In a 2012 article, “Learning Management System Migration: An Analysis of Stakeholder Perspectives,” researchers from Nipissing University, Canada, stated: “We concluded, as others have, that ‘an effective LMS must support active engagement, meaningful connections between segments of the course, easy communication, and formative feedback on work that is presented in class discussions or through other venues.’ … When some of these features are lacking or not as current as they should be, migration and transitioning can be expected, which can impact all stakeholders as the adjustment and change ensues.” (See References.)
LMSs today have to be on a par with the technological revolution (think web 3.0 or learning 3.0). Keeping up with constant software changes and new platforms leads to a need for frequent upgrades or, in some cases, switching to a new system entirely.
However, many buyers consider keeping up to be a task for which the LMS provider is the only party responsible, and so buyers are often unclear about their role in the process. Below are 10 practices that a client or a buyer can follow in order to make the overall LMS upgrade or migration process go smoothly and ensure that the transition is worth every penny.
1. Involve the stakeholders
The research mentioned above highlights that the stakeholders who are most affected by LMS migration or upgrading are the trainers, instructors, and administrators—the actual owners of the system. However, when considering an upgrade or migration, it’s not just the actual owners you have to take into account. As the process also involves technological changes, the IT group must be actively involved as well.
Both these teams—the system owners and stakeholders, and the IT group—have varying requirements and expectations from the new LMS version. Understand how each member envisions the project. It will help to set a benchmark and to measure the project success at the end of the project. Also, as it is a transition, you should inform all those who will be impacted (the LMS learners) well in advance.
2. Keep in mind and consider these seven points
Be it an upgrade within the same application or a switchover to an entirely different product, for LMS buyers it is good to have some points clarified.
- Data mapping—While the vendor is responsible for taking care of the groundwork of what data will go where, as a client you need to understand how the data will look in the new system.
- Data cleanup—Many new technologies come into the market that play a vital role in optimizing and making the data dynamic, and this directly affects the LMS evolution. Enhancements in the system can leave behind some unused or redundant legacy data. While opting for a migration, the vendor’s project team can identify all such data and clear it out, if required. The role of your team here is to validate whether any past data is of any use or whether it can be archived. If you are reluctant to archive the data, then make sure that retrieval options are available.
- Enhancements—Before getting started with an LMS upgrade, be clear about the kind of enhancements you are looking for. Is it new technology, compatibility, new features, or IT guidelines? Giving the LMS provider a clear outline of what you need will ensure that you get a satisfactory output.
- New modules—Understand explicitly what new modules you are getting in an upgrade, or what modules you get when migrating to a different system.
- What’s new—Always look for new elements that are offered either within the LMS or as add-ons. These can come in handy any time in the future, or as a means to future-proof your learning or training initiative.
- Target users—While identifying the target users may be the vendor’s task, it’s your task to provide all the necessary inputs about how the LMS will be used, the kind of tracking requirements you are looking for, administrative roles, and the geographic diversity of users, if applicable. Such information can help the vendor in creating an optimized solution for your organization.
- Company policies—Be forthright about your organization’s policy for data protection, data encryption, etc., as the LMS needs to be set up with these aspects in mind. Here, both the client and the vendor should be involved and contribute equally to ensure a hassle-free LMS setup. As a client, it is a good practice to promptly review and provide a clearance for the necessary environment details the vendors provide in order to reduce delays.
3. Establish procedures
While commissioning an LMS upgrade project, divide the key stakeholders into teams based on their roles. Each team has an important contribution to make that drives the project to its success. Every team will have its pre-set processes and procedures to follow and also have its own approval process, processing time, release process, etc.
Allow the vendor to understand your processes. To set the right expectations, give them a clear picture of the estimated timeframe, the kind of approval cycles, and any constraints, challenges, or contracts that might impact the project.
4. Structure your processes
It is the vendor’s task to understand the processes well and to suggest ways to improve them through the upgrade project. In order to make this process simpler, you can always create a structure of the process you follow at your company. And in turn, compare it with what the new system offers in terms of simplifying the current process.
5. Look for benefits
Understand the benefits of an LMS upgrade, not just in terms of technological changes but also in terms of how it will help different user groups.
It may not be easy to understand the requirements clearly, and in such cases, trust the vendor and seek advice on how you can achieve things with the LMS. Consulting with the LMS providers can provide greater insight and clarity about how to bridge the path from requirement listing to the final end product.
6. Ask for case studies and demos
At times, the product speaks for itself. Ask the LMS service providers for case studies or demos that provide an example for a complex task established earlier. This can also help in setting a clearer base about your own requirements.
7. Be futuristic
An LMS upgrade or migration should be a long-term solution. Think about the results you can achieve in the longer run, and see how the features can be used in the future. Analyze how the learning delivery can be changed over time. Invest in innovation, and not just in some interim solution.
8. Review thoroughly
This is a crucial phase, as the review confirms whether or not the system has everything as proposed. Utilize this time for reviewing the functionalities: try out all workflows, use the system like an actual operational flow, look at the data, and ensure you have all that you need. Ensure the company level policies and security measures are being met.
If required, ask for a user acceptance test plan, and provide inputs for it. The user set would ideally be composed of:
on the LMS user’s role
- Admin group
- End-user group
- Trainer and instructor group
- Line manager group
- IT team group—which ensures that the application is built as per the IT requirements
9. Confirm the end result
Once the upgrade is completed, cross-check whether the “reason” for upgrading the system has been met.
10. Plan and prepare for the go-live
Have a fixed date for launching the upgraded or new LMS system, and stick to it. Ensure the participation of all users through promotional activities within the organization. Before the final day, carefully cross-check the system. Focus on the following points for a smooth transition:
- Set a communication plan for end users and administrators
- Chart the navigation steps for the new system
- List out the new features added
- Outline the benefits of the new system
- Also, clearly mention where and how the users can find the previous data (something like a comparison between old and new systems)
Be it LMS migration or upgrade, there are various types of successes (measurable and immeasurable) and problems that are encountered. Most issues are quite standard and predictable and can simply be avoided by focusing on these 10 points.
Quoting directly from the conclusion drawn by the Nipissing University study (see References): “With the surfacing of innovative technologies, revisions to current systems, and changing needs and abilities of instructors, future LMS transitions are predictable. Each institution ‘must adapt, using technologies and models of understanding, in this case to reconcile teaching, research, IT, a changing environment, financial accountability, and managerial models.’”
Rubin, Beth, Ron Fernandes, Maria D. Avgerinou, and James Moore. “The effect of learning management systems on student and faculty outcomes.” The Internet and Higher Education, Vol. 13, No. 1 – 2. January 2010.
Ryan, Tom G., Mary Toye, Kyle Charron, and Gavin Park. “Learning Management System Migration: An Analysis of Stakeholder Perspectives.” The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, Vol. 13, No. 1. January 2012.Wise, Lisa, and James Quealy. LMS Governance Project Report. Melbourne-Monash Collaboration in Educational Technologies. May 2006.