Transitioning to a new learning management system (LMS) can be a daunting and overwhelmingexperience for a learning organization. As the needs of an organization change it can often lead to discussions about adjustments to the tools the organization uses for training and professional growth. A successful transition from one product to another is critical in today’s environment. Often the LMS is an essential part of an organization's ecosystem. In this piece we will share our lived experience dealing with this type of transition.
1. Understanding your stakeholders and articulating the “Why”.
Communicating the why and the benefits of a new LMSas early and often as possible helps to alleviate anxiety stakeholders will have about the transition. Individual organizations have very different needs and wants when it comes to an LMS. It is essential that all stakeholders, both internal and external, are surveyed and feedback is gathered to determine what matters. Since most organizations today are already using an LMS, users will have strong opinions about what works, what does not, and what they “wish” an LMS could do. This feedback is critical in putting together a plan for procurement that allows for a clear set of feature requests. In our case, we did a formal request for proposals (RFP) and included the feature requests we deemed critical after months of stakeholder feedback.
2. Define the plan for importing/exporting systemic resources and working with third party vendors.
When transitioning from one LMS to another, it is essential to develop a plan to help users navigate the process of moving resources from the current LMS to the new one. Often much of this can be accomplished by working collaboratively with the incoming and outgoing LMS providers to bulk transfer items. We learned early on that a key element to successful bulk transfers is to ensure that whatever LMS you are using is following established standards such as those offered by IMS Global.
Another key factor in a successful transition is the interoperability of third-party vendors with the LMS. Creating a process for analyzing each third-party vendor connection was important for a smooth transition. Too often organizations leave out small details that matter a great deal for individual user experience. For example, using industry standard practices such as Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) connections allowed us to ensure a seamless move from one LMS to another with third-party tools.
3. Share updates frequently, in a variety of formats, with all stakeholders.
The learning management system is used in multiple ways (planning for instruction, facilitating blended lessons, gradebook, collaborative discussions, messaging) by multiple stakeholders (teachers, students, administrators, parents). When moving to a new LMS it is vital to communicate to each stakeholder group what’s going to look different and how it will impact their use. The communication outreach requires collaboration among organizational offices to ensure messaging is unified and consistent. In our organization, we erred on the side of overcommunication and made a conscious effort to use various communication channels, including the system Website, social media, phone calls, the organization’s weekly newsletter, and more to publicize the transition timeline and what to expect.
4. Provide thorough training connected to the expectations for use.
Transitioning to a new LMS gave our organization an opportunity to reset expectations for use. The outgoing LMS was seen by many as a powerful gradebook. The new LMS offered many more features.It was important, especially for our teachers, to understand we were moving from a product that was essentially a gradebook with some LMS features to a full-fledged LMS with a gradebook.
A tiered-training plan was set up to ensureall administrators and teachers received appropriate training. Thetraining process started with the LMS vendor bringingin staffto train central office staff to become “master instructors.” These master instructors then,in turn, provided training to school administrators and school-based professional learning coaches. It was then the responsibility of the administrator and coach to ensure their staff received training. At the school level,teachers were required to attend a one-hour initial training and had the option to attend a three-hour deeper dive training.
5. Provide opportunities for a pilot and field test prior to implementation.
In the spring prior to the official fall launch, a pilot was conducted. The purpose of thenine-week pilot was for users in various roles to engage in a series of tasks designed to help the organization validate functionality and inform professional learning. Participants in the pilot were required to attend three formal feedback meetings conducted via Webinar.
Though we had a good sampling of pilot participants in various roles, including school administrators, department chairs, special educators, and teachers from various grade levels and subject areas, we still wanted to give staff who were not in the pilot a chance to try out the new LMS. To make this happen, we enabled access to a sandbox version with functionality tasks from the pilot made public so administrators, teachers, and other staff could explore the new LMS. This more informal process was labeled our “field test” and any staff member could leave feedback.
In summary, any large-scale organization-wide change is going to come with challenges. We certainly hit roadblocks along the way. However, with a clear focus, collaboration across the district, planning, and feedback we successfully navigated this LMS transition.