In your search for a learning management system, you’ve likely come across talk of integrations.
Like the cherry on top of a sundae, LMS integrations make the eLearning experience better. Some require no technical expertise, some need a little programming knowledge, and some work behind the scenes, so you needn’t worry about them.
The sustainability of your LMS solution depends on the integrations you choose (or don’t choose) so it’s important to understand the benefit of each integration’s functionality. Here, we’ll walk you through the different types of LMS integrations and some of the challenges you may encounter.
What is a learning management system (LMS) integration?
An LMS integration acts as a bridge between your learning management system, allowing it to share data with and receive data from other software systems. Integrations:
- Automate repetitive administrative tasks and manual processes
- Combine siloed workforce, business and training data
- Offer a richer training content catalogue
- Enable more informed reporting through actionable insights
- Create a truly centralised learning platform.
The importance of LMS integrations
An LMS is an astute tool for online learning. Integrations take that power, multiply it, and provide legions more value for users and a better ROI for your organisation.
As with choosing your online learning system, your goals and learning needs will determine the LMS integrations you need.
There are three components we suggest you think about when making this choice.
- Content, specifically how you plan to create, upload and host it.
- Data, particularly the analytics, people and user data you need, where it needs to go, and what you are trying to glean from it.
- Users, namely the number you’ll be onboarding, how you want them to register and login to the LMS, and if they’ll be paying for your content.
One thing to note about integrations is that they often piggyback off each other. You might want just one, but you’ll often need another to reap the full benefits. This is why, at face value, the functionalities of some integrations appear to be the same.
But do I really need LMS integrations?
The long-term viability of an LMS is often as much about it’s technical integrations as the content it delivers. Think about it: Delivering learning is what an LMS is designed to do, so it (theoretically) will always do that. How it delivers that learning is much more reflective of its sustainability and ability to scale.
That gives you two specific reasons to consider a vendor by the integrations they offer:
- The user experience
- Return on L&D investment.
On the user front, LMS integrations tap into the comfort of familiarity by employing systems your users are already versed in, from social media to payroll. Without these, admin and users alike will find the user experience cumbersome and weighed down by needless duplication of tasks.
You might have systems or applications you use internally which already net high user engagement and experience. Or maybe there are platforms or processes your users interact with in their day-to-day lives and are thus confident using. Maybe you realise you need to add more training courses that you can’t create in-house, or you want to build your own but the LMS itself doesn’t offer content authoring, or—you get the idea.
Most crucially, without integrations, L&D won’t be able to demonstrate meaningful impact on business operations to stakeholders. You’d be relying on activity-based metrics, like completions, enrolments or grades, to justify spending. These just don’t give you the organisational or individual specifics needed for actions like strategic workforce planning, learning pathways and succession planning.
This is because alone, a learning management system is simply an online training platform. Integrations optimise and soothe pain points such as:
- Lack of training resources
- Outdated technology
- Manual replication of data-based processes in LMS
- Lack of data consolidation
- System administration
- Longevity of and return on investment on vender relationships.
The different types of LMS integrations you need
Just as features differ between learning management systems, functionality varies between LMS integrations.
Some will make for a better training program, others will enable video conferencing (we know, that’s not a given in an LMS), and others still will simply make the system more accessible. Let’s break it down.
Single Sign-On (SSO) enables users to access multiple applications with the same login credentials. It works by authenticating the user is logging in with the right details, and then authorising that user access to the right content as approved by an administrator.
The most popular types of SSO integrations are Microsoft Azure HD, Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) and Okta.
Why you need an SSO integration
Without SSO, we’ve found most organisations require users to change their passwords as frequently as every month. This leads to password fatigue, which can cause users to choose more hackable passwords, or simply forget the password they’ve created.
You’ll find the heat on your IT department then starts to rise, as they spend time on niggling issues like manually resetting passwords—which ultimately costs your organisation time to productivity as much as it does time out of an IT professional’s workday.
An Application Programming Interface (API) is the intermediary between two applications and allows for developers to interact with the data in an LMS.
The key benefits of API integrations are experienced by HR leaders, as they automate painstaking manual processes such as bulk file uploads. Essentially, you can be sure crucial information such as job titles, previous experience, skills, and proficiencies, are all kept up-to-date through an API integration, saving your HR and finance leaders a lot of hassle.
Why you need an API integration
Transferring people data manually, from your HR system to your LMS, is going to be more than time-consuming—it’ll be an all-consuming task for a HR leader whose job is not data processing.
Discrepancies may arise as the delegated individual starts to rush to complete the task. When you’re planning for the future of your organisation, gaps in your human capital data will only delay succession plans and immobilise talent mobility.
A customer relationship management (CRM)-LMS integration helps, as the name suggests, manage customer data. This integration creates a source of truth, making it easier to track and analyse how your organisation interacts with current and potential customers. This in turn enables you to better service them, and build better relationships with them. Think a Salesforce integration.
Why you need a CRM integration
Without CRM, you’ll:
- Likely lose sight of your customer needs, lacking the data required for clear buyer personas
- Find the efficacy of your business processes weak as a result
- Fail to set your customer success teams up with the knowledge they need
- Miss out on potential new revenue streams.
For small to mid-sized businesses and enterprises, it’s the difference between having mass silos of data across multiple platforms and company departments, and a central, easily managed-at-scale repository.
These nifty tools allow applications to communicate automatically and autonomously. Sound familiar? While similar, they’re not APIs.
APIs do things when you ask them to (by pulling data), but webhooks are triggered when a predefined criteria is met (pushing data). Welcome emails are an example of webhooks at play.
As with APIs, there are no specific branded webhook integrations. Not every application supports webhooks, however, and setting up a webhook involves procuring the webhook URL from the application you want to send data to—so a little technical intervention is required.
Why you need a webhook integration
Without a webhook, there’s no automation or real time responses, making eLearning a cumbersome experience for users. There’s also the risk that requisite course completions may not be logged as quickly as you need, nor will assessments be registered as submitted, learning paths noted as completed or purchases lodged.
Webinar tools are incredibly useful on three counts:
- Scheduling sessions
- Attendance reporting.
Say your in-house communication tool is Microsoft Teams. And say you need to offer instructor-led training to remote employees. When integrated with an LMS, you can create a session internally that is duplicated in your Teams account (hello, webhooks). Those registered for that session are automatically notified, via reminder emails and calendar invites, and admin are able to view attendance stats as Teams passes it back to the LMS.
Why you need a webinars integration
If you choose not to integrate a webinar service, you’re locking yourself out of a potential ROI of 75:1, and depriving your users of important social learning principles (where LMS users learn from and with others). Virtual classrooms are also key for collaborative and inclusive learning experiences, as well as delivering certain training courses for cohorts.
An eCommerce integration is important not just for commoditised content, but branding and sales reporting.
LMS integrations such as Stripe act as a go-between, so you don’t have to manually move funds to your business account from an online transfer system. Credit card payments can be accepted through your LMS, either for one-off or recurring purchases, and card details stored in the system, for the user’s convenience.
A Google Analytics integration, for example, allows you to see how customers are coming to your store, fluctuations in visits by hours or days, time to purchase and which of your courses are the most popular.
Why you need an eCommerce integration
Without secure payment methods, you may end up paying extortionate fees to external financial services. This turns customers off buying your content, as they may be unsure their data is safe. We’ve also seen organisations struggle to adapt their content without a clear understanding of how valuable it is to their audience, which ultimately affects their training ROI.
Third party content
While content created in-house is great for company-specific training, there’ll be instances where you need expert resources or when you don’t have the capacity to create an entire catalogue of online courses.
Skillsoft, LinkedIn Learning and Go1 are some providers to look out for, with legions of content from subject matter experts. It’s also immediately and readily available, and saves time and resources within your organisation.
Why you need third party content
You may want to design learning pathways for your users, but without good content, user performance won’t improve. If you don’t have the time, resources or expertise in-house to create the content needed to accelerate learning (which we’ve found especially true when onboarding new employees), users will be the ones to suffer. It may also create gaps of knowledge in important job roles, which ultimately affects your organisation’s ability to strategically plan for the future.
Used with xAPI, a learning record store (LRS) collects, stores and retrieves learning experience data. Once stored, you can access this data (known as statements) for reporting and analysis.
Don’t be tempted to confuse it with an LMS; the LRS is used primarily to track and store this data, while the LMS gives you the ability to manage, track and report on it.
If you’ve got a large number of learning activities across different cohorts and sources (third party providers, webinars, eCommerce), an LRS helps you easily track it all.
Why you need an LRS integration
For enterprises or businesses with thousands of users, we’ve found it can be hard to pull learning analytics from multiple sources—and even harder to try and cohesively collate it and identify points of business impact. Getting lost in data means losing the ability to do any meaningful analysis, resulting in a potential loss of employee data crucial for workforce planning, scaling or future learning content.
The challenge of LMS integrations
Not every LMS integration is created equal. There are some considerations to remember when courting vendors.
The LTI (learning tools interoperability) standard is the backbone for most LMS integrations. It essentially means that if you write an LTI integration for one systems, it’ll be compliant in all others.
However, not all integrations or even learning management systems conform to this standard, despite its prevalence in the industry. There are a few versions of the standard, so it pays to ask which (if any) an LMS is compliant with.
Choosing an LMS integration often comes down to the partnerships vendors currently have or are willing to make. There are a few reasons for this.
- Cost to vendor through revenue share
- Not enough clients have need of an LMS integration
- The LMS treats user properties (e.g. assigned roles) different from the integration.
On the flip side, integrations can come with large costs you’ll have to burden on top of your LMS subscription. Include your desired integrations (and budget) in your LMS RFP to avoid disappointment down the line.
An LMS supplier may boast of the prowess of APIs, but this will mean nothing to you if you don’t understand what they do or how they integrate with your LMS.
For example: APIs don’t always play well with other systems. Internet Explorer, SAP and Aurion integrations are actually batch file uploads, not APIs, making them older and more archaic systems your LMS may not work with.
Ensuring your eLearning solution accounts for data in an array of formats—and that it’s factored into your quoted setup—will save you a lot of pain later.
Learning management system integrations sound more mystical than they really are. Simply put, they enable everything from data mobility and deep reporting to better knowledge sharing between users and easy access to the LMS itself.
SSO, webhooks, third party content, API and CRM are all worth enquiring about, especially as they’ll likely cost you on top of your vendor fees.
And after all that, integrating your LMS remains a technical process, so remember that there are technical challenges that come with integrations. Consider your learning strategy, business goals and what you’ll need in future.
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