For decades, companies across the United States have asked themselves the question, “Should we invest in a Learning Management System (LMS) for our employees?” There are a variety of reasons to either invest—or not invest—in these systems. What follows is one person’s experience over the past 20 years utilizing an LMS for training purposes.
Case by Case
Virtual learning was thought to be “the solution” for training. Consequently, many organizations trimmed their training staffs to support the cost of this new technology. They did a 180° from their previous training platforms to this new, virtual environment, thinking all types of training could move to this type of delivery. However, after the initial wave of interest and many trials and tribulations, trainers began to realize the role of an LMS should be evaluated on a business-by-business basis, and that the use of a tool like this may or may not be for you.
It really doesn’t matter what type of industry you are in. The key questions you should ask yourself when considering the use of an LMS are:
- Does your organization find value in developing all of its employees?
- Do you have a need to document required training events for federal or corporate reasons? (This could be annual training or new procedure documentation.)
- If you are documenting training, has the administrative burden become so great that the reliability of the documentation comes into question?
If you can answer “yes” to any or all of these questions, you may have a need for a system like an LMS. What has been discovered in the years since the first LMS came onto the scene was that not all training programs can utilize an LMS for delivery. When considering an LMS, you also need to take into account whether the training to be delivered is a simple knowledge transfer, or if there is a need for application of the skill learned.
To Deliver and Assess
An LMS works best as a tool to deliver and assess knowledge transfer. This is typically done by adding an assessment at the end of each program. You can select how many attempts at passing are allowed, set the passing grade, and to lessen the concern over cheating, ask the LMS to randomize the questions and answers each participant receives. You generally see this in programs like compliance, safety, HR, OSHA, SOP and others that are annualized and across the board for your employees. As the requirement for tracking and documentation rises, so can the potential for use of an LMS.
If you traditionally provide training in a classroom setting with live instructors, the case for using an LMS is diminished, as the need for observed application of the skill becomes very difficult. An example of this would be something like sales skills training. While knowledge of the sales process and memorization of key product features and benefits can be tracked and validated, the application of that knowledge in a selling situation can truly only be evaluated in a live role-play scenario, where customer objectives and market conditions come into play. This application needs to be observed and feedback provided directly by a trained instructor at the moment of role play. Without that direct interaction, the value of the training is diminished.
Time and Cost Savings
This leads me to a final observation over the years of using various LMS systems. If you answered “yes” to the questions above, you should consider and investigate the use of such a tool. If you follow the classic instructor-led training format, an LMS can still be very useful in delivering and assessing the knowledge-transfer portion of your training program, either before or after the event, which can lessen the amount of time you spend out of office.
Continuing with my sales example, a new version of the old three-week training plan could look something like this: Before the sales team comes in-house for training, you deliver product, market and background information that all team members need to know via the LMS, and assess that they comprehend. This can take four to five days to complete. Then, bring them in-house for one week to train them on the skill and observe the application of the knowledge learned in a live setting. Finally, virtual lessons can be delivered through the LMS that continue to reinforce these new skills. The shortened program saves time and money for the organization.
LMS systems can be very expensive, and you should make sure you consider all aspects of the cost related to acquiring one. There can be costs for licenses to use the system on a per-person, per-month or per-year basis. There is typically a maintenance cost with each system, also on a per-year basis. Finally, there will be costs for importing or developing your online content and any updates to those courses, unless you use an already-established library of content or have internal talent to do so. iBi
Ed Grelle is Vice President, Training and Organizational Development, for AAIM Employers’ Association.