Starting this month, we bring a new Knowledge Sharing Series to our blog, where we will be interacting with industry experts, and e-learning practitioners. Our first guest is Mr. Kartik Swaminathan, AVP-HR Reliance Infrastructure Ltd. Kartik has been instrumental in large scale LMS deployments and brings with him a wealth of experience when talking about e-learning.
The essence of our conversation was Learning Management Systems, but it touched several avenues of e-Learning and provided interesting takes on learning domain as a whole. An excerpt from our discussion, guaranteed to raise some questions of your own!
In your opinion what are the most important things one should keep in mind while selecting a LMS?
There are certain drivers for each learner group and if one knows ‘what one wants’, the selection is simple. LMS usage can broadly be categorized under three main categories – Content Delivery, Assessment/Certification, & Search. Now each organization would use a particular aspect of LMS more than other. For example, generally an IT firm would use assessments/certifications more than other features, whereas a consulting firm would tend to use search more.
One can further break down the feature requirements based on organizations training culture. For example, your content can comprise of web-based tutorials, presentations, or videos. So, if one intends to use more of videos than LMS should have good streaming capabilities.
So the most important thing in my mind is to understand organizational needs, training culture, future training needs and decide on LMS features accordingly.
You have handled various large scale LMS implementations. What have been the main challenges you faced during such implementations?
The greatest challenge of all, is surprisingly not technology, but is the mindset of learning & development teams itself. Managing change thus becomes the most important factor between success & failure of new systems like these.
To elaborate, we in L&D come with preconceived notions about e-learning, such as either we try to use it as something to replace classroom training, or at times keep it in a completely segregated silo having no relations with other training programs. Both the approaches in my opinion are flawed. How I look at it is- like hands and feet do NOT have interchangeable roles, classroom and e-learning have their own set of strengths- and either one cannot be a substitute for another. They have to work in combination with each other for successful training delivery.
Apart from this, technological challenges during system integration are also an area where the robustness and adaptability of a LMS is challenged.
And how about post implementation phase? What is the kind of support an e-learning manager requires from LMS partner once you go live?
Small issues that are overlooked at the LMS assessment and overview stage can prove to be a problem later. Once you go live, you start receiving feedback from user community, and changes are requested in work-flow, user interfaces etc. LMS partner at this stage should be flexible in providing customizations and support.
LMS partner should also have a clear product road-map, and should show the way that learning will take in the future. Finally- snags, technical or others, can also hamper the success of a LMS. LMS partner needs to provide constant assistance in all these areas.
Moving on to next topic, what according to you is the best way to get senior stakeholders/management buy-in for LMS?
The senior stakeholders are all about the bottom-lines and numbers get their attention. The Return on Investment for the LMS should be attractive to them and it is best if an insider – from the Training team or Human Resources Department, is clear about how different business units work. If that is clear, then making and presenting ROI model is easy.
Since we are on the topic of ROI, what are the kind benefits one can expect from e-learning?
The unseen benefit of e-learning is that it allows seamless re-enforcement of training. It also triggers a knowledge culture within the organization, where experts within the organization start to contribute in form of content created using simple tools like PPT, Word etc.
This culture of knowledge sharing also enables experts from outside the company to get on-board and initiate interaction with a group who is already in a state of awareness.
As you know, in India, e-learning is still a relatively a new concept for many domains. In such scenario, how can one get learners on to the LMS?
Start with asking what benefits them. Also, e-learning is not an alien concept and introducing it as a new concept might actually hinder than help. End of the day, e-learning is just Learning, albeit with the support of technology. Encourage Learning and not e-learning.
Another area of importance is that of presentation. While you can get all the information on board, but if it is not structured as per the learner’s ease, it fails to make an impact.
And finally, instead of big courses, breaking down the module into compact learning objects is better.
Ok, so learners have started using the system. Now, how do we keep them engaged?
Lookout for learner feedback. How many are getting certification? How many are putting up presentations of what they have learnt? How many of them are getting appraised on the basis of e-learning modules completed?
Continuously analyzing the needs of the learners will keep them interested and if the value that a learning module provides becomes clear to them, the job of keeping them engaged is done.
Timing is of essence. Shorter, crisper modules that are delivered on time work better and show better retention. So identify key events in the organization or learners life and make quick modules around that. For example, a short module on how to give effective feedback can be a great hit during performance analysis cycle, or a course on cross-cultural practices can be a big help when one is traveling to a different country.
And finally, in your experience, how has been the effectiveness of e-learning as a learning medium, and what is the future you see for this medium?
As I had mentioned before, e-learning is as effective or non effective as classroom based training. One cannot replace the other.
e-Learning, due to its very nature, has certain advantages, such as the capability of providing instant feedback in knowledge delivery, which classroom based learning cannot. It is undoubtedly the preferred medium for the generation of today, who are ready to accommodate learning on demand. Reading habits are changing and classroom learning is also being broken down to sets.
So, e-learning as a medium of Learning is only going to grow. What remains to be realized is that there needs to be a direct bridge between the knowledge source and the knowledge consumer – and no broker in between!