LMS 101: Part V – The LMS Extras

lms-101-part-v-the-lms-extras

You know you need a system to deliver training and painstaking looked over all of the LMS vendors. But what about all of the “extras” that vendors are providing. Things like mobile interfaces, two-way integrations, collaboration tools, and gamification add-ons as well as survey engines and webinar tools are all the rage now. We’ll tackle each of these LMS extras and the viability of these features in this post.

Mobile

Mobile learning is one of the most requested features for LMS’s today. With the proliferation of easy WiFi and 4G speeds, learning on the go is a must have for an LMS. Or is it?

I’ve done hundreds of demonstrations and whenever we get to the mobile conversation, I ask one question, “Is your content mobile ready?” In the past, most content was developed using Adobe Flash and as I’ve stated before, content is the most important, and time consuming, part of an LMS. Many organizations developed in Flash and, unfortunately, it’s never as easy as republishing them as HTML5 courses so they can run on mobile. But it’s not just online courses. All your webinars, documents, PowerPoints, and Excel spreadsheets that are to be delivered on mobile haven’t been formatted for a 5.5 inch screen. And that’s only if you have one of the bigger smartphones on the market today.

I’ll give you an example...Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I was overstuffed with turkey and wanted to catch up on a webinar a colleague had published. I opened my phone and started watching. The content was so small (I’ve got a big Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge) that I constantly had to pinch, zoom, and navigate around the content to see the information, graphs and images that were being presented. Then, because I was on a 4G connection, there were occasional pauses in the video as it queued up for an hour long presentation. I ended up just listening to the presentation and when I got to a computer, watching it again and skipping to the points that interested me.

My point here is threefold:

  1. How great was my experience on a mobile device? Not great. Navigation and viewing experience was horrible.
  2. How convenient was it to watch on my smartphone? Very convenient but this leads me to the most important point...
  3. How much did I learn and retain? Not very much. Once I got the desktop, then I was able to focus and retain the information I was looking for.

With the smartphone, invariably I would get notifications and texts while I was viewing not to mention the distraction of what was going on around me. There is a reason we teach in a classroom or on a desktop; we control the environment most of the time. With mobile, there are way too many distractions.

Now, I can hear the mobile proponents say that the video wasn’t on a streaming server and the author should have made a mobile version available. But I ask, do you have the time and money to do all of that?

Today, most authoring tools have the ability to output a single SCORM package that can determine whether a user is on a desktop or mobile device easing the transition. A shorter presentation would have made a lot more sense, but I go back to my original question to customers, “Is your content mobile ready?” Worry about this first and then worry about a mobile app.

One final note on mobile: There are many uses that mobile can have beyond the basics of delivering content. For one, notifications. This is a great medium to be notified on instead of email. Two, searching for content and registering for it. If I’m on a train or a plane, it’s a great way to make sure I’m all signed up for what I need to take.

Collaboration Tools

The second most requested of these LMS extras is collaboration tools. As a former LMS administrator, I have a love/hate relationship with collaboration tools. I love that they help me build content and excitement for the LMS as a knowledge center. People come up with creative tools, aids, and ideas on how to handle their day-to-day jobs and having that available and referenceable in the LMS is a huge win. However, I hate the overhead needed to constantly monitor what is being said and submitted. All too frequently the best of intentions would lead to incorrect information or more importantly, outdated information.

Every collaboration system needs to have a dedicated person (or persons) to review and monitor what is being placed in the LMS. This takes time, money and resources and the collaboration tool needs to be constantly updated. As we all know, LMS Administrators have little time as it is.

I recently had a discussion with a colleague- we’ll call her Dawn- is the LMS administrator for her company and had taken some online courses through a local university. My colleague’s LMS does both internal and external training for a software product they sell. Dawn stated that the online course's collaboration tools were outstanding and really gave it a “classroom” feel. There were tools that allowed her to chat with other students, post questions to the instructor without having to leave the content, sign up for discussion groups and webinars, upload homework, see the latest instructions and tasks the instructor had given them, and featured a grade and progress bar for the student and compare themselves, anonymously, to other students in the class.

Now this was academia where people are focused primarily on taking one course over the period of weeks. However, my colleague stated that there was some value to the functions she used.

  1. Instructor Questions – While online courses don’t typically have instructors in the corporate world, they should have Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) that can quickly answer a user’s questions. This becomes even more relevant when Extended Enterprise systems are used to train outside users. Discussion boards have been used in the past but Dawn stated the ease of clicking a button to open the discussion board while still in the content was huge. I’ve seen other systems where these boards are essentially an overlay on the content so the user can ask as well as review what others have said about the content, in real-time.
  2. Real-time chat – Dawn found it helpful to have somebody to discuss the content with real-time while taking the online course. When she found a certain part confusing, another user on chat was able to help her understand the concept better. Dawn admitted that she lucked out to have somebody online at the exact same time, but it did enhance her experience greatly.
  3. Collaboration Dashboard – The system Dawn was using presented her with the course and how many unread chats and discussions had taken place about that course since she last opened it. It allowed Dawn to help others as she had been helped as well keep up-to-date with her instructor's latest posts on the subject.

There are hundreds of collaboration tools available on the market today and during this year's Association for Talent and Development's annual conference I was able to see a few of them. While LMS’s have collaboration tools built into them, these stand alone products really outshine what is available from an LMS, which leads me to our next topic...

Two-Way Integrations

This may seem like a boring topic but it actually can be one of the most exciting LMS extras. If you use Workday, Salesforce, or any other HRIS/CRM system then think how great it would be to see not only the user’s information but also what courses they are taking and their current transcripts from the LMS. How about recommending content based upon on the specific vertical of the company or categorization of the job? I’ve seen integrations to Help Desks, eCommerce, collaboration, even financial systems to get the latest numbers. An excellent LMS will not only be able to receive data from a third party system but send information back to it as well.

The LMS Extras and Their Platforms

In my 20 years in the technology industry, I’ve seen platforms in three forms:

  • Frankensteins - These are normally large, parent companies that come in and purchase a number of smaller companies. Afterward, they try to integrate all of the platforms together. This becomes a nightmare on the backend and integrations stop working because most of the development staff from the purchased company leaves.
  • Holistic - These are companies that build everything from scratch. This is fantastic in theory but they always fall down on features because there is only so much money, time and resources (read: developers) to build what is needed. These companies start off with a huge bang but slowly die because they can’t keep up.
  • Best of Breed – In my humble opinion, this is the best of both worlds. It allows a buyer of an LMS to go find the best collaboration software, survey or gamification engine and the two software companies work together to build a tight integration between the two. This means each company is willing to work not only with you (the buyer of the software) but with each other to reach a positive outcome for everybody.

Having your LMS (or any software really) be able to integrate with other systems and share data and leverage functionality is a huge bonus to any system.

In our next blog, we'll discuss Gamification, Surveys, and Webinars.

In the meantime, what do you think of the LMS extras mentioned above? Is there one or two that are most important to you?