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LTI Integration: How to Improve Your Customer's Onboarding Experience

For the past two hours you’ve been testing a customer’s LMS integration, and it just keeps failing. You’ve looked at the configuration and your own system logs; you’ve tried different user roles and link placements - it all fails. You go back and look at the LMS configuration one more time and notice some whitespace at the end of a configuration parameter. You remove the white space, save the configuration change, try the integration again, and (boom) it works. If that sounds familiar, you’ve probably asked yourself this question: why is customer onboarding, especially with respect to IMS Learning Tools Interoperability® (LTI®) integrations, so difficult?

With the evolution of the IMS Learning Tool Interoperability specification, rich integrations between platforms (e.g. LMS) and learning tools are possible. The specification now covers key features including single sign-on, content selection, and roster and grade exchange. However, one area that the specification does not yet address is onboarding. Customer onboarding remains very much the same way it was back in the early days of LTI integrations - a manual process plagued by inconsistent and incomplete documentation with limited or no troubleshooting tools.

At Unicon we have worked with a wide variety of clients on their LTI integrations and without fail, one of their main pain points is customer onboarding. Often, the onboarding process requires time from both customer support and the development staff, which has a negative impact on development team deliverables and employee morale. In order to help our clients better support this process, Unicon has put together a set of onboarding best practices. These best practices are not a silver bullet and, in many cases, they will require investment. However, they have shown over time to help reduce the burden of customer onboarding for both support and development staff.

Documentation is the first line of defense between your customers and your support staff. In many cases, documentation is a customer’s introduction to your product. The list below provides a set of documentation best practices. Although many of these items seem obvious, they are often missing or incomplete in customer onboarding documents.

  • Ensure that your documentation contains step-by-step instructions on how to configure the integration and that the instructions are platform specific.
  • Provide a video demonstration of how to configure the integration in each platform.
  • Include a Frequently Asked Questions and Known Issues section in your documentation.
  • In addition to a document that can be sent to customers, ensure that your documentation is publicly available on your website.
  • Do not assume that the reader has any knowledge or understanding of setting up the integration.

Provide self-service troubleshooting tools for both your customers and support staff. Some considerations for support staff include:

  • Do they have access to the application logs and do they know how to interpret what they see in the logs?
  • Do they have access to backend configuration details (e.g., keys and URIs) so that they can compare it with what the customer has entered into the platform?

Also consider adding a specific launch endpoint for troubleshooting. In its simplest form, this endpoint may just display the claims in an LTI launch, while more advanced implementations may inspect the claims and display warnings or error messages.

IMS is aware of the current challenges with LTI integration customer onboarding as evidenced by the recent release of the Dynamic Registration LTI service extension. The Dynamic Registration service automates the exchange of configuration details between the platform and the tool, removing the need for manual entry. This is certainly a step in the right direction and should lead to a less error prone onboarding experience. Moodle has already implemented the Dynamic Registration service and other leading LMS are sure to follow.

Integration customer onboarding will always have its challenges. However, if you provide quality documentation, effective troubleshooting tools, and stay on top of the latest developments from IMS (like Dynamic Registration), you can make the onboarding experience as painless as possible for you, your customer support team and, most importantly, your customers. We can’t promise there won’t ever be whitespace in a configuration parameter again, but maybe next time your customer will figure it out on their own.

Gary Gilbert

Gary Gilbert

Software Architect
Gary Gilbert is a Software Architect at Unicon where he provides technical leadership to the integrations and learning analytics practice. He has 18+ years of experience designing and developing learning systems for clients ranging from small community colleges to global publishers.

Gary has been involved in numerous open-source software projects including Sakai, uPortal, and Moodle as well as open standards efforts such as IMS Learning Tool Interoperability. Gary has been involved with IMS LTI since its inception. Over the last 10 years, Gary has led dozens of IMS LTI based integration projects and has experience developing integrations with every major learning management system. Additionally, Gary has led the development of several integration platforms that support open standards-based integrations as well as custom integrations and managed the entire integration lifecycle from implementation to client on-boarding and support. Gary is particularly interested in the intersection of open learning technology standards and open educational resources. Gary specializes in Java, PHP, and Javascript. He is experienced with most mainstream application frameworks with a focus on the Spring Framework.