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Looking Under the Hood of Your LMS

Tuesday, February 4, 2020
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Most LMSs offer advanced methods “under their hoods” that grant direct access to the LMSs’ data and features. But these methods often get overlooked or written off as too complicated to use.

While acronyms like API, LTI, and SSO can seem intimidating at first, once you understand how they work, you’ll wish you’d looked under the hood of your LMS sooner. Using these tools can expand the functionality of your LMS and may even save you the work of switching to a new one.

This post explores some common ways you can tap into your LMS data or integrate with third-party services.

Application Programming Interface (API)

An API is a set of protocols, or a library of functions, that allow programmatic access to the features of your LMS. APIs are particularly useful for writing programs that integrate your LMS with third-party systems.

APIs can be written in different programming languages, and your LMS probably offers a few choices. APIs typically allow you to access data about the users, courses, assessments, and scores associated with your LMS.

At its simplest, an API works like this:

  • There is an encrypted API key created within the LMS.
  • A program is written using protocols from the LMS’s API library.
  • The API key grants the program access to the LMS data.
  • The program uses the data to perform actions, send data to a third-party system, and more.
  • The program is “triggered” by a “webhook” within the LMS or is set to run at specific intervals.

You might use an API to:

  • Enroll employees into specific courses from your HRIS.
  • Report learner progress to your HRIS.
  • Update your company database with data from your LMS.
  • Add specific learners from your LMS to a mobile learning app.

Once you grasp the concept of how APIs work, the other tools under your “LMS hood” won’t seem nearly as intimidating.

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API Tips

Some LMSs take advantage of API development services like Postman, which can help you build and test your APIs.

Since LMSs typically have good documentation for their APIs, hiring someone to code one shouldn’t be that expensive. An LMS may have a list of partners they recommend.

Your API programs need to be hosted on a server so they can be “called” from the LMS or other service. Make sure you have control over where that server is located (typically where you host your website).

Direct Integrations

Most LMSs have direct integrations with popular third-party services. That means they’ve eliminated the need to write your own APIs to connect to them.

Some commonly integrated services include Salesforce, Office 365, Google Drive, OneDrive, MailChimp, Slack, Turnitin, Kaltura, Zoom, Zendesk, and others.

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If your LMS supports Zapier, your possibilities for direct integration have just grown exponentially! Zapier is an integration tool that serves as a bridge (yes, like an API) between your LMS and hundreds of other services.

Learning Tool Interoperability (LTI)

LTI is an initiative managed by the IMS Global Learning Consortium to seamlessly integrate learning applications used by instructors into their courses.

LTIs are like out-of-the-box APIs specifically for learning tools and are much easier to set up than custom APIs. These tools can be courses, videos, audio, maps, assessments, badges, and more. And there are a lot of cool tools!

Single Sign-On (SSO)

SSO is an authentication process that permits a user to enter one name and password to access multiple applications. Your LMS might provide SSO options from popular services like Facebook, G Suite, or Office 365 and may also offer custom integration options that you can use for your own infrastructure.

Look Under the Hood of Your LMS

Take some time to research the tools available on your LMS. You may find solutions to problems you thought you’d never solve.

About the Author

Deltina Hay is an author, educator, developer, and the CTO of Elearning Delta. For nearly 30 years, Deltina has done custom programming, database management, web development, SEO, and LMS consulting for businesses of all sizes. Deltina is the author of three books and a regular contributor to learning technology and web development publications. She has published over 20 courses based on her books. Deltina is a Board Chair Emeritus of the Independent Book Publishers Association. Deltina launched Elearning Delta in partnership with publishing expert Christine Lehmann in 2016. Elearning Delta is a full-service e-learning company specializing in LMS consulting, set up, maintenance, and user support.

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