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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…

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