Every organization is a melting-pot of information and knowledge. Learning Management System (LMS) arrange, manage and channelize this information and knowledge through the organization. As a concept, it is not new. The last decade or so have seen tremendous rise in the popularity and acceptance of LMS, especially in the corporate space. As more and more organizations are becoming aware of the need for learning management, we bring to you some insights into the LMS of today and practical approaches to implementation.
We talked to Shah Rizwan, Head – IT Services at G-Cube, who shared with us some eye-openers into the wide world of LMS of today. Shah has been a part of G-Cube for more than 7 years. His close association with different projects and clients has been a continuous opportunity to learn and he shares his learning, with pleasure.
Learning Management Systems have become part of every organization’s learning delivery strategy which wants to encourage the culture of learning. What are the basic features that organizations want out of an enterprise LMS?
Learning Management Systems, as the name suggests, is essentially a system that manages learning in an organization. It’s a system that also manages learners, courses, instructors and resources (e.g. classrooms, equipment etc.). This is a basic feature of any LMS today. In addition, a LMS should also provide reports, course-wise, department-wise or of learner progress – as per the requirements of the client. Assessments are also an integral part of a LMS. Many courses have in-built quizzes or tests to ascertain learners’ assimilation. Even if assessments are built within courses, separate opportunities to assess the learner through CYUs (Check your understanding) tests and Question banks are now a basic feature of new-age LMSs. Many LMSs also have analytical tools built in to provide insights to the administrators. For instance in addition to generating a report, a LMS also provides clear insights into understanding and utilizing the report to the best. In addition to stating the learner progress through a course, analytical tools built in LMSs can provide the additional knowledge like what are learner’s weak areas.
An LMS should also enable seamless scheduling of trainings to be conducted and provide the detailed calendar for all training activities within an organization. Some clients also express the need for a LMS to be able to create curriculum or learning path for learners. This curriculum may include e-learning, webinars, Instructor-led courses or other modes of instruction – as best suited for the learner. This concept of blended learning, is fast gaining popularity in corporate circles, as it provides the learner a platform for well-rounded learning. Enterprise class LMSs now have the ability of managing different modes of learning, in addition to e-learning courses, that create an opportunity of blended learning for the learner.
With increasing user base, it is important to inform the learners of upcoming courses, courses that they have been waitlisted for and so on. Notifications are also a part of LMSs today and are a basic feature in most.
What are the add-on features that can enhance the functionality of a LMS?
There are many additional features that can give LMS enhanced functionality. Corporate learning is always directed towards increasing the reach of a course to the maximum number of learners. Social learning increases the reach of learning and encourages participation of a large number of learners. That’s why social learning has now found firm footing in the corporate scenario. This is the next step for any LMS – integrating the system with a social networking platform, which provides the learners an opportunity to collaborate and learn.
Another feature that can enhance the scope of LMS is video based learning. Instructional videos, 3D simulations, webinars are some examples of video-based learning that have proven to be immensely successful for the corporate audience. So, integrated video players within the LMS, is an added feature that can be utilized very well. In addition, if the LMS is also fitted with an integrated webinar tool, the learners can attend live or pre-recorded sessions within the confines of the LMS. Not only does this increase the ease of the learner in accessing learning material or learning events, it also takes care of security concerns of many clients.
Mobile learning is also coming of age and the LMSs of today need to be aligned to the new mode of learning. Mobile devices are available to many corporate learners and they prefer to learn on the go. A new-age LMS should provide the opportunity to access courses within the system, through mobile devices. This would increase the reach of learning manifold and also provide the learners the opportunity to learn, whenever they want.
Lastly, an extension of mobile learning through LMS is the feature of receiving notifications through mobile devices. While most LMSs do provide notifications through email, SMSs can be a faster mode of reaching the learner. A learner might not check emails regularly, e.g. a salesperson in the field, but will never fail to check an SMS. This ensures that the notifications reach the learner on time and he or she is able to act on it appropriately. SMSs can also be used to share knowledge snippets or conduct short quizzes with learners who don’t have regular access to computers.
While people are taking the concept of ‘learning’ seriously across all types of organizations, there is still a lot of change management to be handled when implementing a LMS. How would you suggest an organization prepare itself before an organization-wide LMS implementation? How can the LMS provide help?
However evolved maybe the LMSs of today, we cannot ignore the fact that they cater to users from very different industry-types. That’s why we cannot have a standard norm to which they can all comply. In such a scenario, change management will be encountered in the early steps of implementation. However, an organization can certainly prepare itself before the actual process of implementation, to lessen the impact of change management in the quality of work.
The first step would be to define the scope of the LMS. A LMS will not be able to automate everything. The expectations out of the LMS have to be clearly understood by all stakeholders. It might be prudent for first-time users to limit the scope for the first few months, when they are getting settled with the new system, e.g. perhaps just start with conducting assessments on LMS, or use it to automate classroom training delivery to start with. In course of time, when the users as well as the administrators are more at ease with the system, more complex features can be explore and utilized.
Also, organizations should have a clear work-flow of how the trainings will be executed through the LMS. It should indicate who will assign courses, who will approve attendees, who shall monitor records and so on. If every stakeholder is clear about his or her role in implementation, the process will smoothen itself out.
The worth of training and testing during implementation cannot be ignored. The LMS provider can assist to a great extent in this area. Trainers, trainees, administrators as well as technical staff needs to be trained on the features and working of the LMS. However, the mode of training for all groups need not be the same. The LMS provider can provide help-files within the LMS for the users and administrators. In addition, small handouts can also be provided (e.g. FAQs) which would be handy in the first few months of implementation. Training the trainers is also important, for they would best understand the learner and learner needs. The LMS provider can have interactive workshops with this group, providing an opportunity of fruitful dialogue that would bring out all the features and their utility for the learner group. The technical staff can be given detailed documents that list out the architectural or technical features of the system and list out common problems as well as solutions. This can be a useful tool of reference in the first few months when technical glitches will be common.
Similarly, testing should also be done before enterprise wide implementation, at all levels. Users, managers, administrators and instructors should all be included in the testing process to anticipate any specific issue (technical or otherwise) that they may have with the system. This becomes even more important when integration with different enterprise systems is involved.
Finally, a marketing plan can help sell a new idea better. The LMS and its utilities are designed to ultimately help the users increase their standard of work. The end-user should find benefit in embracing the new system – this is the simple secret to the success of any LMS. This is also the greatest barrier to overcome in change management. If the idea of a LMS and its usefulness is sold well to the end users, things will definitely start to improve from then on! Here too, the LMS provider can share insights with the client to identify the most useful features and highlight them in marketing communication.
How can we equip a LMS to keep up with the changing needs of the client?
The client may start with a smaller user base, but may envisage that number to increase within few months or years of implementation. The LMS may also need to accommodate more course-ware and learning material within the structure. The technical architecture of LMS should be flexible in order to accommodate changing needs of the client. With increasing load, the system should also have adequate provisions for backup and security. Higher use base means increasing load on the system and backup servers should be assigned for clients who anticipate growing user numbers. The LMS should also have security provisions like data encryption, and secure login management, which should be able to dovetail with customers IT policies.
It is sometimes suggested that only large organizations can afford or maintain a LMS. Is this true? How can small or medium size companies implement and reap the benefits of a LMS – within limited resources and budgets?
Small and medium size companies too can implement a LMS within an organization. For very basic needs, there are a number of open-source LMS available which may benefit a company with restrictive budgets. But the drawback of these systems is that they do not provide robust support and technical assistance is not readily available for them.
In such a scenario, the SaaS (Software as a Service) model can work for small and medium size organizations working on tight budgets. There is no upfront investment to begin with and one can work with monthly installments. Understanding the need of the client would also be able to lessen costs. For example, if the LMS is to be implemented for a series of basic courses, features like audience management or skill-gap management can be done away with. Also, if user numbers are not expected to increase manifold, frugal infrastructure can be utilized to provide required and adequate support.
So, it is a myth that only larger organizations can afford to implement and maintain a LMS successfully. For the organizations of today, where there’s a will, there’s a LMS!
And finally, an enterprise level LMS requires a fair amount of investment of time and resources for any organization. How would you suggest that the customer derives maximum ROI?
A LMS increases the reach and effectiveness of training within an organization. With the introduction of an online platform for learning, costs of printing and disseminating training material is cut to minimum. Time of L&D team is also better managed, as the LMS takes care of complete training cycle from publishing of training calendar, to nominations, approvals, reminders, and feedback collection etc.
But while time and costs are saved, clear indicator of ROI would be the increase in productivity or quality of work. This can be achieved by creating a right strategy to motivate and positively push the learners, which can then be implemented through various tools available in the LMS. For example, most enterprise LMSs now come with some system of giving credits to learners on course completion – these credits/ribbons can be tied to training related KRA scores, or can be traded for some gifts perhaps to motivate learners to complete their trainings. Short assessments mapped to training outcomes can be conducted after a training event, which can help in reinforcing the trainings. If such assessments/surveys are conducted regularly and positive results are shown over a period of time – it is bound to reflect in the work standards of the user as well.
New age LMSs also have features like Skill-Gap Analysis, which not only create a repository of skills present in the organization, but also identifies skills that need to be improved. It then suggests customized learning paths for learners to increase their knowledge and hone their skills. Utilizing this tool, over time, ensures that a better skills-pool is created within the organization, which is clearly an asset against the investment incurred.
Organizations also are changing their perspective in how ROI is sought. Investments on processes that have long term returns are now being welcomed, where the ‘big picture’ is more important than an instantaneous perceptible growth in revenues. Training and Learning take some time for the results to be reflected in numbers. But over time, they certainly do and LMS provide the support needed to sustain training seamlessly within an organization. So, as an investment, LMS is bound to create positive ROI, provided it’s implemented right and is backed with a sound strategy to generate and then maintain learner interest.