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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 2: Learning Management Systems

Stuart Hornsey, of LMS producer Pathlore Software, pointed out that an LMS is about learning, not necessarily e-learning. He commented: "Although e-learning is an important part of our market, it is important not to forget about classroom-delivered learning. Don't just think about linking delivering learning content over a network to a web browser to an LMS. In many ways, that is the easiest part of the process. The greatest challenge for any LMS is how it manages and monitors business processes."

Turning to the question of why invest in an LMS, Hornsey said: "An LMS is not always 'right' for every organisation."

In his view, an LMS has most to offer organisations that are:

  • Over 1,000 employees in size
  • Widely geographically dispersed
  • Complex in structure
  • Highly regulated
  • Supplying many, complex products and services
  • Employing 'knowledge workers'
  • Focusing on developing a culture of fostering staff development
  • Operating in a highly competitive market
  • Marketing a strong brand and need to support 'corporate messaging'

"You can use an LMS, in its simplest form, to control and manage training," said Hornsey. "It can provide a big benefit for an organisation when it is used to push learning out to employees - especially if the organisation needs to stress the value of learning to its employees and built its image as an organisation that promotes learning opportunities for its staff."

Hornsey suggested six areas where an LMS can be of value:

  • Planning - as a planning tool to analyse what training is being successful; what are the cost and business implications if classes run at below capacity and so on
  • Blending - an LMS is not just for e-learning. In other words, an LMS must manage all forms of training delivery, including classroom delivery
  • Controlling - any organisation can produce a catalogue of learning materials but, if this catalogue is not controlled, then all sorts of things could happen which could damage the business. After all, people have jobs to do - not learn all the time. Consequently, managers must have some control over what training is being delivered and to whom and at what time. An LMS combines the control and delivery of learning materials, with the aim of delivering the right materials to the right person and the right time. It will also identify accurately which staff members have studied which learning materials
  • Delivering/Assessing - an LMS can deliver e-learning to a person's desktop - and this can be helpful. However, it is also important to know how useful that learning has been to that learner. An LMS must be able to assess the value of the learning that each individual has received - and this could well include allowing 360 degree feedback to the learner
  • Reporting - this can determine the value of the LMS to the organisation. The LMS can produce reports on what is happening within the organisation's learning system but, more specifically, it can prove which people have been trained to certain standards and which people are compliant with industry knowledge and competency regulations

"LMSs automate these processes and, so, streamline them," said Hornsey. "These processes include:

  • Catalogue management - enabling an organisation to manage its entire catalogue, blending classroom, online and virtual classroom training, for example
  • Extensive role and security management
  • Integration - of human resources systems, email, e-commerce, VCs, portals and so on
  • A content object registry - allowing organisations to manage all the learning content that exists within their organisation as well as deliver generic and bespoke learning content
  • A blended content object directory - which is similar to the content object registry but has a wider scope, to include blended learning programmes
  • Content creation
  • Aligning job roles with organisational goals and objectives
  • Reporting
  • Analytics - measuring, among other things, how people perform in their learning

In terms of the 'real difference' that can be brought about by using an LMS, Hornsey commented: "That depends - on who you are."

He added that a number of factors have an effect upon an organisation and each of them are affected, to some degree, by the use of an LMS. These factors are:

  • Salesforce productivity
  • Customer and partner training
  • Developing and retaining employees
  • Regulatory compliance
  • Enterprise software implementations
  • Quality initiatives
  • Strategic communications

"Of these, the major one at the moment appears to be 'regulatory compliance'," he said. "But whichever one of these factors is important to you and your organisation will influence what you see as the benefits of using an LMS."

Combining courses with an LMS, said Hornsey:

  • Produces consistent messaging across the organisation
  • Enables individuals to develop their careers
  • Produces a powerful compliance tool
  • Produces a central portal - or 'one stop shop' for learning in the organisation
  • Provides organisational security and control
  • Allows the measurement of training success
  • Allows for the management of learning content
  • Allows for management feedback to learners
  • Produces process optimisation

"From a strategic perspective, an organisation wants to align its training and development with its goals," Hornsey said. "It wants to analyse and close skills gaps in order to meet its business plan. It also wants to foster an atmosphere where employees believe that they are important to the organisation where the organisation is seen to have a commitment to develop the knowledge and skills of its employees.

"Where it achieves these things, performance improves and the organisation gains a competitive advantage.

"From an operational point of view, managers want to do and achieve more with less - working faster, better and/or quicker," Hornsey continued. "They want to retain and develop their employees and also address any regulatory requirements. Doing this results in increasing efficiency and productivity, reduced risk and increased customer satisfaction."

Hornsey's answer to question three was, again, 'it depends' - this time, on what the organisation is doing. He said that chief executive officers want:

  • Revenue generation
  • Customer retention
  • Increasing market share
  • Competitive advantage
  • Reduced time to market
  • A lower number of 'product recalls'
  • Reduced risk
  • Reduced costs

"You're on to a winner if you can align the LMS to one or more of these factors," smiled Hornsey. "For example, you could show that 'doing things better' because the staff are better trained will help retain customers and, by spending less time away from their desks doing the training, the staff will be able to serve more customers and increase their satisfaction with the organisation and its products.

"The key is to align the e-learning business plan to the business' goals - otherwise the business won't put any money into an LMS."

Hornsey agreed that question four - agreeing an ROI from an LMS - was difficult, principally because it is impossible to measure the ROI of the LMS in isolation from every other factor. Hornsey said: "An LMS is part of the solution. It is not the solution. However, if you take any one of the seven factors that impact on a business - salesforce productivity; customer and partner training; developing and retaining employees; regulatory compliance; enterprise software implementations; quality initiatives, and strategic communications - an LMS can be shown to pay for itself within a year."

Hornsey concluded his presentation by looking at three case studies:

  • A bank with over 11,000 employees in 750 branches, needed to find an LMS that provided, among other things, learner tracking, registration, online content and competency-based assessments. Having implemented the Pathlore LMS, it saw training programme length fall by 60 per cent with the greater use of e-learning materials; it reduced its training costs by 25 per cent, and ended up with a system that possessed robust regulatory tracking capabilities.
  • A private healthcare organisation, with 22,000 employees, needed to increase the 'quality' of the organisation's performance; increase the staff's skills and know-how; improve employee retention, and be able to certify that its staff had complied with the various industry regulations. In the first year of using the Pathlore LMS, it produced an estimated productivity saving of some £3m and reduced the time taken to train staff by 18 per cent.
  • A transport organisation, responsible for 39 stations and 95 miles of track in densely populated areas, needed to deliver anti-terrorism training to 3,000 employees as soon as possible. With help from the Pathlore LMS, it was able to deliver this training in six weeks - reaching a large number of employees simultaneously but at reduced cost compared with classroom-based training.

Part 1 < Back to Top > Part 3   

© 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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