For many organizations, the decision to acquire a new learning platform is both a joyous and terrifying day for the Learning & Development (L&D) team. While there is the excitement and energy of beginning the search for a shiny new engine to drive the future of training forward in your company, there is also the daunting task of sifting through the seemingly infinite number of systems on the market.
A simple internet search for “Cloud-Based Learning Management System” provided 481 million results on Google. A software review aggregation site provided 666 different evaluated software platforms. With so many options in the LMS landscape, the good news is that companies are pushing each other to be more competitive and up-to-date, and they are competing for your business!
So, how does a department evaluate the features, benefits, technical specs, and marketing materials that come screaming out of cyberspace during a simple internet search? How do you find the perfect marriage between technology and design that meets your unique needs? There are so many choices that this process may cause some confusion, exhaustion, and even frustration. But have no fear! The path ahead is awesome and full of opportunity, and this guide will help narrow down the results to find just what you need!
It may sound simplistic, but knowing your audience is a huge part of the decision-making process. Organizations might not account for nuances in learner groups when it comes to a learning platform. Your culture and brand influence what your audience will need from the learning system, too.
First, what is your relationship with your audience? For many, the group of folks that will be completing training is made up of employees of your company. Typically, this is defined by whether their employee records are housed and managed by your organization’s HR department software. If you are unsure, ask yourself, “Do I know, or could I look up a roster of every person that will have access to the platform?” If the answer is yes, then you are looking for a system that can integrate your employee data into an authentication process to manage user accounts. The terminology may vary slightly, but typically this is called an Enterprise platform.
For others, the users that will engage on their platform do not work for them directly. Their users may be part of a partner organization (e.g. retailers to a manufacturer), their consumers, or industry peers. If you asked yourself the same question as before, and the answer is no because there are likely many users that you haven’t yet engaged with or the population has unknowns, then you are looking for what is often called an Extended Enterprise solution. Extended solutions offer registration paths, custom authentication processes, and some flexibility in the access.
So, what are some of the differences? While both variations may offer similar functionality beyond how users gain entry, there may be features that significance to your team when choosing a platform. Generally, Enterprise solutions provide more features related to compliance and assignment, audit reporting, scheduling, expirations, and learning paths. Extended Enterprise solutions tend to provide more options for incentivized learning, exploration, and electives as they are reaching out to employees that are making a choice to participate. However, your company culture influences what features, and capabilities are important, regardless of the type of system you require.
Of course, some groups need a system that offers both employees and external partnerships. They often require a broader mix of all features, and that may narrow your focus even further.
Not all devices are created equally. or at least how a learning system functions on these devices may not be equal. It wasn’t so long ago that the only real options were to use a desktop or a mobile phone. Now, there is an incredibly diverse range of techno-gadgetry available to learners when it comes to how to arrive at your online learning environment. The great news is that platforms have grown to provide personalized experiences that meet your audience where, when, and how they want to be reached.
The first decision point for your organization will be to decide if most learners will access content through their mobile device or a desktop computer. User experience and interface vary between the two and it’s important to find a system that is responsive to your needs. For audiences that will be using primarily tablets and phones, it is important to look for platforms that have a mobile-first design that are scrollable and have intuitive touchscreen features. The advent of touchscreen input has changed the way hover overs, touchpoints, and interactive elements function. These are also important elements to consider when choosing the learning platform and the form factor it will be accessed through.
Right now is the age of data, but use and access still vary greatly product-to-product. As an organization, how you’ll need to implement data into your learning programs can have a tremendous impact on your decision to choose the right platform. Some systems may not be flexible to effectively access the information and execute your strategies.
Starting at the beginning is best. Think about what information you will need from a new user to appropriately deliver content or set restrictions. Will their information come from a Human Resources Information System (HRIS) that will require some level of integration? Or will they provide the details during registration? Selecting a system that collects the data you need is critical to the long-term success of the platform.
With so much data in the world, there are great opportunities to integrate with other systems and provide even more value to your organization. Talent management systems can provide performance data and job pathing support. Sales records or time clock software integrations can provide an additional layer of measurement to show return value. If incentives are your game, connecting your platform with fulfillment partners can reduce time to delivery and better tracking. Figuring out the external systems that hold your organization’s data will help in choosing a learning platform that can accommodate your data needs.
Is your training program based in Instructor-Led Training (ILT) classrooms? Have you gone digital with eLearning or videos? Maybe you’ve really branched out and explored the world of Augmented or Virtual Reality. The way that you deliver your training materials is a big part of the culture of your Learning & Development organization. The types of content and file formats can impact the platform choices you make to support and align with your priorities and strategy.
A portion of some organization’s library includes facilitated classroom settings, including live or virtual. They’ll need to have the ability to schedule classes and provide session details to their users. Also, facilitators will need to manage rosters. They can also integrate polling, survey, or quizzing into their classrooms. If this reflects your organization’s strategy, be sure that the learning system can integrate or deploy your interactive components.
You probably have a library of digital content that needs to exist on a new platform. Systems tend to treat videos and documents in a variety of ways. Consider whether you need to know and report on who opens or accesses the training. Are they support material only, or will you need to assign the content to someone? For eLearning, most platforms will accept SCORM compliant content. You may have older content in AICC, or Flash developed files that you will need a solution for. The authoring tools you’ve used to create your SCORM content may have variations that need to be evaluated as SCORM is a reference, not a standard.
If you’ve started to explore the world of trends in training, you may find yourself with the need to implement Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) environments, or even podcasts. Each of these types of training interaction comes with its own requirements. For VR content, it is important to look for platforms that are – or can be – integrated with a Learning Record Store (LRS) to fully capture the data from the experience. This will include the ability to accept xAPI statements from the learning. For elements like podcasts, you will want to have a system that allows subscriptions, playlists, and audio formats.
Regardless of the size of your content library, it takes time to administer and manage all the training on your platform. It is important to think about who will set up, update, and retire the elements of the system to keep things up-to-date and accurate.
If you have an administrator on your team, consider how much control and variability they’ll need to be effective at managing learner experiences. The right set of admin tools is important, particularly if you have a complex set of requirements and infrastructure within your curriculum. Maybe you don’t have a person that will be administering your site. In this case, you’ll want to choose a system that offers admin support to keep your learning platform running at peak performance at all times.
An important part of the training cycle is the evaluation of programs to continuously refine and improve them. Just like administration, however, this can be an area of opportunity in terms of manpower and skill. The reporting and analytics tools available within a learning platform simplify the process of finding meaning within the various metrics from your user’s interactions. Robust reporting, along with scheduling and ad hoc capabilities, can free up your team to continue to execute. This lets them do what they do best with guidance from data to make decisions.
Choosing a new learning system for your organization is an exciting venture to take part in. These steps are designed to help you make an informed decision. These key elements will impact your learners’ experiences in the platform while ensuring that your Learning & Development priorities are fully executed. Finding a partner vendor that understands your needs and can support you to the extent you require is critical.
Most importantly, take the opportunity to explore the vast offerings on the market. Spend time talking to representatives, request demos, and partake in free trial periods to really kick the tires. The time invested in experiencing the platforms on the market will assist in determining what features are important for the organization and your audience. Finding that perfect mix of branding, functionality, and support can drive the future and culture of learning for your company for years to come.
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