An ideal learning management system (LMS) would tailor its user interface to Learner preferences to create the best possible learning experience (LX) for each user. In the real world, interacting with most LMS systems is, at best, annoying and, at worst, confounding to Learners. The default page and interface designs can make finding relevant training resources a challenge. Fortunately, many systems provide options to improve or augment the default system interface and page structure. These improvements can help your organization simplify the LX and more effectively guide Learners to critical resources that will enhance workforce performance.
Customize your Learner Experience
LMS page builders are often overlooked, but essential for tailoring LMS pages and interface elements. Customizations help you to design an LX that entices your Learners to discover, launch, and complete critical training resources. The tools used to create custom pages and tailor the interface go by a variety of names, depending on the LMS vendor. Standard terms that describe this capability include “custom pages,” “custom widget pages,” “page builders,” and “customized home pages.” The extent to which you can customize the interface varies by vendor. For example, some systems provide tools that allow you to drag and drop widgets on the page using a grid system. Other systems allow only stylistic and branding changes to a page. Some LMS systems don’t support modifications to a page but permit the addition of an HTML code block. Whatever the capability, you should learn what is possible in your system to improve the learner’s experience. If your LMS does not support customization, you should add this requirement to your next LMS selection process.
A Path Through the Forest and Trees
The overall learning experience is often a blind spot for Administrators and content creators. It is the classic forest and trees scenario. Learners are on a journey through the forest to find the resources necessary to accomplish their goals. We, as administrators and creators, are focused on our goals like growing healthy trees, irrigation, and fire control. It is easy to forget that our Learners are builders. They enter the forest to find a few good trees to harvest and transform into homes and businesses. The forest is not their destination; it is a vital resource necessary to perform their job. It is easy for us to get too focused on creating excellent course content and keeping the LMS “lights on.” We lose sight of the critical role the LMS plays in creating a unified learning experience. We forget that we are pathfinders, charged with guiding learners to the right resources at the right time so they can accomplish their performance goals.
Monitoring the Health of the Learning Experience
Building custom pages in your LMS can be a powerful solution, particularly when you have identified and defined your LX problem(s). Consider designing a process to identify LX problems early before they negatively affect organizational performance. The process should include an ongoing review of help desk calls concerning training and the LMS. Help desk records and direct conversations with help desk agents can help you identify the most common problems. Next, talk to Learners! Review survey and evaluation data to discover what flaws in your LX need repair. Contact learners who have experienced issues to ask specific questions, so you have a clear understanding of their pain points and where the system creates unnecessary friction. Listen to your stakeholders: assess which performance goals are consistently unmet. Build a stakeholder advisory group to collect feedback on the learning experience and prioritize enhancements.
There are many reasons organizations build customized pages on the LMS. Still, there are common use cases I highlight below that may inspire you to explore opportunities in your organization.
• Address urgent business priorities or threats by creating temporary “landing pages” that collect internal courses, public web resources, videos, and documents into one interactive organizer (see our COVID-19 Information page example)
• Simplify and streamline the Learner experience
• Customize user dashboards by role
• Spotlight courses and learning paths with graphics, video, and text
• Control visibility of sensitive courses and learning paths
5 Steps to a Tailored Learning Experience
After you have identified an LX problem and determined that it is a high priority, begin a planning process to assure that the change is designed well and implemented correctly. The design process can be detailed and better saved as a topic for a later article. I will, however, provide a few steps which may offer a starting point for your customization project.
1 – Build a wireframe mockup. The mockup uses screenshots, drawings, and other easily collected assets to approximate a revised or new page design.
2 – Determine who will implement the customization: this may be an internal LMS administrator, outside consultant, or vendor resource
2 – Review the plan with Learners, stakeholders, and the person who will implement the finished design in the LMS.
3 – Create a working prototype of the model in the LMS. Create the design using pages that are not visible to users. Individuals involved in the design and testing process can access the pages, but general users will not see the pages, thus avoiding problems with normal operations. You may want to designate a pilot group to review the design and provide feedback.
4 – Implement the design! Make changes to page structure and permissions to allow general access to the prototype pages.
5 – Closely monitor helpdesk feedback to verify that all implemented changes are working as expected. Celebrate!
The best approach to customizing your LX depends on the size and complexity of your organization. For small to medium-sized companies, the process generally takes less time and involves fewer people. For large organizations, the process may cross team and organizational boundaries, which may include your IT department. Before beginning the journey to improve your LX, make sure you have a solid understanding of your LMS system capabilities. Ask your LMS system vendor for help to understand the capabilities and limitations related to customization. Even if you find that your current system is limited, the knowledge you gain will be valuable to guide the next LMS vendor selection process.
If you implement LMS customized pages, remember to document the configuration and the link structure of each custom page. Documentation is critical for future content revisions and changes that affect static links referenced by a custom page. Customization has the potential to improve the learner’s experience substantially; however, poorly designed or maintained customizations may make matters worse. It is easy to forget that system changes implemented today will more than likely be supported by someone who was not a part of the implementation team.
LMS customizations have the potential to simplify, clarify, and visually enhance the Learner experience. An improved LX guides your Learners to the content that leads to higher levels of individual and organizational performance. Get started now in understanding the customizations your system can and cannot support. If you need help in mapping out your strategy and implementing changes, please contact me to learn more about how SkillQ’s experience can help you make the best decisions for your organization.