How to Migrate to an Online LMS Part 1: The Project Overview

(This was originally published on Optimal Partners’ blog.)

Why Implement A Learning Management System?

Online courses have become incredibly popular among a large portion of Higher Ed students, and many universities have responded by integrating e-learning into their normal course selection. These courses range from hybrid classes, which combine online assignments with traditional face-to-face learning, to completely online interactions between the students and their professor. A Learning Management System (LMS) acts as the backbone for these online courses, while also helping keep track of and providing useful data on classes for faculty and university staff alike. If your organization has decided to use an online LMS, there are a few key things you’ll want to remember before jumping into the project head-on. This article will act as an overview of the steps you’ll want to consider when migrating from a traditional classroom experience to an online LMS, while the rest of this series will delve deeper into each stage of the process, from planning to your project’s migration to production.

The Planning Stage

Keep in mind that your new system does not necessarily need to take on all of the components of your old one.

Before you start implementing your product, you must first identify which type of LMS will be best suited for your organization. Make a list of your organization’s business requirements and compare those with what vendors, and possibly open source products, offer. This fit/gap analysis can help you decide whether it would be better to customize your new LMS to fit your organization’s needs or to rework your procedures to better match with the new system. It’s important to keep in mind that your new system does not necessarily need to take on all of the components of your old one — this is an opportunity to optimize and rework how day-to-day procedures are done. Once you’ve selected the best LMS for your university, you can start planning its implementation.

The planning process starts with creating a project charter. Your charter should, among other things, specifically cover your project’s scope, the proposed schedule, any foreseeable costs your project will accrue, the required staff, possible risks associated with the project, and your plan for communicating to your users about its implementation. Don’t expect your charter to be completed in one sitting; you may need to revisit it.

Projects succeed or fail based on the merits of the people working on them, so it’s necessary to assemble the best team you can. Each stage of the project will require different types of expertise, from instructional designers to faculty members. Your team members should have backgrounds in e-learning, if possible ─ the more functional knowledge in the field, the better. All parties involved in your project will have to work together to ensure a smooth implementation, so make sure to maintain communication between the vendor, instructional designers, and the IT project team.

Take your “go live” date and work backwards.

Once your team is assembled, it’s time to create your plan for migrating to your new LMS. The key here is to take your “go live” date and work backwards, filling in each step in the process between now and your deadline. This will help keep your priorities in check, and ensure that any costs, risks, or staffing requirements will be accounted for. Once you’ve completed the first draft of your charter, gathered a talented team, and finished documenting your schedule/plan for the migration, you can start configuring your system to your organization’s specific needs.

The Configuration Stage

Don’t forget to have a Steering Committee that includes faculty to help you make major decisions.

Before your team can begin using the LMS, you must first configure it to fit your specific requirements. This process ranges from establishing what kinds of courses are offered to how Learning Tools Interoperability technology integrates with the system, and is essential to having the LMS work correctly. Collaborate with your vendor and instructional design experts to ensure all requirements are accounted for. Schedule weekly meetings to confirm that all of your chosen configuration options work well. Don’t forget to have a Steering Committee that includes faculty to help you make major decisions.

Once the initial configuration options are in place, more preparations must be made before your team can transfer that data into the new system. The most important things to consider at this step include what information you’ll require from your users, what kinds of administrative options you’ll need, and how you’ll integrate your university’s Student Information System and other systems. Only once your LMS is configured properly can your team begin to migrate information into it.

The migration process should be approached one step at a time to avoid unnecessary risks. Try testing a smaller portion of your data in the new system first, then transferring everything else once your team has established that the process runs smoothly. Don’t forget to verify that your LMS vendor has a robust disaster recovery plan in place. If you’re hosting it in-house, make sure you have a suitable backup infrastructure.

Incorporate as many members of your team and user base as possible in the testing process.

Now that the system is functional, it’s time to test it thoroughly, first creating a list of functionality. The best way to discover new problems and respond to user feedback is to incorporate as many members of your team and user base as possible in the testing process: this means getting feedback from university administrators, staff, faculty, and students, while being as flexible as possible when responding to their needs. When your team encounters a problem, the team should evaluate that problem and work to resolve it as quickly as possible, while also diminishing its impact on the project overall. Each new issue will take time out of your schedule, but staying on top of any manageable risks will help keep your project on track. If anything serious goes wrong, make sure to communicate the issue and your attempts to resolve it to your project team and stakeholders.

The Deployment Stage

Make user feedback as easy as possible.

Once the LMS has been thoroughly tested, it’s time to communicate with the rest of your user base about your project implementation — how the new system works and why it’s important to migrate over to the new LMS. Proper communication is paramount at this stage of the project, because no matter how much training you provide for your users, it’s important for them to understand the benefits of the new system. The best way to reach out to your university’s students and faculty is to encourage their engagement with the project: make user feedback as easy as possible, utilize social media to spread the word and have testers talk with other users about the new system. Once your user base is on board with your project, you can decide which type of training will best fit their needs.

Your team’s communication with university staff, faculty and students shouldn’t stop after the initial training and user outreach campaigns have ended. Maintaining a rapport with your users throughout the migration process and after the project goes live is vital to the success of your project. Universities are busy year-round, especially for staff and administration, so it’s important to be direct about when the system is set to go live. It’s up to your team to schedule the LMS migration around your organization’s needs — try to go live at a time when not many users would be impacted.

Create a frequently asked questions list to help lighten the load on your support team.

As part of the LMS’s deployment, your IT support team should be well trained in the new LMS, and supplied with the tools and resources necessary to keep up with any issues that may arise. Provide thorough documentation of the project and create a frequently asked questions list to help lighten the load on your support team. Keep in mind that technological issues aren’t the only problems that need resolving — you must also taken into account the preferences of your users when responding to their feedback. Keeping your stakeholder’s needs in focus is essential supporting a new LMS.

A Job Well Done

The success of the project relies heavily on how well you engage with your user base.

The migration to a new online Learning Management System can be costly and time-consuming, but with the right approach and a talented team, you can exceed your organization’s goals and meet deadlines. Communication is key, as the success of the project relies heavily on how well you engage with your user base. Once a transparent relationship is established between all parties, you can more easily adapt to meet the needs of your university’s staff, faculty, and students, while also conveying the importance of the project to everyone involved.

The next three articles in this series will focus on each stage of this process in much more detail and explain some of the more specific procedures involved in migrating to an online LMS.

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