How Branding Your Learning Management System Can Influence Culture (and Create a Fun Place to Learn)
The best companies I’ve worked with have had great workplace cultures. Management in these companies understand that happy team members are more productive and less likely to jump ship the next time an opportunity arises elsewhere.
Whenever I speak to anyone about workplace culture, I often end up pointing them to a great Harvard Business Review Blog post by Nilofer Merchant titled “Culture Trumps Strategy, Every Time.” Compare an organization with happy, motivated people to a similar-size organization filled with demoralized walking dead, and it immediately becomes clear why a positive workplace culture drives success.
If you’re a budding entrepreneur hoping to start the next billion dollar company, you should read the Merchant post and other resources about workplace culture before you even have your first business card designed. If you’re a manager, you need to be aware that you are a key driver in defining the culture within your organization. Speak to anyone who’s worked for a few years and they’ll have stories about managers from hell who were the impetus behind staff calling in sick and eventual mass exoduses.
In a previous Blog post titled “How to Use a Learning Management System to Support Your Workplace Culture,” we looked at how changing the wording of system prompts and interface labels can create learning environments that more closely reflect the culture you are attempting to create and promote. Textual communication, however, is only one tool to support culture; the visual design of the learning environment is equally important.
In branding visually your learning management system (LMS), you should think beyond simply being faithful to corporate colors and placing a logo at the top left-hand corner. Imagery including illustrations, photos, and icons can enhance the environment and help eliminate the preconception that your learning management system is just another boring piece of business software. Most importantly, these visual elements can create a more pleasant place to learn.
Need some inspiration? The following video presents some of the ways the Absorb LMS user interface has been branded for various clients.
There are two ways to get a young child to school on time in the morning:
Method 1: Every minute or so, repeat the words `HURRY UP!’ at increasing levels of volume. After about ten minutes, and upon reaching a decibel level similar to a low flying jet, your goal will be achieved. Mind you, you and the child will be a little stressed, and regrettably, some life-long resentment generated but these are worth the price of having this child succeed in school.
Method 2: Alternately you could say, quietly and in a relaxed tone of voice, “first one out of the house is the winner.” For your own safety, it’s best not to block the exit when uttering this phrase.
Deeply rooted in our brains is a desire to compete and win. The reward centers in our brains love the chemical jolts that stem from victory.
Even when we aren’t the participants, we experience competition vicariously by watching professional sports. When our team or favorite athlete wins, we raise our arms in the air as if we were the one who crossed the finish line before others or scored the winning point. When our team loses, we feel despair and wonder where we went wrong. Perhaps if we had not traded a player or hired the current coach, the outcome would have been different.
The ability to increase learner engagement through competition is a common requirement encountered when speaking with effective learning leaders who are currently evaluating learning management systems (LMS). This requirement usually falls into two different categories and approaches:
- The ability to hold contests
- The ability to rank learners, departments, or teams and share the results with learners
For contests, an easy approach is to issue points, educational units, or credits for the successful completion of a learning event. Individuals with the most points in a given time frame win. Another approach is to reward learners who score the highest on an exam with a reward.
For ranking of learners, teams, or departments, you can simply generate the rankings from your LMS’s reporting engine. As was the case with contests, rankings can be based on a wide range of criteria:
- Points, educational units, or credits earned
- Courses completed
- Exam scores
Once you’ve created the report showing ranking, you can make it available to learners on their dashboard.
In conclusion, contests and rankings can be helpful in identifying achievement-driven individuals within your organization. But, we shouldn’t just focus on the top performers. Rankings based on exam scores may also be helpful in identifying people who need extra help in specific learning areas. Supplementing their current learning with coaching may help them better perform their responsibilities.
In many organizations, workplace learning consists of getting people into a room to listen to an instructor. If the workforce is distributed, the room used may be virtual instead of physical, and the donuts served may be imaginary instead of real.
When these organizations become fed up with the effort of trying to manage their learning initiatives using pen and paper, spreadsheets, and various stone-age tools, they acquire a learning management system. The smartest of these organizations don’t then abandon instructor-led learning, but rather aim to provide learners with quality content in many different formats and learning modalities:
In evaluating learning management systems, you should consider the ability of the LMS to support instructor-led events even if you presently think you’ll only be serving self-paced courses to your learners. Your needs over time may change. (Just ask anyone who’s ever paid to have a tattoo removed.)
Here’s a list of LMS features required to manage instructor-led events:
- Instructor-led courses can take place in a physical or virtual classroom
- Instructor-led courses can issue certificates as well as educational units, credits, or points
- Instructor-led courses can be configured to have prerequisites
- Instructor-led courses can be part of a blended learning curriculum
- Instructor-led courses can have multiple sessions
- Instructor-led courses can have sessions that automatically repeat daily, weekly, etc.
- Instructor-led courses can have sessions that start and end on specific dates
- Enrolment into instructor-led sessions can be restricted to specific groups of learners based on any criteria (location, business function, role, etc.)
- Instructor-led course sessions can be configured to require approval from an administrator or instructor before a learner is fully enrolled
- The system manages venues, including maximum seating for each room
- The system manages wait lists
- Learners on a wait list are automatically notified if a seat becomes available
- The system is smart enough to uncover conflicts, where an instructor or venue is booked for two different events at the same time
- The system provides a way for learners and instructors to add course sessions to their personal calendars (Outlook, etc.)
- The system provides a calendar-view of sessions to learners, instructors, and administrators
- Resources such as study guides and other supporting materials can be attached to instructor-led courses
- The system can provide instructors with teaching materials associated with their classes
- The system provides an easy way for instructors to take attendance, ideally using a mobile device such as a phone or tablet
- Learner performance in an instructor-led course can be graded by an instructor
- Students are automatically notified if a change is made to the scheduling of an instructor-led courses
- The system provides learners with clear e-mail communication regarding enrolment, session reminders, and course completion
- Instructor-led courses can be branded with images so that they appear distinct from other learning content in the system
- The system has an easy way to provide learners with course evaluation surveys (Kirkpatrick level 1) once they’ve completed an instructor-led course
Have I missed anything? Please add them to the comments section of this post.
Remember reflection? That’s something we used to do occasionally before we all became addicted to checking our Web-enabled devices every few minutes for our much-needed digital data fixes. Prior to the mobile revolution, people could at times be seen staring off into space, just thinking. If you were to spot someone doing that today, you’d think “So sad. That person lost his phone.”
According to the American Library Association, by 2020, information on the Internet will be doubling every 15 minutes. Consuming information without taking the time to reflect is bad for the development of critical thinking skills. Without reflection, we become locked in a pattern of remembering and communicating information without taking the time to assess whether the information is true, utter garbage, or a valuable missing piece in a puzzle.
Keeping and contributing regularly to a personal learning journal can be an effective way to encourage reflection and develop critical thinking skills. Mark Smith’s article in the encyclopaedia of informal education titled ’Keeping a learning journal‘ describes the following benefits:
- The first and obvious use of writing a journal is that it helps us to remember something later.
- Second, the act of putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) engages our brains. To write we have to think.
- Third, it isn’t just that writing a journal stimulates thought — it allows us to look at ourselves, our feelings, and our actions in a different way.
- Fourth, writing things down in a journal also allows us to ‘clear our minds.’ Having made a note of something we can put them on one side for consideration or action at a later point.
- Last, and certainly not least, making journal writing part of our routine means that we do actually take time out to reflect on what might be happening in our practice and in our lives generally
Learning journals can be made a part of a learning plan through the support of a learning management system. Here’s an example of how this learning strategy might be implemented for a management skills curriculum:
1. Create a journal template in MS Word or your preferred text editor to distribute to your learners. This template should contain questions or comments to encourage critical thinking.
2. Upload the journal template and make it available to learners.
3. Create a task as part of the curriculum that enables learners to upload their journal.
Learners will then be prompted to upload the file at the appropriate point in the curriculum.
4. In the event that you would like an instructor, coach, or mentor to review the learners’ journals, provide them with access to the files through the administrative control panel of your LMS:
July 3rd: Cool Things You Can Do With a Learning Management System (That You Probably Haven’t Thought Of)
I’ll be presenting a new Webinar for HR.com on July 3rd titled “Cool Things You Can Do With a Learning Management System (That You Probably Haven’t Thought Of).”
Learning management systems are designed to enrol learners into courses and learning events and track their progress. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Some systems have become so powerful and feature rich that they can be used to do much more, allowing you to leverage learning management system technology to meet other business needs.
Join me, Richard Nantel. VP, Enterprise Learning Solutions at Blatant Media, to examine:
- How to use a learning management system as a communication platform
- How to use a learning management system to manage contests
- Using a learning management system as a curator to the Web’s best content
- How to use a learning management system for team problem solving and collaboration
- How to use a learning management system for document management
- Using a learning management system as an intranet
- How to use a learning management system to manage the onboarding of new employees
- How to use surveys to gather information about your learners
- How to use a learning management system for market research
- And much, much more
This fast-paced presentation won’t bore you with a bunch of PowerPoint slides. Instead, we’ll focus on hands-on demonstrations of ways a learning management system can be used to do more than just deliver courses and track learner progress.
I hope you’ll join me and share your ideas.
January 15, 2013 was a big day at blatant^. That was the date that our first customer, a major global manufacturer and retailer, went live with the new HTML-5, iPad- and iPhone-friendly version of Absorb LMS, code named `Ninja.’ We were confident that this implementation would go smoothly since prior to the official launch, one company had exposed 40,000 learners to a successful Beta preview.
Prior to launching Absorb LMS Ninja, the learning management system featured a Flash-based user interface that wasn’t compatible with Apple iOS devices, but did run on any device that supported Flash.
Absorb LMS Ninja was well received in the industry:
- Bersin by Deloitte bestowed a ‘What Works’ Award in recognition of the innovative new technology.
- Brandon Hall Group gave Absorb LMS a Gold award for “Best Advance in Learning Management Technology for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses” in the Excellence in Technology Awards.
The launch of this new mobile elearning-friendly version of Absorb LMS marked the start of a massive undertaking to migrate hundreds of customers to the new technology. Four months later, 100+ clients are using Absorb LMS Ninja. An additional 150 clients have go-live launch dates in place with the new version.
The blatant^ design team ignored pretty much every suggestion I made for the design of our new Web site.
“Let’s add a lot of animated gifs!” I said.
—”No,” they said. “Animated gifs don’t scale and we want the site to look good on all devices including computers, tablets, and phones.”
“Let’s have music start playing as soon as a person arrives at the home page. That’s so cool!”
—”No,” they said. “We want the site to load quickly.”
“Let’s use a typewriter font! That would be hip and ironic since we’re a technology company.”
—”No. That would just be stupid.”
They then went on and on and on about usability, user experience, design best practices, blah blah blah blah.
In the end, this is what they came up with. (It’s OK, I suppose.)
Absorb LMS Tips and Tricks
Wednesday, May 22, 2013, 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM MDT (UTC-7)
Join Absorb LMS team members for a fast-paced presentation of their favorite Absorb LMS tips and tricks. Whether you’re an Absorb LMS customer, use a different learning management system, or are considering acquiring your first LMS, this session will likely give you ideas on how you can optimize the management of your learning initiatives to provide a rewarding experience for your learners.
Does Your LMS Focus on the User Experience? A Bersin & Blatant Media Webinar
Wednesday, June 20, 2013, Noon – 1:00 PM MDT (UTC-7)
When your employees need to find and access learning content, the experience of doing so should be intuitive, responsive, fast and targeted. Anything less leads to frustration and wasted time. Whether accessed through a desktop, laptop, or mobile device, organizations need an learning management system that helps them become efficient and effective.
Join Dr. Katherine Jones, Lead Analyst, HCM Technology at Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP, and Dan Medakovic, Vice President, eLearning Solutions at Blatant Media Corporation for a Webinar that will help you understand how a learning management system that provides a good user experience can reduce wasted time and lessen frustration among end users. You will be presented with:
- The need for, and attributes of, a good user interface
- Strategies for providing end users with fresh, targeted learning content
- Questions to ask when evaluating systems
Satisfaction surveys of learning management system administrators invariably identify reporting as the most reviled feature in their platform. Administrators complain about reporting being unintuitive, cumbersome, lacking customizability, not being powerful enough, and just generally being bad at displaying the data administrators want.
So, why aren’t LMS solution providers fixing the problem? The short answer is that it’s really tough to please all system administrators:
- Some administrators want the reporting features to be super easy. They want templates with one button to push.
- For other administrators, one-button-to-push templates with few options are a living hell. They want infinite power and customizability in their LMS reporting capabilities.
For LMS vendors, coming up with reporting features everyone likes is like trying to open a restaurant that serves only one dish. Your cheese lasagna with buffalo mozzarella flown in daily from Italy might be a hit with some customers but the carnivores will complain on Urbanspoon that the recipe should have had meat and the lactose- and gluten-free crowd will tell their friends they were up all night with cramps after eating at your lousy joint.
So, the bottom line is that in designing their platforms, LMS solution providers are constantly walking the fine line between ease-of-use and how powerful and customizable to make their reporting features.
If you’re looking to acquire your first learning management system, or if your needs have changed and you are considering switching systems, here are some things to look for in evaluating the reporting features of LMS.
- Report templates—Your LMS administrator may be a geek with a capital G who likes to create all reports from scratch by typing SQL commands into fields. That’s great! …until that person leaves your organization and someone else needs to step in and take over the work. You want a system that contains basic templates that can be customized to quickly display the information you need.
- Consistent user experience across all report templates—You shouldn’t have to learn to create a report, and then need to learn how to create a different report. You should be able to learn how to use one report and then apply those skills to all other reports. Whether you are creating a report showing the progress of a group of learners in a curriculum, or a report showing a list of learners on a waiting list for a classroom-based course, getting to the data using similar features will significantly reduce the learning curve for administrators.
- The ability to show, hide, and rearrange the order of columns in reports—Sometimes, you want to show more, or less, of the information contained in your system’s databases in a way that’s clear and easily understood.
- The ability to query the fields in a report—Whether you want a listing of learners in a specific city, a list of people who scored less than 70 per cent on a recent exam, people who have completed a course within a given time period, etc., you want to be able to search for—and display—the data you need.
- The ability to automatically e-mail reports—I guarantee you, there will be at some point in your learning initiative, a need for a manager or team leader to monitor the progress of a group of learners. Sure, you can give that individual access to the LMS’s admin features and ask her to get her own darn report and leave you alone, but a simpler and more politically astute approach is simply to have a report automatically e-mailed to the individual. She’ll love the fact that the report is sitting in her inbox when she gets to work on Mondays. She’ll say nice things about you to others. You’ll be a rock star.
- The ability to export data—Sometimes, you just want to play around with data outside of the LMS. Or, perhaps you’ll want to archive some information you feel you no longer need.
- The ability to save and retrieve a report you’ve created—It’s a major waste of time to have to recreate the same report over and over again. If it’s been saved, it will take one second to call up the information you want.
In closing, the best way to assess the reporting features of a learning management system is to decide what reports you might need and ask the vendor to demonstrate the creation of those reports. If the person demonstrating the platform can’t create the reports you require within a few minutes, chances are your satisfaction with the platform will be low once the initial honeymoon phase has passed. Save yourself some heartache and be disciplined about evaluating this critical component of LMS technology.