“What’s an LMS?” (Part 2)

What’s an LMS GRAPHIC

Lessons learned about LMS implementation, software training, internal marketing, and user adoption.

Not that long ago, I embarked upon an adventure: implementing the first Learning Management System (LMS) in my company. The first article looked at identifying needs, making the business case, choosing a vendor, and obtaining senior leadership buy-in. Here in Part 2, we look at implementation, software training, internal marketing, and user adoption.

Disclaimer: I am not selling any LMS! I have absolutely no attachment to any LMS vendor. In fact, many articles written about LMSs are provided by vendors with an interest in selling to you. Not me! I’m unbiased, and will not be recommending any LMS vendors.

Implementation

In Part 1, we discussed the steps needed to research the LMS market, cast a vision, and negotiate with the chosen LMS vendor. Once that is completed and you have secured your LMS, implementation is the next part of the journey. Keeping the appropriate mindset, and implementing your LMS in phases, will be your keys to success.

A Note about Important Features

Two key features to consider in your negotiation with your chosen LMS vendor are:

  1. Single sign-on
  2. Historical training data integration

The single sign-on feature allows users to access the LMS from a secure employee portal without extra user names and passwords. This is strongly recommended—otherwise, you will need to manage issues related to forgotten passwords and user names, passwords needing to be reset, and so forth. This is a headache to be avoided, especially for small and mid-sized companies without plenty of internal IT support. This single sign-on feature costs extra (doesn’t everything?), but it is well worth the extra cost.

The historical training data integration issue is more complicated. In our case, this service would have cost as much as our entire first-year LMS subscription. In addition, for past training records to be integrated into the LMS, there will be detailed expectations for how that data is provided to the LMS vendor, and this data preparation takes significant time. In our case, even though the inputting of the historical data took considerable time, I envisioned this as an ongoing phase of our implementation, so expectations were realistic. That is, people could not access all of their past training records until those records were entered into our LMS by our full-time training administrator (who administered the LMS as one of her responsibilities), but I communicated this in advance. This worked fine, and the cost savings was substantial.

Begin the Journey

As you begin the implementation phase and move into building and using your LMS, many questions will need to be answered. Having the right mindset will be important for your success. How you navigate the learning curve presented to you and how you champion your vision will be important. It also will be important not to become overwhelmed with the many tasks that will present themselves. Keep your vision clear; create and use key talking points to keep others focused on the vital tasks, and focus on your implementation tasks, one by one.

Navigate the Learning Curve

How big is the learning curve? It depends on how many features you want to implement in your LMS—and how soon. In an enterprise-level LMS, it is recommended that a minimum of two full-time administrators be on board to run it. If not, the tasks may become overwhelming and project failure could be the end result. In my case, we had one administrator who was not full time on the LMS, and I served as the system/content administrator in addition to other duties (I will explain these roles shortly). At the time of implementation, we had fewer than 1000 users on the system. I knew that with our level of staffing I had to be realistic—and help others to be so—about how quickly we could utilize all of the functionality of our LMS.

In addition to building your LMS home page with your branding and other choices, and learning to navigate the various menus, you will need to learn about the tools available for you to use in building out your various pages. You will have pages for ILTs (Instructor-Led Training classes), CBTs (Computer-Based Training courses), enrollments (where users will self-select learning content), a learning history page (where learners can see past completed training), a tools or resources page, and other pages depending upon how you want to configure the site. Your main page will link to all of these other pages.

Navigate your learning curve by looking at your shopping list—the items you intend to utilize in your LMS—and prioritizing. Take advantage of the LMS training tools provided: online help, virtual instructor-led training, phone conferencing, and so forth.

Identify the Roles Needed to Build and Run the New LMS

These roles do not have to be full-time; this will depend on the size of your organization. A SaaS model (software as a service, typically a hosted solution on the vendor’s servers, with most IT services provided) is advantageous to smaller organizations that do not have much IT infrastructure. Here are the main roles to be staffed:

  1. System Administrator: This person interfaces with your internal IT group and the LMS vendor to navigate the implementation process.
  2. Content Administrator: This person builds out the site, including graphics, links, and text.
  3. Training/LMS Administrator: This person builds the site with training records and schedules, historical training records, and the tracking and reporting on the training functions being facilitated by the LMS. In my case, I took the first two roles, and our Training administrator took the third. It was challenging but also a lot of fun. Other roles will come later, in a phased approach.

Don’t Over-Promise

You will be excited about implementing the new LMS, as will others, especially those to whom you sold your initial vision. Senior leadership will be eager to get the product in front of users to justify costs being incurred. Yet, everything cannot be built at once, and priorities must remain clear. Here’s what helped me. In one of my PowerPoint presentations, I included the picture of a gorgeous, red Ferrari. I told everyone: we own that Ferrari now, and it is time to get it out of the garage and start the engine, kick the tires, and get it ready to drive—but that we would only be ready to shift into first gear, then second—and later, we would be able to see what this baby could really do! It was my way of keeping a phased implementation as our focus. In addition, when people asked how soon we could have certain functionality, I often said that our phased approach took into account our available time and resources, and if some stakeholders wanted things to happen more quickly, I would be glad to accept supplementation of those resources. This approach kept us on track, and kept our implementation expectations realistic.

Champion Your Vision through Communication

You are the LMS Champion; you are the vision-caster. So, champion your vision! Communicate. Write out the phases of your implementation—that is, the order in which your LMS functions will roll out to users. Be sure these phases are clear. Communicate them to stakeholders and users; this will help them to be patient and to maintain their enthusiasm for the project. Use promotional e-mails, informational PowerPoints that can be shared widely, and—perhaps most important—a simple user guide posted on the home page of your LMS and e-mailed company-wide.

This is the time to begin working on your user adoption rates. You will be able to track and report on user activity, so encourage regular LMS use. Change your pages enough to keep them fresh, and visit classes and meetings to do short orientations about how to use the LMS. Send out short pieces about the web-based training courses that people may take, when you have developed some. I did all of these things, and also wrote short feature articles, with user pictures and quotes, about employees who were using the site and what they liked about it. I made certain to get across the point that the LMS was user friendly. Some short screen capture videos are helpful, to send to users that can’t seem to navigate the LMS from using text-based job aids, alone.

Helpful Hints

  • Try to design your site so it takes no more than three clicks to access any content. Tell people this is the case, and show them. When people saw they could enroll in a class, or start an eLearning course, in three clicks, the intimidation factor lessened, and user adoption rates were enhanced.
  • Make sure your basic user guide is polished, accurate, and widely distributed.
  • Be sure users know who to contact if they encounter problems, and get any bugs fixed immediately. This will boost user confidence. In my case, we had one glitch having to do with how our nightly Oracle feed to the LMS sent over some international employee numbers that the LMS could not recognize, causing glitches with the Single Sign On feature for those users. I worked on the problem continually until it was solved, and I remained apologetic and communicative with those users who were having the problem.
  • Use site logos and graphics that are appropriate for your company and your users. It is vital to keep an accessible, friendly feel to the site. You will choose colors and templates early in this process. Be sure they are appropriate, and high-quality. A graphic/instructional designer can help.
  • Your IT Department is your friend. Cultivate relationships with those in IT that will support this initiative; be appreciative of their support, because you will need it.
  • Don’t add too much functionality at once, or you will not be able to run it. For example, performance management functions, social networking and other important pieces will likely need to be built, and people won’t understand that this can’t all happen at once. Include these pieces in your phased approach, and communicate about when they likely will be available. In my case, I used a three-year phased approach.

A Final Note

Once people get on your site and see what it can do—when they see that Ferrari out of the garage and moving—they will be excited as you run through the gears and add functionality. Try to maintain that excitement through your vision-casting and clear communication. It’s difficult to keep the car in the garage until it is ready to be unveiled, but it’s exciting when this LMS journey gets under way. In time, you will see the training function in your company supported in ways that you will appreciate and value, and you will wonder how you could have functioned without it. As that happens, more funding and support (both money and staffing) will likely be made available, to implement later phases of the project. This includes the development of an eLearning program for your company! But that is the subject of another post. Above all, enjoy the journey. It’s one worth taking.

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