According to analysts, more than half of major companies are either using or planning to implement e-learning initiatives. Clearly there is popular acceptance that alternatives to classroom training can reduce the time and costs associated with optimizing workforce readiness. However, the challenge in selecting the right software technology to power these learning initiatives can be daunting. A major hurdle many companies struggle with is whether to begin their initiative by investing in a learning management system (LMS) or a learning content management system (LCMS).
There is no right order. Deciding where to focus technology investments, and in what order, is a strategic decision, and there are options that can help bridge the gap between LMSs and LCMSs without committing entirely to one or the other. Companies implementing e-learning initiatives should identify business goals, identify key challenges preventing these goals from being reached and align these challenges and goals with proven technology that will allow the organization to gain the highest return on its investment.
To help plan an e-learning initiative, here is a 1,000-foot view of the different business problems generally addressed by LMSs and LCMSs as currently defined by the market.
Business Problems LMSs Solve
Learning management systems take an administrative approach to solving organizational learning challenges by helping administrators, managers and learners manage the processes around learning and training. These applications address pain points, such as:
- Where do learners register for courses or select curriculums?
- How do managers and administrators control or assign the courses that each learner is able to access?
- How do users schedule classroom instructors for certain courses or reserve rooms or materials for certain learning events?
- Where do online students actually “go to school” to take courses?
- How do users record the results of learner activities?
- How do users link data about courses (e.g., what each student took, how they did and whether or not they are certified in certain areas) back to other systems such as a human resources management system (HRMS)?
Business Problems LCMSs Solve
LCMSs take a content-centric approach to solving organizational learning challenges by enabling multiple users to create, store, reuse, manage and deliver learning content from a repository. These applications address pains like:
- How do users ensure that consistent learning and training content is available to learners whenever they need it?
- Is there a standard way to create learning content or enforce standards for learning content structure at an organization?
- How does the user know where all of the learning content is within an organization, making maintenance and updates possible?
- How can trainers or managers reuse the content created in one part of an organization for learners in other parts of the organization or throughout the enterprise?
- How can an organization avoid duplicating efforts and prevent having multiple versions of the same content for different locations, delivery channels or audiences?
- How can the content learners are exposed to be limited to just what they need?
- How can the content be delivered through different delivery types without having different versions of the same content?
- Within courses, how do users enable personalized or prescriptive learning experiences for learners?
Organizations invest in learning with the goal of increasing individual and organizational performance in order to increase the competitive strength of their organization. With this in mind, an organization needs to evaluate its pain points and determine which areas need to be addressed.
Do managers need better insight into the exact skills of each employee? Is scheduling the logistics around training an agonizing experience for the organization? Is the company facing compliance issues that make it a top priority to have a system recording the baseline training levels employees receive to meet these regulations? Is the content relatively static, and is a mechanism needed to simply administer its delivery to internal audiences? If these areas resonate most loudly, then an LMS will provide an organization with the infrastructure required to effectively address these issues.
On the other hand, are learning business pains derived from the management of content or the quality of the learning experience itself? Is the content complex or unique to the organization (such as product or services training content)? Does content change frequently? Is there a need to deliver slightly different versions of the same content to different audiences, but an issue with maintaining it at different places? Will external audiences, like customers or partners, require training? Are learners frustrated by only being able to access content at the course level, rather than being able to find just the lessons they need to solve their immediate challenges? Do users even know where all of the learning content is, and if not, is there a concern that all existing content is not leveraged or that inconsistent learning content is provided within different areas of an organization? Is content a tangible business asset that reflects the organization’s unique business know-how? If these issues exist, then focus should be on LCMS functionality.
Be careful when conducting your analysis to understand where ROI will come from and, more importantly, how far it will go. Traditional e-learning ROI analysis focuses on reduced travel costs, reduced classroom training costs, reduced costs associated with learners’ time away from the field and reduced training administration/staff costs. More recently, ROI experts are focusing on soft ROI metrics like the degree to which online training improves the performance of learners and to what degree that impacts the company’s actual business performance. Using e-learning to create faster product launches with better prepared distribution channels is an example of soft returns, where the most dramatic ROI is realized. An organization should take the impacts of a timelier, more available and more effective learning experience into account.
Finally, consider the total cost of ownership for the courses themselves. It takes massive resources to maintain versions of every course every time any content needs updating. Consider the reductions of this expense as well when projecting the benefits of learning content management systems.
Have Your Cake and Eat It Too
If business pains can be attributed to both administration and content, fear not. The functionality of both sets of technology is creeping across borders. Forward-thinking vendors know that administrating learners and instructors is unproductive without content that creates effective learning. Likewise, they realize that the greatest content and content management in the world only goes so far without an efficient way to track its delivery and impact on learners and without incorporating it into regular business processes.
No matter where an organization decides to begin its learning initiative, it must be sure to select a vendor that demonstrates the vision to support both sets of pains. These can be through strong, proven partnerships or, preferably, through an organization’s own product suite or product family. By selecting a vendor that provides the flexibility to address both sets of pains, an organization is afforded the freedom to evolve its learning initiative to soothe any business pains that rear their heads in the future.
John Alonso is founder and chief technology officer of Boston-based OutStart, which provides a proven, content-centric learning product family for corporations seeking to increase individual and organizational performance to create a sustainable competitive advantage.
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