LMS Scalability: How to grow your online training platform without compromise?
On 26 August 2020
Features and Design, Help Guides, Infrastructure
What is scalability?
A scalable LMS or learning management system is an elearning platform that can grow to meet your evolving user and business needs. It’s an online training platform that has the ability to take on more users, more content and more requests without affecting loading times or facing debilitating bugs.
Existing learning management systems can be optimised to allow them to scale, or you can develop a new LMS with scalability in mind from the outset. Take a look here for an example of how we scaled a clients WordPress platform to host 1 million active users.
Why does my LMS need to be scalable?
There are many reasons why an organisation would need an LMS to be scalable. Firstly, and most obviously, is that you don’t want to create or invest in an LMS that can’t grow with your business or user base. If your LMS is holding you back from growing, you should seriously consider some of the options below to help you scale.
Ultimately having a scalable LMS means you can:
- Handle a lot of data and many requests at one time
- Give millions of users access to your system (including high-levels of concurrent users)
- Organise your users en-masse and manage permissions and course with ease
- Provide an intuitive experience with high-performance and low-load times
Signs that your LMS is not scaling
If you can relate to these issues, they may be signs that your LMS is not scalable:
- Your system is slow (page loads of 5+ seconds)
- Learners are constantly running into bugs, and their complaints are filling up your support desk with tickets
- The backend is slow and and unmanageable, to the point where admins find that managing the LMS a tedious and time-consuming task
- Managing the LMS and its users is very time-consuming
- The functionality you need is spread across multiple systems and platforms, and integration with those platforms is unreliable
- Creating reports is difficult, or requires a specialist to export and prepare for clients
Can I scale my LMS to grow with my business?
It depends on the system you have. If you use an off the shelf system (like Teachable or Skillshare), it’s likely that you can scale your online training platform to increase user numbers – but at a substantial increase to your monthly or annual bill.
Off the shelf systems usually come with hefty monthly or annual fees relating to, number of active users, number of courses and even the size of the files you add. Click here to learn more about how you can actually SAVE MONEY with a custom LMS.
If you have a pre-existing LMS on an open-source platform like WordPress, LearnDash, Drupal, Opigno or Open edX, and with the right specialists, you can absolutely scale using the suggestions below. You may need to rebuild your hosting infrastructure or replace bloated plugins/modules with custom-built versions, but ultimately, it’s a small price to pay to give your learning management system the scalability and flexibility your business needs to grow.
How can I scale my LMS?
There are a number of different options when it comes to scaling your elearning platform. In any case, scaling is often possible, and will likely address legacy issues that have been a challenge for your business for some time. This investment into your LMS will give you limitless earning potential down the line.
Choose the right platform (and the right agency)
As we touched on in the previous section, you may find yourself limited by your elearning system provider as to whether your LMS can be scalable. At Plume, we operate a pay once, yours forever policy which means the system is yours to use and customise as you see fit, therefore you are not restricted or tied to us in any way – but not all agencies and providers share this mentality.
This means you might be restricted by:
- The policies of your LMS platform provider
- The ability of their developers
- The incompatibility of their codebase with other platforms
- An inability to extend features (if they are closed-source)
- Costs associated with upgrading
These are all factors to consider when you choose a platform that comes pre-built or otherwise. For the most flexibility at the lowest cost, choose to build a scalable LMS on an open source platform like LearnDash, Drupal, Opigno or Open edX.
Choose the right hosting infrastructure
An LMS is only as scalable as the infrastructure it is hosted on, so it’s critically important to get the hosting infrastructure right.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to LMS hosting. Two learning management systems built on the same framework may require very different hosting infrastructure depending on their scale, the formats of your content, the predictability of your future growth and many other factors.
Your chosen LMS provider should work with you to design and set-up the infrastructure that will allow you to scale.
Optimise the site speed
Site speed is undoubtedly one of the most impactful problems your LMS can face. Both your users and system admins will feel the effects of a sluggish site, causing complaints from your internal teams and paying customers. This has a knock of effect; courses can be left unfinished as users get so frustrated they drop out while support teams struggle to diagnose and solve issues.
Improving your LMS site speed is essential for growing your existing elearning platform to take on more users. Assuming that you are not a developer, you’ll need some help to accomplish this.
- Rebuild your template files, ensuring that you are limiting the number of requests required to load a page
- Split your marketing website away from your LMS, if they are conjoined.
- Compress image sizes, restrict hi res imagery and use SVGs where appropriate so that they load in a timely manner
- Use lazy loading to ensure only onscreen media is loaded
- Implement a CDN (content display network) to reduce server load when delivering media
Strip back (and replace) the plugins/modules
With a platform like WordPress it’s extremely easy to feel like a kid in a candy store, downloading plugins to give you the functionality you think you need (and some that you don’t). But with every plugin that you add, you open your system up to two major issues:
- Compatibility with your current system / theme / plugins
- Slowing the site speed down as these plugins chug along in the background
We’re experts in identifying unnecessary plugins and testing compatibility between essential plugins on your site. In some cases, in order for the elearning platform to scale, we may need to replace an old plugin with one we’ve built from scratch especially for you. Regardless, we rigorously test plugins so updates to them don’t break functionality, code or styling on any other plugins or aspects of the site.
In short, the less plugin/theme bloat that you have, the faster your platform will become and the farther you can scale.
Automate where possible
As your user base grows, so will the demand on your admin staff which, in turn, increases your running costs, introduces human-error, and long delays for tasks to be completed.
So when you’re scaling an LMS, it’s important to manage your time and expertise effectively – that means handing over administrative tasks to automation.
Some common automate-able tasks might include:
- Allow the organisations you work with to manage their own users
- Fully automate the purchasing process, including multi-seat purchases
- Integrated reporting to allow your team and customers to generate their own reports
- Send out notifications and reminders
- Support customers with common support queries
A word of caution: WordPress is not infinitely scalable
If you’re using WordPress, the above suggestions will help you to scale further. But WordPress is not infinitely scalable. This article might help you extend the life-span of your WordPress LMS and that will buy you some time, but if you expect growth to continue, you should ultimately be looking to build a new-build LMS using a more scalable framework.
What happens if you need to scale your LMS now?
It’s time to get in touch. We offer consultancy, design and development, as well as a comprehensive Needs Analysis for projects that need to be defined or are yet to have a technical build strategy. Get in touch today.
Founder & Managing Director
Kaine is the founder and managing director of Plume and the award-winning designer of many of our client’s products. Kaine’s 10 years of experience means that he can solve complex user challenges through creative interface design, and his work has been recognised by Interfacely and CSS Awards.