The learning management system (LMS), or some derivation thereof, has been around since at least the 1970s. The first prototypes were designed as mainframe systems and primarily used to schedule classroom training. Pathlore, now SumTotal, was among the early providers, but most systems were developed internally.
Organizations migrated to PCs in the 1980s and then to desktops, but systems still were used mainly for administrative purposes. A few years later, when CD-ROM learning content appeared, organizations began to shift to network-based systems, which still were used mostly to track learning. In the late 1990s, the Internet helped make the LMS an employee-facing application on a much broader scale.
Today, there are dozens of LMS providers with offerings that seem to evolve constantly. Multiplatform, multicapability systems blend learning, help build custom courses, ease governance, integrate HR functions, enable searchability and aid performance support for companies such as Ariba, a global organization that produces spend-management software and services.
When Ariba launched its first LMS, the learning organization didn’t offer online classes, and it had two basic goals: to provide online training and to have the system act as a delivery vehicle for competency assessments for the commercial sales organization. The assessments then were attached to skills training.
“We used to call it just-in-time training, but now it’s really becoming just-in-time, meaning that we want training that is just what you need to take when you need it,” said Lori Willbanks, senior sales training manager. “Classes we’ve offered the past couple of years have been a couple of hours at a time, and we’ve been giving that to the sales and consulting organization. But we’re finding, when they go into a sales call, they may want a specific quick tip or some information that they can watch in shorter video clips for maybe two minutes at the max.”
Willbanks said version 7.5 of SumTotal’s software-as-a-service LMS can handle many different media types, and it also offers learning tracks, which allow Ariba to segment learning for similar sales roles with similar competencies according to their specific selling audience.
“When an individual goes into the LMS, they see an account executive learning plan, they choose which organization they’re in and they see the required classes and also some elective classes they can take,” she said. “That’s something that we didn’t have in SumTotal version 6.5, and we weren’t really ready to roll that out — we needed to gain adoption and develop a name for the LMS before we actually started using a lot of these different components.”
Willbanks said AribaWISE, which stands for “worldwide individual skills enhancements,” will offer new learning delivery vehicles such as video clips in conjunction with longer online solution courses, instructor-led learning and webcasts for a blended approach.
Some of the current sales skills, management and leadership courses available include Negotiating for Results, Productive Business Dialogue, Power Prospecting, and Influencing and Motivating Others. Each of the courses ties directly into company sales-competency models to ensure the learning targets specific audience needs.
AribaWISE also enables the company to collect valuable metrics such as customer satisfaction ratings, which are based on customer ratings of sales representative product knowledge.
“We took that number, then we actually launched the LMS and provided sales reps with 20 online solutions courses,” she said. “Basically, they’re solution overviews, and when I say ‘solution,’ that means product services. Nine months later, after they were required to take some of that training — and many people did take it — we surveyed the customers again and found a higher rating score for sales reps’ product knowledge. We attribute that increase to the launch of these new courses.”
Next, Ariba is considering licensing the ability to download iPod technology for podcasts in response to sales representatives’ requests for offline training.
“They travel quite a bit,” Willbanks said. “They’re on airplanes, on the road, and some of these three- to five-minute video clips offer the ability to download to iPods. We’re toying with iPod technology and podcasts to keep training delivery really competitive and up to date for our sales reps.”
— Kellye Whitney, email@example.com