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Do we need management systems?

Bob Little reports on the in-depth discussions on learning management systems, skills management systems and virtual classrooms that took place at the March 2004 meeting of the eLearning Network.

Part 1: Introduction - asking the key questions

In what ways could an e-learning implementation be said to be 'better' because it embraced a 'management system'? How do you decide whether your organisation needs a learning management system (LMS), a skills management system (SMS) or a virtual classroom (VC)? What criteria can you use to justify the investment in one or more of these systems and, having identified both the criteria and the need to acquire a system, how do you set about buying it?

Depending upon who you listen to, an IT management system can be anything from being a pre-requisite to successful business outcomes to being a waste of time, money and effort. Somewhere between these two extremes lies the truth about how valuable management systems can be to organisations.

But who do you ask to help you find out the answer for your organisation? If you ask a system vendor, you expect to be told that you need a system - even if you don't. Organisations that have invested much time, money and effort into implementing a system will invariably keep quiet in order to keep any competitive advantage that they may have won for themselves by using the system.

And, since every organisation is different, what questions would you ask, anyway?

Opening the day's proceedings, Vaughan Waller, the eLearning Network (ELN)'s chairman and head of the Technologies for Business and Learning consultancy, remarked: "Acquiring an LMS, SMS and/or a VC needs the involvement of the buying organisation's IT department. These management systems are not just 'bits of software that can be added to the IT infrastructure without having implications for the organisation and those who service and maintain that infrastructure. And we need to remember that many organisations these days are suffering from 'IT initiative overload' - especially with so many of their staff members spending long periods working at their PCs."

Waller suggested that there are four main reasons why any organisation will want to introduce a management system. It will:

  • Save costs
  • Increase efficiency
  • Save on headcount
  • Help the organisation to comply with mandatory regulations, especially where their staff's knowledge and skills need to be logged and monitored

"When it comes to value for money, should you apply the same criteria to an LMS, SMS or VC as you would to, say, an SAP system?" he asked. "What sort of return are you expecting from implementing a management system - especially when the full benefits of the system could take years to become apparent."

Waller explained that he had asked the vendors of the biggest systems in the field of LMSs, SMSs and VCs - Pathlore, InfoBasis and Centra respectively - to answer four specific questions:

  • If my e-learning budget is limited, why should I spend what I have got on an LMS/SMS/VC?
  • What real difference will my organisation see from using an LMS/SMS/VC?
  • If I was writing my e-learning business plan, what would be the one overriding justification in terms of business value for an LMS/SMS/VC?
  • How will I ever be able to see the return on investment (ROI) on the LMS/SMS/VC?

The ELN had assembled a panel of three judges to comment on each presentation in the light of these questions. They were:

  • Ian Blackwood, from Inland Revenue Training
  • Graham Woodward, from HM Land Registry
  • Nige Howarth, formerly of NETg but now heading up the
    e-learning consultancy, Inspired Age

Blackwood commented: "Having some 80,000 staff in the Inland Revenue, we made the case for e-learning easily. But we did this before we acquired an LMS. We don't care about acquiring an SMS - as long as our staff can do their jobs. And, as for VCs, aren't they just part of a network?"

Woodward remarked: "We only have 8,000 - not 80,000 - staff but we, too, acquired e-learning before turning our attention to an LMS. Up to now, we've used a simple tracking system but we're now looking to see if we should have an LMS - although we realise that they can be exceptionally expensive."

Back to Top > Part 2   

© 2004 e-Learning Network. Reproduced with permission. Any opinions or views contained in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Training Reference.

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