Your company relies on a variety of different software applications to keep the business running smoothly and facilitate its work. As a learning professional, the addition of your LMS to suite of applications being used by your business was probably among the more recent additions. An unfortunate number of learning professionals experience a rather rude awakening when it comes time to get that LMS to talk to the other systems in place. Making that happen easily or smoothly seems to be the exception to the rule, which can make your work life much more stressful than you’d like it to be. Learning management system integrations are essential for maximum impact of your learning programs on the business. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Learning Management System Integrations for Maximum Impact

The Challenge of Learning Management System Integrations

When you or your company shopped around for an LMS, you were probably mostly focused on aspects such as how well it would help you create, publish and manage your learning programs and create a top-notch learning experience for your learners. If learning management system integration were on your radar screen at all, it may have been largely glossed over. Part of the responsibility here could also lie with the LMS vendor, who may have casually mentioned that their product integrates with lots of different software systems or reassured you that it includes APIs to make that happen. The reality, however, is that integrating two systems is rarely an easy task, and one that deserves closer attention earlier than later in the LMS selection and implementation process.

The Need for Learning Management System Integrations

It’s definitely worth taking the time to really map out what learning management system integrations you really need. In part this will depend on what other software systems your company uses and then determining whether or not it would be advantageous for the LMS to integrate with those. The possibilities here are nearly endless, but here are some to consider:

  • Content sources: It may be that you’ll be creating and uploading all your learning content directly into the LMS. But many companies want the option of integrating content from a variety of sources such as FTP servers, YouTube, Box, Google Docs, cloud-based storage, other websites and so on.
  • Login credentials: Everybody hates trying to remember multiple passwords for various applications. If your LMS has SSO (single sign-on) capability, you can have the LMS logon credentials match those of another system used in the company – one less password to remember is always a good thing! However, this doesn’t happen with a single click of the mouse. Most applications at companies aren’t already set up to serve as the “identity provider” to hold credentials, so be prepared for the company’s IT development team to get involved.
  • Training management systems (TMS): Companies that are highly training-oriented probably have a TMS to manage the training, but the LMS is going to play a key role in delivering and managing a lot of the learning and training content. If your LMS has eCommerce capability, your training and learning programs can be available for purchase by others outside your company, further deepening the need for the LMS and TMS to be integrated.
  • Human resources: Essential user data about your learners needs to make its way into the LMS. Having users or someone else take the time to enter this information would be tedious for anyone and costly for larger companies. If the LMS and HR system are integrated, no one has to manually enter duplicate data into the LMS.
  • Sales/CRM: If sales is an important aspect of your company, then you’re going to want to integrate your LMS with systems like Salesforce and/or other CRM (customer relation management) systems.

These are just a few of the many possibilities that may be relevant for your company when considering learning management system integrations.

Tools for Learning Management System Integrations

An API or application programming interface is one tool that can be used for learning management system integrations that allow the two different systems to share data. There are two main kinds of APIs, with SOAP being the older standard and REST being the newer standard that is known for making integrations easier. The problem with APIs, however, is that they “call” or “pull” data from one application into the other application so the two systems can remain in synch, but you have to set up how often that happens, which might not match well to when the data has actually changed. In some companies or specific integrations, it might make more sense to use a webhook. Instead of pulling data only when requested or according to a pre-set schedule, the data will be automatically pushed when it has changed according to some predefined threshold. If real-time updates are important, a webhook would be the integration tool of choice, but are really only good at relatively small data exchanges. Javascript tracking is another tool that is used, particularly when tying your LMS to a web or marketing tool such as Google Web Analytics or Hubspot.

The takeaway message of this article is simple: Learning management system integrations are rarely easy to achieve. Once established, the end result will hopefully be seamless integration between your LMS and any number of other software applications and systems. But the devil, as they say, is in the details of setting up and implementing the integrations. Thinking through your integration needs and requirements beforehand will help immensely.