The current economic landscape looks to be rebounding, but the fact remains that the future is getting more difficult to predict. Many time-honored approaches to sustainable growth are beginning to seem outdated and irrelevant. As companies adjust their operations to better navigate the current economic turmoil, they often lose sight of core competencies critical to long-term effectiveness, such as succession planning, leadership development and improved training regimes. Ultimately, companies that continue to invest in human capital during times of crisis ensure future prosperity. They emerge with improved production capacities that allow them to handle new market demands more effectively than their battle-worn competitors. <br /><br />The million-dollar question company executives ask is, “How do we invest in the future while minimizing expenses?” This is where learning and development departments play a key role: Many organizations turn to e-learning and the use of a learning management system (LMS) for solutions. <br /><br />LMSs range in sophistication from basic employee training record management to advanced functionality, including certification, career path planning and online customized training presented with a combination of video and motion graphics. In evaluating an LMS, organizations should look at the following three factors.<br /><br /><strong>Speed </strong><br /><ul><li>Provides the ability to train thousands of employees at geographically dispersed locations in a short period of time.</li><li>Provides access to real-time reporting on courses taken and test results that can be a requirement for compliance reasons.</li><li>Provides the ability to dictate the pace at which employees complete courses. </li></ul><strong><br />Cost</strong><br /><ul><li>Repeatable nature of e-learning provides economies of scale: The more employees you train, the lower the per-learner cost.</li><li>Eliminates requirement to hire instructors and pay fees and accommodations every time a course needs to be delivered.</li></ul><br /><strong>Effectiveness</strong><br /><ul><li>New approach is well-aligned with the technological inclinations of new generations entering the workforce.</li><li>Combining video, motion, text and voice strengthens the number of learning touch points and the way people learn.</li></ul><br /><strong>Selecting an LMS </strong><br />Many factors must be considered to select the right LMS for your company. Starting with a solid understanding of your organization’s training needs is important. Ask yourself the following questions:<br /><br /><ul><li>What are the core competencies your staff must develop? </li><li>What training requirements can be met with e-learning and an effective LMS? </li><li>What are the strengths and weaknesses of your current training regime? </li><li>What is your current training budget?</li><li>Which expenses could be eliminated with an e-learning approach?</li></ul><br />Once all factors have been taken into account, it is time to look for the LMS that best fits your training needs. It is important to investigate the company offering the LMS as well as the benefits offered by the LMS itself. Following is a list of questions to assist in the selection of the right LMS for your training needs.<br /><br /><strong>The Company Offering the LMS</strong><br /><ul><li>Are e-learning and LMSs the company’s main focus?</li><li>Who are their existing clients and what are they saying about their service?</li></ul><br /><strong>Course Development and Availability</strong><br /><ul><li>What courses do they have available?</li><li>Do they develop custom courses, and if so, can they provide course hosting options? </li></ul><br /><strong>Testing</strong><br /><ul><li>Does the LMS provide the ability to test learners on the course material?</li><li>Can you set a passing grade and allow employees to retake tests?</li></ul><br /><strong>Reporting</strong><br /><ul><li>Does the LMS contain a dashboard to access real-time reports?</li><li>For growing companies, can reporting be broken down by city, location, person and course?</li><li>Does the reporting meet the requirements of any compliance regime mandated by government regulation?</li><li>Does the LMS solicit feedback from users on course material and LMS usability?</li></ul><br /><strong>Administration</strong><br /><ul><li>Does the system allow multiple user levels with customized privileges?</li><li>Can administrators add new users and change user privileges, or does this need to go through the provider?</li><li>Can administrators change the availability of courses by user or user level?</li><li>Can the system generate e-mail notifications for each course completion?</li><li>Can the system generate personalized certificates of completion for users who pass the course?</li></ul><br /><strong>Cost</strong><br /><ul><li>What is the cost structure of the LMS — does the company offering it charge course completion fees, monthly user fees, hosting fees or flat-rate fees?</li></ul><br />As e-learning and LMSs are relatively new, finding an all-in-one, off-the-shelf LMS can be difficult. Few online training systems are fully integrated with reporting technology, rapid delivery systems and survey technology.<br /><br />Educational institutions are starting to invest heavily in online learning, governments are rapidly expanding the offering of online learning for their employees, and businesses are starting to rapidly move their current training library into the digital world of online training. Therefore, a large number of e-training companies will emerge in the coming years. The company that has the best material and digital media and the most seamless, integrated system will lead the online revolution. The challenge for large organizations will be navigating through the various online companies to find the one that delivers custom digital media courses that focus on the retention of information and the comprehension of the material. The world of online learning is quickly moving from the early adaptors phase to the mainstream, and the time to begin investigating how e-training and an LMS can help your organization meet training and development needs is now.
Cushing Anderson is program director for learning services at market intelligence firm IDC.