The Styles and States of Learning Management Systems 2021

Learning Management Systems have become an integral part of how a modern organization operates; in 2020, almost every business surveyed by the Association of Talent Development (ATD) reported using an electronic system to help manage training; up from 75% five years prior (Association for Talent Development, 2020). The trend of applying technology in training is not slowing down as global events such as the Covid-19 pandemic have accelerated the need for flexibility and adaptation to keep organizations moving.

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Declunkifying Your LMS

It’s common for an LMS to take on a bit of clunkiness through development, right at launch or as more courses and programs launch on the system. Clunkiness is a general feeling that something on the system is not right and it is not as smooth as it could be. It can sometimes be hard

I’ve run across clunky LMSs that technically achieved it’s stated goals and where the content isn’t really that bad but you would still describe the experience as “clunky”. This can be frustrating when you feel like you completed all the original goals but the project still feels unfinished. Doesn’t everyone want their LMS to be quick, slick, and intuitive? The tricky thing is that training programs rare complex systems with many pieces and possibilities for diagnosing a problem.

Here are a few ideas on where to look when trying to declunkify your LMS.

Too many functions, are you focused on learning?

It can be tempting to add too many features at once into a training site. Although the focus should be on training, it’s easy to start throwing in distracting features once the project gets going. Contests, portals, special events, even vacation days are things we have seen added to learning management systems. Be careful because these features, although useful, can add clunk to your system!


Keep functions to a minimum and try to focus on learning. It might not be the most exciting but when users log in to an LMS and all they can do is access learning content, it’s hard for them to get lost.

Launch new features over time, after previous features have been accepted by the general population. Try not to overwhelm learners who likely have many other things to worry about.

Navigation, categories, and searchability

Content can fill up quickly in an LMS and no matter how carefully the metadata and categories have been organized, it gets to be a bit of a mass. For learners, struggling to find the work that they are forced to do is an extra layer of frustration they could live without.


Use consistent title, name, and category formats. Categorize and tag all your content. Organize content in the order that users are expected to completed it (left to right, top to bottom).

Ideally, provide search functionality so that users have multiple ways to get to their destination.

Get rid of “checklists of checklists”, usually these are documents that list “everything you have to do” but end up referencing other lists of “everything you have to do”. Instead, try to organize content in a natural way that learners should access them.

Avoid training on how to do the training. If the steps to do training is so complicated that it requires a training course, it might require simplification instead of more training.

Look and Feel.

Company cultures can differ wildly and each company has their own way of working. This means different expectations, visuals, lingo, processes, relationships, and more. Do these things match your company’s culture and processes? If not, users might experience these discrepancies as “clunkiness”.


Plan design styles (graphics, writing, etc) that fit your company. Build your content to match real programs that are part of your company culture.

Collect information from your stakeholders.

Use guiding text and images, communication to steer your learners in the right direction.

User Testing

User testing is a key step in implementing your LMS. Even if the LMS has been deployed in many companies already, you need to know that it fits YOUR company with YOUR training programs loaded.


Test with members of your target audience. There are many different methods for user interface testing but in general the point is to have members of your target audience to perform basic operations on the system and record their experience.

Are they accessing content the way you planned or are they finding another route? Are there key misunderstandings? Is there enough communication to help them find their way around?


An LMS can end up feeling clunky even if you did everything right in the design and building stages. Don’t let that get you down, it happens to lots of people. The important next step is to start looking for why users find the system clunky. These might not be obvious right away (otherwise it probably would have been caught during planning and development) and it’s important to keep an open mind (because the issue might not be something you expect). It can take time to identify the things that make your system feel “clunky” but it is worth it!

Opinion: 3 Common Attitudes of Instructional Designers

Instructional designers, like everyone else, have tendencies and habits and I can’t help but notice commonalities between them. Ultimately the goal of elearning is to teach something but there are just so many ways to do it and everyone brings their own background and experiences with them.

In this regard, I often see these three attitudes of instructional designers out in the field and thought it would be interesting to compare notes with the community!

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Technical Knowledge Instructional Designers Didn’t Know They Needed: Servers and Clients

One of the things I enjoy about working as both an instructional designer and as a programmer is using technical knowledge to come up with new instructional design solutions and showing them to other instructional designers. While technical knowledge is not a must-have in an instructional design role, it definitely helps when planning an organization-wide training program or trying to use the right terms at an I.T. meeting.

In this post we’ll cover the idea of web servers and clients, one of the key concepts of the world wide web, and how it impacts the development of Elearning.

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What’s the Deal with Tin Can and xAPI?

The first thing to get out of the way when we discuss Tin Can or Experience API (xAPI) is that they are the same thing. “Project Tin Can” was just the name of the original research project that resulted in xAPI. So that’s one less term you need to look up. xAPI is a standard format for communicating and storing learning data. It tells everyone what data to store and how to write it down whenever a learner completes a learning experience. Storing individual experiences, not just quiz scores, is the driving factor of xAPI and Tin Can. But where does xAPI fit with the rest of the educational technologies out there including SCORM? Is it a replacement for SCORM? We’ll find out more as we dig into this topic!

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Build vs Buy: Learning Management Systems

It’s a question I’ve been asked many times as an elearning consultant and as a developer: is it better to build your own LMS or buy one off the shelf? Having worked in organizations that bought, built, and eventually sold LMSs, I’ve been lucky to see some of the good and bad outcomes from each case. Let’s take a look at each option and see when they might be appropriate.

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5 Tips for Instructional Designers Without Formal Training

It is becoming more and more common for businesses to dedicate specialized resources to organizational learning. As such, more workers are getting degrees in fields such as educational technology, educational psychology, instructional design and more to fill this need. A degree, diploma, or certificate in an education related field, while very useful, is not necessary to work in instructional design. In fact, some of the best educators I have had a chance to work with did not have formal training but were experts in their own field that adapted to an educational role through experience and self-study.

Here are some tips if you are working in an instructional design role without formal training. These are attitudes and approaches that often come as a result of formal training that might not be explicitly stated.

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ELearning and Scaffolding

Making your eLearning materials interactive always sounds great at the beginning of a project. Interactivity has become synonymous with engaging and fun. But there’s a catch—interactivity can be very tricky to execute, especially if you don’t have a deliberate and realistic design to implement right at the start. How should we design eLearning materials that are also interactive?

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CMS vs LMS: What’s the Difference?

Ever since the internet came and took over our lives and our work, programmers have been creating online management systems. Customer relationship management, content management, learning management, and so on. Each management system did something unique that made it specialized for its purpose. But the number of systems that became available diluted the meaning and made it hard for users and organizations to determine what’s best for them. Let’s take a quick look at Learning Management Systems (LMS) and what makes them specialized for learning apart from other management systems such as Content Management Systems (CMS).

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