Three Steps to Creating a Custom LMS
When businesses adopt an LMS, there are a few key things that differentiate a successful project from less successful implementations. A thorough understanding of what you need and why, clear criteria to judge possible systems against those needs, and a plan for helping your people to use the system are all important in getting the most out of your LMS. But another essential component in the decision is an understanding of how much customisation you will need to make to ensure that your people are able to use the system in the right way, meaning that the LMS design is also of great importance.
Whether you are interested in an off-the-shelf learning management system, or are building your own system from scratch, a degree of customisation can be essential to matching the way the system works to the way your business, and your people, work. Some systems offer little to no options for customisation while open-source platforms like Moodle offer endless options for tinkering and adaptation. In our experience, there are three decisions you need to make before you purchase your LMS that will benefit you in establishing how much, or how little, customisation you will need:
Step 1. Decide how the system will fit your processes
The way your people access learning, and matching your system to it, is fundamental to the way they will engage and adopt your new platform. The bigger your business, the more of different learning methods you will need to cater for. And that’s without looking at the processes for learning budgets, approvals, and internal training that apply to all sizes.
For many organisations, there are also informal learning processes that management may not be aware of. Key people who are recognised as experts on specific systems, or a folder of resources pulled together by one team that everyone digs into. These informal processes are as important as your formal ones and need to be taken into consideration in how you configure your LMS. Deciding what you will and won’t do moving forward is essential to successfully embedding your LMS, and you should:
Identify the existing processes for learning that are in place in your business
Map these processes against the functionality available in your LMS
Establish which processes are not covered by your LMS ‘out of the box’
Assess the importance of these processes and determine which are essential
Explore what third-party software can be easily used to plug the gaps
Plan the customisation required to deliver the remaining learning processes
Once you are comfortable with what your LMS can do, you need to map it against how you work and customise accordingly. Disable any features your business won’t use, as you can always enable them again later, and determine what processes will no longer apply. Finally, make sure you communicate out the agreed learning processes to your people so everyone knows how to access learning in your business.
Most importantly assessing which processes are not needed, or which can be delivered via something similar in your LMS, will save on unnecessary time and expense being spent on adapting your LMS to fit.
Step 2. Decide on your visual identity
The way your LMS looks and feels in use will have an impact on how integrated it is into your business. If your people are used to using lots of different forms of systems and applications in their role, then an out-of-the-box look may well work for you. For everyone else, you will need to consider the overall look of the system you’re procuring and the options for customising the interface and LMS design to match your company brand.
If the first thing your people see is a generic, unbranded login area, then this is likely to lead to reduced engagement and less people using your LMS. A custom domain and user login page delivers a more seamless experience for your people and ensures your brand, or the branding for your learning platform, is front and centre. For a truly seamless experience, an Enterprise Level LMS will allow your people in automatically once they’ve logged onto your main business systems; reducing the need for separate passwords and all the admin that goes with it.
Once your trainees arrive at your LMS, the general look of the system will determine their first impressions and whether the system feels like it is “yours”. Most LMS platforms will provide you with the option to replace their logo with your own and to adopt a company colour scheme for buttons, backgrounds, and menus. Many will also allow you to add in your own imagery to provide a semi-bespoke user experience.
If you need custom navigation and a more complex system theme then this may require a custom configuration and not all systems allow for this. Some allow you to access the style sheets (CSS) to change base-level elements like buttons and fonts, while other systems may allow you to develop your own HTML based interface to truly customise the look on a page-by-page basis.
As with your learning processes, you need to weigh up the cost and time involved in getting a truly bespoke look against how important it is to your people. For most businesses, the right logo and colour scheme will be enough to show that this is “your” LMS.
Many learning systems allow you to set menus and access levels to match key roles. At a basic level, administrators, managers, and users will need access to different content and features within the system but you may need to be able to define your own roles and the menu items available at different levels.
It can be tempting to customise extensively, especially if it is easy to do so within your chosen platform, but this can quickly make the configuration of your platform highly complex and lead to unexpected access issues. On the flip side, being able to differentiate access to content and system features can be a powerful way to manage engagement and learning in your organisation. By being clear about who needs access to what up front, and clustering types of access together wherever possible, you can offer the right level of customised access to users.
Increasingly as users experience highly configurable apps in their personal lives they also expect to be able to customise their experience on business systems. Whether it is adding their one profile into the system, changing the layout or deciding on what widgets they want on their landing page. The higher you want their engagement to be with your LMS, the more options you will need to offer them to allow them to “own” their use of the system.
Most learning platforms should offer you some options to make limited adjustments to the style of the system without going into the guts of the system but the more unique your chosen design the higher the likelihood that bespoke coding will be needed. While you may not consider a day 1 requirement for your business, it should be considered in your choice of system to allow it to scale with you
Step 3. Decide what data you need out
The final of our three important decisions is often thought of after implementation but in our view, it is as essential as the first two. Too often we see systems implemented into a business with no way to track use or effectiveness. Not knowing can be a serious barrier to successful adoption as it limits your ability to intervene in good time.
Knowing what processes will be followed within your LMS (decision 1) and how your users will navigate your platform (decision 2) in turn makes it easier to determine what data you need from your LMS; thinking about this up-front will help you to choose the right system and determine how much customisation you will need.
A key benefit of an effective LMS is the automation of learning administration which includes reminding learners when learning is due, advising of new learning requirements, and notifying managers of non-completion. In most platforms, these notifications are baked into the way the system works so customising the content, frequency, or function of notifications may be difficult. If you truly need a bespoke approach to notifications then this will need to be considered in your choice of platform.
The notification engine should manage your day-to-day administration of learning, but your managers will need other information to track the success of learning programmes, or measure return on investment from learning. Your LMS will need to provide them with data to help them make appropriate decisions and give them the ability to generate the reports they need to track their people’s learning. You will need to consider how important it is to you and your management team to have custom reports and whether this needs to be “baked in” to the functionality of the system or accessible via third-party reporting tools.
For some businesses data around learning needs to be visible in other business systems. Whether it’s sending budget data back into financial systems or updating standalone HR systems, the way in which your LMS integrates into other business systems can make a huge difference to how useful it is for your business. Many learning systems will provide ready-made APIs to plug into other business platforms but if your integration needs are complex then you will need to allow for a higher spend on bespoke integration work as well as more time required to create the fix.
For larger organisations with complex needs, a truly bespoke LMS can be the only answer but, no matter your size, you are likely to need to customise your chosen LMS in some way to get the most out of it. By considering these three steps before you choose your LMS supplier, you can reduce the risk of undertaking unnecessary work and maximise the return on your investment in your learning system.
Figuring out what will work best in your organisation can be difficult. To help you find out whether a LMS is for you, Cloudtrainer allows you to ‘try before you buy’. Getting it right can have a huge motivational impact on your people, improve your bottom line, and make it easier for your people to learn and be more productive. With all the potential benefits to be had, why not give a LMS a try? Simply register today for your free trial.