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What's in a Name for Your LMS?

by Mary Bertun

July 23, 2007


by Mary Bertun

July 23, 2007

When you’re new to your learning management system (LMS), everything looks like magic. The vendor shows you a well-designed Web site. You click and launch online courses. Everyone should like what you’re serving, and happiness will reign. That is, until you get under the hood and have to designate courses across your entire organization. Here's how to create a naming convention.

If you lead a learning management system (LMS) project, you need a powerful naming convention to track training activities across your organization. But selecting course names involves a great deal more than calling it as you see it.

Way back in the early 1970s, I started my first real job as a waitress for a successful colonial restaurant in Flemington , New Jersey . These were ancient times, and you might recall that theme eateries were quite the rage. The wait staff wore their best imitation Betsy Ross or Paul Revere garb and handled a thriving business. The food was unexpectedly good. Who knew the colonials had served such great prime rib?

The first time I entered the restaurant’s kitchen, I couldn’t believe the chaos! Wait staff darted in and out of tiny spaces, sounds of sizzling food mixed with swear words from behind the grill, and someone was busy berating a hapless dishwasher. A heavy knife thumped angrily against a cutting board, staff shouted orders to a cook, and shredded lettuce seemed to fly everywhere.

“Is it always this crazy?” I asked.

“Are you kidding? You are young,” the manager exclaimed.

“Follow me around and I’ll explain it to you. We have a great little system here.”

Oh brother!

It took me several months of work before I realized what he meant. In the restaurant, a great little system meant the cooks got the information they needed to make the meals. A great little system meant there was a constant supply of ingredients for the salad bar and clean dishes to set tables. A great little system meant customers received the food they ordered, on time, got steaks cooked just the way they wanted, and left happy with their dining experience.

A great little system did not mean a slow pace or quiet in the kitchen. It did not mean running out of ingredients or serving cold meals. A great little system did not mean the customer received roast chicken and rice, when the order was for steak and baked potato.

This great little system was something you had to experience, test, and learn.

To an outsider, it was impossible to walk in and know that the reason the food orders were given in verbal shorthand was because the cook didn’t read a word of English … or any other language. A newbie wouldn’t know that when a customer ordered his meat “well done” and his wife corrected this to “medium well,” the steak had better arrive moist with no pink center. An outsider might obsess over the cluttered, noisy kitchen. But the veteran waitress could not care less about this environment. As long as the customers got their favorites, hot from the kitchen, with a little conversation on the side, the customers would leave feeling very satisfied and happy. Wait staff know this as giving the customer a “Wow!” experience.

After several months at the restaurant, a new kid could “see” the flow of information. You could figure out the important stuff and learn from your mistakes. And when you got it right, your customers left big tips as the sign of your success.

A naming convention on a learning management system (LMS) is the same way.

When you’re new to your learning management system (LMS), everything looks like magic out there in the dining room. The vendor shows you a well-designed Web site. You click and launch online courses. Everyone should like what you’re serving, and happiness will reign.

Go behind the front end into the kitchen, and it’s suddenly tough to make sense of it all. Why doesn’t the system handle Web-based training the same way it deals with traditional classroom courses?

Your training activity names have worked well for years. But now administrators are gnashing their teeth over the lack of funding information on reports. Supervisors are fussing about how to tell the difference between online courses and classroom sessions when they look at the class name. Departments insist they want to keep the numbering sequences they’ve used for years, but no one is using the same sequence.

At this crossroad, you typically say, “Online or off, we’ve got to get a naming convention that works for everyone around here!”

A single learning management system brings many changes. There will be new training delivery methods and a clear need to have a consistent course naming convention across your organization. And, like a new kid working in a restaurant, you’ll have to live with it a bit, test the waters, and learn what works.

Where to start a great naming convention

Where do you start to understand and use the flow of information through this new system? Must you really understand the process that controls all the data flowing through the LMS? No, not really.

Most learning management systems drive a query process that searches a central database. The LMS retrieves information from data-heavy tables behind the scenes.

Knowing this doesn’t do you a lot of good when it comes to naming your training events. Your provider or vendor will tell you to use any name you like. But the challenge is still before you.

Since your objective is to meet your organization's needs at the same time you further its business goals, don’t tread this path alone. Involve as many stakeholders as possible in building a course naming convention. If your LMS will have a number of administrators, these folks should be included.

Tackling course naming with a project team is not an easy process. At times you may feel your group is moving backward. But this is not regression, it’s transformation. As you assemble your team, communicate about the information outcomes a naming convention will deliver, rather than the methodologies you will use to get there.

Keep your audience in mind and simplify the message so that you clearly communicate the change concepts. Building your new naming convention will require more than ideas and opinions. It will require everyone’s hard work.

Use this five step guide:

  1. Collect information that is important to your organization and to your changing situation.
  2. Use the information to build a model naming convention.
  3. Test the model by running your LMS through its paces and collecting feedback.
  4. Revise the model based on the test results.
  5. Put planning strategies in place that makes it easy to consistently follow the new naming convention.

In the end, the naming convention will take on a slightly different meaning than what you originally understood. And you will know your LMS better as a result.

(If you're still not sure how to get started, see Sidebar 1 for some ideas.)


Sidebar 1 Need inspiration? Try this.
  • Review the naming convention used by a local university or technical college that offers both traditional classroom sessions and distance education options. See how well they blend these different delivery methods in their catalog. Do they distinguish these choices in the naming convention or just list the courses on different catalog pages?
  • Ask your LMS provider or vendor project manager (or your sales contact) to connect you with other clients willing to discuss their naming convention. What did the other clients learn about what worked or didn’t?
  • Take some tips from the folks who create and sell pre-packaged e-Learning courses, such as SkillSoft. Ask them how they create categories for their courseware, and how they track activity via naming conventions.
  • Find a user group and get other opinions and experiences. STC, ISPI, ASTD or other professional training organizations may have chapters in your area. If local meetings aren’t possible, the national membership office of each organization should be able to give you access to listservs and you can post questions there.


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