Teaching & Learning

Changing Our LMS…Lions, and Tigers, and Bears


Our moment is here.  We’re smack dab in the middle of it.  We’re switching out the current LMS for a new one…

[Cue the scary, overwhelming music]

ScaredManThis will be the 4th time in 20 years that Saint Leo has bought a ticket to ride this particular roller coaster.  And in the midst of our search, we’re hearing from plenty of other schools, administrators, and faculty who had such bad experiences with their LMS swap, they can’t talk about it, instead choosing the fetal position in a corner of the room, rocking back and forth, asking that the “bad thing” go away…

OK, maybe it’s not that bad.  But through our due diligence, we’ve heard terms like, “Unheralded failure” and “disaster” and even one administrator who said the Devil played a hand in their move.  Wow.

So, we’re taking a bit of an unconventional approach.  It’s actually a hybrid approach, based on several really good tactics and strategies I saw when I was sitting on the other side of the table as well as a presentation one of our other administrators once heard.  The point is to give everyone at Saint Leo an opportunity to give meaningful input and feedback, while eliciting the best possible trial(s) and data to make the most informed decision.  See what you think:

  1. Narrow the field to the 2-3 top / best LMS choices for our school. –  This caveat is important.  Our school has organizational and procedural differences than do other schools.  So, to put it as plainly as possible, that may mean that a system like Moodle, a fine LMS on the market, just isn’t suited for our centralized approach to course development and delivery.
  2. Use meaningful metrics to help determine our contenders. –  Do you intend to use Tier 1 helpdesk support?  Then call their potential helpdesk and see what the process is like for a student, a faculty, and an admin.  Want to use a lot of OER content in your courses?  See if the system has plug-ins or apps that work natively with the LMS.
  3. Let the vendors put on their show. –  It’s important to note that we’re NOT seeking a vendor.  But until we make a decision an ask that vendor to be a partner, we’ll keep them in that framework.  But during this meeting, stretch them by inviting all of the pertinent stakeholder types to the party.  (Note – not all stakeholders.  I’ve sat in on those LMS reviews with 200 people.  What a waste of people’s time.  There is a law of diminishing returns when it comes to asking every single person at an organization to help judge something…)
  4. Pick the top 2 and pilot. –  We’re starting this phase now.  We are piloting courses with real faculty and students in every mode we use – fully online, blended, face to face supplemental, graduate, and undergraduate.  200 (or so) students, 100 per system.
  5. Hear from non-partisan players. –  We invited colleagues from nearby schools who use the two systems to come and share their likes and dislikes.  We did NOT get this list of guests from the vendors, instead using our own meaningful channels.  It was quite eye opening…
  6. Let our pilot faculty, students, developers, and admins tell us what they thought. –  This is where real, Saint Leo people who get our policies and procedures get to explain what they believe is in the best interest of the stakeholder or organization.
  7. Use the experiences to create a “What, Why, or How?” document. –  This process is helping us find gaps and holes in the systems, but we need to be sure.  So, we’ll invite the vendors back one last time to explain their perspectives on the holes and gaps we found.
  8. Pick a system. –  ‘Nuff Said.
  9. Spend a year testing, migrating, and training. –  We’ll put early adopters into the new system during the year, but generally speaking the idea is to get as ready as possible for the ‘go live’ experience.
  10. Then it’s go time!

LMSYou may notice that never once did I mention an RFP.  Why?  Those documents, which some institutions are forced to use due to State regs, do more damage than good.  First, no matter how much a group puts into an RFP, they WILL forget something important.  Second, all an RFP does is ask vendors to meet functional needs, not organizational goals.  If the box isn’t checked, that doesn’t mean the vendor can’t meet the need, it just means they don’t meet it in the way you imagined.  How limiting…  Finally, RFP’s lead to a lot of anger and frustration.  Think about it – if I ask every faculty member what functionality MUST be present in the LMS and we choose a system that does not do that, guess who is now fuming mad?  Plus, like the previous issue, it doesn’t give LMS companies any chance to flex so as to meet the need.

So we took the approach of goal and outcome, not function.  We started by asking a simple question – “Explain any functionality we will lose from our current system.”  (It wasn’t much at all…)  Then, we talked about organizational goals like use of OER content, use of rich data tools like Blue Canary, the need for master courses that propagate out to child courses, etc.

So far, I think we’re on track.  We’ll know soon enough of course as our pilots start in (gulp) one week. 

So what do YOU think?  Do you like this approach?  Is it good for our school, our students, our faculty, etc?  Have you seen anything better?

Good luck and good learning!

Dr. Jeff D Borden
Chief Innovation Officer
Saint Leo University

About Jeff Borden

My title at work is ‘Chief Innovation Officer.’ So I'm trying to transform teaching and learning at scale. How do I do that? Through my "life" jobs. Primarily, I'm a dad and husband. But I'm also a professor, writer, professional speaker, comedian, researcher, lifelong learner, musician, dog-owner, and even a ranked disc golfer... I've spoken to, trained, or consulted with hundreds of thousands of educators at all levels, in numerous countries, K-20, about how to teach and learn effectively in the 21st Century.

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