An LMS can mean a lot of things to a business, and often they vary greatly depending on the organisation. They’re portals that integrate with websites, they’re encouraging social learning, and at their very best they look remarkably unlike an LMS. So, what does LMS mean to your business?
The evolving learning management system
It used to be that buying an LMS was a one-stop shop. Choices were limited and users were stuck with whatever functionality the supplier had added. There were no options, and there was certainly no customisation.
However, in recent years things have changed, and the LMS boundaries have started to blur for many organisations. More and more, we are talking to people who want to stretch the abilities of the conventional LMS. They’re now giving thought to things like replacing their intranets, selling courses through online marketplaces and providing social learning platforms - all built around the LMS.
If you read Learning Pool's 9 ways to improve your Totara LMS rollout post, you may be familiar with some of what I’m about to say. Your audience should always be top of your list as they will inform how you should approach your LMS implementation. But you don’t know what you don’t know, so I’ll show you some interesting and innovative ways that you can leverage the LMS to allow for a more fluid and open learning experience, and perhaps even change the meaning of LMS in your business.
Accept a changing audience
Rewind even five years and LMS users had very different expectations. Over that period I have seen a shift in attitude towards learning, mainly driven by other services being used by the very same audience such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google Plus. Our learners are engaging with them all, and we can learn from them.
Social learning isn’t a new concept, and whilst a brave few organisations have taken the big LMS leap into the arena of Tin Can, record stores and informal social learning, the many are still just used to log compliance and completions.
If you fall into the latter category but are looking for more from your LMS, why not blur the lines? Keep the structured learning, but expand and open your learning catalogues to create resources, and allow your learners to roam free. Create groups and encourage informal learning. Provide resources and ideas, get the team talking and excited about learning.
You could also create leaderboards and games that let your learners engage with their competitive side. Why not formalise learning time but give your learners permission to explore?
You have a responsibility here too. 'Build it and they will come' doesn’t apply, and you will have to get the wheels turning. It’s not going to be an easy ride; it’s a cultural change for most and it will start with giving your users familiar tools and the permission to use them. But persevere, and your LMS could transform beyond compliance device to learner haven.
Let your LMS share your content
The LMS market has changed over the last 15 years, but is there still room for growth? Users are more savvy and used to learning in a more fluent and on-demand way. With the rise of YouTube, Lynda.com, Coursera, and other curated course platforms, the bar is set high.
The LMS should not be thought of as a place to just hold compliance learning any more, and it started to shake that image a few years back. With the acceptance of open source in the workplace, and with some of the largest companies around the world implementing open source solutions (even the British government is embracing open source), it has become easier to change workflows, seamlessly join with other solutions or provide the learner with such an experience that they don’t even know they’re using a LMS at all. The LMS should be a place for learners to freely discover all learning material. It’s a radical concept, a place that learners actually want to visit, (and not just in work time). Wouldn’t it be nice to see your learners learning for enjoyment and self-fulfilment, rather than just because they have to?
Take a look at this resource library page from Sky. New and old employees can choose what resource they wish to view and utilise it without limitation, and at any time.
Opening up your training library gives your learners a reason to revisit your LMS and a clear message that you support learning, development and career progression.
The social learning environment (SLE)
We’re all used to feeds of information. Most of us have a Facebook account, injected with ads and 'liked' content, so in a LMS why can't the ads be recommended learning and the liked content be peer-approved learning? That was the starting thought for our social learning environment; it’s an extension of Totara and with it learners can like, rate and review content.
Alerts, tasks, new courses or Twitter messages can be displayed in a single convenient feed which can be filtered to view a specific type of content. What this does is provide a cyclic learning experience (which is a term borrowed from the games industry) and makes the learning experience a never-ending journey. It effectively encourages users to re-visit the learning portal.
This environment employs badges, levels and leader boards to encourage competition between learners, providing them with a daily update of their current achievements. Level progression can be fed through to their peers’ feed (to encourage that competitive edge). With the SLE learners can compete for points by performing certain actions too, giving the LMS an overall gamified feel. This all makes for an SLE that is gamified and keeps the learners coming back for more. See an example of the platform with gamification elements below.
Ready to sell your content?
Open source platforms like Totara LMS are extremely flexible, with plug-ins built for every possible scenario. Some of these plugins allow you to sell and manage your content and clients, through your LMS.
It’s actually a strategy that suits several of our customers. Picture an LMS a bit like Amazon, but the books are courses which can be easily purchased online. Take a look at this example that we created in partnership with DWF below:
Linked to a CRM, this type of LMS can provide powerful post-purchase marketing, notifications, updates and even new course recommendations to your learners. Just make it multi-device, and learners will be asking for more.
LMS in the classroom
Another way to leverage the LMS is in the classroom, within the face-to-face training you currently deliver. With most LMSs, you can manage bookings and attendance; why can’t you bring e-learning into the classroom as a study support?
Using the LMS in this way is already on the increase, and with good reason. Vaillant are using this to great effect with their boiler technical training, and they’ve migrated from pure classroom training to a blended approach.
As well as the usual benefits of reduced wage loss for freelance installers (a saving of £325,000 per year) and increased installer retention, there are also less obvious benefits. Using this approach allows the trainers to assess delegates’ technical ability simply by observing them with the LMS and iPad delivery platform.
Online testing is done pre-course, allowing the trainer to check results before the session starts. It is a great way to understand the knowledge level of the delegates, and allows Vaillant trainers to alter and target the training to the audience on the day.
Using the LMS as an intranet
The line is blurring between LMS functionality and information provision. Within our preferred Llearning management system, Totara LMS, courses are nothing more than empty containers which can hold any type of web deliverable information. How you choose to present this to your learners is completely flexible. And at Learning Pool we’ve been using this flexibility to create full intranet systems.
You may be familiar with your company intranet. They are the places for gathering information, downloading useful forms and so on. By combining the LMS into this, we’re able to remove the cost of running two systems, and provide a single system for users to engage with.
Hello single sign-on.
We can also provide resources at the point of need, be it for inductees requiring a site map, or an expense form which is presented when a user books onto an external training course. You can see the benefit here, even if it’s just time saving and a more intuitive, user-friendly platform.
You could go further by extending the LMS functionality with phone directory handling, improved news handling and allowing for tagging of content and better aggregation of content. This could create an intranet which provides the user with a single point in which to learn, backed with all of the supporting information that they may need.
Of course Totara LMS also supports formal appraisals, one to ones, goal setting, 360 feedback and PDPs. All making for a slick end-to-end experience for your users.
So what does the learner get out of using an LMS that employs some, or all, of these approaches? First of all, they have one place to visit. And they have the confidence that if they go there, they will get something useful from it because it contains curated, peer-reviewed content that’s useful and delivered at the point of need. Secondly, they become part of a learning culture, actively making suggestions, providing reviews, tempted by increasing a level or appearing on this week's high score board.
So don’t forget, your LMS is now competing with the internet, and freely available content is always enticing to the always-on learner. You need to make your LMS a resource they love, with your own targeted and relevant content. Happy creating.
This is a guest post by Learning Pool's Sam Morgan. If you would like to contribute to the Totara Learning blog, please get in touch to discuss your ideas.