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, facing debilitating bugs or crippling downtime.
In few instances, learning management systems can be optimised to allow them to scale. However in most cases, you’d need to build a new LMS with scalability in mind from the outset. Take a look here for an example of how we scaled a client’s LMS 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 learning content (including high-levels of concurrent users)
- Organise your users en-masse and manage enrollments, permissions and courses 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 unmanageable, to the point where admins find that managing the LMS a tedious and time-consuming task
- You have regular downtime, especially at peak times like when running flash sales or sending out newsletters to your lists
- There is a lack of automation which means that management of users and courses is very time-consuming
- Creating reports is difficult or time-consuming, or requires a member of your team to juggle spreadsheets and prepare reports for clients
Can I scale my LMS to grow with my business?
Whether or not your existing LMS can scale depends on the technology it uses. If you use an off-the-shelf SaaS system (like Teachable or Skillshare), you can scale up user numbers with ease. However, expect a substantial increase to your monthly or annual bill which can often make growing more expensive than it needs to be. In some cases, scaling up a SaaS solution is financially unviable, especially if users are rarely active – such as for annual compliance training – where the seat is empty for 99% of the year.
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 scale using the suggestions below (although some of those technologies have natural limits to their scale – read to the end to understand which of these don’t scale quite as well). 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) from the outset
As we touched on in the previous section, you may find yourself limited by your existing LMS vendor, and this can limit your scale. At Plume, we operate a pay once, use 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.
With other solutions you may be restricted by:
- The pricing model of your vendor
- The ability of their developers
- The willingness to customise their solution
- 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 tech which gives you complete control.
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 infrastructures 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 when user numbers gorw. 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-on effect; courses can be left unfinished as users get so frustrated that they drop out, while support teams struggle to diagnose and solve issues quickly enough which further frustrates your learners.
Improving your LMS 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
- To spread the load, 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
- Host videos externally
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). The same can be true in other more accessible CMS’ like Drupal. But with every plugin that you add, you open your system up to two major issues:
- Compatibility issues with your existing setup
- Slowing the site speed down as these plugins chug along in the background
We’re experts in identifying and replacing 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 with scale in mind.
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, and 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 individual courses and multi-seat purchases
- Integrated reporting to allow your team and customers to generate their own reports in views that actually make sense to your industry
- Send out notifications and reminders to engage learners
- Enrol new users and unenroll expired users
- 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 lifespan 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.