A learning management system (LMS) is software that manages learners, instructional content, and the relationship between them out of the box. That’s great when all of that functionality matches what is needed to best support the use case of the business units served by that LMS. This allows you to get the greatest benefit from the LMS because you will be able to identify and measure the success of your learning and development programs.

Important things to know about LMS products

As mentioned in another article, most LMS products are designed, organized, and optimized for a specific set of use cases for learners and managers. Each LMS is also intended to create a specific experience for each group of users according to their function in the business unit.

What if your L&D serves more than one use case? For example, what if your LMS mainly supports compliance with specific regulatory requirements? That would likely be a use case that applies only to company employees, not to franchisees. Beyond that, what if your company wants to have an LMS that is specifically branded for use by its franchisees, or by unique business units, such as one set up for customer education? The latter two use cases would need different front ends and different administrative back ends matched to the different groups. They might also require different middleware to connect the front and back ends.

Furthermore, in the case of franchisees, external business partners, resellers, and similar external organizational relationships, the system administrator might need to change logos, colors, and layouts that would be different from those used on the vendor version of the application. Within the parent business unit, there are often reasons to interconnect data, content, applications, APIs, and even devices. This would be for the purpose of improving efficiency, agility, and productivity. Integration activity and fundamental change is becoming a common part of business transformation and one that increasingly affects LMS design and features. Connecting all these elements makes everything work together and increases the business value of the LMS through new functionalities.

How does LMS integration happen?

LMS integration is not likely to be done by or even involve L&D. Instead, IT can install what is known as a “headless” LMS. A headless LMS is one that permits replacement of the front end of the LMS (the out-of-the-box learner experience) to allow installation of a customized interface. The new interface communicates with the back end of the headless LMS through an API.

Depending on the purpose of the integration, this may result in the modification of the original front and back ends of the LMS in order to serve the needs of the original business unit. For example, it may pull and display information, data, and other details from another proprietary system (CRM, CMS, customer service). The result may be display of the proprietary information along with business unit training data. The reason for doing this is to permit use of software applications that the business unit already uses, owns, or licenses for its own purposes without incurring additional expenses or requiring additional training of the business unit employees.

Why use a headless LMS?

In the case of a modification intended to serve the requirements of an external organization (tracking franchisee or reseller training data, for example) the purpose is different. A headless LMS makes it possible for an organization to use the LMS to support multiple use cases. With appropriate rebranding and reconfiguration the LMS can then serve other use cases unrelated to the requirements of the original business unit. In this way, the headless LMS can address customer education, associations, client education, and goals including revenue generation by an external business partner through satisfying other learners’ needs

How do you find a vendor to provide a headless LMS?

There are relatively few LMS vendors who support headless applications, so it may take some time to find one that fits your needs. You will probably need vendor assistance to implement. However, this may be the best solution to obtain improved results for learners in external organizations and where revenue generation by a partner business organization is the ultimate goal.

One possible headless LMS could be your current LMS. There are some well-known LMS vendors who support headless LMS products or headless versions of their main offerings. It can’t hurt to ask, and it may save time to deal with a vendor with whom you already have a relationship and that knows your organization.

Another possibility is to contact vendors who have advertised their expertise with LMS integration. At least include examples of such vendors on your short list. Be sure that you have defined your requirements for supporting your use case before you contact vendors. By defining the requirements in terms of the use case you will be on the same page as the vendor, and there is less chance of misunderstanding what you want.

Finally, you can always fall back on the software review sites. Search those sites on keywords such as “integration” or “headless.” Review sites may be able to connect you to a reviewer or advisor who can make a relevant recommendation.