As more corporate training programs shift from bricks-and-mortar to fully online or blended offerings, the market for training software has exploded. Learning Management Systems (LMSs) are software applications that enable the delivery of learning content and help track results. LMSs got their start in traditional online education settings, and now are used extensively by corporate programs looking for software to help administer, manage, and report on employee training. According to a Forbes article by HR specialist Josh Bersin, today “every single company with more than a few employees needs some sort of training management system.”
Bersin also reports that in 2014, the market for corporate LMSs alone was “well over $2.5 billion and grew by over 21%” that year alone.
In a changing economy, there’s a pressing need to fill in technical skills gaps for workers across industries. Online learning provides ample opportunity for high-quality, low-cost, scalable corporate training programs. In addition, learning management systems are right now in a “replacement cycle,” says Bersin. Newer LMSs boast substantial upgrades: “LMS systems today are quite different from platforms only a few years ago. Today’s LMS is an online course catalog, an expert management system, a collaboration and knowledge sharing platform, and a content and talent management system.” Companies who have used the same LMS for a half-decade or more are anxious to upgrade and reap the benefits of this new functionality.
For these organizations, there are a huge range of LMS options to choose from. Don McIntosh of eLearning Industry provides a regularly updated list of corporate LMSs. As of this writing, there were a whopping 571 products included. He offers advice for those beginning the process of selecting an LMS:
“I would recommend that you form a committee that consists of at least one of each of the following—a company manager who has the power to make the decision, a person who will be working as an administrator of the system, an instructor, a learner, and an IT person. Then conduct surveys and interviews to identify the needs. Separate the must-haves from the nice-to-haves. Develop learning scenarios that work for you and use them in the demos by the vendors.”
As McIntosh notes, every company is different. But there are a few features that fall into the “must-have” category for most every corporate training program. This article breaks down three of the most common.
Must-have #1: Easy uploading of video and multimedia content
As in any learning program, the most fundamental aspect of any corporate training course is the content. This was true in the pre-internet days, and it’s still true now.
“If you don’t have great content, you can’t improve employee performance one iota,” argues Chris Osborn, VP of marketing at an LMS provider. “Content is ultimately what drives improved performance.”
In Osborn’s opinion, video—particularly short-form video—is the most effective content format for online training programs. Respondents to a survey by SoftwareAdvice.com agreed: eighty-two percent of those creating training materials in-house, and eighty-five percent of those outsourcing content creation, preferred video over other content forms. (Today’s companies have a number of options when it comes to creating instructional videos. Agencies or freelancers can do the work at varying degrees of cost. Improvements in video software also mean that DIY video is an increasingly viable possibility. In particular, screencast or animation software can help companies cut back on talent and production costs, without sacrificing quality.)
Slideshows came in a close second in the survey, followed by text, charts, audio, virtual classrooms, and games/simulations. Everybody learns differently. Some people respond better to video than text, while others might prefer learning through games. Providing a range of different content types will help keep trainees interested and engaged throughout the training course.
Creating high-quality, engaging content that effectively conveys course content requires a great deal of thought and preparation. Embedding these content assets should be a snap by comparison. Look for LMSs with built-in course authoring and course assembly tools that make it easy to embed video and other content into training courses. LMSs like Litmos, Talent, Absorb, and more all provide this capability.
Some companies may be dealing with legacy LMSs that do not support video. “Most LMS solutions were designed in an era when supporting education meant either facilitating in-class activity management or offering a centralized way to manage text documents. Managing the comparatively massive size of video files and the associated problems of format compatibility, bandwidth requirements, and playback quality, to say nothing of other challenges like how to search the content recorded in a video, were never planned for in most LMS products,” according to video management platform Panopto. Adopting and integrating a video content management system (VCMS) provides another option for those not quite ready to overhaul an LMS entirely. Such systems are “designed to simplify the capture and management of video content, and the integration of your video assets with your LMS and other enterprise tools.” Other VCMS options to consider include Kaltura and VideoCloud.
Must-have #2: Assessment capabilities
Assessments are key to measuring and reinforcing learning within training courses. By completing assessments, trainees demonstrate their readiness to apply their lessons to the work environment.
Though not all LMSs intended for corporate use provide the ability to create tests, quizzes, and other assessments, there are still a number of corporate LMSs that do provide built-in assessment tools, making it easier for trainers to integrate them directly into online training courses. Options include Mindflash, Course Toolkit, NetDimensions, TalentLMS, and more. Bridge, a new corporate LMS from Instructure (who also are behind the popular higher education and K-12 LMS Canvas), provides “real-time micro assessments”—surveys which help employers measure what employees need at that exact moment in time.
Here are a few basic questions to ask when evaluating LMS assessment tools.
What assessment types are supported (e.g., multiple choice, free response, fill-in-the-blank, etc.)?
Are multimedia assets supported within assessments?
How is feedback displayed to trainees? Can this be customized?
Are timed tests supported?
Must-have #3: Flexible, robust reporting
Innovations in technology mean that today’s LMSs can go far beyond simply showing an employee’s performance on a quiz or test.
“A good system will let you track individual results as well as training trends, allowing you to tailor learning areas that are causing problems for your users,” notes an article from ProProfs Training Maker. Trend spotting would be helpful, for example, during an economic downturn if employees are feeling less of an impulse for charitable donations of time and effort — and instead are keen to focus more on their families.
Far beyond giving data snapshots, assessment reporting also gives an organization a look under the hood at the success of the training department itself. It can show engagement levels, drop-off points, frequency of logins, duration of session and other data points.“If managed properly, reports can define a company’s learning compliance level, gaps in skill development by function or region, or opportunities for talent mobility,” according to the Brandon Hall Group blog. “When managed poorly, a lack of reporting functionality can lead to an area of real frustration for learning leaders, stakeholders, and end-users that are unable to view the information they need to make better business decisions.”
According to an article by the Association for Talent Development (ATD), “most learning professionals agree that that critical weakness of their learning management system (LMS) is reporting… A related study by Bersin & Associates determined that reporting is the number one challenge for legacy LMSs, and that nearly half of all learning professionals see it as a significant problem.”
The ATD points to three specific problems with reporting within LMSs: antiquated design, limited functionality, and poor output usability (i.e., reports don’t automatically make sense in a business context). Companies searching for a new LMS to use in corporate training programs should look for “a dynamic training platform that’s intuitive to use, provides easy data access, and leverages Web 2.0 technologies.” LMSs should also have “precompiled procedures that are functional for business leaders” and provide the ability to “drill up or down through a hierarchy of data to provide meaningful business and operational insights.”
When evaluating potential LMSs, look for software offerings that provide reports either on-demand or automatically. Personalized dashboards are another key feature: These allow users to customize the reports they want to see on a regular basis—reducing time spent sifting through unnecessary or extraneous data. Make sure that it is possible to customize the fields in each report: For example, trainers might want to be able to dial down into an individual’s performance on a recent set of exams, while an administrator might prefer to see the average score for a large group of employees. Or, a trainer might just want to see how much time trainees have spent doing work in the online system, or how frequently certain pieces of content are being used. Look for LMSs that offer reporting across a specific course, individual, or series of training programs.
Talented Learning provides extensive reviews of a number of corporate LMS vendors. Among their top picks for reporting functionality include Gyrus Systems, Docebo LMS, and Cornerstone on Demand. Cornerstone, for example, offers “over 100 standard reports,” along with a “custom creation tool using any field and filter.” Users can schedule reports and use personalized dashboards to get the information they need quickly.
The increasingly granular nature of reporting data provides substantial opportunities to improve training and learning experiences. For example, many LMSs provide the option of integrating with SCORM and the Tin-Can API, a specification for learning data which makes it possible to “track any web-related activity for learning,” according to Forbes. “So if you read a webpage, download a PowerPoint, take a quiz, or click on a game, the learning platform can keep track. This new technology means we will have very rich and deep ‘click streams’ of learning data in these platforms, enabling the LMS to do even smarter things (like recommend content, let you skip chapters, give you scores, and much more).” Using these “click streams” to learn more about each individual trainee’s work habits and performance could enable training courses to cut down on formal assessments like tests and quizzes, and instead evaluate performance continuously as an organic part of the training process. Organizations can also use this data to find large-scale trends in content use and learning patterns, helping them to optimize course content and instructional design to fit employees’ needs.
Check out the following websites to search for LMSs by features like assessment tools, built-in course authoring, certification management, video conferencing, social learning, and more.