As the higher education industry and the rest of the world are in the process of transitioning their face-to-face operations to remote, one thing is becoming abundantly clear: more colleges and universities are looking to upgrade their current learning management systems to something more modern, easier to use, and outfitted to help their institution excel in the post-COVID-19 world. For some institutions, Canvas is the LMS of choice. For others, they may have to wait to transition their entire course load onto the platform but are now launching pilot programs in the hopes of going live closer to the summer of 2021. Although LMS implementations are undoubtedly daunting, there are plenty of lessons from similar initiatives at other institutions to learn from. Without further ado, here are a few lessons learned and common pitfalls from other Canvas implementations in higher ed.
With any LMS implementation, there are bound to be challenges you will encounter along the way. Some of the more obvious pitfalls for higher ed LMS implementations include:
- Not creating a formal requirements document
- Not establishing broad participation among stakeholders
- Not maintaining the transparency of the project by including all stakeholders throughout the process
- Not starting communication sooner or on a regular enough basis
- Not accounting for unexpected costs in the budget
- Not realizing the extent of the extended team
- Not accounting for the effort required to migrate courses to the new platform
- Not having an agreed-upon but flexible methodology
- Not having enough people on the team who have Canvas implementation experience
All of these issues share something in common: poor communication. With higher ed specifically, building trust and engagement among stakeholders is key to ensure a smooth transition to support. Bringing them on board early will ensure that their needs are addressed and adjusted for, while at the same time setting and maintaining their expectations for the project. Without proper communication channels and transparency with stakeholders, it will be nearly impossible to complete your project within your budget and ahead of your deadline.
There is a myriad of different stakeholders in higher ed and they have different needs when it comes to implementing new learning management systems. Students generally prefer mobility and streamlined UI over advanced functionality, while faculty are looking for new tools that are accessible and easy to use. Administrative staff are specifically interested in compliance, overall cost, and connectivity. Research staff are primarily concerned with the system’s ability to provide useful data and its overall ease of use. It goes without saying, but above all else, your support staff require the appropriate resources to effectively support other stakeholders during the transition. Finally, while they may be first to buy-in, IT staff require the resources needed for the implementation and are concerned with data portability, ease of use, and course creation functionality.
Although each stakeholder has their own specific needs, one common concern across all groups is the timeline of the implementation. The total time to migrate to Canvas can take from between 3 to 24 months, however, most implementations take within a year. Establishing and managing your stakeholders’ expectations will be paramount to the success of your project.
Now that you know what not to do, it’s time to consider what the best course of action is to take at each step of the LMS implementation process. This will depend heavily on your specific institution, your infrastructure, your culture, and the scope of your project, but it will benefit you greatly in the long-run to observe what strategies and techniques have helped other Canvas implementations go off without a hitch.
With several multi-million dollar Canvas implementations at prestigious higher ed institutions under our belt, Optimal Campus Consulting has plenty of experience with every aspect of the LMS implementation process. Here are just some of our lessons learned specifically related to the Canvas platform.
Account for all Necessary Integrations
While ensuring to cross all of your T’s and dot all of your I’s is crucial to any project, it’s particularly important to account for all necessary LTI integrations when implementing Canvas at a higher education institution. Ensuring that each tool or other interoperability is properly established within your new system is going to be key to guarantee that stakeholders have the features and resources they need to thrive within the new learning management environment.
Make use of Online Communities
We always recommend that IT professionals utilize the sharing and collaborative culture of higher ed to connect with their peers to share advice and knowledge. Thankfully, Canvas is one of the most popular learning management systems within higher ed currently and there is a growing community of experts who can help you overcome even your most daunting obstacle. Canvas Communities, for example, offers users a central hub of information and communication regarding Instructure’s learning platform.
In addition, we also host a monthly virtual Meetup specifically focused on bringing together higher ed IT professionals. Connecting with a peer in higher ed who has implemented Canvas before can make all the difference in making sure that you have your bases covered. Consider joining our group of over four hundred c-level tech executives from colleges and universities across the United States and abroad. You can also search through a database of peers in higher education on our blog.
Perform extensive planning beforehand
As a general rule, we always recommend that IT projects in higher education start with an extensive planning process or discovery phase to identify all of the risks, challenges, and requirements needed to bring it from fruition to completion. This is especially true when dealing with an implementation of this scope. When possible, the extra time will offer both the implementation team and their stakeholders time to prepare, learn, and engage with each other regarding the Canvas implementation.
Invest in Thorough Change Management
As we’ve already alluded to, the implementation of a learning management system requires thorough change management to help acquire buy-in from your various stakeholders, bring them onboard the project, and educate them on the new system and processes. As such, we recommend any Canvas implementation includes a dedicated change management professional, even only on a part-time basis, and takes advantage of established change management best practices. Before the implementation has begun, it is important to establish success metrics for your change management process and then engage your whole team in that process throughout the project.
Keep in mind that change management should be a priority even after your go-live date. Canvas’ selection of features and functionality can sometimes be overwhelming for the less tech-savvy among your students, faculty, and staff. Your stakeholders will need to be brought along throughout the entire implementation process, including after the project has transitioned to support. Setting your stakeholders up for success within the new system is essential to the long-term goals of the project.
Implementing an LMS is an almost herculean undertaking by itself, but the short-term and long-term benefits of switching to Canvas could be the difference between your university surviving the COVID-19 crisis and closing or merging with another school. Thankfully, there are plenty of resources and lessons available to help you prepare for success. We are also available to help answer any questions or help address any challenges you may currently have. Feel free to reach out to one of our principal consultants and we can schedule a call to discuss your project further.
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