I find that organisations often forget that investments in training software, like any other investment, are expected to generate a return.
I was having dinner the other night with a friend of mine who used to work in Local Government but has now made the switch to the private sector. He shared something midway through chewing on his alarmingly underdone steak that I couldn’t quite shake – “All LMSs are the same mate! None generate any returns; could you pass the salt?”
I can only hope this is one individual’s opinion and does not reflect a broader trend in outlook. I despaired not having enough sample data to research this. Maybe one of these days I will send out a killer survey that everyone will take the time to answer and the results will be like a shining beacon validating my assumption that not everyone thinks that way. (People hate doing surveys, so I am not holding my breath yet).
But let me get this off my chest: There are over 700 LMS providers operating in Australia at the moment. And no, they are not all the same.
If your organisation is planning on scouring the market for a powerful LMS solution with the right reporting and analytics which produce optimum training outcomes, then allow me to offer my humble 2 cents. I find that it helps if you do not let anyone dictate which system best suits you. (People tend to try and tell you what you need, without asking you the right questions). Just look out for some key features which have been proven to increase organisational return on investment.
Can’t help but be conscious of that fact that when LMS vendors write these sorts of articles, they all but thinly veil their intent to intricately work their own offering into the discourse. (Around the end usually. Along with details of how to get in touch with their sales team. There’s sometimes limited-time discount offers in there).
No, this is not one of those articles.
I actually wrote this for my friends, and thought, it might be a good addition to this newsletter. I wrote it because a chunk of my close network of friends are business owners or executives at organisations who often have to try and source the best Learning Management systems and often feel clueless about where to begin. They are paralysed by the sheer volume of options out there and then put off by aggressive sales techniques. In the end, if they already have a provider, the incumbents win. It is human nature to cling to what is familiar (imperfect, or not).
Return on investment
Research suggests 1 in 5 organisations do not measure the impact of their learning programs at all. If you want to track you LMS’s ROI, it will help to gain an appreciation for what ROI means in this context.
It basically all boils down to how your training programs are impacting the organisation’s bottom line. Monitoring L&D ROI, including a plan around how to improve these results long-term is something most CEOs would love to see.
A well-coordinated, long-term plan like this will help you with:
- Reduction of wastage in employee-hours
- Improvements in staff turnover rates
- Deciding on tangible markers for “value” created by learning and training activities and being able to measure them long-term
- Justifying L&D investments to senior management
In my experience there are a few key features to always look out for during pre-procurement research on LMSs:
It is vital for an LMS to offer custom reporting and custom report wizards, both for administrators and for all managers across the entire organisation. This allows your organisation to choose which metrics to report on and how you prefer to view it. The administrator and other department heads should be able to assign user roles and generate reports for appropriate team members. Learner progress reports or certification progress reports are good examples of reports which can help managers identify the standout performers or users who require further mentoring.
Definitely ensure that the LMS allows for automated report scheduling as well. It will make your life infinitely easier.
In local government, this if often overlooked, even though many Councils employ a range of employees who speak English as a second language. Most LMSs actually do offer this. And if they don’t, then they are probably not the right fit for you. A powerful, fit-for-purpose LMS solution will never need additional digital tools to translate content.
In-built course authoring tool
This is must-have in my books. But check with your vendor that content created in the LMS’s in-built authoring tool can be archived and kept on file even if you change providers in the future. Some vendors will not allow you to take all that content you created in the LMS with you if you change to a different provider (…rude!).
LMS in-built authoring tools are not used in the same way professional authoring tools like Dominknow, Rise, Storyline etc are used. You are unlikely to use the built-in authoring tool to create 3D animation-based complex branching scenarios or build simulations etc.
But think of a HR manager who just wants to create a basic scorm package linking to a few policy documents which employees need to read and understand as a matter of organisational policy. Why go to an external vendor and pay thousands of dollars when you can create that in-house with the click of a few buttons and publish directly into the LMS?
Oh, and make sure the in-built authoring tools come with plenty of templates. When you are in a rush, templates are your friend.
This is critical and although most LMS solutions will offer this in one form or another, the offerings differ in terms of usability and sophistication.
Imagine if you had to manually track certifications. Imagine the sort of drainage on time that would create. Even if we overlooked the time wasted, it is difficult to overlook the human error element this exposes you to. Say for example a learner missed a renewal or forgot about it and this was not on your radar, the regulatory and compliance issues this could potentially create would be quite damaging.
Proprietary Vs. Re-sellers
Of the 700-odd providers I mentioned earlier, many are actually what are called “re-sellers”.
They operate on-shore and have local support etc, but they are actually re-selling the solution from an overseas organisation – meaning they do not own the code and have limited abilities to help with any back-end development work should the need arise (for example, urgent support tickets which require back-end dev support).
They are usually not able to assist with bespoke development work (for example, to offer custom features that only your organisation requires but are not features which are on their product roadmaps).
They may offer local support, but you may find that often, they have to go back to the primary vendor to assist with your support matters. This may cause delays in issues being resolved as these providers are usually in a different time zone.
It is important for me to note, that it is not necessarily a bad thing to be an authorised re-seller. They usually offer systems which are well known and have been around for a long time.
I do find though, that vendors who offer proprietary solutions have far greater control over mapping out bespoke customer lifecycles focused on long-term retention and offer superior support.
Reseller or not, it is vital that the vendor can prove demonstrable track record in your industry sector. If you are approached by an LMS vendor, this is why it is important to find out which other Councils are using their solution as well. Get them to provide you with a list of these Councils if they are willing to share that information. It would not hurt to call these Councils yourself and find out a bit more about their experiences with this product directly from them.
Some other considerations worth noting:
- Choose a cost-effective system
Councils vary in many ways including (but not limited to) size and availability of a centralised L&D budget. Ideally you want to choose a system which has a great track record within Local Government but also offers flexible pricing options based on your size and requirements. You want to avoid ending up with an expensive system that charges you for features that you may never need
- Choose a responsive system
Your FTEs may be working on-site using desktop environments but your contractors, volunteers etc do not. It is advisable to choose an LMS which works on both desktop and mobile devices and are fully responsive
- Product roadmap
Ask the vendors about how they develop their product roadmaps and how often they offer upgrades. The more Local-Government-centric the LMS is, the more the likelihood that future product roadmaps are actually being driven by your sector. Too many providers tend to cast “too wide a net” – meaning they serve all sorts of sectors (sometimes across many countries) and fail to develop a specialisation area. This may often lead to non-cohesive product roadmaps.
Anyway, the other night, after that remark my friend made, I chose not to pass him the salt as he had asked. (Not just because I was a tad peeved by his remark, but also because that sort of compulsive salt consumption irritates me.)
I passionately added that all LMSs are definitely not the same. And that I would go home and write an article about it!