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LMS Integration – “seamless” or “seem less”?

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During my deep dive into the Accord LMS Chris Wylie, the CEO of Interzoic Media, demonstrated many state of the art features such as social tools (groups, member profiles, discussions, mentor chat), document management (assignment upload, versioning, manager notifications), targeted announcements, news feeds, etc. All of this was very impressive, but it wasn’t until the end that I was really surprised when I asked him what he meant by “integrated”. I had assumed all of these features were native to the application. He informed me that the extended tools he had demonstrated were not part of the Accord LMS application, but integrated third party tools.

How could I have made such an oversight? The answer, believe it or not, was due to my experience.
    With 15 years of experience with LMS systems, I did not expect integrated external tool sets to be so seamless.

This should be explained fully to illustrate a VERY powerful feature of Accord LMS.

In When to LMS, Clark Quinn and other contributors conclude:
  • a federated suite of “best of breed” tools selected by the business held together with “digital glue” would be a preferred LMS solution
  • generally speaking, the effort to assemble a suite of tools with the appropriate “glue” is the primary challenge - especially for small or mid size businesses (SMBs)

Most LMS integration of third party tools and systems are complex and expensive. With enough effort from very smart and committed people, things can get glued together and generally they will work well at a functional level.

However, the user interface is rarely an integrated experience. Unlike office or anti-virus suites where a common feel, navigation, and branding exists, traditional suites of LMS tools cobbled together generally fall short and the “integration” of add-ons are disjointed and distracting.

From both an administrative and the end-user perspective, the end product looks a bit more like a Frankenstein-LMS where users must learn how to navigate through multiple UI paradigms to do one interrelated set of tasks. This is more than a mere eyesore; it can be disorienting to the point that users are not effective in using the system.

For all the time, money, and effort spent on the integration, many clients are left feeling:
  • They should have gotten a more functional and manageable product
  • Their users should have gotten a more friendly and intuitive interface

On the other side of the integration equation is vendor consolidation. LMS vendors continue the trend acquiring and integrating tools to expand their services: Saba’s purchase of Centra in 2006 and Blackboard’s more recent purchase of Elluminate and Wimba. In his article about the Taleo acquisition of Learn.com, Josh Bersin predicts that the trend of market consolidation will accelerate.

Despite the recognition that an open, federated suite model is preferable, LMS platforms are increasingly monolithic with pre-selected extensions “baked” into their product. Any remaining gaps (or worse, changes requested to swap their tools with the tools of your choice) requires expensive customization.

In reviewing tools acquired and “integrated” into an LMS platform, it is often clear that they started with variant products. Select a few vendors and look at the product sheets for the component parts. The differences in branding and navigation are obvious between the core set of tools and those which were accrued through acquisition.

Over time the stitching of the integration can become “seamless” but it can also “seem less” from a different perspective: forced compromise. If the vendor’s development and acquisition roadmap matches your business needs and trajectory – you’re in luck. You get a product that supports your needs while avoiding the cost and effort of custom integration requirements.

But what happens when your specific business needs and the vendor’s product roadmap are not strongly aligned? When complex and costly integrations are weighed against front end convenience and ongoing workarounds? Decision makers often choose the short term fix and accept a baked in solution. They may be at a decision point in the project to make compromises in order to hit some high-visibility short-term benchmarks for which they are being closely evaluated.

If your decision makers do go to bat and commit to getting the right tools versus what the LMS vendor has available, you get the “seem less” integration experience - a costly and complex loose coupling of an external 3rd party tool. It’s a lose-lose game. Even once this is completed, what happens when the next big thing hits the Internet? How agile is your vendor? Will his development favor large clients or small? This makes the integration challenge an ongoing issue that must be revisited increasingly as business and technology accelerate.

In When to LMS Clark Quinn comments:
    “a 3rd option is to build, perhaps out of open source components or on top of a flexible platform”

Accord LMS utilizes DotNetNuke (DNN), the leading open source web content management system and application development framework for Microsoft .NET. This flexible framework allows users to extend their portal functionality through thousands of third-party add-ons available from SnowCovered, a major DNN module (add-on) marketplace. Pick the features you want – social networking, document management - and then simply plug and play the modules into your DNN portal framework. The Accord LMS simply installs in as any other DNN module set. In fact, if you have access to your own DNN portal, you can download a fully functional version of the Accord LMS module set for evaluation from the Interzoic website. It’s that simple.

Countless skins (a term analogous to “theme” or “design”) are available for a modest fee to provide a unified graphic look and feel to both the portal and all of your installed modules to provide the integrated experience users deserve.

The thriving open source and third party ecosystem insures that the latest technology will be provided either in the DNN Framework or in add-on modules. Need enterprise class staging and production server synchronization, multilingual localization or web farm support? No problem. Want the features of Facebook, YouTube or eCommerce? No problem. The next big thing? No problem.

Accord LMS was designed from the ground up to utilize traditional SCORM learning events, features provided from other DNN modules, content from remote servers and even blended learning as well. The heterogeneous content can be wrapped as “extended learning events” with prerequisites, keywords and other metadata. All learning events are uniformly managed and organized in the content catalog and their utilization can be tracked and reported. Mentor chat, assignment upload, social networking or a SCORM quiz – they are all handled the same.

Accord LMS has a platform that provides the “glue” allowing organizations to select the best of best of breed suite of tools to support their business goals. This feature extends beyond cobbling together functional capabilities of modules and truly creates an integrated suite - ensuring that your LMS integration is “seamless” rather than “seem less”.

| Categories: eLearning

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