Revisiting Lessons Learned: An LMS Implementation

Several years ago, I partnered with a colleague to write an article about his lessons learned when implementing an LMS. Many of my current clients are now implementing either a new LMS, or a corporate university for the first time. I thought I should dig up my old article and see if it still applies.

So, the article below is a reprint from it’s original home in ISPI’s PerformanceXpress newsletter.  You can see the original article here.  Some of the names have changed since this printing. (Mine and the company name.) Feel free to comment on whether this article still has valid points – 4 years later.

An LMS Implementation: Lessons Learned
by Leigh Anne (Lankford) and Todd VanLeuven
Original date: April 2008

In the past, only the largest companies implemented a complete learning management system (LMS) for tracking learning activity and managing content. However, the increasing number of systems available, combined with the reduction of the cost of having an LMS, has resulted in medium-sized and smaller businesses implementing learning management systems. Given this trend, I found it necessary to learn more about the process of implementing an LMS. To do this, I worked with Matria Healthcare to find out their lessons learned when recently implementing an LMS.

Lesson #1: Recognize a Real Need for an LMS
Implementing an LMS can look great on your resume, but that is no reason to implement one. You should look for certain warning signs that signal a need for an LMS before you implement. Some of the signs include:

  • Do you regularly need to report on learning activity?
  • How much time do you spend putting together learning reports?
    If you currently do not spend any time or money putting together learning reports, you probably do not need an LMS yet.
  • Do you have compliance requirements on learning?
    Compliance with the law is an excellent reason to consider an LMS.
  • How many learners do you have in the organization?
    Too few learners will make the cost per learner of a full LMS implementation prohibitive. Smaller numbers of learners might point you toward a hosted LMS that you can simply “brand.”
  • Are your learners widely dispersed or in one location?
    If you have a small number of learners in one location, an LMS might be overkill. However, if you have multiple centers or learners that travel, an LMS will be useful for providing one place for the learners to easily access training.

Lesson #2: Selecting the LMS
When selecting the LMS, you should first define your main business objectives in buying an LMS. Try to keep the list short—maybe three or four objectives. Next, find several learning management systems that claim to meet these objectives. Finally, select the one that is closest to meeting those objectives “out of the box.” Avoid customization! Customizing an LMS can lead to difficulties as the needs of your company change. Also, customization is expensive in terms of time and money. Therefore, it is always best to find that LMS that is perfect for you as is.

Lesson #3: Selling the LMS to the Executives
There is one good way to sell a new, large-scale, high-cost software to management: metrics! You have to determine:

  • What activities will be replaced by the LMS?
  • How much do those activities currently cost the business?
  • How much money will the new LMS cost?
  • How much will be saved once the LMS is implemented?

Ashley Gillis explained that she was able to turn the dollar figure on how much the LMS would cost into a dollar amount per employee. She then pitched, “Would you buy a cup of coffee for each employee once per month? That is all the LMS will cost you.”

Lesson #4: Start the Implementation from the Top
Although LMS is a term we performance improvement professionals toss around with as much ease as DVD and TiVo, your average corporate executive will not recognize it unless they have been in an organization with an LMS that was well publicized. For this reason, Todd VanLeuven (coauthor of this article) suggests that before any LMS implementation work begins, you must first educate and market the concept of an LMS to senior management. The common messages should be focused around:

  • What is an LMS?
  • What is the value of an LMS to the corporation and its employees?
  • How can it be used for compliance purposes?
  • What reports will be available?
  • What is the estimated return on investment?

To deliver this message, Todd suggests you do not use a simple email. He suggests you use a complete communications plan. Since Matria is a dispersed organization with over 30 U.S. locations, his plan included:

  • Face-to-face or online meetings with all executives and managers in each location
  • Written communication with uses, value, and implementation dates
  • Messaging from the top-level executives to pass down to middle management

Lesson #5: Name your LMS
I know, I know, it sounds a little off the wall, but Todd has four very good arguments for naming the LMS:

  1. Naming your LMS lets you call it something besides The LMS. It also makes the system more personal for learners and learning staff alike.
  2. Naming it can allow you to include themes, logos, or other marketing tools.
  3. It gives the learners a common term to use when talking about training.
  4. It is further branding for your department.

Matria used an acronym to name their LMS—METRO (Matria Education: Training, Resources & Opportunities). The acronym has allowed them to utilize the train motif in branding other training-related initiatives such as Matria’s learning and development department’s intranet page known as Learning Central and theWelcome Aboard on-boarding program for new managers.

Lesson #6: IT: Get IT Involved Early
There were a number of technical hurdles to jump over throughout the implementation:

  • Setting up the nightly data feed from the HRIS to the LMS
  • Determining how to get temporary workers into the LMS
  • Overcoming pop-up blockers; the LMS can be added to the company’s White List

IT needed to involve a resource for a significant amount of time on the implementation. Having IT involved from the early stages of the selection and implementation assured that they would be able to support the process.

Lesson #7: Gauge the Technological Sophistication of Your Learners First
Will the learners embrace navigating an LMS to find their learning or will there be a large learning curve? If they are not technologically sophisticated, a well-planned training and change-management plan must be in place.

Lesson #8: Take the Rollout to the Learners Seriously
At Matria, the rollout at the learner level was well planned out and executed. First, a representative from learning and development would go to each location and meet with the managers in the center. They would explain what the LMS is, why it was being implemented, and what was expected of the managers.

Next, the representative from learning and development taught the local trainer how to conduct a one-hour hands-on class on logging in, searching for a course, and what types of content was available.

The help desk was trained on the types of calls they would be receiving on the LMS such as pop-up blockers.

When the managers and trainer in the center were ready, the rollout began. It included marketing through newsletters, formal email invitations to come to training, and finally training classes. By building up to the final training class, Matria was able to build excitement about the new LMS.

Lesson #9: Make a Critical Course Available with the Rollout
Each business will have a different type of course that is critical. Maybe it will be the features and benefits of the new product being launched next month. Maybe it will be a course on how the new performance management system will affect the employees. For Matria, compliance courses are one of many critical courses.

Matria timed the release of three corporate compliance courses that all employees were required to take with the rollout of the LMS. By doing this, they ensured that as soon as employees left the LMS training, they had courses to take immediately.

Whether you have required training for all employees or not, you should definitely have some course available with your rollout that all employees will want to take.

Matria Healthcare now has an LMS to track the critical training necessary for compliance purposes and continuing education. Their next step? Building a larger content base.

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