A friend of mine, an Oxford-educated mathematician, had a smart strategy to succeed in university. When two or more of her professors scheduled exams for the same week, she would immediately ask the instructors to clarify to what extent these exams would influence the final class grade. If the exam in one class was worth, say, 25 per cent of the final grade, and the exam in the other class was worth 50 per cent of the final grade, she would spend significantly more of her efforts studying for the second class.
This seems logical and self-evident.
And yet, I’m a bit ashamed to say, the relative weighting of exams was the last thing on my mind when I was a student. Presented with two exams, I’d either study equally for both or study much more for the subject I found more difficult, even if that subject’s exam was only worth 10 per cent of the final grade. Had I been as smart as my math-whiz friend, I would have largely ignored the 10 per cent exam and focused on the big fish. After all, if you can get 100 per cent on a preliminary exam worth 50 per cent of the final grade, you can pretty much ignore this subject going forward and sleep soundly knowing you’ll pass the course.
Assessments are an important part of learning and development strategies. Exams, of course, measure knowledge and retention and help establish whether a person is qualified to do a job or attain some type of accreditation.
Since we tend to overestimate our own knowledge of a subject, exams also provide an important feedback mechanism. An exam can be a wake-up call, telling us we aren’t the experts we think we are. Exams designed to provide this type of reality-check feedback really shouldn’t count for as much of the final mark as an exam designed to measure overall knowledge of the learning content.
Consequently, learning strategies can benefit from providing exams with different weightings. A course, for instance, might contain a preliminary exam worth 20 per cent of the final grade, and a final exam worth 80 per cent. Did you fail the first exam? Don’t despair! You can still pass the course if you stop goofing off and get a decent mark on the final exam.
To implement this type of strategy, look for assessment authoring tools or a learning management system that allow you to add weightings to exams:
If you implement this strategy, be prepared to discover a few really smart students, like my math-whiz friend, who do poorly on the first exam and ace the second one.
It really wasn’t that long ago that Learning Management Systems (LMS) used to be exclusively utilized by large enterprise organizations with thousands of employees. This is because the cost and complexity of these systems was such that only large companies with huge budgets and lots of I.T. resources could afford to license, deploy, and support them (usually on their own internal servers). Implementations took several months, involved many consultants and people with technical skills, and then usually required at least one fulltime LMS Administrator to manage and support the system on an ongoing basis.
Meanwhile, small businesses were left to grapple with spreadsheets for tracking, and relied primarily on sending their employees out to the local corporate training center to supplement any live-on-the-job training.
Fast forward to today, where the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model has brought with it a level of scalability that allows complex systems (HRIS, LMS, etc.) to be hosted in the cloud and deployed without any I.T. involvement at all, while simultaneously and significantly reducing the cost to entry for these systems.
Over the last few years, the LMS market has seen the majority of its growth (in terms of first-time LMS adoptions) in the Small & Medium business space. Yes, large organizations continue to switch LMS vendors for various reasons, but small and medium businesses have discovered the many ways in which they can benefit from licensing a SaaS LMS, such as Absorb.
Five Ways an LMS Can Benefit Your Small or Medium Business
Here are 5 ways (to name a few) in which a Small or Medium Business can benefit from adopting an LMS:
1. Save Time and Money by Automating Your Training!
- It’s long been known that replacing your Live training with self-paced courses can reduce employee training time and costs by over 60% (source, 21 years of personal experience combined with data from various studies over the years).
- A good LMS will allow you to create learning paths based on job roles and then automate the process of enrolling employees into these learning paths. Wouldn’t it be great to know that the minute that you add a new learner to your LMS, that person will get an email with their account details and notifying them that they’ve been enrolled in their new hire training programs? You can also set this up so that learners who have a change in job role can be automatically enrolled in their new learning paths. All you need to do is change their job title in the LMS – a process that can also be automated via a simple scheduled data exchange between your payroll system and your LMS. Of course an Administrator can also do this quickly without the need for any integrations. We’ve had clients tell us they’ve saved 50% of their training administration time when switching to Absorb from another LMS. Can you imagine how much time you’d save if you don’t already have an LMS?
- Another benefit to this is that you will never forgot to enroll someone in their required training, once you set up the appropriate rules in the system. And it’s not at all complicated.
Here’s an example: You can see how 8 people meet the criteria of this rule which is “anyone who’s job title contains the word “sales” should be enrolled in this course automatically”. Rules can be made more complex or left very simple, like this one.
2. Use Your Existing Training Content
- Wouldn’t it be great to be able to quickly and inexpensively create courses using simple videos and existing documents such as PDFs, product manuals and brochures? This is a great and inexpensive way to get started building out your content in the LMS. Over time, as you update your content, you can choose whether or not you want to make it more interactive and/or use more multimedia.
- You can also easily find and purchase off-the-shelf elearning content that will be compatible with your LMS. Sites like Lynda.com offer huge catalogs of great content on general business skills, software skills, and management topics.
In Absorb you can, for example, create a course using an existing video followed by a PDF brochure, and then add a simple quiz in a matter of minutes. You just click to create a new course, give it a name and description, and then start adding your Learning Objects. Then you can add your enrollment rules and get back to your game of Candy Crush while your employees automatically receive their enrollment notification emails and start their training.
3. Accurate Reports Made Easy = No More Spreadsheets!
When the CEO says to you, “I’m meeting with all the managers in 15 minutes, and I need a compliance training report, grouped by Department and sorted by Job Code as well as a report that shows how much we spent on all safety training by department in the last 6 months”, wouldn’t it be great to know you could pull that together in less than 10 minutes and quickly export it to Excel or PDF?
Better yet, wouldn’t it be great to be able to say to your CEO, “Actually, I set those up as automated reports weeks ago. You and the members of the management team have been receiving them weekly via email, but I’d be happy to print off a set of copies in time for your meeting”.
Using your LMS you should be able to track:
- Your company’s Skills Inventory: who has which certifications and/or competencies and if/when they expire
- Who attended which training, where and when (some of which may be a legal requirement)
- Status of people enrolled in self-paced courses
- Who completed assigned tasks that were part of a course
- How people scored on assessments and control what happens if they fail (this also allows you to improve your courses)
- Details on exams and quizzes, so you can make sure you are asking questions in the best way
- Money and time spent on training (by course and/or by employee)
- People’s feedback on your course offerings so you can make adjustments
- Bonus: In Absorb you can easily push out surveys and single question polls to gather any info that you want
4. Extend Training to Your Customers and/or Partner Organizations
Once you’ve got an LMS in place, it makes sense to think about how it can be extended to learners outside your own company. Imagine the impact you can have on things like revenue, customer satisfaction, and market share, by having a more knowledgeable customer or reseller.
A good LMS will make it very easy to set visibility rules on all of your content, so that a learner will only see what they are supposed to see in the system. The reality is you can create simple or very complex rules to ensure that learners see exactly what you want them to see. Reporting filters also ensure that you can easily filter your report results to specific audiences as well.
5. Create an Engaging Information Hub
Now that you’ve got learners coming to your LMS for mandatory training, take advantage of the situation and give them lots of reasons to come back (and stay longer). In Absorb you can create and brand Billboards to promote new content to specific audiences, you can publish News articles or connect to a news/RSS feed, or you can engage people in Polls and gain more insight into your audience’s interests and needs. Contests are a great way to incent and reward people for completing training by a specific date. Your LMS can really start to look and feel like a one-stop information hub, rather than a portal with a few lonely courses hanging out in there.
Five Key Considerations When Selecting an LMS
First off, I’m not going to talk about budget. Well okay, maybe a little bit. I think it’s a given that you should license software that you can afford, and that different companies have different needs and different budgets. LMS software varies as much in price as it does in quality. As with most products you get what you pay for. Here are 5 key considerations when evaluating LMS for Small and Medium Businesses:
1. Simplicity of Deployment and Support
- Your LMS should be hosted in a secure, scalable environment (e.g. not on a server in a closet somewhere). Make sure your LMS provider is using a reputable hosting company and ask about up-time. We use Amazon Web Services and have a track record of greater than 99.9% uptime.
- Your LMS should be simple enough that you shouldn’t need any technical skills to get it up and running and to continue to work with it. If your company is very sophisticated with its use of technology, then your may actually have an IT person or Department who may want to get involved to help set up Single Sign On with your network and/or an automated feed from your HR or Payroll System into your LMS. The latter would be used to automatically create and update learner accounts in the LMS, which is not a requirement, but a great bonus if you can do it.
- Your LMS should work on a variety of devices: phones, tablets, “phablets”, PCs and Macs without the need for any Apps. This is done using “Responsive” design, which automatically adjusts the LMS interface/layout for different screen sizes. It literally means that you do not need to worry whether a learner is on an iPhone or Android phone, for example. Where it gets a little tricky is in ensuring that your content runs on mobile devices. Video is a great format for this and there are many inexpensive tools that you can license to convert PowerPoint presentations (and other material) into mobile friendly courses.
2. Quality of Interface Design
I’ve seen a lot of LMS products over the years (at one time I was a Sr. LMS Analyst with Brandon Hall Group). If you follow learning technology blogs and reports at all, you will notice that good design has recently become a bit of a hot topic. With over 500 LMS in the market that share roughly 90% of the same features, great interface design becomes an increasingly important differentiator. Let’s face it, most of your learners (especially the millennials) do recognize a good looking website from an ugly one. When they come to work, you don’t want to depress them with ugly corporate software.
Companies like Apple have really pushed the importance of design from the consumer space into the corporate space. Here at Blatant, we take great pride in the fact that our Absorb LMS always gets lots of compliments for good looks. But it’s no surprise; we’ve spent a lot of time and energy making the user experience and enjoyable one, and trying to ensure that the quality of your brand is reflected throughout. This is even more important once you open up the system to external audiences.
3. Ease of Use
This is super important. The whole point of an LMS is to reduce the effort around learner training assignments and reporting. If your LMS is not easy to use, then you may have just made your life more complicated than it already was. Ease of use is one of the main reasons that companies choose Absorb and making intuitive software is our number one goal here at Blatant.
4. Automation Features
If your organization’s training practices are complex enough, mature enough or just busy enough to justify licensing an LMS, then you are going to want to take things further and automate as many processes as possible. The two most obvious opportunities for this are:
- Automating the enrollment of learners into required training courses, bundles or learning paths: This is really important when you have required training for a specific job role, required training for compliance, or desired training for a career path. This is the “low hanging fruit” of LMS ROI.
- Automating reporting: You will find that managers/supervisors inside and outside your organization will typically want to see the same sets of data on a regular basis. Simply create these reports and then schedule them for automated email delivery. No more last minute report requests. Your job description may include “creating training reports” but that doesn’t mean you need to be doing it every day.
- Flexible Business Rules: make sure it’s easy to filter content by audience type, especially around custom data fields that map to how YOU segment your learner audience. E.g. Employee/Partner/Customer/Reseller Type/Job Level
- Flexible Content types: Don’t get tied down to one or two proprietary content types for course content. This is one the reasons why we support a huge variety of content from web links, to tasks, to videos, to PDFs, to Quizzes and Exams, to Surveys and of course, industry standard content like Tin Can (XAPI), SCORM and AICC.
- Flexible User access: connect from Phones, Tablets, Phablets, PCs and Macs
So you can see that there are many things to consider and I hope that you have found these tips to be helpful.
You, dear reader, can obtain an education from the most prestigious universities in the world, all for free. It makes no difference whether you received straight `A’s in high school or whether you spent your high school years sitting in your friend’s basement learning to play the opening to Stairway to Heaven on a Gibson Flying V guitar instead of studying for final exams. Your past educational performance has no impact on your ability to study at the world’s best universities.
Your choice of institutions includes many of the status rock stars of the higher-ed world:
- California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
- Columbia University
- Harvard University
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- McGill University
- The University of Queensland
- The University of Tokyo
- And many more
You won’t even need to move to the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan, or elsewhere to attend classes. These institutions have all generously put their courses online, accessible through sites such as EdX and Open Education Consortium.
Imagine how great it will be to apply for your next job by submitting a resume showing off your Harvard education! Your starting salary will easily pay for your Fifth-Avenue lifestyle with a bit left over for a yacht.
Although you will have successfully completed courses provided by these institutions, you won’t actually be a graduate. These universities (and potential employers) get a little touchy about people saying that they studied there unless they have an actual signed diploma hanging on their wall.
There was a time when people paid university tuition fees to access great content. Increasingly, that content is available for free to anyone with Internet access. Tuition now pays for the certification. In the education section of your resume, it’s not what you know that opens career doors. Rather, what many employers want to see is that a respected university has vetted you, certifying that you truly know what you say you know.
Commercial course providers agonize over how much content to provide for free as marketing teasers, and how much to make available only to paying customers. If you provide a certification program that is highly respected and desired by learners, you may want to consider adopting a business model similar to the academic one discussed above:
- Make courses available for free
- Charge for the certificate
This is an easy model to replicate in a learning management system:
- Create a curriculum containing the courses and learning activities the learner must complete to meet the requirements of certification.
- Create a course separate from this curriculum that issues the certificate. A prerequisite for accessing this certificate course must be the successful completion of the curriculum.
- Configure this certificate course with the necessary pricing details.
Although learners will be able to purchase the certificate course prior to completing the curriculum, the actual certificate will only be issued once they complete the necessary courses.
Managing this type of model manually is time-consuming and expensive. A learning management system can automate the process, freeing you up to focus on creating great content for your learners.
According to Erin Osterhaus, HR researcher at Software Advice, the research firm…
“chose to include Absorb LMS among the top LMS user interfaces for a simple reason: the interface itself is simple. Whereas many solutions can overwhelm users with options, Absorb LMS has streamlined its menus and course listings so that anyone—even less tech-savvy users—can easily navigate the system.”
Software Advice also mentions that, “having an LMS with an easily navigable user interface can make the life of a corporate trainer even easier.”
I’ve ranted repeatedly (here, here, and here) about the horribly-designed Request for Proposals (RFPs) that cross my desk. Invariably, these so-called learning management system selection tools suffer from one or more of the following design flaws:
- They ask vendors to provide information they won’t ever disclose and/or is not relevant to the acquisition of a learning management system. Example:
“Describe in detail all of your company’s marketing activities including the percentage of leads generated by each.”
- They ask for textual descriptions of features that really should be demonstrated. Example:
“Describe the steps required to create a certification-based course containing a video, a quiz, a presentation, and a final exam.”
- They contain a list of every possible LMS feature ever invented (of which the organizing acquiring the LMS will use a tiny fraction).
- They fail to differentiate high priority `must-have’ features from low priority `nice-to-have’ features. I’m pretty certain that within every organization, the ability of the LMS to track whether a classroom has a projector isn’t as important whether the system can serve learning content on mobile devices such as iPads.
The smartest organizations I’ve worked with keep their requirement lists short and prioritize must-have features over nice-to-have functionalities. Prioritized lists of requirements help these organizations quickly weed out systems that don’t meet their needs, allowing them to spend their time doing a deeper dive into the systems that might be a good fit.
Here’s a fun tool you can use to quickly identify and prioritize your LMS requirements. Mind mapping tools are immensely effective ways to make sense of anything complex. Rather than attempting to describe what a mind map is, here’s a mind map that explains itself:
To help get your creative juices flowing, here’s a basic mind map that identifies and organizes some learning management system features. (Click the image to see a full-size version.)
It seems like just yesterday that business analysts were wondering whether this newfangled e-commerce fad would catch on.
- Would anxiety over credit card theft deter customers from trusting on-line retailers?
- Would people feel confident in buying stuff sight unseen or would they instead stick to going to brick-and-mortar stores to paw and sniff the merchandise?
Fast forward a few years and we now find Web retail giant Amazon, fueled by our insatiable urge to buy stuff on the Internet, with 2013 sales of more than $17 billion U.S. and a market capitalization of $153 billion.
We choose to buy from sites such as Amazon because of convenience, pricing, breadth of offerings, product reviews, and a simple and pleasant shopping experience.
One of the things these sites excel at is the ability to recommend products based on our browsing or purchasing history. Search for, say, a bicycle helmet and Amazon will tell you that “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” cycling shorts, cycling shoes, cycling gloves, and every other cycling-related item including chamois cream (don’t ask).
Amazon’s recommendation engine encourages us to increase the number of items added to our shopping cart. Rather than feeling like these items were forced upon us, we are instead grateful to the site for making shopping so easy. Gone are the crowded parking lots, endurance of inclement weather, and eternal waits in checkout lines, replaced with anticipation for delivery which may soon come within minutes via a flying drone.
With millions of customers, Amazon has the big data to support a powerful recommendation engine. But really, it isn’t rocket science to suggest to someone shopping for a kitchen knife that they may also want to purchase a cutting board and maybe some adhesive bandages for potential sliced fingers.
Adopting an Amazon-like recommendation system in learning and development doesn’t require big data and teams of programmers. This can be done within any learning management system (LMS) that contains two simple features:
- The ability to have course-specific communication templates
- The ability to link directly to one or more courses
Here’s a typical course completion e-mail:
Here’s a variation that contains a couple of recommendations:
Adding recommendations to your communications with learners can provide measurable benefits:
- Increased enrolment, course completion, and certifications obtained
- Better learner engagement through a more pleasant experience
- For commercial learning content providers, increased sales
Successful on-line retailers such as Amazon would never let you buy a pen without also suggesting you take a look at notebooks. Consider using the same simple logic in your learning initiatives.
Dear readers, you’ve in the past endured me ranting about the horribly-designed Requests for Proposals (RFP) that regularly cross my desk and the desks of my Blatant^ colleagues. (See my previous posts titled “Why Your RFP May Not Get You the Best Learning Management System” and “The Worst Type of Question to Ask in Your Learning Management System Request for Proposal (RFP).“) These RFPs often ask hundreds of open-ended questions such as:
“Describe the procedure to create a report showing the progress of a group of learners in a curriculum.“
The vendors with enough time and mental fortitude to tackle submitting a proposal in response to the RFP then deliver 50 to 100 pages of answers to these questions. The organization looking to acquire the technology then needs to read hundreds if not thousands of pages containing answers that look like this:
- On the main Admin Control Panel dashboard, click on Reports
- Select the Learner Progress Report
- Add the appropriate courses
- Show or hide the columns you wish to display
- Define which learners should be included
A textual description of a feature that should be demonstrated is a waste of everyone’s time. Since few vendors will respond to your lengthy and poorly-designed RFP, you’ll be less likely to find a great system. The proposals you do receive will contain information that in no way helps you select the right learning management system. You believe you are doing your due diligence in issuing an RFP; what you are actually doing is significantly reducing your chances of finding the right system.
There’s a simple alternative.
Every once in a while, I receive from a prospective customer a short, elegant, Request for Information (RFI). Typically, these RFIs consist of one or more tables that simply require Yes/No answers from the vendors. Whereas a full-fledge RFP might take an LMS vendor 40 hours or more to complete, an RFI can take one-tenth the effort. The result is that the organization looking to acquire a LMS gets a 100 per cent response rate from vendors. In addition, the information received from the vendors can be easily compared and scored. Gone are the thousands of pages of materials, replaced with tables that illustrate feature sets at a glance.
Here’s a sample:
CAUTION: Your RFI should not contain a laundry list of every LMS feature in existence. The tables should only list your most important requirements. The longer you make your RFI, the lower the response rate from vendors. You’re aiming for a 100 per cent response rate, which means keeping the RFI short and focused on your top-level needs.
An RFI designed this way will quickly weed out the systems that aren’t a good match for your learning initiative. Demonstrations of the remaining systems, ideally employing use cases, will then identify the best system.
The vast majority of RFPs I see are horrible tools to select enterprise software. An RFI, if designed as illustrated above, is totally awesome and effective, and a very simple tool to help you select the right LMS.