LMS and LCMS Tight Integration

Posted by Miro | 3:33 AM | | 0 comments »

When a customer deploys both an LMS and an LCMS product to derive the value each promises, a smooth and tight integration is not just a convenience, it’s an absolute requirement. Because the LMS and LCMS share different levels of administrative interests in the same entities, lack of smooth integration between the products results in a broken solution with administrative conflicts.

In addition to resolving the administrative conflicts, a tight integration of LCMS and LMS products from the same vendor can offer unique benefits beyond those offered by the individual products.

A working solution out-of-the-box
Though it is possible to create integrated solutions based on LMS and LCMS products from different vendors, this is usually achieved at a much higher level by tweaking the user interface UI) to include cross links between various features across the products. The integrated solution often behaves as two different products co-existing in the same deployment, each providing cess points to the other. Even this level of minimal integration cannot be taken for granted. Given the complications of shared administrative interests between an LMS and LCMS, the customer must often invest substantial time and effort to achieve integration.

LMS and LCMS products from the same vendor are usually well integrated to begin with, enabling the customer to deploy a working solution with the combined LMS and LCMS offerings right out of the box. Even when the customer purchases one product and later decides to expand the deployment capabilities with the other product, buying LCS and LCMS products from a single vendor simplifies this expansion effort and requires virtually no further integration investments or delays.

While many vendors guarantee some level of integration between their LMS and LCMS products, some vendors raise the quality of integration by building their LMS and LCMS products based on a common architecture and schema. Products from such vendors essentially behave as a single product when deployed together, offering the highest level of consistency in all areas of deployment, including user interface, functionality, schema, administration, and maintenance. If the deployment of one product is expanded to include its complementary counterpart from the same vendor, there is often no need to migrate user data or any other tracked data. Users continue to access the deployment as they had previously, and the deployment magically starts offering more capabilities.

Common content repository
LMS and LCMS products from the same vendor may share a common content repository. Thispowerful feature offers certain unique benefits:

  • The content repository is consolidated in a single location, essentially guaranteeinguniform administration and maintenance of the repository.
  • The ongoing extra effort to ensure content consistency and integrity across the twosystems is completely eliminated.
  • A single content repository enables the unique identification and access of learningobjects across the two systems based on a common name space. This allows theauthor of a learning object to define prerequisites in terms of other learning objects inthe LCMS without questioning whether the LMS will recognize and honor these prerequisites.
    • With separate content repositories, even if the name space that uniquelyidentifies the learning objects is somehow standardized across the two systems,the customer must ensure that all prerequisites defined for a learning object inthe LCMS are indeed published into the LMS repository for the LMS tosuccessfully honor these prerequisite specifications. A single content repositoryshared between the LCMS and LMS completely eliminates this issue.
  • Common content repositories enable authors to update learning objects in the LCMSonce, without propagating the change to all learning activities and curriculums that usethat learning object in the LMS. All usages of the learning object automatically adopt theupdated version from the common repository. This is particularly important fordeployments containing frequently updated content.

Unified schema
LMS and LCMS products that are tightly integrated at the database level, and are based on a common unified schema, have a distinct advantage because each product leverages in real-time all data tracked by the other product. The current industry standards, such as AICC and SCORM, enable LCMS and LMS products to exchange content packages and simple sets of tracked information such as completion status and scores. However, both LMS and LCMS are often interested in other common information for which no standards exist, such as detailed user profiles, competency definitions, organizational affiliations, job roles, learning objectives, the mapping between learning objectives and learning objects, and the detailed tracking of interactions between a user and a learning object.

LMS and LCMS products that share a common schema can leverage this common data regardless of which product tracked which piece. For example, when delivering a learning object to a user, the LCMS could take advantage of the personal information maintained by the LMS to offer the user a highly customized experience. Similarly, the LMS could maximize the detailed tracking by the LCMS to offer rich reports that help measure and improve the health of the entire solution.

Advanced personalization
Tight integration of the LMS and LCMS can enable several advanced personalization capabilities that are not easily achieved through either product alone. For example:

  • The LCMS can use the user information available in the LMS, such as profile, preference, job role, and competency data, to deliver a customized track of the learning object to the user automatically.
  • The LCMS can also analyze trends by correlating the user properties from LMS, the tracks chosen by corresponding users in the LCMS, and the details on their performance in those tracks.
    • Learning-object authors can use this kind of trend analysis to understand how the tracks they create are used in the real world. Such analysis also provides a more accurate profile of the real audience for each personalized track. Authors can use this information to fine-tune the track or create new personalized tracks to address the needs of users with specific profiles.
    • The LCMS can also use the results of this trend analysis to prescribe an appropriate track to future users automatically based on their profile. The LCMS becomes an intelligent system that learns, based on real data, what worked for whom and then uses this information to help future users.
  • When an LMS has real-time access to all learning objects managed by the LCMS, the LMS can dynamically build personalized curriculums and learning activities to match a specific user’s needs and profile. A dynamic curriculum built for a user by the LMS can include an assortment of learning objects based on the learning objectives associated with each learning object. The curriculum may include a blending of learning objects to be delivered by the LCMS as well as other learning activities such as seminars, workshops, and so forth that may be available outside the LCMS.

Better insight for improving content
The granularity of tracking in an LCMS helps content owners gain insight into the clarity and effectiveness of their learning objects. The amount and nature of peer collaboration, and the amount and nature of additional help users seek from knowledge experts in the context of a learning object, provide great insight into the clarity and completeness of the learning object. Correlating this data with the user profile, job role, competencies, and skill levels available in the LMS provides valuable insight into the types of users who find the content effective or who have difficulty with the content. Further correlating this data with the curricula or learning activities in the LMS that included the learning object can reveal where the learning object should be included in future and also help fine-tune the learning object’s prerequisites. This analysis may also provide insight into how the learning object’s prerequisites depend on the audience’s characteristics.

Capturing intangible knowledge
Structured knowledge that satisfies a specific set of learning objectives is often well defined and managed as tangible learning objects in an LCMS. However, in this fast-moving knowledge economy, an equally important challenge is to capture the vast amount of unstructured, intangible knowledge in an organization and make it readily available to increase on-the-job productivity. Intangible knowledge is often buried in a person’s head and in what one knows beyond what is available in formally documented knowledge. LCMS and LMS products recognize this challenge and often facilitate the transfer of intangible knowledge through methods such as discussion forums, chat rooms, and study groups. While most products facilitate knowledge transfer beyond formal training, very few offer a built-in mechanism that actually captures the transferred knowledge and makes it readily available for future reference.
Some advanced LCMS products not only capture transferred knowledge, but also automatically associate the knowledge with specific learning objects and provide meaningful context for future reference to this unstructured knowledge. If these LCMS products are part of a tightly integrated LMS and LCMS deployment, the context of the unstructured knowledge captured can in turn be used to create new learning objects and improve existing learning objects. In essence, this helps capture the intangible and unstructured knowledge in an organization and transform it into a tangible asset.

Other key benefits
The tight integration of an LMS and LCMS from the same vendor can offer other unique benefits:

  • Integrated security with common roles and privileges honored by both the LMS and LCMS provides a single logon and uniform access model to all capabilities across both systems. This uniformity provides a better user experience and simplified administration.
  • Tight integration unifies administration and maintenance of the two systems, resulting in reduced maintenance cost.
  • Uniform search capabilities across both the LMS and LCMS.
  • With products from the same vendor, the integration is likely to be preserved through
    future versions of the LMS and LCMS products. Issues involved in upgrading the integrated deployment are resolved as part of the product release. Integrating LMS and LCMS products from different vendors would likely involve substantial additional integration work when upgrading to future versions of each product.

Tight Integration ≠ Proprietary
A tight integration of LMS and LCMS products from the same vendor doesn’t have to mean a proprietary solution that locks down customer investments. The key is to make sure the integrated products are based on an open, flexible, modular architecture and are compliant with available industry standards.

The architecture should guarantee that the integrated product suite features well-defined interfaces that make it easy to work with other enterprise products. At the same time, the integrated product should guarantee its standards compliance; that is, that it can manage and use standards-compliant learning objects created by external systems as well as standards compliant off-the-shelf courses. The product should also guarantee that all learning objects created with the product are similarly standards-compliant and can be easily exported and published to other standards-compliant learning systems.

The Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) is emerging as the de facto standard for learning objects, so the integrated product must also be able to create SCORM-compliant content as well as manage, play, and track SCORM-compliant content created by other systems.