I’ve worked with many clients to integrate their custom and off-the-shelf software into their learning management system (LMS). While some of the challenges become easier with experience, some remain relatively time consuming. I see many opportunities for companies to reduce the feelings of uncertainty about the integration process and the time spent on some of the steps. Here are some of the questions I hear most often and some questions that I think people would ask if they knew who to ask.

Q: I have existing eLearning courseware, some of which was developed before we implemented our LMS. Can I connect these courses to my LMS or do I have to have them completely redone?

A: It is likely that you will be able to integrate your existing courses into your LMS without redoing the courses. One solution that we’ve found to be effective is to apply what we call an “ LMS wrapper” to each course. This LMS wrapper is a transparent layer of code that handles the communication with your LMS, but it doesn’t change the way the course works for your learners.

If you own the source code for your course or can get permission to make minor modifications, you may very well be able to apply a wrapper to your course without touching the course content.

How does an LMS wrapper work? First of all, we can’t talk about LMSs without talking a little about theAICC and SCORM standards. AICC and SCORM are collections of eLearning technical standards that have been widely adopted by the eLearning industry to define, among other things, communication between LMSs and courseware. Most LMSs now are SCORM or AICC compliant.

Although SCORM and AICC have multiple objectives, the benefit that most companies derive from them is a common method for data structure and data communication. Rather than every LMS or content vendor inventing their data model or communication model anew, everyone gets to benefit from well-thought-out, predefined, and agreed-upon models. That’s the theory anyway. More on that later. Even if your LMS is not AICC or SCORM compliant, your LMS has a defined model that courseware can use to communicate with it.

Now for a brief description of the LMS wrapper itself. To apply an LMS wrapper, you need to have the source code for your course and permission to modify it, and the course needs to be developed in a standard web scripting language or program. Typically, we create an LMS wrapper using HTML and JavaScript that conforms to AICC, SCORM, or your LMS’s communication model. Your existing course is then wrapped in this code. Minor modifications to the course code are made where necessary. TheLMS wrapper takes care of communicating with the LMS.

This explanation is pretty technical, but the bottom line is: don’t throw away or redevelop eLearning courses because there is no obvious way to hook it up to your LMS. There are options out there like theLMS wrapper that can provide a reasonably fast and cost-effective solution.

That’s the technical solution. How does the whole process look? The steps involved are:

  • Identify your technical resource to confirm the feasibility and develop the wrapper.
  • Identify your company’s LMS administrator or contact person.
  • Identify the upload and testing procedure for loading courses into the LMS. (Hopefully the LMSadministrator can help you with this.)
  • Determine the communication protocol that the LMS supports and what you would like to use.
  • Determine what information you require the LMS to track (score, time, or completion status are typical), if your LMS supports tracking this information, and if you will be able to generate reports on that data if necessary.

Q: What is the biggest challenge in getting a course hooked up to an LMS?

A: In my experience, the challenges come in two flavors: procedural and technical.

Procedural challenges: First, there is the challenge of undefined or vague LMS procedures. Along with this problem goes the fact that it is often hard to even identify who the LMS administrator is within a company. It also can be the case that the administrator may not know enough about how the LMSworks to clearly define the process for your specific need.

Here I need to digress a little into the key role that the LMS administrator plays in helping a company make the most of its LMS. The LMS administrator, naturally, plays a big part in defining the process for connecting content to the LMS.

However, as important as the role is, the skills required of the LMS administrator are not always well understood. In many cases, the LMS administrator needs to be quickly chosen, either to replace an administrator who’s moving on, or because implementation resources are rolling off the project and now the learning organization needs to take ownership of the new system.

The important thing to understand is that, in general, LMSs are not yet to the point where they can be completely administered by someone who doesn’t have a strong technical aptitude. A non-technical LMSadministrator may get by for the most part, but there is a price to pay and you may not even know you’re paying it.

Basically a non-technical person can handle most LMS tasks when things are going well. It’s when you want (or need) to do something slightly different, or when there’s a problem, that an LMS administrator with a strong technical aptitude pays off. Not only are they able to understand the need or issue, they are better able to understand limits, quantify problems, and facilitate solutions.

Another aspect of the integration procedure is identifying the process for testing. The steps involved in testing LMS integration may be unclear. For instance, you may not know the right person to contact to facilitate the testing and troubleshooting. Clearly, issues like these will affect your timeline and your costs, and will make ironing out technical blips more time consuming. This brings us to the technical challenges.

Technical challenges: Consider the case of AICC or SCORM-compliant LMSs. The fact is, althoughLMSs are mostly compliant with these standards, there are usually technical variances that require massaging the course’s code to get it to work with the LMS. This is all just part of the process of getting things to work, but it can be frustrating, especially when you’re in a hurry to launch a course. If you know who to work with, troubleshooting these inevitable hiccups will go faster. The more technical savvy theLMS administrator has, the more quickly the process goes.

Some companies have a resource who can help you answer some of these questions. Even if yours doesn’t, the good news is that once you’ve done this, the next time goes much more quickly.

Q: Is my LMS honeymoon over? I’m happy with the global tracking and reporting ability of our LMS, but our users are complaining that the LMS is too hard to use. It takes too many clicks to reach a course and it’s not easy to navigate. Is there anything I can do?

A: It may make you feel better, if only briefly, to know that you are not alone.

My take on this is that these first generations of LMS systems failed to take into account the user experience, which after all, does matter. A lot.
An LMS is great for tracking and centralizing data, but overall, users are not interested in learning how to use a tool that exists in order to facilitate the learning that they really care about. The problems I hear about range from overly complex and non-intuitive interfaces to the LMS interface not updating learner completion information.

To make things worse, little of the user’s LMS interface is customizable out of the box. Some clients have gone so far as to develop end runs around their LMS just to provide simple, minimal interaction with theLMS.

This answer may not be much help, but we have heard that new releases of some popular LMSs will respond to some extent to these complaints. When you get to the next upgrade point, or if your company has decided to purchase a new LMS, it is well worth your time to consider the user experience in your decision making.