don’t choose induction programs as your first eLearning project
One of the common business cases for digital learning is putting your induction programs online. This makes sense because they are programs everyone must do repeatedly. But when you're starting in digital learning, doing your induction program as your first program is challenging. Especially if you’re doing your own development in-house.
The reason it’s challenging is—
- Many people need to be involved in the review of your inductions, often including your senior executives. No-one will be used to reading storyboards or be familiar with what great digital learning looks like
- Inductions are often hard to make into interactive learning experiences and they are often passive pieces of communication.
For your first digital learning project, a better option is to choose a piece of learning for a smaller audience and thus not as high stakes. You can then develop your learning design expertise and develop processes and systems for review. This ensures in the future, everyone is following the same processes and using the same language, resulting in an overall smoother development process.
Assigning and reporting on learning
An LMS is a powerful tool for assigning learning to your employees and reporting on their learning.
How are you going to assign learning?
You don’t want to enrol hundreds or thousands of employees into a course individually.
Most modern LMS have features you can use to create groups or workflows based on the data that has been bought in from your HR system. In Totara Learn (the system we know at Sprout Labs), these groups are called audiences. A few examples of useful audience types are manager, new starters and people in specific job roles. In Totara Learn, these audiences can be enrolled in courses or programs, which are a sequence of courses.
One example is, you have a series of courses a new manager needs to complete. When their role in the HR system changes, they are added to the ‘Managers’ audience that has been set up and then enrolled in the ‘New Manager’ programs linked to the audience. This also generates an email message with this new requirement and they receive subsequent messages on their progress in the program.
When getting started, you might want to set up, in advance, all the rules you could possibly need in the future. If the compliance training also needs to be refreshed, you may also need to design the workflow for this. One good way to think about assigning learning is to first think about what you need to report on.
Reporting on learning
Most LMS have powerful, complex reporting systems. To maximize the benefit of your LMS to your organisation, it’s important to make sure you have the right reports set-up. As you are launching your LMS, there is so much to do it’s often tempting to leave reporting to later. The risk with this approach is you don’t set up courses and assign learning in a way that makes it easy to report on which complicates matters in the long run.
Most LMS have some pre-set reports as a useful starting point.
When you think about reporting, the key questions are:
- Who is the report for?
- What do they need on the report e.g. a completion report that L&D needs will be different from the completion report a manager needs?
- How is the report accessed? Are they accessed when needed or sent out at regular intervals?
- Can the reports be placed in a dashboard?
As unified business intelligence systems are becoming more common, many organisations are choosing to bring their learning data into their business intelligence enabling a combination of learning data with other business metrics. With some LMS this might mean more integration.
Using your Learning Management System implementation to transform your learning culture
Lately, one of the most common reasons to switch LMS’ is an L&D team wants to build and design a different type of learning experience to create an experience that goes beyond traditional, content-based learning experiences.
Next-generation Learning Management Systems have some very different features around social learning, which provides new opportunities when launching platforms to do very different types of things. If you’re just migrating existing self-paced material or getting starting by simply launching an eLearning module, you’re not truly using the platform as a culture of “learning while working.”
Here are examples of approaches you could take:
Jams are online events exploring an issue, such as innovation or leadership culture in the organisation, using its social features. The idea of Jams was started by IBM, where they would get as many people as possible to brainstorm innovative ideas for the organisation, all in a 24-hour period. To replicate this, set a time limit on the Jam and open a series of discussions or commenting systems on the topic. Facilitation is required to make sure people stay on topic, behave appropriately and participate fully.
- Content Free Course
This is an approach also focused on social learning. There are set learning topics to be explored through a series of questions that provoke new thinking in participants. In face-to-face training, sessions often consist solely of discussions with no content.
You can run the same types of conversations, using discussion boards. Start the discussion with a spark, which could be a challenge, a scenario or a thought-provoking question, with reference materials provided if necessary. This spark should turn into a debate, during which time the facilitator will ask questions designed to make participants aware of their thoughts and the machinations behind those thoughts and/or actions.
A content free course offers a guided conversation in which people’s awareness and understanding is moved to where it needs to be. At the end of the course, the facilitator will summarise everything and ensure the intended messages of the course have been clearly stated.
In this approach, there is a greater possibility for templating than in a Jam. The facilitator can work from notes and follow a guideline for where the course needs to go.
- Innovation Projects
They involve going to different parts of an organisation and asking them to build something new and innovative around new platform features. These could be something like gamification or badges. Innovation projects done right can be a great way to truly showcase new learning experiences.
Change management and the implementation of your Learning Management System
Don’t underestimate the impact of your new LMS on your employees and L&D. For instance, there might be changes for your L&D staff managing face-to-face booking. If you're moving from less face-to-face to more online delivery, your facilitators might need to move from being focused on delivering training to a focus on being instructional designers.
A simple way of thinking about change is:
- What are the changes?
- Who does it impact?
- What is going to be different?
- How is the change going to be supported? e.g. training, job aids, video tutorials
- When will people need this expertise?
Your answers to these questions will help you develop your training and communication plan.
Training your people in your new Learning Management System
Your LMS administrator and content authors, may need full training in the new system. LMS are complex enterprise pieces of software, with many different features that you and they might not be used to at the start. You might need to take a staged approach to the training with your LMS partner, starting with the core skills your team will need first and then expanding knowledge over time. However, your employees and managers may only need short guides on the new system.
Communicating the change
Launching your LMS is exciting and a great time to build engagement on new ways of learning in your organisation.
One common strategy L&D teams use for employee engagement is naming competitions for the platform. We haven’t seen this work successfully, as often only a handful of people in L&D actually respond.
When launching your LMS, you need to think like a marketer. Figure out what the key value proportions are for managers and employees, then figure out the right channels for getting the messages to your managers. For instance, using a campaign approach over a period of time works well.
Two additional approaches we have seen work well in the past are:
- Instead of messages regarding the launch of the platform coming from a centralised L&D team, the messages come from team leaders and managers.
- Personal visits (or virtual meetings) with each core section of an organisation to talk about what the LMS means for them.
This is the start of your digital learning journey
Getting your new LMS in place is just the start of your digital learning journey. Digital learning has so much potential to transform learning and often only a small part of this potential is fully used. Hopefully this guide has demystified what is involved.