LMS Upgrade or Migration: 10 Best Practices


A research document submitted by the Nipissing University, Canada, titled- ‘Learning Management System Migration: An Analysis of Stakeholder Perspectives’, stated that, “an effective LMS must support active engagement, meaningful connections between segments of the course, easy communication, and formative feedback on work that is presented in class discussions or through other venues (Rubin, Fernandes, Avgerinos, & Moore, 2009, p. 82). When some of these features are lacking or not as current as they should be, migration and transitioning can be expected, which can impact all stakeholders as the adjustment and change ensues.”

LMSs today have to be at par with the technological revolution (think web 3.0 or learning 3.0). Keeping up with the constant software changes, learning styles and platforms clearly indicate the need for frequent upgrades or in some cases switching to a new system entirely. We had written about Moving from an On-premise LMS to a SaaS LMS recently.

However, most clients/buyers consider this to be a task where only the LMS provider is the party responsible, and are often unclear about their role in the process. Below are a few best practices that a client or a buyer can follow in order to make the overall LMS upgrade or migration process smoother and ensure that the transition is worth every penny.

1. Involve the Stakeholders

The research mentioned earlier, clearly highlights that the stakeholders who are mostly affected by LMS migration or upgradation are the Trainers, Instructors and Administrators - the actual owners of the system. However, when considering upgrade or migration, it’s not just the actual owners who have to be considered. As the process also involves technological changes the active involvement of the IT is a must too.

Both these teams have varying requirements and expectations from the new version. Understand how each member envisions the project. It will help to set benchmark and to measure the project success at the end of the project. Also, as it is a transition, all those who will be impacted (LMS learners) should be informed well in advance about the same.

2. Keep in Mind and Consider

Be it an upgrade within the same application or a switchover to an entirely different product, as LMS buyers it is good to have a few points clarified.

a) Data Mapping

While the vendor is responsible for taking care of the ground work of what data will go where, as a client you need to understand how the data will look in the new system.

b) Data Cleanup

Many new technologies come into the market which play a vital role in optimizing and making the data dynamic and this directly affects the LMS evolution. Enhancements in the system can leave behind some un-used or redundant legacy data. While opting for a migration, all such data can be identified by the vendor’s project team and can be cleared out, if required. The role of your team here is to validate if any past data is of any use or can it be archived. In case you are reluctant to archive the data, then make sure that for retrieval options are available.

c) Enhancements

Before getting started with LMS upgrade, be clear about the kind of enhancements you are looking for. Is it new technology, compatibility, new features, or IT guidelines? Giving the LMS provider a clear outline of what you need will ensure that you get a satisfactory output.

d) New Modules

Understand explicitly what new modules you are getting in an upgrade. Or what modules you get when migrating to a different system.

e) What’s New

Always look for new elements that are offered either within the LMS or as add-ons. These can come in handy anytime in the future or as a means to future-proof your learning/training initiative.

f) Target users

While identifying the target users may be the vendor’s task, it’s your task to provide all the necessary inputs about how the LMS will be used, the kind of tracking requirements you are looking for, administrative roles, and also about the geographical diversity of users, if applicable. Such information can help the vendor in creating an optimized solution for your organization.

g) Company Policies

Be forthright about your organization’s policy for data protection, data encryption etc. as the LMS needs to be setup considering these aspects. Here, both the client and the vendor should be involved and contribute equally to ensure a hassle free LMS setup. As a client, it is a good practice to promptly review and provide a clearance for the necessary environment details provided by the vendors in order to reduce delays.

3. Establish Procedures

While commissioning an LMS upgrade project, divide the key stakeholders into teams based on their roles. Each team has an important contribution to make which drives the project to its success. Every team will have its pre-set processes and procedures to follow and also have their own approval process, processing time, release process, etc.

Allow the vendor to understand your processes. Give them a clear picture of the estimated timeframe, the kind of approval cycles and also discuss about any constraints, challenges, contracts that might impact the project and set the right expectations.

4. Structure your Processes

It is the vendors task to understand the processes well and to suggest ways to improve them through the upgrade project. In order to make this process simpler, you can always create a structure of the process you follow at your company. And in turn, compare it with what the new system offers in terms of simplifying the current process.

5. Look for Benefits

Understand the benefits of an LMS upgrade not just in terms of technological changes but also in terms of how it will help different user groups.

It may not be easy to understand the requirements clearly, and in such cases, trust the vendor and seek advice on how things can be achieved with the LMS. Consulting with the LMS providers can provide greater insight and clarity about how to bridge the path from requirement listing to the final end product.

6. Ask for Case studies/ Demos

At times the product speak for itself. Ask the LMS service providers for case studies or demos that provide an example for a complex task established earlier. This can also help in setting a clearer base about your own requirements too.

7. Be Futuristic

An LMS upgrade or migration should be a long-term solution. Think about the results you can achieve in the longer run, and see how the features can be used in future, analyze how the learning delivery can be changed over time. Invest in innovation, and not just in some interim solution.

8. Review Thoroughly

This is a crucial phase as the review confirms whether or not the system has everything as proposed. Utilize this time for reviewing the functionalities, try out all workflows, use the system like an actual operational flow, look at the data and ensure you have all what you need. Ensure the company level policies and security measures are being met.

If required ask for a UAT test plan, and provide inputs for the same. The user set would ideally be composed of:

  • Based on LMS user role
  • a. Admin groupb. End user groupc. Trainer / instructor groupd. Line manager group
  • IT team group - who ensure that the application is built as per the IT requirements.

9. Confirm the End Result

Once the upgrade is completed, cross check if the ‘reason’ for upgrading the system has been met.

10. Plan and Prepare for the Go-live

Have a fixed date for launching the upgraded or new LMS system, and stick to it. Ensure the participation of all users through promotional activities within the organization. Before the final day carefully cross-check the system. Focus on the following points for a smooth transition:

  • Set a communication plan for end users and administrators
  • Chart the navigation steps for the new system
  • List out the new features added
  • Outline the benefits of the new system
  • Also, clearly mention where and how the users can find the previous data (something like a comparison between old and new system).

Be it LMS migration or upgrade, there are various types of successes (measurable and immeasurable) and problems that are encountered. Most issues are quite standard and predictable and can simply be avoided by focusing on the abovementioned points.

Quoting directly from the conclusion drawn by the Nipissing University’s study, “With the surfacing of innovative technologies, revisions to current systems, and changing needs and abilities of instructors, future LMS transitions are predictable. Each institution must adapt, using technologies and models of understanding, in this case to reconcile teaching, research, IT, a changing environment, financial accountability and managerial models (Wise & Quealy, 2006, p. 4).”