The first step in any good writing, especially something that will be as wide ranging as Learning Management Systems (LMS), is to organize the topics into a logical progression and map out where we will be going. These next posts will be an annotated table of contents that will provide the roadmap for what my book will cover.
We have read and said the words “learning management system” so often that the idea behind them sometimes gets lost. In this first section of the discussion, I think it is important to spell out exactly what we are talking about when we use the term “LMS.” As an additional justification for taking this time, the university where I work (Harrisburg University) has four different learning management systems. We are not overly fond of the idea, nor do we simply collect them as an odd hobby. Each addresses a specific need. I will use these different systems to try to illustrate the issues from an academic organization and to help identify the issues on the commercial side.
Frequently, the most troubling part of managing learning is coping with the logistics of classes. Who will be in class? Where and when will the class be held? What is needed for the class? Do we need to track attendance? Are there class materials that need to be distributed or made available? Please note that although many LMS discussions center on electronic learning, many real world classes still take place in classrooms, and there are always those classes that use mixed modes and straddle the boundary. The logistics of who, what, when, and where still need to be managed.
An issue that has begun to take on more focus in academic circles is that of assessment. What did the students learn? Was it what we expected the students to learn? While this is understandable when one is interacting with accreditation boards, the issue should be of concern to any business and industry. Corporate training can span a definition that at one end addresses simple compliance issues, i.e. can our employees do their jobs safely; do our employees comply with city, state or federal regulations? At the other end, there are more sophisticated return on investment questions, i.e. do salespeople sell more after our sales training; can our technical people answer questions more efficiently after our training? These are important questions for your stakeholders, and you’ll want to know those answers before you being thinking about which LMS you should be considering.
Something that is illustrated very well by the requirements of a college is record keeping. Schools need to track those who attended and who received degrees from the institution, often over a span of multiple decades. Although this level of record keeping may be excessive for industry, there are requirements from outside entities that a business does need to address. These may be ISO 9000 or SEC reporting requirements. You should know what you need to track and how long you will need to track it, before you start your LMS selection process. One simple question that may help illustrate what you need: Will you need to keep records of the training of employees who have left the company? If so, what is the licensing agreement with the LMS vendor? Will you need to pay for a user license for these former employees?
There are several systems that are needed to provide support for instruction. Many of these might be described as “almost an LMS.” That is, they help to provide instruction and provide some tools for managing that instruction, but they really need an application to keep track of what they are doing. Two examples that we use at Harrisburg University are Turnitin, an originality checking tool, and Adobe Connect, a remote instructional tool. They can “sort of” stand alone, but they work better when they are part of the learning system. If you need to use systems similar to these, how they will work together with your LMS should be something that you address and test in your selection.
Next up: Necessary descriptions and definitions