What’s the difference between big bang and delta LMS migrations?

By Kayleigh Tanner

Many of us see choosing a new LMS as the difficult part. Once you’ve been through the selection process, whittled the hundreds of options available down to a shortlist and finally started the procurement process for your next LMS, it’s easy to think that the hard work is over.

But once your LMS is ready to go, you then need to decide how you will migrate from your existing LMS to your new system. Ideally by the time you’re ready to launch, you’ll have a cleaned-up dataset, correctly formatted and ready to import into your new system. You have your current system, your new system and a whole bunch of data exports - so now what?

There are two main ways to migrate between systems: big bang and delta migrations. In this post, we’ll take a look at the two approaches to help you decide which is best for your organization’s learning needs.

What is a big bang LMS migration?

Salmon swimming upstream in black and white

Put simply, a big bang migration is where you stop using one system one day and immediately switch to another the next. 

For instance, your organization may go home on a Wednesday night, and on Thursday morning the new system is switched on and ready to go. 

It’s important to make sure you properly prepare your users for a big bang migration to ensure it’s as seamless as possible. Will they need new login details? Can they use the single sign-on (SSO) they use across other systems? How can they report any teething issues? 

A big bang LMS migration calls for a great LMS launch campaign to pique people’s interest and get them ready for the new system. On launch day, send an email to users with access instructions and links to interesting content. 

Ideally you’ll also have “learning ambassadors” across the organization to help promote the new LMS - maybe those who were involved in the design and development process who can vouch for the quality of the system. You may even consider a launch promotion to encourage logins and learning activities, perhaps with a competition to boost engagement.

What is a delta LMS migration?

Birds flying in formation in black and white

Delta migrations usually take place over days or weeks, allowing certain groups to migrate from one LMS to the other at different times. Both systems will run concurrently while the move takes place. Once the final group has migrated, the old LMS can be switched off.

For instance, your sales team may migrate to the new system one week, followed by your marketing team, your development team and your customer service team over the course of a month. Once everyone is up and running on the new LMS, the old one can be phased out.

The benefit here is that the “early movers” can act as a pilot group to identify any issues with the new system before everyone else moves over. The people in this group can also provide support to their coworkers when the time comes for them to switch systems. 

How do I choose between a big bang and a delta LMS migration?

The decision is usually made by the senior management team, but there are several things to consider to help them make the right decision.

Generally, larger migrations tend to conduct some variation on the delta migration approach, where a majority of data is moved into the new LMS, and over a changeover period, the remaining data is moved. This allows organizations to split up the data to make the migration process more manageable. Even after go-live, there is usually one more cleanup migration to ensure the data is accurate and nothing is missing, but for most users this process will be invisible.

Smaller migrations with relatively simple use cases may prefer the big bang approach for a quick, clean switch between systems. This can also avoid running two contracts in parallel to keep costs down and to send a clear message to users that the old system is now unavailable and that they should move to the new LMS.

Change management is another important element of the migration and go-live, requiring a determination of how different or challenging the change will be for the user audience. The level of change can determine the type of migration and how the rollout should take place for the most effective implementation. For global companies using multiple languages in many regions, a phased rollout will be the most effective.

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