eLearning and the Learning Management System (LMS), a comprehensive guide:
SECTION 0: Introduction
In the early days of elearning and the LMS, many people saw the potential to change the world of workplace learning forever. Its promise was to scale employee training effectively and efficiently across large and geographically dispersed teams. But for too long now, elearning courses and learning management system (LMS) platforms have dramatically under delivered on their vision. Users have been repeatedly underwhelmed by substandard elearning experiences.
Change is finally happening – the digital learning revolution is underway. New ways of thinking about digital learning methods, content and the platforms on which they sit are emerging. Elearning and the next generation LMS is now starting to deliver the vision of effectively and efficiently scaling learning and development.
To help you make the very most of it, we’ve produced this guide. Here’s what it does:
- Gives you a comprehensive view of current and future trends in digital learning content
- Explains, in easy-to-understand terms, the different ways that businesses can benefit.
- Describes the platform on which this content sits, the learning management system (LMS). It also describes the next generation learning management system (also called the learning experience platform)
If you work in Learning and Development, or simply interested in developing skills and talent in your organisation, then this guide is for you. It will help you to:
think of new ideas for the services you provide
become better informed and equipped for future success
become more efficient
make an impact on your organisation's business strategy
enjoy greater success in your role
We’re excited at what the future of elearning and the next generation LMS will bring. And we’re excited to show you the best way to use this future to your advantage. To see how workplace learning can be more effective and enjoyable than ever before, read on!
Section 1: THE ELEARNING AND LMS MARKETPLACE EXPLAINED
According to the eLearning Trends for 2018 the size of the combined education and corporate elearning and LMS market place was $165bn. It is likely to exceed $240bn by 2023.
The global corporate elearning market is predicted to reach $31bn by 2020. We interpret this figure to include approximately $3bn for the LMS market. A sizeable proportion of this will be spent on procuring large self-paced elearning libraries and developing custom elearning content. The marketplace is broken down into the following sections.
LMS AND NEXT GENERATION LEARNING PLATFORM PROVIDERS
There are thousands of LMS suppliers across the globe in a very crowded marketplace. The high end enterprise market is dominated by SumTotal (a Skillsoft brand), Saba, SuccessFactors (SAP) and Cornerstone On Demand. Some others are shown on the Fosway 9-Grid of digital learning systems:
A new breed of learning platforms (sometimes called Learning Experience Platforms or Next Generation Learning Platforms) have emerged and will begin to change the market. We will discuss these further, later in the guide.
PRE-PACKAGED OR OFF-THE-SHELF ELEARNING CONTENT
Without content, Learning Management Systems are largely redundant. Many companies choose to purchase large libraries of generic content as a service for employee training. Typically, these libraries cover personal development skills, professional development, leadership and management, IT certification, software, compliance and much more.
Most often, libraries are sold on a per person per year basis with multi-year discounted deals available. After signing a purchasing contract, most companies usually install the SCORM files on their LMS on a course-by-course basis. Alternatively they can install AICC connectors that points the user to the vendors’ learning content server.
There are many providers of digital learning content, with new entrants forcing positive change in this part of the industry. Skillsoft, LinkedIn Learning (previously Lynda.com), Grovo, Pluralsight, Wiley and Cegos have significant market share.
Historically, the LMS catalogue structure mimics the supplier’s library structures, and users are assigned rights to the catalogue. In most LMSs, this user experience of searching for and consuming elearning is unintuitive and time-consuming.
Users are often exasperated by the entire process. Similarly, in the past, the content was unsophisticated and cluttered. It was also badly designed, with little consideration of a good UX.
The combined experience of navigating the LMS, searching for relevant content and endlessly clicking through interactions and pages was not a positive experience. Nowadays, digital learning content and platforms are combining to meet the needs of the modern learner. See more on this below.
"NOWADAYS, DIGITAL LEARNING CONTENT AND PLATFORMS ARE COMBINING TO MEET THE NEEDS OF THE MODERN LEARNER."
CUSTOM COURSE DEVELOPMENT
Most companies need to create content that is relevant to the needs of their organisation. A lot of time and effort is involved in this process. Larger organisations may have a dedicated team of internal learning consultants and instructional designers. Other organisations have much smaller teams or a single instructional designer, and may frequently use the freelance community for additional support.
More recently, outsourcing elearning content production (and LMS hosting) has become popular. There are many companies around the world providing small, medium and large scale outsourcing services. India has become a major player in this area.
Outsourcing can be problematic and as with everything in the traditional elearning field, it is ripe for disruption and change. Good outsource development companies will understand the dynamics of the new marketplace and should disrupt their services accordingly.
Most custom content is developed using eLearning authoring tools. The largest market shares are held by Articulate Storyline, Lectora and Adobe Captivate. More recently, there has been an explosion in new authoring tools that enable designers to publish HTML5, device independent, mobile ready, responsive content. Evolve by Appitierre, LearningMaker by Netex, Gomo, DominKnow and Elucidat are just some of these tools.
Further change in content development is inevitable as a new era in learner experience and microlearning platforms starts to take shape.
MOOC – the massive open online course – began exploding onto the marketplace in the early 2010s. MOOCs were initially designed to make high quality academic content from leading universities available for free to everyone. Content was mainly video based lectures with quizzes and assignments.
Many progressed to add in forums and other social and collaboration features. Some had assigned mentors associated with topics. MOOC suppliers include Coursera, Edx, Udacity, FutureLearn, Udemy, versity and the Canvas Network – each of which contains content from one or many universities.
Premium versions for business are available at a cost with additional platform, integration, certification and data features. For business, most are sold at a topic level or by corporate licence model.
MOOCs are essentially modern distance learning courses. They offer a flexible learning model that will suit some learners. While learning at work, not everyone will have the discipline to complete a MOOC that may last for weeks or months. For the L&D community, MOOCs offer a good plug-in service of ready-made and diverse topics that can complement other LMS services. Some MOOCs can lead to certified degrees or masters degree qualifications. As with everything elearning, the wise prospective buyer weighs up the costs and benefits.
SPECIALIST ELEARNING PROVIDERS
Simulation-based elearning is one specialist area that has seen great strides ahead recently. Virtual reality/augmented reality technology is being embraced by industry sectors where there is a clear benefit for learners.
These technologies are good for practising skills and decision making within a close-to-real-life environment. But the cost of simulation-based solutions can be prohibitive and in many industries, it’s not a cost-effective strategy. A further hurdle is integrating AR activities into traditional LMS platforms. As new methods and technologies emerge, we’ll see the cost of deployment fall into scalable ranges.
Section 2: GLOSSARY, COMMON ELEARNING AND LMS TERMS AND DEFINITIONS
The corporate L&D community and the industry that serves it is awash with buzzwords and varying meanings of key terms. There are many: e learning, online learning, online training, digital learning, computer based training and more. The list of buzzwords is growing daily; we cover lots of these terms in this guide.
WHAT IS ELEARNING?
elearning is often used as an all-encompassing term for the content, infrastructure and methods by which we can learn online. Others use the term to describe an elearning course (see below). A Google dictionary search reveals elearning to be:
e-learning; noun: e learning
learning conducted via electronic media, typically on the Internet.
"successful e-learning depends on the self-motivation of individuals to study effectively"
It’s ironic that this definition puts the responsibility for successful elearning on the individual user’s shoulders. In reality, it’s not that simple. Users have generally had to grapple with poorly designed content and haphazard outcomes. Now that the industry is adopting new standards with a new vision of success, it’s time for a rethink.
A more modern definition for elearning?:
- Learning conducted via multi device electronic media that incorporates a variety of learning methods, content and collaboration.
- Elearning activities can happen anywhere, on any device, through the use of an ecosystem of adaptive platforms and content using modern standards.
- Elearning is intended to allow both individuals and teams to effectively learn by themselves and together. It should engender effective and efficient knowledge sharing.
- Elearning is data-driven allowing deep analysis of usage, trends, knowledge acquisition and knowledge retention
We will explore these concepts in this guide.
WHAT IS AN ELEARNING COURSE AND WHAT IS SCORM?
Elearning courses are designed to sit and operate within a learning management system. Traditionally, they were developed within an elearning authoring tool and published using the SCORM standard. Nore: SCORM stands for Sharable Content Object Reference Model, you will never need to remember the long form of this acronym.
SCORM is a set of agreed standards that allow elearning courses to share information with the LMS system in which they sit. Between them, the SCORM based elearning course and the LMS can, amongst others, records user information. Attendance, time, learner progress and completion criteria are all recorded. A major benefit of SCORM is that published elearning courses are interoperable between all SCORM compliant learning management systems.
An elearning course is usually designed by an Instructional Designer who takes complex source material and transforms it into an online educational experience. The Instructional Designer (ID) will use a variety of techniques to construct the course flow, its interactions and completion criteria. The completion criteria can include the number of pages visited and usually contains a mandatory graded quiz. The quiz will have preset Good instructional designers ensure a great learning experience for the end user.
Once written (on a storyboard), the elearning course is developed on an elearning authoring tool prior to publishing. It is normally published using the SCORM output. The course is uploaded to the learning management system where further configuration takes place.
New methods and standards of publishing elearning content such as xAPI are emerging and we will discuss these in detail throughout this guide.
WHAT IS A LEARNING MANAGEMENT SYSTEM (LMS)?
A learning management system is an elearning software application for “administering, documenting, tracking, reporting and delivering educational courses or training programmes” (Wikipedia)
The best learning management systems provide exceptional user and learning experiences.
Most learning management systems are capable of:
- The distribution of elearning courses to general populations or specific groups. The content of each course (often called activities) can be varied.. They can include: SCORM, video to screen, web links, quizzes, surveys, pdf and any other downloadable resources.
- Managing classroom (either physical or virtual) training sessions, the publication of training schedules, assigning resources, scoring, self booking and cancellation functions.
- Reporting on course completion rates by user and group
More common LMS features are listed later in the document.
More recently, LMSs have expanded their functionality to include gamification, social learning and collaboration, and other modern tools and methods. More modern platforms are emerging to deliver a more consummerised experience and to engender collaboration. Learning data and analytics are at the heart of these new platforms. The next generation LMS and/or the learning experience platform.
The LMS should support the Learning and Development function to efficiently manage the services they provide to their teams and learners. We explore features, benefits and application for business advantage in subsequent sections.
GLOSSARY OF OTHER USEFUL ELEARNING TERMS
SECTION 3 – WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF THE LMS AND ELEARNING?
For over 30 years, the main function of the learning management system was to track completion of training (via elearning). The SCORM elearning content publishing standard was introduced to allow the elearning course to communicate course progress and completion information with the LMS. SCORM also meant (in theory) that elearning objects were interoperable and would work on any LMS.
Over the years, though, the LMS has evolved – particularly most recently – to do many other things to support learning and training in business. If properly planned and executed, implementing an LMS and elearning brings multiple benefits for any large or even quite small organisation.
SUPPORT L&D IN BECOMING AN EFFICIENT SERVICE PROVIDER
A good LMS with a good user experience, sparingly populated with great elearning content and collaboration tools, enables L&D to solve business problems efficiently. Learning experiences can be created and targeted at different audiences.
The LMS becomes the central hub for searching for and consuming training. They can contain: personal development training, onboarding programmes, management & leadership programmes, professional skills training, process training, compliance courses and much more. The LMS can be used as a communications tool to engage learners and market the services.
REDUCE COSTS AND SCALE TRAINING TO WIDER AUDIENCES
The main purpose of an LMS and elearning was to cost effectively scale training and learning across large and dispersed audiences. Traditional classroom training is too expensive and slow to scale. Nevertheless, it is still, and will continue to be, a vital element of the L&D toolkit.
A good LMS and elearning solution will help to reduce costs and provide scale.
In some cases, it has a classroom training management function that makes training event organisation self service for users. This makes the overall process more efficient.
Classroom training can be reduced significantly to focus on practice only, while the theory is covered in preset elearning courses.
Compliance, process and generic skills training can be removed from the classroom schedule completely and replaced with a scalable elearning alternative.
Using an integrated virtual classroom can also create efficiencies, and reduce travel, time and attendance costs.
The role of the employed trainer can be transformed into an online learning facilitation expert, thus making blended learning programmes much more effective. These new roles will add much more value to the business over time.
ENGAGE EMPLOYEES MORE THAN EVER
A good LMS and elearning implementation will have the Ux at its core. It can be a rich source of services and knowledge, a place to meet and learn and share. In today’s changing world, it is right and appropriate to ensure that our learning services meet standards that inspire users. Forcing them to complete is a tactic of the past. The opportunity with elearning is to significantly impact employee engagement in a meaningful and practical way.
DECREASE TIME TO COMPETENCE
Digital transformation and artificial intelligence means that business is changing at light speed. The role of L&D is to pre-empt the supply of, and demand for, future skills. Having a rich, service oriented learning environment that users value means that L&D can find time to plan for the future. With good help and support from forward thinking suppliers, L&D can use the technology to develop scalable learning pathways that reduce time to competence.
USE THE LMS AS A COMMUNICATIONS TOOL
The LMS can store multiple types of information. Its inbuilt messaging service and completion reporting also makes it a very useful tool for sharing feedback and corporate communications.
MAKE COMPLIANCE COURSES EASY TO MANAGE
Compliance courses can be easily distributed across large and geographically dispersed teams. LMS administrators can track progress of different groups and report easily on course completion.
SECTION 4: COMMON FEATURES OF AN LMS
There are thousands of learning management systems available in the marketplace. Some are very basic, traditional, and notionally free to use, whereas others are modern, complicated, and incredibly expensive. Few are built with a focus on xAPI and the future, and a good learner experience (Lx) and user experience (Ux). Here is a useful list and explanation of some basic, intermediate and advanced functions and features available on many LMS platform.
SECTION 5: ELEARNING AND THE LMS: THE NEED FOR CHANGE
THE RACE TO “COURSE COMPLETED”
In the early years of the LMS, there was little interest in the user experience – it was usually very poor. Users struggled to navigate unwieldy LMS systems. eLearning courses were too content heavy and were based on haphazard learning outcomes.
Learners were instructed to complete elearning courses to strict deadlines. The only way they could show knowledge acquisition was by taking poorly designed assessments.
Enabling them to retain knowledge after they'd finished was far from a priority. Learners raced through the course to the final assessment, knowing that passing this was the fastest way of escaping the torture. It is easy to understand why so few people were motivated to be proactive consumers of LMS services and content.
Over time, the functionality of the LMS expanded, but it was still constrained by SCORM and its database parameters. This polishing was intended to bring improvements, but it didn’t really add up to more powerful impact overall. Being able to add non-SCORM content meant that administrators could share other files along with the standard course. Some systems added classroom training management functionality, which later expanded to integrated virtual classrooms (for example, Adobe Connect, GoToTraining and Webex).
eLearning course content quickly expanded beyond compliance topics. Systems training, soft skills training, process and behaviour change topics and more were all adopted on the learning infrastructure.
Soon, it become possible to add large, externally procured libraries to the LMS. This meant that administrators stuffed even more elearning content into already bulging catalogues. Learners were expected to search these generally untagged libraries of their own free will. But the LMS search capability was not sophisticated enough for this to be a manageable task.
The reality was that users were, unsurprisingly, not at all motivated to plough through the enormous content catalogues. LMS custodians couldn’t understand why their very large investments were underutilised.
Many LMS systems continued to expand their functionality. New features appeared regularly. Many of the leading brands widened their feature list to include performance management and some HR functions. Increasing the size and scale of functionality was an obvious direction to take, but vendors still ignored the user experience.
DEVELOPMENTS IN THE LMS AND ELEARNING
The industry was fixated on buzzwords that could be heard clearly at trade shows and in the marketplace chatter and on social media.
Some learning technology companies could see that change was needed, and so began this past decade of slow progress.
Many forward-thinking LMS providers began to consider new ways of learning. They adopted gamification, social learning, MOOC integration and other smart elearning related apps. User experience across elearning platforms continued to improve. Developers adopted the latest technologies and users benefited from a visually engaging interface and a high consumer-standard learning experience.
The remarkable shift over the last 5–7 years was the move to the “LMS in the cloud”. Most LMS implementations outside of some very big corporates are now cloud hosted solutions. This has helped innovation by making it easy to deploy new features. It has also kept licencing costs competitive.
A NEW DAWN IN ELEARNING AND THE LMS?
There was a new sense of urgency and progress was being made. In 2013, the first version of xAPI (then called by its project name Tin Can) was released. xAPI heralded a new era in innovation and in digital learning. It recognised that learning can take place anywhere and not just in an old-school LMS.
By adopting xAPI as a standard, any existing or new technology stack (or app) could transmit information using an xAPI statement to an independent learning record store (LRS). This development also heralded a new era for learning analytics.
For forward-thinking suppliers, this removed the shackles of SCORM and the LMS and presented a blank canvas for designing new and high impact products. Finally, the world of elearning could build services to catch up with the digital revolution that had been passing it by. See Try xAPI for case studies.
Around the same time, several moments of change happened in the pre-packaged off-the-shelf content market.
People realised that old-school elearning design, its platforms, and the Ux, all needed to improve radically.
Microlearning, analytics, adaptive learning and better search functionality were fast becoming important and impactful.
Market newcomers were appearing and making quick and significant gain.
The extended and integrated use of corporate MOOCs was growing.
Since 2015, we have seen a new era in elearning and learning management systems. We’re at the beginning of a new dawn in learning design and enabled technology. SCORM and the LMS are still relevant and very important to many for the foreseeable future. Our opportunity to build new and creative digital learning solutions is now boundless. Read on to find out more.
SECTION 6: A NEW VISION FOR DIGITAL LEARNING AND ITS IMPACT ON L&D
THE IMPACT OF ELEARNING AND THE LMS ON L&D
Since elearning and the learning management system were built around SCORM and compliance records, they are just not enough for the modern L&D function. Most L&D professionals are juggling multiple diverse initiatives, each of which require specific digital solutions to help scale across dispersed teams. Let’s look at characteristics of some of the typical tasks L&D carry out
|Task||Example||Generic/bespoke (estimates)||Effort required||Complexity to solve||Difficulty to scale|
|Requirements gathering and assessment of training needs||Networking with all departments and stakeholders||50% / 50%||medium||medium||medium|
|Personal development training||Presentation skills, time management, negotiation skills etc.||85% generic||very high||medium||very difficult|
|Professional development, technical training and certification||Project management, sales, service, IT certs etc.||95% generic||high||low||difficult|
|Talent development, team building and coaching||Leadership, management, emerging talent training||80% generic||medium to high||high||difficult|
|Compliance training||Financial, process, legal||50% generic||low to medium||medium||easy|
|Systems and process training||Software, ERP, general process||40% generic||medium||medium||easy|
|Specific company initiatives and topics||Policy, comms etc.||95% bespoke||high||medium||medium|
|HR related||Onboarding, performance management, succession planning||80% bespoke||high||high||medium|
|Planning for the future||Future skills, strategy planning, general research, trade shows, webinars||100% bespoke||medium||high||-|
Some questions come to mind:
If these are the main tasks we complete, how efficient are we?
How much of our time is spent carrying out each element the different types of task?
What impact are we making?
How can we make this process and experience FAR better?
How can we improve services and devolve their use to teams and individuals?
THINK “WHAT IF?” - LEARNING TECHNOLOGY’S IMPACT ON L&D
What if we could transform personal and professional development training by providing a self service model that people actually want to use? Classroom training and coaching would be the exception rather than the rule for these topics.
What if compliance training was transformed into an adaptive spaced practice solution with analytics based on behaviour? We would all be in a better place, time taken to train drastically reduced with analytics indicating how to deal with the exceptions.
What if we provided a service for subject matter experts across the business to record and share their knowledge? Imagine empowering them to easily create consumer grade content.
What if we could integrate smart apps that help us curate, share and collaborate?
What if we could transform leadership, talent and management skills with a new way to engage, collaborate and coach? What if…
FROM “TO DO” TO “TA-DAH!”
Learning technology and digital content should easily support L&D in providing distinct services that consumers want to use. Devolving administration and use of technology to teams where and when they need it. Why would L&D get too much involved? “Fire and forget!” should be the order of the day!
By providing these services, L&D can free up precious time to do the things they’ve always wanted to do. That is to: identify learning needs, carry out research, self improve, and plan for the future. They could, in other words, do more with less, and really love their jobs.
We've all got to embrace flexibility – being ready to unlearn restrictive, dated perspectives. Unlearning in this way is a key step in moving ahead and thriving in this dynamic industry. Unlearning is the new learning.
In the past, the LMS with its classroom and virtual classroom training functionality gave L&D a command centre from which they controlled and distributed everything. L&D’s remit included requirements gathering, solution design, procurement, content development, assignment, delivery and assessment. This wasn’t practical, because L&D were never skilled, or equipped to be good, at all of these things. It didn’t help matters that the technology wasn’t built for a positive Ux.
In the emerging new era, the learning technology and content ecosystem allows L&D to build an infrastructure of truly impressive services. They can devolve the administration and super use of these services to subject matter experts across disparate teams for onward consumption. So, L&D become strategic solutions architects – forward thinkers who help to fuel their organisations towards even greater success. They use learning analytics in a compelling way in their expert internal marketing and communications work.
This vision is now starting to become a reality as a new breed of learning management systems appears in the market.
A NEW VISION FOR ELEARNING TO SUPPORT L&D
Loud and clear! That’s how we are hearing the many voices calling for a fundamental change in direction and standards in elearning. We need to think in new ways, and this change starts with new words. The industry needs a vocabulary like this to help it to realise its new aspirations:
- Learning and training in the workplace is a complex process that requires a more comprehensive digital learning toolkit.
- Traditional classroom training, mentoring, coaching and blended learning are still very important elements to the overall L&D toolkit.
- The function of L&D is shifting to becoming a strategic service provider. Demonstrating the delivery of the current and future skills agendas for their businesses.
- Digital learning must scale efficiently across disperse teams AND make a significant impact on knowledge acquisition and retention.
- Fundamentally, the Ux of all elearning content, tools and platforms must meet and exceed modern standards. Otherwise, learners will vote with their feet.
- Elearning technologies should address that learning at certain times is social and collaborative in nature. New digital learning experiences should engender better conversations between managers and their teams. They should also give the ability to harness and share tacit knowledge across teams.
- The L&D toolkit should be varied enough to be able to solve multiple problems. It must be easy to use so that it can be devolved to business teams.
- For L&D to become providers of first-class services, elearning technologies and content must be easy to deploy. There should be no need for significant intervention or facilitation with its users. L&D do not have the people resources or time to do this work. Technology must help take problems away, not introduce new ones.
In short, we need to significantly improve the Ux, and we need the digital learning toolkit to be far better.
→ A great UX will increase adoption.
→ A diverse toolkit will help to solve multiple learning problems and provide scalability – increasing efficiency.
→ Data-driven analytics and new learning experiences will transform poor to powerful – increasing impact.
Overall, new generation elearning services will make us more efficient and effective. A mere year ago, this couldn’t have been a reality. Now, though, L&D really do have something to shout about. With the right guidance, they’ll soon find that they have a much more enthusiastic audience.
So, how can we make this vision relevant for L&D?
SECTION 7: NEXT GENERATION LEARNING MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS
The various new types of platform that are emerging are striving for a really positive user experience (UX). They’re not constrained within the parameters of SCORM. They have a different purpose. They are built for two main purposes: to serve the end user with a much friendlier, more intuitive, smarter environment and to make a more significant learning impact.
They can be called Learning Experience Platforms (LXP’s) or Next Generation Learning Platforms or Next Generation LMSs. They will be data driven to bring advanced learning analytics to the enterprise, they will build inherently for mobile. Evidence of their growth can be found in this recent report from Bersin by Deloitte.
The new LXPs solve different problems. Let’s take a look at some of these.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF LXP
- You can use an LXP simply as a software layer that sits above the LMS and combines multiple types of content. It has a smart consumer-experience interface and smart search function. It does all this in a way that the LMS never could.Percipio is the ultimate example of such a platform, one that contains thousands of instructional videos, books and audio books. Content is pre-populated into channels and AI enhanced search algorithms add to the fantastic user experience. If you want to transform generic skills training in your organisation, this type of LXP offers huge benefits.
- Other LXPs share the common user experience standards, channels, search algorithms and other features. They’re designed to enable organisations to quickly create their own microlearning strategy. Platforms such as learningPlay provide microlearning authoring capability and a platform for distribution. Administration of the system can be devolved throughout the organisation. The benefits of this type of LXP are immense.
- LXPs are also making spaced practice, or spaced learning, a much more achievable service. Spaced practice learning technology is becoming an integral part of our toolkit. It’ll enable us to rethink particular types of training and to create new solutions for them. This form of elearning involves giving learners regular short quizzes to check their knowledge.
- Smart algorithms and AI technology assess each individual and adapt content for them according to their needs. Bite-sized content is provided to those who’re struggling, while those performing well will have a short learning experience. There will definitely be a more diverse range of LXPs available on the market over the coming years. It’ll be interesting to see how the larger vendors adapt.
THE BENEFITS OF AN LXP
This spaced learning approach is hugely beneficial for learners. They experience minimal content and cognitive load, for instance, and the resulting analytics clearly show knowledge acquisition and retention. Improved analytics leads to better decision making on the job.
An LXP that’s integration enabled can be used as a complementary tool alongside the LMS. It can also be used as a stand alone platform. LXPs can:
- Enhance the UX on your existing LMS
- Provide new ways of creating and sharing content
- Provide new ways of learning, e.g. spaced practice
- Improve data and analytics, with a shift from completion status to proven knowledge retention
- Be devolved to teams for their own use and problem solving
- Solve the problem of capturing tacit knowledge across teams
- Provide a new way of servicing generic skills training
- Support learning in the flow of work and/or performance support
The elearning industry is increasingly focused on what’s called the learning ecosystem. This concept stretches further than elearning, the LMS and the LXP.
It’s a much wider amalgamation of:
- Subject matter experts, users, collaborators, contributors
- Existing business applications, e.g. LMS, CRM, HR
- Modern apps for learning, assessment, performance support, collaboration, curation, spaced practice, tacit knowledge sharing and more
A learning ecosystem connects all these aspects using xAPI as the data collection integrator. In this infrastructure, the LMS functions as one important element in a multifaceted suite of technology and human interaction.
THE ELEARNING ECOSYSTEM AND THE FUTURE
What does this mean for the future if this ecosystem is the shape it takes? Well, like any ecosystem, this one is characterised by dynamic change. Its interconnection of people and technology is increasingly organic, and is becoming more frequent.
The world of elearning will never be static again. And like with the ecosystems of environmental science, there’s a real need for stewards of this ecosystem. Digital learning consultants, learning experience designers are elearning curators. They carefully craft each learner’s path by weaving together an ideal network of technology and people to get the best from both.
They succeed in guiding learners, collaborators, technology, L&D, and ultimately, the invested organisations along a path to thriving growth. These are the people who’ll guide elearning – people like us!
SECTION 8: CHOOSING THE RIGHT LMS AND ELEARNING SERVICE PROVIDER
Outsourcing and navigating the world of suppliers can be fraught with difficulty and risk. Finding the supplier with the right skills and motivation will be transformational for your organisation. Finding a poor supplier will cause endless problems. Use these tips to keep you on the right path:
Procuring an LMS – what to look for
Buying an LMS for the first time? Replacing an existing system? Buying an LXP as stand alone or to integrate with your current platform? No matter which of these describes your situation, finding the right product and supplier is crucial.
Do you like your lms supplier?
It’s important for you to enjoy dealing with your chosen supplier. Having a good long-term relationship will pay great dividends. Things to check:
IS YOUR LMS SUPPLIER RESPONSIVE?
Responsiveness to emails, phone calls and requests for information is a significant tell-tale sign of a good supplier. An acknowledgement to a request is a very simple yet meaningful gesture, even if the information or answer takes some time to compile.
DO THEY SHARE FREELY?
Great suppliers will share their knowledge freely – it demonstrates passion for what they do. Their marketing material should offer a broad range of tactical, insightful and strategic content. When dealing with them face to face they should continue to share their knowledge and experience enthusiastically.
Do they listen?
The best suppliers will focus solely on your requirements, your problems and your constraints. They’ll listen intently and ask probing questions. They keep an open mind at all times and aren’t constrained by their products or solutions. Great suppliers will be honest when their solution does not fit. They will offer alternatives even if they have nothing to gain.
Do they coach?
Most suppliers have expert knowledge in their chosen fields. They’ll probably know more than you at times. Great suppliers will coach you on new techniques or new technologies until you’re fully equipped to make an informed decision.
Beyond the technology fit
You’ll already have in mind a wish list of functionality to suit your particular requirements. So, as you’re getting closer to choosing your supplier, here are some additional things to think about:
The user experience (UX):
The UX is one of the most important critical success factors for any learning technology implementation. There’s little point investing in all that time and money if your users won't value your new service.
Take time to test the system thoroughly from a users perspective. Think about how the platform may be used when it’s fully populated.
- Is it easy to find services and content?
- Is it intuitive?
- Is the design aesthetically pleasing?
- Does it match modern browsing standards?
- It is maybe time to get your users involved?
The administration experience:
Ease of configuration, reporting, uploading, creating plans and communications is important. You and your team will be spending much of your time managing the system, so having an efficient and enjoyable process will help.
If single sign-on and integration to other systems is important to you, ask for evidence that it works. Tread carefully here.
Be sure to involve your IT department when it comes to physical and data security (and integration). Your vendor should be willing to supply detailed documents on request.
Training and support:
Most suppliers build training and support into your contract. Be sure to ask for detail on the training package and supporting material. Many offer basic services, but the best suppliers will be keenly interested in your training and system well-being. They will want your investment to be a success. Good suppliers will go beyond the contract to make sure you are getting a return.
LMS licensing models:
These are normally based on the total user population x a price per person per year. If this doesn’t suit your business model, ask for an alternative. Also take time to think about growth and shrinkage of users over time. You might want to build in a prorata scale in your agreement. Education institutions and charitable organisations may avail of better commercial terms.
Ask your vendor for proof of other happy customers. Good suppliers will have no problem introducing you to one of their existing clients. Focus heavily on the relationship as well as the technology.
The technology roadmap:
Make sure to ask for regular roadmap updates. Ask what’s happened during the last quarter as well as the upcoming two quarters, because this will demonstrate consistency. Good suppliers have an agile development process and new features should be a regular occurance.
Procuring pre-packaged elearning content
Procuring libraries of ready-made content is a great way to add impactful services to your LMS. Libraries can include rich and multimodal content on:
- Personal development
- Professional development
- Business applications
- Creative content
- Business operations
- Health and safety
Content can be in the form of traditional click-next elearning, video, assessments, scenarios, simulations, online books, book summaries, audiobooks, labs and practice mechanisms. Some vendors will insist that you use their platform, whereas others will provide integration services.
Things to look out for:
You can source content from multiple vendors. Keep your Ux standards high and only buy if you think your users will value the content.
Buying off the shelf content can be expensive. If you’re a charity, education institution or a small- to medium-sized business, different licensing models may be available.
Buying directly from the supplier is not always the best option. Buying from an official partner can have many benefits. They can sometimes negotiate the price better than you can, and they often offer have additional value added services. They’re also often more creative, agile and responsive.
Ask your supplier to be clear about dealing with growth and shrinkage of users during the term of the contract.
Multi-year deals can come with significant discounts. Push your supplier for terms that you’d want to see. They’re keen for your business and they’re more flexible than you think.
Take time to understand the integration capability. In most cases, you‘ll want the content to be consumed from and reported within your LMS.
Take time to understand the process of adding new content or removing old content during the term of your contract. Sometimes it’s not obvious how to do this.
ELEARNING CONTENT DEVELOPMENT OUTSOURCING
Sometimes called custom elearning development, or bespoke elearning, most companies need to create relevant and specific content. elearning can be used for many specific corporate initiatives that can’t be sourced externally. Here are a few examples:
- Internal communications that require a particular level of understanding
- Internal systems and processes
- Strategy and behaviour change programs
- Function-specific processes such as sales and onboarding
Many companies choose to develop their own content internally and have dedicated learning experience designers, instructional designers and digital designers. Many choose to outsource some of their requirements to trusted suppliers. Some outsource all development to a service provider (quite often offshore).
elearning content development can be a time-consuming and expensive exercise. Coupled with the demands to meet high Ux standards, the risks of failure are high. Looking at the pros and cons of outsourcing will help you to understand the best route for you to take.
Benefits of outsourcing elearning content design and development
A good outsource development partner will:
- Help you manage the peaks and troughs of demand and take the stress off your team
- Coach you to understand best-in-class learning experience design, instructional design, writing techniques, digital design and future trends
- Provide you with access to a greater range of authoring tools and techniques
- Provide you with a skilled team who specialise in their field, research continuously, and work with a diverse array of clients and topics. Their experience should shine through to your projects
- Ensure they dedicate time to discussing carefully every aspect of your project with you
- Use an agile methodology and reduce time to market
- Be more cost effective
- Have an array of value added services such as game design, professional voiceover, and translation
- Get to know you, your brand, your process, your needs and your learning your learning problems – as your relationship develops. As your relationship develops, they should become a trusted extension to your team, delivering consistently high quality, modern content on time, every time
- Have a refined process in place for design, build, review, sign-off and testing. This is something that not many outsource partners can offer
Problems with outsourcing elearning development
Want to avoid headaches with your outsource partner in the future?
If yes, then these are the things to look out for:
- Agree design standards: The learner experience is key to successful development – your outsource partner must meet and exceed your values here
- What does partnership mean?: A great elearning content partner will collaborate, share freely, be passionate, listen and coach. They will show genuine interest in your process, your constraints and your needs. Watch out, because not all suppliers share these values
- Their process our your process? The best suppliers will understand your process and how to deal with your subject matter experts. They should also have a best-in-class and adaptable process of their own.
- Hidden extra costs: There’s a risk that outsourcing may incur extra costs. Remember that great suppliers will reduce the complexity of design and development, making the whole process easy and pain free.
not-so-great suppliers may require you to project manage development programmes and to be the communicator between the supplier and the subject matter expert
- Skills: Some outsource partners think that being able to use Storyline is instructional design, so avoid these at all costs. The chances are that they have little or no educational design experience. Look instead for great partners who have dedicated experience design, learning design and digital design skills
SECTION 9: LMS IMPLEMENTATION PLANNING: KEY TIPS
Once you have chosen your platform, an LMS and eLearning implementation can be a complicated process. Preparation is key in order to avoid wasted time and effort. There are several main phases:
SETTING THE STANDARDS: AIM HIGH
Before configuration, build and implementation, it’s worth spending time setting standards that encompass all aspects of system usage:
Think about the user experience: how easy it is to browse, search and use the system to consume its services. Let the Ux be your guiding principle at all times
If you can, make sure you have a graphic designer on hand to help you throughout the process
Consult your company's marketing brand guidelines and use these to set the tone for the platform
Define colours, imagery and any other media standards that you want to adhere to
Think above and beyond. Remember that, when you're creating your own elearning courses or other LMS content, these must meet and exceed these design standards
Think above and beyond — again!
Pre-plan system communication standards such as welcome messages, reminders, invites and automatic system messages (these are likely to be configurable)
ELEARNING CONTENT PLANNING
Procuring an LMS is a big decision and a big investment. Often, the decisions to create or procure elearning content are difficult, expensive and profound for the buyer. An empty LMS is redundant – it’s the services, apps, content and collaboration features that make it valuable.
Remember that LMS activities can take many forms: SCORM elearning, videos, assessments, PowerPoints, PDFs, exercises, simulations, scheduled classroom or virtual classroom events and more. Your LMS may also have other curation and collaboration applications.
As you think about populating your new LMS, these strategies can help you achieve the best results:
Set high design and UX standards from the outset.
Keep your LMS clutter free, reasonably minimalist and tidy. Try not to pack your LMS full of content that only might get used. Keep it for the high impact, highly needed requirements. Don't be the elearning hoarder!
Get started on the right track. Find a high-vis topic that will resonate with as many people as possible. Set a high standard when developing the solution and work hard on the communications plan. It’d be great if the first interaction with your new platform was well received. Consider using a pilot group to test a smaller group of interested users.
Have a rollout plan. Don’t release all your new services at once. Your marketing plan for the LMS should drip feed new content, learning methods, collaboration features and other smart functions over time. This will ensure a little intrigue and will allow you to smooth any bumps along the way.
If your LMS has training management functionality, why not create a catalogue of events for popular training programmes?
Make a forward plan for the services you create. Keep these points in mind:
A. If compliance is important to you, have a plan to get the best content you can find for your audience.
B. If generic skills training is important, search the market for find the best libraries that suit your needs.
C. At some point, you’ll need to commission your own bespoke courses. Plan ahead for the skills your team needs to create elearning courses, or shop around for an outsource partner you like and can trust.
D. Think of a topic or requirement that will benefit from a blended learning solution. Find a great trainer or facilitator in your organisation to champion the project and get them to work on the new blended training material.
The LMS configuration phase
- Users (single sign-on): If using single sign-on technology, ensure your IT department is involved at an early stage. They should work with the vendor to assess the connection types, e.g. Active Directory or SAML 2.0
- Users (manual upload): If not using single sign-on, then you’ll have to create a spreadsheet of all active users for upload to the LMS. Be sure to do this – sometimes laborious – part of the process very carefully, because often, what can go wrong does go wrong! These are our tips:
- Decide on a suitable username convention, e.g. email address or employee number
- Use lowercase usernames to avoid case sensitivity issues in the future
- Spend time creating departments and/or groups at an early stage
- Make sure to include other fields that you may want to use in filters or reports at a future stage – most systems have a “custom field” option that you can use for this
- Use Excel wisely to ease the burden – here are our top formulae:
- =proper(cell_ref) – turns "peter" to "Peter"
- =lower(cell_ref) – changes all characters to lower case
- =clean(trim(cell/-ref)) – removes any hidden spaces from your text
- =mid(), =left() and =right() will be invaluable at some point of your task – it returns part of a text field
- =(cell_ref)&(cell_ref) – joins two text cells together
- =vlookup() will be useful for more advanced users when comparing multiple sources of data
- Other useful tips for using Excel:
- Remove url references
- Remove your formulae and formatting by copying and using “Paste as values”
- Be careful with surname spelling, e.g. McDonald or O’Shea
- Roles: An LMS has several or many roles for super administrators, functional administrators, managers, learners, trainers and more. Be sure to understand the functionality and rights associated with each role. Some systems allow you to configure custom roles. Take time to create accounts for each role and log in to see what that individual experiences when they use the system.
- Notifications and system messages: Most LMSs allow you to customise system messages and notifications. You can also customise how they are delivered (through the notification tray or by email). It’s important to take time to understand these settings and to ensure a good Ux.
- Workflow: Some LMS platforms offer basic workflow functionality, e.g. approval of content. Take time to understand how you can benefit.
- Catalogues: Creating catalogues and assigning enrolment rights is an important task. Think “right first time” when you’re tagging and classifying courses and activities.
- Training management: If your LMS has training management functionality, take time to explore how to create courses and a schedule of events. Assigning trainers, adding joining instructions, managing rooms and other resources, managing waiting lists, and other functions will take time to master.
- Virtual classroom integration: Most LMS platforms allow part or full integration with third party virtual classroom providers such as Adobe Connect, GoToTraining or Webex. Integration can enable the scheduling and auto recording of live online events.
- Gamification: If a gamification engine is available, spend time figuring out how it works and tread carefully until you fully understand how the engine interoperates with your preferred elearning content. It’s not always possible for content to talk to the platform for gamification purposes. The culture of your organisation may not value gamification, so using this approach subtly is a safe direction to take.
- Collaboration: Get to know the collaboration features on your system – you may decide not to make these available until the system settles in. Great collaboration needs great facilitation, so tread carefully with collaboration features – find advocates in your business who’ll make it work.
- Reporting: Your LMS should come with ready-made reports. Some will provide you with the functionality to create your own reports. Spend time with your vendor to understand how the database is structured for best reporting.
LMS training and support
Your LMS provider systems probably allocate a defined number of days for administration training as part of your implementation. You may also be paying for technical support for the upcoming year. It’s sometimes advisable to negotiate a joint training and support budget for the first year.
Like with most formal training events, you’ll quickly forget a lot of what you’re taught – like all learners, you’ll need practice! Ask your vendor to be flexible here by including refresher training or how-to questions in the support package. Bear in mind that support is generally meant for technical problems and not knowledge questions.
Your time to shine – LMS go-live, communications and marketing
Now that you’re ready to go live, it’s your time to showcase your marketing and communication skills. It’s also time to start engaging stakeholders, interested parties and advocates across your business.
- Many organisations choose to brand their new LMS with names like “Learning Portal”, “Learning Hub”, “The Learning Academy” or “Learning Zone”. While these names are popular, you could consider something a little more creative and motivational. Try words like “Aspire” or “Grow”. At the very least, try not to use the abbreviation “LMS” in the name.
- Consider a “drip marketing” campaign, designed to release hints, features and benefits of your new service. The goal is to get your audience used to the brand and what it may do for them before go-live.
- Specifically target the managers in your organisation and specify the many benefits the new elearning services bring to them. The new platform with its rich services should improve the ongoing discussions managers have with their team members. Find some friendly managers and include them in your planning and marcomms plans.
- If you have employed trainers, get them involved — they can become great ambassadors.
- If you have collaboration or user generated content features, find some friendly topic experts across your business and get them to support your efforts. They can quickly support your rollout plan and help spread the word by engaging with the system early on.
- Consider other tactics such as creating some awareness videos and/or running a roadshow.
- Above all, make sure your rollout plan of LMS and elearning services is staggered over time. Don’t release all of your best at once. A staggered release plan increases your ability to market your success continuously.
FROM EFFORT TO ENJOYMENT – WHAT ELEARNING CAN DO FOR YOU
Elearning is following the path of human communication and social interaction. It’s all about the individual user’s experience. Its priority is to elevate the individual’s voice, but also to make ways for that individual to share experiences and knowledge with others.
Enjoying a positive user experience affirms us. We like our engagement with technology to be entertaining as well as informative.
We like it to know us and tailor its content to our preferences and abilities. We like ease of access and having the freedom to choose. We like it on the move, snappy and social.
The bottom line is – it should make our lives easier. Your efforts to transform your organisation’s stagnant elearning pool into a vibrant ecosystem will achieve this very goal. Find the right partner for your mission, and they’ll help you find this freedom.
SECTION 10: SOURCES OF INFORMATION
Ready to get started
on your journey?
Influencers we like
Dave Kelly (L&D Dave)
Provides a helpful industry roundup and is a great contributor
Offers common sense and practical advice
An unstoppable contributor to the industry
A voice of reason in the industry
This column has finished, but back articles are well worth a read
Logicearth Learning Services
A passionate team that get stuff done well – always looking ahead
Paul A. Kirschner and Mirjam Neelen
Technical stuff, but good!