LMS implementation: everything you need for eLearning success

An LMS (or, learning management system) is a great tool to help you build a manageable, centralized repository of your organization’s training content for a large number of learners. However, launching your LMS can be a big, time-consuming task. Therefore, choosing a vendor with an effective LMS implementation process and a supportive team of implementation consultants is important.

This article will discuss everything you need to know about LMS implementation and implementation consultants. Once you’re done reading it, you’ll be well prepared to discuss implementation with your selected LMS vendor.  

What is LMS implementation?

LMS implementation involves all the steps that turn your deal into a learner-centric training tool that supports widespread adoption. Many vendors provide guided LMS implementation services, although some organizations prefer to self-implement their LMS. Whether you choose to utilize your vendor's guided implementation services or self-implement, the process typically involves:

  1. Project planning, where you will define your objectives, pick your team, and lay out your project timeline.
  2. LMS configuration, where you will put your plan into action, set up the LMS features you want, and perform any necessary integrations.
  3. Testing your LMS with a group of pilot learners before launch.
  4. Launching your LMS to your learners or slowly rolling it out to a few learner groups at a time. 
  5. A post-live review where you will verify that your project outcome aligns with your original plan and address any additional questions if they arise. 

The benefits of an LMS implementation consultant

We strongly recommend getting help from an implementation consultant. Even if this is not your first LMS, your implementation consultant is an expert on best practices,  your chosen LMS, and they can highlight the advantages and disadvantages of every possible implementation decision. Therefore, they will be able to show you how you can strategically implement your purchased LMS to fit your training goals precisely.

You’ll learn the best ways to use your LMS at your organization

This benefit is especially true if you work with a vendor who provides in-house implementation consultants. As you and your consultant strategically plan your implementation, you will learn which LMS features will best help you meet your goals. As a result, you can enjoy a shorter learning curve and develop a deeper understanding of your LMS functionality. 

An LMS consultant will partner with you to explore the best solutions for your specific use cases that factor in your organization’s needs and resources. This partnership lets you go further into your own learning faster than you would with initial out-of-the-box software training. 

However, no one can predict the future. It is true that new use cases may arise later that you did not discuss with your consultant. New software updates may also drastically change how you use your LMS rendering some of what your consultant taught you null. Your LMS vendor should be transparent about upcoming releases. A good consultant should also be open to having a conversation about change management with you and a high-quality Client Success team should be on standby when unexpected changes arise. 

An LMS expert will help you strategize your training plan

When you discuss your training goals with your consultant, you will learn how your LMS's features can specifically assist you to meet these goals. These discussions may inspire you to deliver your training differently or include elements you didn't know you could. 

If you have a very specific use case, it may be difficult to find an LMS with features that directly address it. It is also true that some consultants are not well-versed in the needs of your industry. A good LMS consultant will work with you to find ways around these gaps. For example, SmarterU’s special projects team can create custom add-ins if none of our features satisfy your needs. Talk to your consultant about your industry and your unique use case before you assume that the LMS cannot meet your requirements.

Many LMS implementation consultants also have extensive knowledge of learning and education principles as well as business best practices. This makes them well-equipped to advise you about innovative ways to use your LMS to help your learners, managers, and auditors.

Your LMS implementation project will make your due date

Experienced consultants will help you define your LMS launch goals and help you separate them from things that can wait until after you’ve completed your implementation. Typically, LMS vendors who offer implementation services provide a schedule highlighting how long the process will take based on your defined launch goals. 

Different vendors will offer varying timelines, but remember to ask your vendor about more than just the number of weeks. For example, SmarterU offers a 12-week implementation schedule (that can be increased if you feel it is necessary). This schedule is longer than some vendors, but we use that time to really dig into your goals so we can implement the best LMS environment possible. Vendors who offer a speedy schedule may not offer the same level of client-centric care and may implement a “one-size-fits-all” LMS that doesn’t precisely address your needs. Once you have established your schedule, your implementation consultant will work with you to keep your project within that timeframe and offer informed advice on how to get around speed bumps that may slow your project down. 

At SmarterU, we take this one step further by offering white-glove implementation services. Clients who opt for a white-glove implementation enjoy all the benefits of our regular implementation services with even more saved time. A white-glove implementation follows the same timeline as our regular implementation, but our team will perform all your configuration and setup tasks with your supervision and approval. Your team will be free to work on other tasks.

Someone will always be there to support you

One issue with self-implementation is that it may not always be clear who to turn to if something goes wrong. Your vendor may have excellent client support services, but a dedicated implementation consultant who has been with you since day one of your project will deeply understand what you are trying to do. Proactive, strategic advice from an implementation consultant can also prevent issues from ever occurring. They will also dig into each one of your questions to find the root of your inquiry. 

The best consultants are the ones who stick with you during every step of your process. You or your team could have questions, new ideas, or run into unexpected obstacles at any point in your project. An expert LMS implementation consultant is specifically trained to help you deal with all of those situations.

After your implementation process is over, it is unlikely that you will continue to work with your consultant directly. You may be passed from your consultant to an account manager or support team who doesn’t understand you the way your consultant does. For this reason, you should be aware of your vendor’s post-launch support services. SmarterU’s account managers work closely with our implementation consultants to prevent misunderstandings and keep your tailored support consistent. Your vendor may have a similar process in place, but it is important to ask questions to ensure that you’ll still have high-quality support after implementation.

The LMS implementation process

Chart showing the Implementation process. From left to right: Planning, Configuration, Testing, Launch.

Generally, most LMS implementations involve planning, configuration, testing, and go-live stages. The processes involved in each stage may vary based on your organization, industry, training goals, or vendor. Talk to your vendor about what you hope to achieve, and they should work with you to adjust their process to your needs. 

As you plan your implementation, you’ll need to define your objectives, pick your project team, account for data migration or software integrations, and determine your project timeline.

Once you’ve reached the configuration stage with a solid plan, you can configure your account settings, add your administrators, customize and structure your account, and build or populate your LMS with your training content.

After configuration, your LMS environment is taking shape; you can deploy your efforts to your organization by starting the LMS testing stage. Conducting a pilot before you make a big shift in training at your organization is a best practice. With your pilot, you’ll be able to invite test learners and collect feedback from the test group.

When you’ve completed your account tests, it’s time for launch. However, this doesn’t mean your work is done. We recommend conducting a post-live analysis of your training program after you’ve gone live and at specific milestones throughout the year. As your learners interact with your training and you collect their feedback, you can use this information to make informed decisions about your training.

LMS Project Planning

Chart showing the Implementation process. Step 1: Planning is highlighted.

The first step to any big project is to plan it. Whether you’re working with a consultant or independently, you need to define what a successful implementation looks like to you and how you will get there. 

How do you define implementation success?

Consider why you want an LMS in the first place. For example, if you want an LMS to improve performance through better training, you should define what improved performance is to your organization. Once you have established this goal, set the objectives you must meet to achieve it. These objectives should be specific and measurable so you can build your implementation plan around them. Some examples of specific, measurable objectives for your LMS project are to:

  • Add or create a selected number of eLearning courses and prioritize their delivery.
  • Determine who your learners should be and how many of them to add, remember that you don’t need to limit your learners to your employees; they can be partners, customers, or anyone else.
  • Deliver a certain number of instructor-led sessions per year.
  • Build a specific number of learner dashboards that reflect your larger training goals.

Once you have defined your objectives, think about what course content and training methods are required to meet them. Make a list of the tasks your team must accomplish to bring these requirements to your LMS, and add them to your implementation plan.

Pick your implementation team

There’s a lot involved in the LMS implementation process, so it’s a good idea to build a stellar team to lead the project. You’ll need people with diverse skills to handle your implementation project's varying demands. Your internal team might include:

A project manager

  • Your chosen project manager takes the driver’s seat for your project. They should be knowledgeable about your organization’s goals and capable of communicating them to your vendor, consultant, and stakeholders, and have the authority to make and communicate decisions. Your project manager will also be responsible for tracking your project’s tasks, subtasks, and due dates. They should have exceptional organization skills and be comfortable reminding other team members that they need to complete their tasks on time.

Instructional designers

  • Your eLearning experts may include your current content authors, instructors, and eLearning technology specialists. Their job is to supervise your course content migration or population. Sometimes, your project manager may also take on this role.

IT experts

  • Your IT experts know your organization’s technological capabilities. They’ll help supervise data integrations if necessary. 

Depending on the size of the project and the number of learners at your organization, your team may grow to include L&D admins, additional project managers, or other eLearning designers for more content development.

Plan your integrations or data migrations

You might need data integrations or migrations. If you do, take the time to think about the tasks and timeline involved in their success. You will need to factor integrations or migrations into your project if:

  • You are migrating data from your old LMS to your new one.
  • You want to synchronize your LMS user data automatically with your Active Directory, HRIS, or proprietary user database.
  • You want to connect your LMS to your eCommerce platform directly or want some help getting one set up!
  • You want to feed training data from your LMS into your business intelligence, CRM, or HRIS tool.

Determine your LMS implementation timeline

Once you have determined what you need to do and who will do it, you can predict how long your project will take. Your implementation consultant can provide excellent advice on how you should schedule everything you want to do, or you can plan your schedule internally. 

If your training program is new or you want to give some of your courses a refresh, you should factor course design into your timeline. Your eLearning specialists can perform this task, or you may consult a course design service provider.

Consider when you would like your learners to start using your fully functional LMS. If your timeline is tight, you may have to decide which features and content can be rolled out later and which are essential to your launch.

LMS Configuration

Chart showing the Implementation process. Step 2: Configuration is highlighted.

The configuration phase is all about taking your plan and putting it into action. Your team will work with your vendor to ensure your LMS is ready to launch within your timeframe. What’s involved in this process varies between LMSs. However, a typical LMS configuration might go through the following steps.

Add your administrators

At this point, you’ll probably also want to add a few administrative users to your account. We recommend adding about 1-4 administrators, but this number can increase if your environment grows. These users may be responsible for creating, editing, or uploading your content. This process may require some extra time because you will need to decide which user permissions each administrator should have. You may also plan to organize your learners into separate groups with one administrator who leads each. You should take the time to plan and configure your administrator user profiles so that they’re ready to go before you start introducing learners.

Configure your general settings

Most LMSs have general, account-level settings that will apply to all users or all content. The settings available to you will vary, but some of the questions you should be asking yourself include:

  • What is my environment’s primary language?
  • What time zone should my learners follow?
  • Do I want to add gamification to my LMS?
  • Should learners be able to purchase courses from within my LMS?
  • Should all of my supervisors be able to run reports?
  • Does my instructor-led training need to be made available as webinars?
  • Will I need to monitor learners as they take exams remotely?

Sometimes, these settings are easy to configure yourself, and other times you may have to contact your vendor to set them up. Make sure you know which settings require your vendor’s involvement, as this may affect your project timeline

Customize your account

Many LMSs allow for a lot of custom branding. Some LMSs may also provide branded apps that let your learners download your organization’s training app from the app store. Your LMS might let you customize:

  • Your URL
  • Your login credentials
  • Your logo
  • Your theme
  • Your completion certificates

Different LMSs offer different levels of customization. If a highly branded learning environment is important to you, make sure you choose a highly customizable LMS.

Structure your account

Before you add any content or learners, you’ll want to have a solid idea of how your account will be structured. Think about what your LMS offers and what makes sense for your organization. This includes both how you will organize your users and how you will organize your content. Your account structure often affects which learners can access which content, so keep that in mind when you plan it. Your learner groups can be based on any criteria that suits your organization, but a few examples are:

  • Departments
  • Graduation cohorts
  • Committees
  • Locations
  • Subsidiaries

You also may choose to delegate group management tasks to one or more administrators. You can give every learner group a manager, or have some groups with managers and some groups without one. Consider why you are organizing your learners the way you are and which groups will need an internal manager. 

Start adding training content to your LMS

A high-quality LMS should allow you to add new training content anytime. However, you may want to add a collection of essential courses and resources to your account before it goes live. You have a few choices when it comes to adding content that will vary depending on your needs and your LMS. 

You might:

LMS Testing

Before you launch your LMS, testing is critical. You want to make sure that everything works as expected and that your learners won’t struggle to use it. If you do surface any issues during this phase, it’s much easier to go back and correct them before you go live. This phase also helps reduce the amount of inconvenient “maintenance time” that your LMS goes through which can disrupt your learners’ training.

Conduct a pilot

It is a good idea to conduct a pilot with a group of test learners. We recommend selecting test learners who are not familiar with your LMS so that they can provide valuable feedback on how you can cater your LMS to learners of varying familiarity with the software. Include a few modules and activities so that your pilot learners can mimic your prospective learners’ processes. Let them explore your LMS as if they were a real learner so you can predict how your future users may interact with it. 

Add your test learners

Now, you can start adding your pilot learners to your new LMS. How you add these users to your account will vary based on your needs and your LMS. Some LMSs allow you to add users in several different ways. Some popular ways are:

  • Quickly add a few new users manually
  • Bulk import a large list of users
  • Perform a user sync from your HRIS
  • Automatically add new users upon their first SSO login or eCommerce purchase

Collect feedback from your test group

Collect feedback from your pilot learners to gain insight into how your real learners may experience your LMS. This feedback could give you more ideas on how you want to organize your learner dashboards and present your content. You might collect this feedback through interviews or you may conduct a survey. In either case, some of the questions you should ask are:

  • How easy was it for you to find a certain module/course/user feature?
  • Did your course modules run smoothly?
  • Was your interface easy to navigate?
  • Were you able to log in through our established login system?

LMS Launch

Chart showing the Implementation process. Step 4: Launch is highlighted.

Once you’ve configured and tested your LMS, it’s time for the most exciting part, launch! Some organizations launch their LMS to all of their learners at once, while others slowly roll out their LMS to select groups of learners. 

Roll out your LMS

After you’ve successfully completed your pilot test, you can make your LMS available to real learners. You may choose to slowly roll out your new software to a few groups of learners and then start to gradually expand to the rest of your organization. Each group of learners may be interested in using your LMS differently, so you can collect new feedback from them that you may not have received during your pilot. 

The phased roll-out approach allows you to go back and make adjustments based on feedback before your LMS is widely adopted. If any major adjustments are necessary, you can go back and make them with minimal training interruptions.

Conduct your post-live QA analysis

When your LMS is available to all of your learners, we recommend conducting a post-implementation review for quality assurance. During this review, you should:

  • Verify that all of your stakeholders can access the data they need.
  • Consider your change management plan in the event your training needs change.
  • Look back at your original roadmap to verify that your LMS met all of your goals.
  • Conduct a current vs. future state analysis about how your LMS will improve your training outcomes in the short- and long-term.

Your implementation consultant can advise you through this review. You may use this time to explore the LMS as a learner and ask for additional advice from your consultant. 

Track your results and report on your progress

Once your LMS is live across your organization, your consultant may help you navigate reports to showcase important metrics about your project and learner feedback. These metrics can help you make valuable business decisions early in your LMS journey.

Many LMS tools include integrated analytics and reporting. These analytics can help answer your stakeholders’ questions and show your project’s ROI. Your LMS will probably have a suite of report templates, or you can ask your vendor about establishing a custom report that focuses on your specific KPIs. Some common LMS report metrics are:

  • Learner progress in courses and modules
  • Instructor-led session attendance rates
  • Learners who have completed their certification programs
  • Cost of training delivery and return on investment

Before you finish your project, you should ask your consultant or vendor about your LMS’ full suite of reporting capabilities. Chances are that you will want to use your reports in the future long after your implementation process. Ensure all your reporting needs are satisfied before you officially finish your implementation process.

So… what does an LMS implementation cost?

While exploring a new software tool, this is almost always the first question on everyone’s mind. Price can vary from vendor to vendor, and in many cases, implementation services are an additional cost. When it comes to the cost of LMS implementation, the phrase “you get what you pay for” often applies. Some are cheaper than others, but you need to dig beyond the numerical price and consider the value you are getting for your money. 

SmarterU’s guided implementation services typically cost in the range of $5,000 to $15,000 USD. However, this cost may increase if you opt for additional integrations from our special projects team. 

We may be biased, but we truly believe this is a great value. Our implementation consultants will spend hours giving you:

  • A single point of contact who will get to know your goals in detail and stay with you through every phase of your process.
  • An in-house consultant who knows SmarterU well.
  • An implementation process that considers your whole learning ecosystem and how we can integrate with it instead of forcing ourselves in.
  • A consultant who will stay with you as you go live, help you with your post-live review, and introduce you to a trusted account manager.

Beyond your LMS implementation

Congratulations! You’ve gone through the steps towards implementation success. However, this is only the beginning of your LMS journey. Your organization is evolving, so, inevitably, your training needs will too. A good LMS vendor will offer continual support beyond LMS implementation and someone to consult when your needs change. 

When choosing your LMS vendor, remember that your relationship should not end after your implementation. Whether or not you work with a consultant during implementation, you still need to choose a vendor with responsive, knowledgeable LMS experts who can answer questions when they arise. In some ways, the people behind the software can be just as important as the software itself, so make sure you analyze them as well during your selection process. 

Helpful resources

Get more from your LMS; implementation and beyond

SmarterU’s implementation consultants want you to have the best LMS experience possible. Talk to our experts to start with your personalized demo today!

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