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.
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:
Registration is filling up fast for our next Webinar:
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
More than half of the phones sold in the U.S. are smartphones, and Gartner predicts that tablet sales will outpace PC sales by 2017. This reality has many organizations rethinking how they approach learning content and environments. What does a mobile-ready environment look like? What content is appropriate for mobile delivery?
Join David Wentworth, Senior Analyst with Brandon Hall Group and Dan Medakovic, V.P. Learning Solutions, from Blatant Media’s Absorb LMS as they explore the ways mobile delivery can be leveraged for learning and some real-world examples of mobile learning in action.
- An understanding of the current mobile landscape
- A breakdown of different mobile technologies and platforms
- Examples of organizations delivering mobile learning