eLearning: Choosing the Right Learning Management System

 

By Guest Author, Freddie Batista

As a training and development implementer for more than 20 years and a pioneer in e-learning, we have the expertise to understand the challenges your company may be facing. You need 24-hour access to training material, or you may want access to additional training from experienced facilitators and subject matter experts from your living room or office. It is now possible to make your training both accessible and affordable through your very own online e-learning portal.

Contact center training has evolved. With shortages in staffing and the inability to send personnel to remote training sites, companies need to look at another avenue to facilitate their training. Several Learning Management Systems (LMSs) exist, but which one is right for your business? We’ve all been to trade shows and have seen what many companies have to offer, but is the training they are providing useful for your business? All of the platforms out there will make it easy to deliver and track the course material your need to train. More than 500 LMSs are now available to the industry by subscription ($50 to $120 per member). However, the content these LMSs provide may not meet your business’s standards. In the end, all LMSs pretty much do the same thing: deliver, track and report the distribution of your online content.

An LMS is basically an electronic tracking system for managing your employees’ training. Running reports is an important requirement, and it’s the primary reason people change their LMSs and their vendors. With all of the available choices, it’s hard to know where to start and the differences among them.

An LMS can solve the most common problem of tracking your employee training by running reports. If your training is still “old school,” the data is still tracked by hand. An LMS allows you to quickly run reports showing who took the training and automatically deploys the courses. In many LMSs, you can run reports sorting by departments, shifts, or rankings with just a few clicks of the mouse. If you are not on an LMS, it is very tedious to gather this information. As you start to look for your LMS, you must think about the training and the content you will house within the platform. Who will be your authors? Who will be your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)?

Does your company have online content you can transfer into the system, or does the system come with a content library?

Remember, this training happens 24/7/365 from the comfort of your home or office. So if you need to deliver training fast, choose an LMS with the eLearning content that is right for you! As you start to look at vendors, costs might seem high, but consider the balance online training has to offer. When you look at the price, consider what you spend for your current training. An LMS will give your current training uniformity and can dramatically reduce your training costs since you don’t have to send your employees to offsite training. It can eliminate the need to bring in outside trainers to facilitate your programs and free your instructors to build an eLearning library. This will keep the information fresh and updated for your business. Incorporating an LMS will enable you to better monitor your training and to measure specific competencies.

As an administrative user, you will be able to see when members have logged into your training system and how many times they have taken a course. You can also monitor the grades the learners receive and the learners’ activity and progress.

First, establish a committee or team and develop a list of training needs. Make sure that each team member plays an essential part in choosing the right LMS.

Next, meet with your information technology department and see if your company’s computers can handle the training the LMS will deliver. Do you have good Internet speed, a sound card, adequate memory, speakers, and graphic cards?

Training Department Vision

What will the business be like after the LMS has been successfully implemented? What do you hope to achieve? Can you easily run reports? Each person can contribute his ideas and see if it helps. This can give you a full high-level view of what you may be looking for. Not everyone can accommodate you, but you need to look at your budget.

It helps if you have an LMS because you know what it does and doesn’t do and what you want it to do. Write down the pros and cons.

Look at similar businesses, network within the community through eLearning blogs, or write down the things your existing training is lacking and what you would like the training stored in the LMS to do. Have a good starting point when you look at the vendors.

Content Library

Every company’s training division has several courses already tailor-made according to the company’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

The content you may have within your training department may not be as designed and tailored for recollection, but following the models instructional designers follow may help improve the retention and view for which your business is looking for.

When creating a course, the instructor/facilitator needs to remember that different generations may be taking it and that the course needs to be tailored around different learning strategies and broken down into modules. When you create your modules, ensure they are simple but interactive enough to keep the learner engaged. A rule of thumb: For every four minutes of online education, you need some type of learner interaction. When a class uses a “read only” document, only five percent of the course material is retained within 24 hours of taking the course. If created with audio and visual material, retention increases to more than 20 percent over the same time. If a course has a demonstration feature embedded, class retention increases to 30 percent.

Based on your findings, what library of courses are you looking for? Do you require SOPs?

What components will the instructor lead, and what will be eLearning? Will styles of training be housed in the LMS? Will training be a “flipped” training model, also called hybrid/blended learning?

In any industry, some of the hands-on style courses must be created around the “flipped,” “hybrid,” or “blended” training model, in which a portion of the course can be done online and the remainder is done in the classroom or virtually through an eLearning Virtual Classroom. This is where retention increases dramatically. A course designed with social learning environments increases retention to 75 percent; it increases to 90 percent once a practice section is included.

The classroom-based portion can be delivered online through computer-based training followed by a hands-on approach with the learner/professional. This will put more attention into the hands-on portion of the training program. Get people to think, always include open-ended type questions and scenarios, and get trainees to explore areas of which they may be unsure. The “what if” method is important because we all know anything can happen during real-life events. Will the system be able to track your traditional brick-and-mortar training? Will the LMS handle it? Can the system keep track of your training for the business? Ask the vendor.

Will you buy or build your eLearning content? If you decide to buy it, where are the courses coming from? Who are the SMEs who helped design them? A few “off-the-shelf” eLearning options teach the basic fundamentals or are you going to build your own? Several software options allow you to convert your existing PowerPoint® training into online content, or you can consult with a content development company that provides instructional designers and content developers who can convert your existing training or create new courses by meeting with your SMEs-those who deliver your existing content or are experts in various topics within your business.

They are not designers, but they know the information well enough to help the designer build the course. Instructional designers meet with the SME and help them build the course by putting together a storyboard, the foundation of the content to be created.

Once the storyboard is complete and reviewed, the stakeholders sign off on it, and the eLearning content developers create the robust interactive eLearning course your SMEs helped to put together. These are all important considerations because content is important-you can have a great system but no courses! Make the most of the LMS with good content that keeps your learners engaged and make them want to log into the LMS and take your company’s courses.

Return on Investment (ROI)

How will you recoup your investment, and how do you measure your ROI? Look at your company’s current training costs: instructors, out-of-state training, travel, and so forth. Instead of spending the money to send them out to the training, put that money back into the company and develop your own engaging content using your existing training. Professionals/learners would then take the robust training and give the knowledge back for the benefit of the company.

The key thing to remember when measuring your ROI is balancing the cost of the LMS with the cost of the content. The last thing you want to do is spend a lot on an LMS and a tracking deployment system and not have enough money in your budget to load it with content your company may need.

External or Internal Hosting

Will the LMS be hosted internally behind your firewall or externally? If hosted externally, you will need to look at the servers’ downtimes. Is the external hosting configured with load balancers in which the system puts out another instance or a mirrored identical version of the LMS when the LMS reaches 70 percent of central processing unit (CPU) usage? These are important things to consider when looking at the vendors; see what hosting services they offer.

eLearning Training Department

Who will run the team? Will the training department take the lead on the LMS? Who are the stakeholders who will sign off on courses that will be developed?

Will the Operations Management be included, and will he have to look over the storyboards and approve content for development of continuing education cred- its (CEUs)? Put together a team that will look over the LMS site and the content that is going to be housed and delivered.

When configuring the permissions in the LMS, a mini-mum of two high-level administrators should have the overall rights to delete, remove, and control the training content that will be stored within the LMS. Once the administrators have been identified, lay out the permissions by setting up a hierarchy on which levels each user in the LMS will have -e.g., CEO, Operations Management, Team Lead, Facilitator, and professional/ learner. What permissions will they have? Can they add a course or delete a course? Can they remove or enroll a user from the site? Have an idea of the structures, and tell the vendors what the system requires and what standards you are looking for.

Do you support the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM)? Tin Can application programming interface (API)? SCORM, originally designed by the United States Department of Defense, is a set of technical standards used in the eLearning world that can be shared across several LMSs. Think of it this way: A new DVD will play on any manufacturer’s DVD player because the DVD conforms to a set of standards all manufacturers adhere to. Likewise, you can load SCORM content on several LMSs that support the universal language of eLearning content; 99 percent of them do. If they don’t, stay away. SCORM tracking makes the courses movable, and it is easy to track and report specific data to the LMS: how long the user took to complete the module, if the learner skipped some slides, and if he failed the knowledge check questions embedded within the content. Tin Can is the newer version of a standard that has capabilities similar to SCORM’s and is sometimes referred to as the “next generation of SCORM” because it collects a wide variety of data the original SCORM standard cannot. The main differences between Tin Can and SCORM are that Tin Can doesn’t start at the LMS. It starts wherever the learner is or on whatever device the learner chooses. Do your re: search, and find out if the LMS you are looking to purchase will require other standards with which your department may need to comply.

Integration

Do you need to communicate with your human resources department on integrating employees into the LMS’s database? Do you need a developer to create an API to communicate with other software with which the LMS needs to communicate? Does the LMS support single sign-on? Can you add it to the active directory in which the usernames communicate with the department’s e-mail software such as Microsoft Outlook or your incident reporting system or shift scheduling platforms? What data will the LMS need to feed to other internal and external applications?

These are some of the main things that get overlooked for which you will end up paying later. Address them in the early phases of establishing your LMS.

Reporting Features

As a training officer, what data will you need to analyze? How hard are they to produce? Will you need a separate plug-in? Does the plug-in need to customize to fit your company’s needs? The reporting feature most likely will make or break the LMS purchase. Many of the platforms report data to different external agencies depending on where they want the data to be or where the data need to be reported. For example, one reporting feature gives the instructor an analysis of the most frequently missed questions in an exam so the instructor has an accurate indication of the areas he needs to focus on or do additional training.

LMS Customizations

Does the LMS have the same look and feel as your department’s website? Or, is the LMS basically an “off-the-shelf” platform? What if the LMS needs specific customizations that are not part of the vendor’s “standard” package? When looking for your LMS, recognize the customization needed so there are no additional costs and time required. Every customization you may require will extend the date of your system implementation/installation.

Does the vendor allow you to customize the LMS to your liking, or are you limited on what items you can customize in your system-e.g., change headers, footers, logos, and so on? Make sure the customization you require is a “must have,” not a “nice to have,” option. Is the customization important enough to affect the learning goals and objectives you want to deliver through the LMS?

Open Source or Vendor

Once you have gathered your list of questions and have spoken to your neighboring agencies, decide which type of LMS will be right for you. Will it be an open source system you can download for free and hire the necessary employees with the programming knowledge and skill sets to support the platform?

Or will you look for a vendor that will offer you the platform and relieve you of any install, upgrade, and helpdesk support issues? If problems occur, that person has to be ready to fix the issues that come up (in ample time) so learners are not affected.

Several open-source platforms are available, but the most widely used platform is Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment (MOODLE). It offers unlimited customizations. Moodle is a free, open- source LMS or e-learning platform that serves educators and learners across the globe.

It is the most widely used LMS in the world and has more than 68 million users worldwide supporting more than 81 different languages. Many of the vendors have used the same platform as the backbone of their systems and created several customized plug-ins and integrations that can take this platform to another level. These vendors have turned this free open source platform into a robust, powerful reporting LMS.

Cost

When you decide on the LMS and the vendor has reviewed and answered your questions, the last question will be “how much will it cost?” Other questions related to cost may include the following: Is there an initial installation fee? What does the maintenance fee consist of? Is the content library included? Is there a “per-user” fee? Is the per-user fee in increments of 50 or 100, or is it based on my department’s size? If I want only the LMS and not the content, do I still need to pay the user fee?

Always get the costs upfront, and make sure the vendor sends you an official document, including a detail of all of the items, customizations, and integrations you require. If you have a few vendors in mind, ask them about your specific requests because some of these requests may be initially included in their original pack- age price. In the end, select the platform that works for your business’s learning needs.

*For better retention, for every few minutes of online activity, have some type of learning interaction.

To learn more about eLearning resources and design ideas, join the Great Learning Works community at www.greatlearningworks.com.

AUTHOR

FREDDIE BATISTA is a Training and Development Expert with over 20 years of experience in hands-on learning. He has a master’s degree in Executive Management with a minor in Instructional System Design. Freddie has pioneered the adaptation of open-source LMS’s and eLearning environments for both Corporations and Government Agencies. Freddie worked with Government Agencies and Corporations in many different training environments.

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