When things aren’t going properly, good managers want to know where the problem is and how to fix it. A Learning Management System (LMS) is a jumble of web pages, forms and computer code that manipulate data the client places into it. Blame is frequently placed on the learning management system vendor, the information technology department, or other group when things just don’t work right. Often, the underlying issue is unrelated to the actual software “product”.
A quality learning management system is a complex software product. Issues, bugs, and quirks do happen. When a problem is truly with the software, vendors have a responsibility to address the concern in a timely manner. Most vendors will even be helpful when the issue isn’t really a software support problem. Five areas cover the majority of non-software problems. Managing these pitfalls can dramatically increase your satisfaction, both with your learning management system and vendor.
Self-Hosting Your Learning Management System
Self-hosting can sound like a less-expensive alternative to an externally hosted solution. Certainly for some clients, self-hosting is successful and trouble-free. A knowledgeable IT staff can monitor and maintain the installation with minimal effort. The majority of problems with self-hosting fall into four categories:
- Placing additional products or software on the same server as the learning management system.
- Non-learning management system patches, upgrades, etc. to system software, or the lack thereof.
- Exceeding hardware limitations – outbound bandwidth, hard drive capacity, etc.
- IT personnel and resources – they have an entire infrastructure to support, and LMS issues may be a lower priority.
If you’re going to self-host, the installation must be thoroughly planned and continuously maintained.
Self-hosting also makes it more difficult for the vendor to troubleshoot the system, apply patches, or update components. Most customers require customizations over the course of time. Self-hosting makes creating and implementing these a more time-consuming process. One way to help out your vendor is to provide temporary server access while a support case is open. Before committing to a self-hosted solution, have honest discussions with your IT personnel. Often, the expenses associated with the infrastructure and personnel actually make a self-hosted solution more expensive over time.
Lack of Training
Not taking advantage of training offered by the learning management system vendor makes starting with a solid foundation difficult. Many centers opt out of training completely, or select “webinar-based” training because of the associated cost. Not participating in training dramatically slows your implementation. Each system and installation is unique. Having someone from the vendor’s support or training staff on-site, interacting with the implementation team is invaluable.
Involve all potential users in training. Don’t let a seat in the training session go unfilled! Include IT staff as part of the training session also. Stakeholders and end-users may have limited roles in the finished product, but often they can bring insight and questions to the table that will facilitate implementation. Consider scheduling an additional training session to take place 9-12 months after implementation. Your skill set and questions may be substantially different after you’ve been using the learning management system. You would be surprised at how many feature requests are for features that already exist in the product.
On-site training has one additional overlooked benefit. The vendor becomes more familiar with your business model and your implementation of the product. This allows them to better anticipate and respond to your needs. The personal relationship that develops during training can be invaluable over the life of the product.
Rushing The Process
The purchasing process for a learning management system tends to be extended, often taking six months or longer. Once a decision is made, most clients seem to want the product fully implemented immediately. When the implementation is rushed, details get overlooked. Overlooking details early on can create huge challenges down the road. Some simple steps can help:
- Establish a timeline and milestones.
- Work with your site for 7-10 days. Involve a group of users at all roles / levels. Try out features and see how the system works. Perform a “reset”.
- Create short and long-term plans. Make key decisions on fees, naming conventions, regionalization, etc.
- Set up the basic data structure.
- Import existing data.
- Identify personnel and assign roles / security permissions.
- Set up key features and documents.
- Test the system.
- Roll out to users in phases.
Most learning management system vendors are excellent sources of advice on setting up your system for long-term success. Ask questions and listen to their advice. More than once, a client has approached us to “reset” a database and manipulate existing data to correct an issue that could have been resolved easily during the implementation.
There are three basic feedback loops that are critical to the training center’s LMS implementation. When these groups stop talking, dissatisfaction can grow exponentially. Most learning management systems provide tools to help you improve communication with specific subsets of users (job title, group, role, classes taken / not taken).
- Learning Management System Vendor
- Stakeholders (Staff, Content Developers, Instructors, Students)
- Information Technology and Management Staff
Successful training centers realize that implementing a learning management system is a significant change for a company. The training center must engage the different groups early and often. Simply “turning the system on” is no guarantee of success, even with outstanding training material. Even in a corporate environment where training may be provided at no cost, there is a need to educate about the training center and technology itself – not just the training provided.
Include different individuals from different roles throughout the implementation process. Solicit in-depth feedback and share it with your LMS vendor. One of the easiest ways to create an advocate is for them to see a concern or suggestion they made included or addressed in a timely manner.
Sometimes we hear training centers say “they just aren’t using it [the LMS].” Rarely is this a problem with the learning management system software. Invariably, the answers to “why” can be found in one of the following questions:
- What have you done to let people know about training opportunities and the LMS in general?
- What is the quality of the content being provided as training?
- Are you providing an experience that engages individuals, with relevant and interesting information?
Clients must have a clear understanding of the learning management system’s features and limitations. A developer submits a beautiful, finished course in AICC format; your LMS only accepts SCORM 2004 3rd or 4th edition conformant files. An instructor calls wanting to create an examination using a round hotspot instead of a rectangular one – “It’s critical to my class!” Methodology can present issues for training centers even when a learning management system isn’t involved. Every developer or instructor has preferences and opinions. The first step in minimizing these issues takes place as you write your request for proposals; identify critical elements in your center’s methodology and ensure potential LMS vendors meet those needs.
In a perfect world, a training center’s content (program materials, exams, surveys, etc.) can migrate unchanged into the new learning management system. In fact, most learning management systems are highly flexible. Most training centers will have to adjust a few business and training practices during implementation. Communication with content developers and instructional staff about LMS capabilities is the key. Establish guidelines for developers and staff early during the implementation. Explain the flow of a student through the LMS and help others capitalize on the opportunities each step presents.
Help the staff by understanding the need, the desired process, or result. Your learning management system vendor can typically start with that information and help you find a solution. If customization of the platform is suggested, consider cost versus need. Is the process so critical that it warrants a customization? If so, was this process discussed in the purchase process and what was the resolution? Is the vendor’s suggested alternative adequate even though it’s slightly different than what your training center is used to?
Your learning management system is a tool, just like a hammer. When you find a wooden chair that is uncomfortable, you don’t blame the hammer. Instead, you relate the problem to the craftsman or the raw material. A hammer problem is the exception. Manage these pitfalls in partnership with your vendor, and you’ll be much more satisfied.