In my last blog, we started the discussion of the organization of learning management systems (LMS). The analysis started with defining what we are managing. In this particular entry, we delve into required descriptions and definitions for your LMS.
There are a variety of things you will either need to know or which you will need to systematize before you start looking for an LMS. While saying, “we need to manage what we teach or train” may seem very obvious, the different modes of instructions may interact with various LMS functions in different ways.
In this entry, I will also take a look back at the history of learning management and explain the some of the major acronyms and where they came from. I’ll also address some of the technical differences between having your LMS in a closet down the hall or having it hosted somewhere “in the cloud.”
Shortly after starting to look into any LMS related project, you will begin to encounter a series of acronyms that detail the development of learning management systems. Probably the two most common are AICC (Airline Industry CBT Committee) and SCORM (Shareable Content Object Reference Model). You may also see references to the Tin Can or Experience API (Application Programming Interface). All of these represent various standards that have evolved over time.
The first two, AICC and SCORM, are focused on the idea that vendors should build (and should be able to build) learning applications that work in multiple locations without having to worry about which particular LMS you have implemented. The underlying concept here is that if multiple vendors adhere to the same standard, anyone can sell anything to anyone. This is useful for those courses that have universal appeal, thereby allowing the training department to create courses specific to your industry or requirements.
The third, the Tin Can API, addresses the idea that “training” may not be limited to formal classes. Independent study (including courses that may not be part of your LMS), mentoring, eLearning or mobile learning, and other non-traditional learning experiences should be able to be tracked and to become part of an associate’s learning record.
It is important to understand that none of these standards actually address the quality of instruction. They are standards that address how courses can be assembled, loaded, and report results. This is an important distinction.
There is a great deal of LMS literature that seems to link the concept of a learning management system with the concept of eLearning. All that is needed to expose the limitations of this is to start to enumerate the various types of training that might be in place in your organization. The broad categories of on-line, on-site and hybrid immediately start to subdivide. Without actual examples of the courses you will need to manage, both live and online, making any kind of decision about an LMS is a shot in the dark.
When you start your research into learning management systems, you will need to consider the architecture. There are two broad categories that define the boundaries of what you need to think about: the physical architecture and the logical architecture.
Physically, an LMS must live on a computer somewhere. You can put it on a machine that you keep in a closet down the hall, or you can subscribe to a cloud based service that moves all those nuts and bolts and power cords to a machine somewhere “out there.” Each has a variety of related issues that arise based on the selection of where you put it. Examples would be the broad categories of security and support. If it is in the closet, who, when and how is it backed up? If it is in the cloud, who answers the phone at 8 P.M. on Saturday when one of your employees has a problem with a training class after hours? In either case, you need to ask who is responsible for the security of the LMS. If the theory is that intruders will go after the low hanging fruit, your LMS may be the target for hackers looking to get inside your firewall.
Logically, there are a number of different ways to view the LMS. The broadest distinction would be between “school based” and “business based”. For example, a school based system is built around the concept of semesters and classes. Business systems would be more interested in organizing around job families and compliance requirements. An additional concern of a business system might be eLearning. In business settings, how classes are loaded, delivered, and reported will become critical. Additional concerns of business would be whether the LMS included links to talent management, succession planning, or the annual review process.
This section builds on the idea started immediately above but will help to define and develop a suite of training/test applications that will become part of your evaluation suite. Do you use standard classroom instruction as part of your training offerings? What do you need to track when you offer it? Presentation Slides? Workbooks? Case studies? What else needs to be tracked? What needs to be available? Where is it offered? Do you need to offer the same class in multiple locations on different days? Before you try to work with an LMS you should have a clear and complete process flow that you use when you run a class. You should also know where your “line” is, that is, how much you are willing to adapt your processes if the LMS does not do things the same way you do? (and do your stakeholders share your opinion?)
In the case of eLearning, you should build sample applications that test all the technology needed in your eLearning training suite. These should be available to be loaded on any LMS you wish to test. Do you have video or audio as part of the course? Does the LMS have a bandwidth limitation that may make video hosted on the vendor’s server too expensive? Where are your users? If you work for a multinational this may be a more important question than you realize at first.
This part of the selection is often skipped as being too much work. It isn’t. If you are thinking about an LMS, one thing you can start immediately is a list of the different types of courses you will need to offer, and a set of questions that can address whether what you need to do will work on a given LMS. Having a sample suite of your courses will prove invaluable as you move through the selection process.