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Designing eLearning Interactions May 29, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I’ve written articles about making sure learning experiences are engaging, but I haven’t written much on how to actually build the interactions that make an experience engaging. So let’s dive in…

What is an eLearning interaction?

An eLearning interaction is an exercise or activity that allows the learner to become more involved with the material, as opposed to simply reading text on the screen. An interaction is often a scenario where the learner is presented with a story or a problem that they must work through in order to achieve a certain outcome. This allows the learner to become more involved with the content, with the hopes that the interaction will help them better process, encode, and store the material in memory. We anticipate that the learner will have a better chance at retaining the information and transferring it to their job if they are more involved and engaged in the learning.

When should you use interactions?

Interactions should be added throughout an eLearning course as you see fit. I personally try to sprinkle one in every 4 pages – or one for every 10-15 minutes of learning. Add enough interactions to keep your learners’ interest, and keep the type of content in mind: if the material is dry and boring, use more interactions. For a good overview of how (and when) to use interactions, I highly recommend "e-Learning and the Science of Instruction," by Ruth Clark and Richard E. Mayer.

Good interaction vs. bad interaction

Just because the learner is clicking their mouse doesn’t mean they are benefiting from the learning experience. A significant amount of design still needs to take place on your part to make interactions effective. This is difficult. Have the learner apply the skills they learned. Don’t just let them slide by with a multiple-choice question. Challenge them! Get their brains working! Present problems that they must solve through a series of choices. (Remember the old "Choose Your Own Adventure" books? The theory behind those books can be a great inspiration for designing eLearning interactions.)

A (free) white paper is available from Entelisys Technologies called "eLearning: From Level I to Level IV of Interactivity." This is a great resource for helping you choose the right level of interactivity for your eLearning. Four basic levels are outlined: Level 1 (Passive), Level 2 (Limited Interaction), Level 3 (Complex Interaction), and Level 4 (Real-time Interaction). Aim for levels 2 and 3; that’s the sweet spot. Level 4 is great to achieve, but difficult to reach. That’s just my opinion. πŸ™‚

How do you build eLearning interactions?

You can use tools such as Articulate Engage, Adobe Captivate, or Lectora (by Trivantis) to build eLearning interactions. Engage offers some great templates for building interactions, but as far as I can tell you’re limited to these built-in templates. Captivate and Lectora are open authoring environments. While they may require a bit more effort to learn, they allow for more possibilities. All three companies offer free trial versions of their software. Take each for a test drive and choose whichever tool best fits your needs.

Try new things

Don’t be afraid to get creative and try to build new eLearning interactions. Spend a good amount of time in the design phase. Get crazy on a whiteboard and toss ideas around. Grab a few sample users and get their input. Build a few prototypes and go with what gets the best feedback. You certainly can’t lose anything by brainstorming. Give it a shot and try to come up with inventive ways to keep the learner involved with the material. Your learners will thank you for it!

More ideas coming soon…

I’m working on a list of 25 ideas for eLearning interactions. I hope to have it ready in a few weeks and I’ll post them here. Until next time…

Is the Term ‘eLearning’ Going to Become Extinct? May 22, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I read a post yesterday over at the Learning Technologies blog that notes an interesting change in terminology in the eLearning world. The blog cites an article from Chief Learning Officer magazine that discusses recent changes to the E-Learning Industry Group in Europe. According to the article:

The E-Learning Industry Group is now the European Learning Industry Group, a change that reflects a shift within the organization itself, as well as within the learning industry.

“The term ‘e-learning’ has been overused,” said Joe Hegarty, Intel Innovation Centres director of business operations. “Technology is now clearly embedded in all modern learning solutions.”

Jay Cross alluded to this change in terminology in a recent comment to an eLearning Weekly article.

I’m ok with this change as long as we come up with a way to describe the skill sets of individuals (like myself) who contribute to learning systems in a much more technical way. For example, should and instructional designer and an eLearning programmer both be classified using a generic term such as “learning specialist?” I would hope not. And I want to be clear: I’m not hung up on titles. I’m just looking for a clear way to understand peoples’ roles in training and development.

It’s also a compliment to the eLearning industry if the term ‘eLearning’ becomes extinct. This indicates that technology-based learning solutions have officially become accepted and approved as a viable option.

Maybe we should approach it like this: The term ‘eLearning’ should only be used to classify an individual’s skill set. He/She is an eLearning Specialist. When we plan a training event, we should talk about learning in general instead of assuming a technology-based solution is necessary (eLearning). And if a learning experience utilizes a significant amount of technology, you bring in an eLearning specialist. How’s that?

Diving Into SCORM May 20, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned veteran, here are a few resources that you can use to further sharpen your SCORM knowledge and skills:

Enjoy!!

What Makes an Experience Engaging? May 18, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I went to a concert in Kansas City last weekend with my wife. After the concert, I made a direct connection to learning that I think is worth sharing here.

Back to the concert… It was at an outdoor venue on a Friday night, and the weather was beautiful. I was excited for the concert; it was one of my favorite bands. (I’m not going to tell you who it was. You’ll see why.) There were two opening bands that were surprisingly good and then the main act took the stage at 9:15pm. They began their set with great fanfare and played all of their hits, plus a few songs that weren’t as well known. The lighting was great, the sound was great, and most of the crowd was enjoying the show. But I wasn’t. For some reason, I wasn’t that thrilled about the whole experience and I couldn’t figure out why. I had all the makings of a great night out, but something wasn’t clicking. I just wasn’t feeling it. It dawned on me a few days later: The band was going through the motions, but not really getting into the show. Sure, they tour 95% of the year, so I can see how it could get boring and/or tiring for them to perform so often. The guitarist barely moved throughout the whole show; the lead singer meandered back and forth. This band normally has a reputation of being much more interesting and lively. I didn’t get the full-throttle, 100% exciting experience I was hoping for. I wasn’t into it. I wasn’t engaged.

How does this relate to learning? I see it this way: We can create a course or a learning experience that has all of the sound, graphics, animation, video, and simulations we want, but if the overall experience doesn’t pull the learner in and grab their interest, we’re missing the mark. We’re not engaging them. A significant part of engaging the learner comes from focusing on the design of the user experience from the very beginning. If you miss one critical element, things can go down hill quickly. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of focusing on an awesome Flash interaction or powerful software simulation, and then neglect the overall user experience. If you don’t focus on what really counts, you’ll end up with a situation like the one I described above: the individual won’t be engaged, and they’ll leave feeling like they missed out on something.

Elements of Engagement

I’ve been lucky enough to attend a few sessions put on by Clark Quinn, Director of Quinnovation. Clark does a great job of outlining and describing the elements of an experience that make it engaging. He then describes how to apply this information and make learning experiences engaging.

According to Clark, an experience is more likely to be engaging if it:

  • Is something new,
  • Is interesting to the individual,
  • Provides some sense of exploration,
  • Gives some sense of freedom, and
  • Provides a novel experience or novel events.

(These are only a few of the elements; see Clark’s book, Engaging Learning, for more information.)

Can a concert pull off all of the elements mentioned above? I believe it can, in its own way. Can a learning experience pull off all of the elements? Absolutely. I’m going to keep this concert example in mind from now on when I design anything related to learning. I’m going to put myself in the users’ place more often and try to see what they’ll see. I don’t want my learners to feel like they’re at a mediocre rock concert. πŸ™‚

Implications of Informal Learning on eLearning May 16, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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A growing number of people are discussing informal learning and how we, as training professionals, should try to identify ways to encourage and foster it at our organizations. Does informal learning touch the eLearning space at all? Yes, it certainly does. Let’s look at some definitions and then dive more into the implications of informal learning on eLearning.

Definitions

First, let’s look at the difference between formal and informal learning. Formal learning is typically your standard instructor-led course or eLearning module. It is generally well-structured and has a clear start and end point. Informal learning, according to Wikipedia, "…has no curriculum and is not professionally organized but rather originates accidentally, sporadically…" Jay Cross, one of the biggest advocates of informal learning, describes it like this:

Informal learning is the unofficial, unscheduled, impromptu way most of us learn to do our jobs. Informal learning is like riding a bicycle: the rider chooses the destination and the route. The cyclist can take a detour at a moment’s notice to admire the scenery or help a fellow rider.

Formal learning is like riding a bus: the driver decides where the bus is going; the passengers are along for the ride. People new to the territory often ride the bus before hopping on the bike.

(From Jay Cross’ article, What is informal learning?, on his Informal Learning blog.)

Examples

Now let’s look at a few examples of informal learning from Wikipedia:

Examples of such informal knowledge transfer include instant messaging, a spontaneous meeting on the Internet, a phone call to someone who has information you need, a live one-time-only sales meeting introducing a new product, a chat-room in real time, a chance meeting by the water cooler, a scheduled Web-based meeting with a real-time agenda, a tech walking you through a repair process, or a meeting with your assigned mentor or manager.

These seem pretty logical to me. I can relate to most of the examples listed. I have a standard set of resources I’ll go to if I need information:

  • Google,
  • Selected job aids,
  • Instant messenger (to ask a peer), and
  • Selected knowledge bases/discussion forums.

How does this relate to eLearning?

If we apply the basic concept of informal learning to eLearning, it sounds like we should concentrate more on identifying and creating tools that empower people to acquire knowledge and skills on-the-job, rather than sticking the learner in eLearning course after eLearning course. Tools such as job aids, knowledge bases, webinar software, chat rooms, etc., should be available to learners, and they should be encouraged to use the tools as they see fit. (Remember: Not all informal learning activities involve technology, so be prepared to think outside the digital world. It’s called informal learning, not informal eLearning!)

According to one expert, "Informal learning accounts for over 75% of the learning taking place in organizations today." Some people may be worried that this could lead to less demand for formal training (specifically eLearning courses). This may be true, but I think the skill set of an eLearning professional can still be of great benefit in creating and managing the tools that support informal learning. And I’m sure that formal training will always exist to some degree.

“Informal learning sounds great. So how do we measure it?”

Ah, the million-dollar question. You’d think that there was a slick way to use eLearning to quantify informal learning. Nope. Not quite. It’s just not possible, and I think we’d hinder informal learning if we try to wrap our hands too tightly around it and track it instance-by-instance. I am very curious to see if the informal learning movement has any effect on the standard LMS/courseware model. Will we see LMSs that can launch job aids, knowledge bases, chat rooms, and webinars? This would allow us to track learners and their usage of such systems, but it seems unlikely that one system could perform all of those functions well. And then it would feel like we were forcing users to use a formal system all over again, which moves away from the main idea of informal learning in the first place.

Changes

Sure, things will change in eLearning, and we should be eager to identify ways to use technology to support formal and informal learning. After all, our job is to support and improve learning first and foremost.

Keep up with Jay Cross if you want more information related to informal learning.

Effects of eLearning 2.0 May 14, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I’ve spoken about eLearning 2.0 before, and I still believe it offers awesome possibilities for improving how people learn and ultimately perform.

But I started thinking about the use of eLearning 2.0 tools: wikis, blogs, social bookmarking, rss feeds, etc. What do these tools have in common? What do they require? They require that you have at least some knowledge of technology, and in some cases they require that you have knowledge that you would like to contribute. I have no doubt that learners with white-collar jobs will take advantage of these tools and the opportunities they offer. These types of workers typically have better access to technology and they deal more with digital information. But I wonder – will blue-collar workers will be left out of the eLearning 2.0 movement?

eLearning (1.0) is currently being used to train people for blue-collar jobs. An example of this would be a session (maybe in a computer lab) where workers take an eLearning course to gain product knowledge and learn troubleshooting skills for the product. I believe this is a great use of eLearning, especially if it were coupled with a hands-on lesson where learners get to work with the product and troubleshoot problems on their own. So, how would eLearning 2.0 fit into this picture? How would learners, who may or may not have technical skills, use eLearning 2.0 tools and contribute information in a setting like this? I’m not saying eLearning 2.0 can’t or won’t work, but I am interested in brainstorming more on eLearning 2.0 to think through situations like this. Maybe this isn’t a great example, either. Maybe the workers later have access to a wiki where they share information or "gotchas" they’ve encountered with the product? Is that likely to happen?

All of a sudden, it appears white-collar workers may have a greater advantage; they could benefit more from these new tools and further increase their knowledge, skills, and potential. Will eLearning 2.0 cause a (further) knowledge gap between white-collar and blue-collar occupations?

I’m not trying to be a grinch about eLearning 2.0 – I promise! I am excited about it. I just think we’ll need to keep several things in mind about our audience when deciding how and where we use it.

Read more about eLearning 2.0 over at Tony Karrer’s blog.

Writing RFIs, RFPs, and RFQs May 12, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I understand that it’s important to have clear documentation and terms between an organization and its vendors when a new system or piece of software is being purchased and implemented. This could be a learning management system, learning content management system, document management system, etc. But I’ve run into a frustrating scenario several times recently with some vendors and their Request For Information (RFI), Request For Proposal (RFP), and Request For Quotation (RFQ) forms, and it makes me question why they operate the way they do.

Here’s a scenario that illustrates the problem I’ve encountered: I’ve been asked to select a ________ system to serve a particular purpose for our organization. I’ve been told that my budget is $________. Generally, I would speak with stakeholders, identify our requirements, research vendors, watch demos, get pricing, and then decide which vendors are in the final running for selection. If I’m not familiar with a certain type of system, I will typically call a few vendors to get initial pricing information to help me get started. However, I’ve found that you can’t get pricing information from some vendors – it’s like pulling teeth. They require you to work through their RFI, RFP, or RFQ form(s) and/or requirements gathering process. But here’s my question: Why should I spend all this time filling out a long form or going through a long process when their product ends up being way outside my budget?

Some vendors that I’ve worked with genuinely take offense when you ask for general pricing information up-front. And I do state that I’m looking for a ballpark estimate; I’m not asking exact figures by any means. I don’t understand that. I’d rather not waste my time (and their time) if there’s no chance of a transaction taking place.

Detailed requirements and a complete analysis should be completed when it comes time to get serious with one or more vendors, but not in the early stages of selection, in my opinion.

Please excuse me as I step off my soapbox. πŸ™‚

P.S. – Here’s a great reference for writing RFPs: http://www.howtowriteanrfp.com/.

Introducing eLearning into an Organization (Part 3 of 3) May 10, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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In Part 1 and Part 2 of this article, I discussed how to research, plan, and implement an eLearning program within an organization. In Part 3, I’ll discuss the ongoing evaluation and maintenance that should occur to make sure your eLearning stays as effective as possible.

Evaluation

In Part 1 I discussed the success of an eLearning program and how your definition of success may differ from management’s definition.

Remember: Course completion does not always equal a successful eLearning program. You’ll need to constantly poll your learners and management to get feedback. Are the learners bored? Are they engaged? Do they love or hate the training? Are they able to demonstrate their new knowledge and skills on the job? Does the training positively affect their performance?

Consider these resources for evaluating the results of your eLearning program:

Maintenance

Try to identify how and when your learners are accessing the LMS. Monitor reports in the LMS and look for trends:

  • Are only certain departments using the LMS? If so, why?
  • Is usage mainly at the beginning or end of the month? If so, why?
  • Are some courses not getting used at all? If so, why not? Is the content stale? Are there technical problems?

Stay on top of this information and use it to your advantage. Refine, refine, refine.

Send out reports to management as you see fit (ex. monthly, quarterly, etc.). Always communicate with managers and departments across your organization to identify their training needs. Take advantage of the eLearning program that you now have in place! Use it to better your organization and improve the performance of its employees.

Conclusion

I hope you can benefit from the information presented in this article. An eLearning program at one organization may be completely different at another organization. Hopefully you can use some of the main points presented here and adapt them based on your needs. I welcome feedback and appreciate constructive criticism. Good luck introducing eLearning to your organization!

Introducing eLearning into an Organization (Part 2 of 3) May 8, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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In Part 1 of this article, I discussed ways to research and plan for the launch of an eLearning initiative within an organization. In Part 2, I’ll discuss the selection and implementation of a learning management system (LMS) and the development tools that can be used to author courses.

LMS and Development Tool Selection

LMS
Based on the information you gathered from the Research and Planning stages, compile a list of requirements for your LMS. I tend to break lists like this into 3 categories: Must-have features, Important features, and Nice-to-have features. After you’ve done this, begin researching LMS vendors using one or more of the following methods:

One main feature of an LMS is compliance with SCORM and/or AICC standards. If an LMS is SCORM- or AICC-compliant, courses that have been built using SCORM or AICC specifications can be easily housed, launched, and tracked in the LMS. If an LMS is not compliant with one of these standards, it could be much more difficult to find and build courses that will work with it.

Narrowing down the list
Next, create a matrix to keep track of your requirements (x-axis) and whether or not an LMS vendor satisfies each requirement (y-axis). Example requirements may be: Allows certificates to be printed after a course is completed, integrates with our Single Sign-On system, and manages curriculums based on job roles. You’ll weed out several vendors using this method.

Take your list of LMS vendors that are still in-the-running and call them directly. Explain your needs and ask for an approximate quote. Emphasize that you are in the early stages of looking for an LMS, and you just need a ballpark quote. Fair warning: Some LMS vendors aren’t happy to provide this information. They would rather work with you through a needs assessment to try and customize a solution for you. Here’s the rub: If I’ve been given $25,000 to implement an LMS, why should I bother working through a needs assessment with a vendor that charges around $200,000 for an LMS? Asking for a quote from the beginning will save your time and theirs.

Estimate that 20% of your total budget will be spent on installation, customization, and integration of your LMS. Based on this knowledge and the pricing information you received, eliminate vendors from your list if they are too expensive. Once you have narrowed your list down to a few vendors, ask for web demos so you can view their products first-hand. Invite your IT contacts, HR contacts, and any interested managers to participate in the web demos. Ask lots of questions and openly discuss how the LMS would work at your organization. If possible, get access to a trial version of the LMS and work with it for a week or two before making your decision. Gather everybody’s feedback after the web demos and make your selection based on your research, their feedback, and management’s approval.

Formalize and document your requirements, and then send them to the vendor. Request a formal quote and then proceed with purchasing the LMS if everything looks right.

Hardware
If you plan on hosting the LMS at your organization, make sure IT signs-off on the hardware requirements and provides you with an estimate for the server(s), operating system license(s), and database license(s). Include these costs in your budget.

Support and Maintenance
Many LMS vendors offer a support and maintenance plan, which you should consider. This plan usually costs around 15-20% of your LMS’s purchase price. It will provide you with phone and email support, and "free" upgrades and bug fixes. Customizations are usually not included with these plans, and plans will vary from vendor to vendor. I’ve had good luck using these plans; vendors seem to respond much better when you have their support and maintenance plan.

Development Tools
If you will be building eLearning courses in-house, you’ll want to research tools that can be used to create eLearning courses. See my previous post on eLearning Tools for more information.

(If you don’t want to build eLearning courses in-house, you can purchase off-the-shelf courses. There are dozens of content vendors in the eLearning world that can provide you with SCORM- and AICC-compliant courses. If you head in this direction, use a similar research and planning process as discussed above.)

Do you need an LCMS?
You may also consider purchasing a learning content management system (LCMS), which is a separate system that interfaces with your LMS. An LCMS allows you to more easily manage large amounts of information (ex. a large number of eLearning courses) and helps you streamline the course publishing process. For example, if your course content changes frequently, you can update it within the LCMS, and then the LCMS updates all courses where that content is used. If you need an LCMS, find out if your LMS vendor offers an LCMS solution. Your other option is to get another vendor to integrate their LCMS with your LMS. Just be aware that there could be major integration fees to do this.

Implementation

When implementing an LMS, you feel like you’re conducting an orchestra. You have to maintain a timeline, stay in touch with the vendor, and make sure IT, HR, and Marketing are still in the loop. And this is just the beginning. Here’s a rough timeline to consider once an LMS vendor has been selected:

  1. Get your budget finalized and approved.
  2. If hosting the LMS at your organization:
    • Work with IT to acquire and set up the necessary hardware, and
    • Work with the vendor to acquire the LMS software. Get it to your IT staff.
    • Plan a date/time for installing the LMS software – with or without the vendor’s assistance, depending on your comfort level.
  3. Set up time for your HR contacts and the LMS vendor to discuss how user accounts will be synchronized in the LMS. This is often done through a custom script that runs nightly. The script pushes user information into the LMS’s database.
  4. Discuss user authentication details with the vendor, IT, and HR. Authentication is often done using LDAP or similar directory systems.
  5. When the LMS is up-and-running, test all features and functionality.
  6. If possible, set up a second instance of the LMS – a development environment on another server – for testing. This allows you to test LMS upgrades and new courses somewhere other than your production environment. Some vendors may require you to get a separate development license to do this.
  7. Create a sample course or obtain a course from a vendor. Does it work within the LMS?
  8. Design a promotion plan with your Marketing department. Will you give your LMS a cool name? If so, decide upon it at this point.
  9. Build courses or bring in off-the-shelf courses. Test them heavily yourself and also use co-workers and focus groups.
  10. Verify that your LMS vendor, IT contacts, and HR contacts are still speaking to each other, and make sure all of their pieces are working together correctly.
  11. Set a launch date, and cross your fingers!

Launch considerations
If at all possible, I recommend loading the LMS up with as many courses as possible before launching it to your organization. Otherwise, you’ll only be launching a shell of a system to them. What fun is it if they can’t go in and take courses?

I also highly recommend using a contest to promote the launch of the LMS. Here are a few examples of contests:

  • The first 10 people to complete an eLearning course get a $10 gift certificate to _______ (ex. Best Buy, Applebee’s, etc.).
  • The first manager who has 3 employees complete a course wins a free pizza delivered from Pizza Hut.
  • Embed a secret message inside one or more courses. If a learner finds the message and contacts you, they win a prize.

Wrapping up
The point that I would emphasize the most during an LMS implementation is to focus on good communication between yourself, the IT and HR departments at your organization, and the vendor. Everyone should know the status of every aspect of the implementation at all times. This helps prevent surprises and those "gotcha" moments.

Part 3 of this article will focus on evaluating the success of your eLearning program and the ongoing maintenance that is required to keep everything running smoothly. Until next time…

Introducing eLearning into an Organization (Part 1 of 3) May 6, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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At this point, I believe most corporations, universities, and non-profit organizations have considered eLearning, if they haven’t started using it already. There are many benefits of eLearning – when it is implemented properly. When I began in eLearning, I designed and developed courses. My next job required that I design an eLearning initiative for an entire company. While I did have general experience with eLearning, I didn’t have a handbook or cheat sheet that showed me how to proceed step-by-step. So, I built upon prior knowledge, made educated decisions, consulted co-workers, and spoke with friends who were also working in the eLearning field. I ended up with a few arrows in my back when the dust settled, but things worked out just fine when all was said and done.

I’ve decided to outline a rough plan of how eLearning can be introduced to an organization. I’m doing this for two reasons: 1) This will be a nice reference if I ever have to go through this process again, and 2) I’d like to offer help to people who encounter the same situation I encountered.

I see the process broken down into these stages:

  • Research
  • Planning
  • LMS and Development Tool Selection
  • Implementation
  • Evaluation
  • Maintenance

Part 1 of this article will focus on the Research and Planning stages.

Part 2 will focus on the LMS and Development Tool Selection and Implementation stages.

Part 3 will focus on the Evaluation and Maintenance stages.

Let’s get started…

Research

First, learn as much about your organization as possible. What training is currently in place? Is it effective? Why or why not? What types of learners exist at your organization? Are the learners comfortable with technology in general? Do the learners feel comfortable with online training? Learn about technical constraints: Do all learners have a computer? What hardware, software, and bandwidth do they have? Don’t be afraid to ask questions and keep track of all of your research.

The Learning Management System
A keystone of eLearning at an organization is the learning management system (LMS). You will most likely need to implement an LMS, unless one already exists. An LMS, which can either be hosted on a server at your organization or hosted by a vendor, typically:

  • Stores all information related to courses (course objectives, course descriptions, lessons, expert contact information, etc.);
  • Stores course content;
  • Allows learners to launch and complete eLearning courses;
  • Tracks learner information such as course completions, certifications received, and objectives met; and
  • Allows you to run reports to monitor LMS usage and learner progress.

Selecting and implementing an LMS is a big task. I highly suggest that you meet with managers of different departments early on in the process. Do they have particular training needs that could be met with an LMS? Do they need to track any certifications or competencies in the LMS? Do they have an existing system or existing data that you will need to integrate with the LMS? If so, try to understand their needs as clearly as possible and keep them involved with everything as you move forward.

How do you define success?
Next, determine what upper management considers to be a successful eLearning deployment. What do they expect, and why? This may differ drastically from what you believe is a success. Knowing this information could greatly affect your employment. πŸ™‚

Planning

Timeline
Try to guesstimate a timeline for the roll-out of your eLearning initiative, if one hasn’t been given to you already. Confirm that management is comfortable with the timeline, and then begin allocating resources (money and people) for the project. From personal experience, I was able to implement an LMS in about 6 months, implement 100+ off-the-shelf courses in about 2 months, and develop 5-10 custom-built courses in about 5 months. This was for a medium-sized company (~5,000 employees). Your mileage may vary depending on the scale of your implementation, the resources available to you, and the speed at which your organization operates. Remember, at this point your timeline is a guesstimate; it will become clearer as you move further along in the planning stage.

Strategy
Typically, an organization’s eLearning strategy should tie directly to the organization’s overall goals. If your organization builds and sells widgets, then your eLearning should directly improve the knowledge and skills of the employees so that they can build better widgets (faster) and sell them more effectively. Define your eLearning strategy and stick to it; this will help you stay focused on what’s important, and management will be more supportive if they know you’re focusing on the right things.

Resources
Do you have the talent and/or desire to be the eLearning guru? You’ll need project management skills, general knowledge of eLearning, and the ability to ask a ton of questions. If you’re ready and willing, that’s great. If not, find people with these skills to assist you.

Allies
Work carefully with your IT, HR, and Marketing departments early on in the process; you’ll definitely need their help in getting the LMS implemented. Explain what you are doing, and why. If they understand the need, they’ll be much more likely to be on board with the project. You won’t win much affection if you walk in and say, “We need this system, and you have to implement it for us.”

Here’s how you will most likely use the help of each department:

  • IT can…
    Set up the LMS server(s) and database(s), set up Single Sign-On with your LMS (if your organization supports this), perform server maintenance, perform LMS software upgrades, and more.
  • HR can…
    Connect an employee data-feed with the LMS to help manage user accounts (ex. add user accounts for new-hires and remove accounts of terminated employees).
  • Marketing can…
    Help you brand the LMS and promote its launch at your organization. You may do this by featuring the LMS on your Intranet’s home page, in a newsletter, in an email announcement, or by having a contest (ex. the first 10 people to complete an eLearning course get a $10 gift certificate to Best Buy).

This should help you get started on the right foot. Your chances of being successful will be much higher if you take your time to research and plan properly. Part 2 of this article will focus on the selection and implementation of your LMS and development tools. Stay tuned, and good luck!