Learning Management Systems: To Build or Not to Build

Back in 2000, Dow Chemical, an American multinational chemical corporation, had to fire 61 workers and take some disciplinary measures against 540 workers for sending offensive emails over the organization’s servers. To make sure such an incident wouldn’t happen again, CEO Bill Stavropoulos required all 40,000 DOW employees working in 70 countries to complete training on workplace respect and responsibility.

This training could have cost the company a fortune if it were held using traditional classes. But the company took advantage of technology to provide training via a web-based system.

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Over the four-month course period, the company managed to save 30 percent of the time typically spent in classroom settings and $2.7 million dollars that would have otherwise been spent on manual record-keeping, classroom facilities, course handouts, and instructors’ salaries.

It’s been 20 years since Dow Chemical’s success story, and there have been lots of technological breakthroughs that have influenced eLearning since then. Such giants as Toyota, Mazda, Shell, and IBM have long been taking advantage of technology to provide employee training. But does this mean your company also needs to jump on the eLearning bandwagon?

Does your company really need an eLearning solution?

No matter what industry your company belongs to, there comes a time when you need to provide the following:

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In these situations, a learning management system (LMS) comes in handy. There are a dizzying number of ready-made LMS solutions. Connie Malamed, a reputable eLearning coach, has studied over 100 of them for 20 years of practice. And Connie has counted more than 700 existing solutions, each of which the coach considers unique.

These learning management systems are impossible to sort out or group by types, and it’s extremely hard to choose the most suitable one for your specific needs. It’s also possible that creating an LMS from scratch is your cup of tea. This article aims to help you make the right choice.

What is an LMS in a nutshell?

An LMS is a software that manages learners, learning materials, and the relationships between the two. For instance, in terms of talent management, an LMS allows companies to track workers’ profiles and organizational roles.

An LMS also tracks training history and suitable learning paths. It’s a place to register for training and to access online learning materials. In addition, an LMS tracks students’ progress as they work through assigned or selected learning materials. A typical LMS consists of two components:

  1. A server that implements the main functions including building, managing, and providing courses as well as authenticating users
  2. A browser-based user interface that administrators, instructors, and learners can use

Regardless of the types of activities it facilitates, an LMS should allow you to avoid unwanted features, integrate with third-party solutions, provide quality customer support, and provide quality content.

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Just because your LMS has these features, however, doesn’t mean it will fully cover your company’s needs.

What specific (and common) needs can an LMS meet?

Depending on the specifics of your organization, an LMS might (but won’t necessarily) satisfy the following learning needs:

Incorporating learning processes from several programs into one

Integrations are crucial, as they help an LMS become a seamless part of your ecosystem. The following types of systems are most commonly integrated with an LMS:

Customer relationship management (CRM) systems. For companies, an LMS-CRM integration can paint a full picture of a user’s learning status and suggest personal development plans. Say that a partner manager must verify that all partner network sales agents are properly instructed. With an LMS-CRM integration, it’s simple to perform detailed A/B testing to estimate the effect of learning material in dollars and cents.

Human resource information systems (HRIS). Integrating with an HRIS can allow companies to:

  • Use training data to define patterns and correlations between training and turnover, training and promotion, and training and contentment
  • Assign, provide and track training through one system so managers can determine skill gaps, compile a list of workers who are eligible for promotion, and see all employee development information

Messaging tools. An LMS might be integrated into a messenger (e.g. Slack) and, for instance, post a notification to a channel whenever a new course or training-related event has been added.

Project management tools. Tools like Trello for corporate collaboration and project management might be used along with an LMS to boost your training. This integration will help you create Trello Cards or Lists whenever a user is created or a course is completed. You also can automatically add newly created Trello members to your eLearning portal.

Onboarding, mentoring, and compliance training

An LMS might help you teach new employees your company’s corporate culture and internal processes to speed up their onboarding. An LMS also might ensure compliance training when employees learn laws or regulations applicable to their job or industry, help workers learn from past mistakes and help them develop critical thinking skills and a knowledge-sharing mentality.

Specialized staff training

LMSs are different not just due to innovative functionality but also due to domain-specific expertise, integration capabilities, additional services, and pricing.

Industry-specific LMSs. Some LMSs are tailored to specific domains: MediaLab for healthcare, Real Estate Express for real estate, RescueHub for firefighters.

Versatile LMSs. There are also generalists like Moodle and TalentLMS that cover nearly all industries from education and sales to nonprofits. Among their customers are giants like Coca-Cola, Shell, De’Longhi, and Mazda. Generalists have their pros and cons. For example, Moodle is praised by users for a high level of customization, transparency of learners’ progress and scores, and a great implementation team. At the same time, its drawbacks according to reviews are complex user experience, relatively poor mobile offering, and insufficient integration capabilities.

Extended enterprise solutions. There are also extended solutions for enterprises like BlueVolt and Community Brands, which provides software for managing memberships, career centers, peer-to-peer fundraising, admissions, events, etc. In addition to all these services, Community Brands also provides its LMS called Crowd Wisdom. This LMS is praised by users for its deep content support, a broad set of default predefined roles, and great localization features. But it doesn’t have mobile apps or any gamification component.

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Channel learning for your business partners’ training

Imagine you’re an insurance firm with agents who sell your services. These agents might also work for your rivals. How can you make them prioritize your products? Agents prefer to recommend insurance providers who give them resources, learning paths, and certifications.

If your business relies on external partners to sell your products, make sure they know those products well so they can properly represent your brand. Channel partner LMSs like Net Exam are tailored to such a form of training.

Training customers to ensure customer loyalty and retention

Imagine you’re a foodservice supply chain software company. Your software is complex and time-consuming to master. What would you do to help your customers enjoy their benefits faster? You can provide them with a digital customer education solution.

That’s what ArrowStream did. Customer training has become one of ArrowStream’s main priorities since 2013. Since then, the company’s customer retention rate has been 100 percent, and over the past three years, ArrowStream’s annual growth rate has been about 40 percent. These numbers were provided by Brittany Tamul, a director of customer success at ArrowStream, in a recent interview with Talented Learning.

Note that there are also LMSs like Skilljar specifically tailored to customer and partner training.

Enhanced learning processes and knowledge retention

Thanks to technological innovation, an LMS can significantly improve learning quality and knowledge retention.

Learning paths. A learning path is a selection of courses to help learners master a particular subject or program. Creating learning paths allows you to enroll multiple users in multiple courses at once, saving time.

Blended learning functionality. Blended learning describes any training program that blends elements of instructor-led classroom instruction and self-paced eLearning. An LMS usually provides blended learning through features including instructor-led training, virtual classrooms, collaborative social learning, and learning analytics to measure the effectiveness of training programs.

Virtual reality. Integrating virtual reality into an LMS delivers real-life learning experiences. Learners can use virtual reality to complement theoretical training and participate in life-like situations. This kind of training is useful for those working at heights, dealing with hazardous materials, or operating heavy machinery.

Gamification. Properly implemented gamification elements motivate and attract learners. TalentLMS, for example, offers gamification elements including points, levels, badges, and reward-based discounts.

Electronic document workflow. Crouse Hospital modified its training program in 2015 by implementing eLearning technology. Before switching to online education, administrators had to handle a lot of paperwork related to employees’ professional development. Filing handwritten class rosters and paper transcripts took a lot of time. Using an LMS helped the hospital’s educators create and access existing classes, track students’ results, and generate reports. This resulted in significant time savings, allowing employees to focus on other responsibilities.

Content management

Content management is one more advantage of an LMS. Your LMS should let you decide who receives access to what courses. In addition, you should be able to create your course content yourself or import ready-made materials. An LMS should let you add them from different sources and in multiple formats and use multimedia files including video, audio, and graphics.

Make sure your LMS enables you to structure content as you want. This might be a set of such managerial tools as courses, groups, and branches that you can integrate differently. These tools will help you choose how to provide lessons, where you’re a multi-national organization with branches in 15 countries or a small firm located in one place.

In addition to the above-mentioned, an LMS also provides greater comfort for users, who can learn anywhere, anytime, from any device. Some LMSs also provide localization capabilities to adapt the material to different regions.

So, when choosing an LMS, check if it covers all your needs.

How to pick the most suitable LMS vendor?

Before choosing an LMS, make sure you’ve answered these questions:

  • What should be the main LMS specialization? (This might be employee compliance, employee development, customer/prospect training, etc.)
  • Who will be the students?
  • What do I want learners to do at each step of the process and how should they interact with the LMS? (If you define this flow, you’re likely to identify fewer than 100 requirements you really need.)
  • What tools do I need to integrate with?
  • What are the provider’s history, mission, and longevity, and what do past customers say about them?
  • Does the vendor provide unlimited mobile capabilities?
  • Does the vendor provide quality customer and technical support?

And last but not least, you’ll also need to decide how you want to deploy your LMS.

Types of LMS deployment

There are three types of LMS deployment:

Locally deployed (self-hosted)

A self-hosted LMS platform is basically a web application, usually sold as a licensed product, that you install and maintain on your own server.

This setup provides flexibility for integrating with your local infrastructure and the option to alter the platform’s code to fit any special needs.

Choose a self-hosted platform when:

  • you require an LMS that’s heavily customized, with special developments, integrations, and branding capabilities
  • your priority is to maintain a high level of security for your employees’ information
  • you have enough storage capacity and want your LMS solution to be implemented alongside other software programs
  • you’re familiar with installation procedures and can back up data and update server software

Cloud-based (hosted LMS)

A cloud-based LMS doesn’t require you to install hardware or software in order to access and use it. By logging into a web portal, you and your learners can access features of a cloud-based LMS solution. There are two types of cloud-based LMSs:

Private cloud

Halfway between locally deployed and public cloud options, you get a secure and private LMS environment that doesn’t share resources or code with other businesses, giving you the best possible performance and security. A private cloud might be operated directly by your IT department or managed by a third party that specializes in this kind of service, taking care of the setup, monitoring, backup, and maintenance.

Choose a private cloud when:

  • you need your system to start operating urgently
  • you have little space on your servers.
  • you need in-depth technical assistance
  • you have a strict and limited budget and want to avoid extra costs associated with maintenance or upgrades

Public cloud LMS

A public cloud LMS is made available for you by a third party, usually under a subscription model.

Choose a public cloud when:

  • saving costs is your main priority. Public clouds typically cost less than private clouds because the cloud provider is able to maximize their use of hardware and their profits by selling their services to multiple customers at once.
  • you don’t have an IT department or an external support team. With a public cloud, you don’t have to spend time managing servers.
  • you’re a small or medium-sized business that doesn’t have the resources to implement strong security measures. In this case, you can outsource some aspects of cybersecurity to a larger provider with more resources.

If you have an IT department, make sure you loop them in on evaluating your LMS. You’ll want to find out whether your IT department allows cloud-based deployments or wants everything hosted behind the firewall. This is critical, as some LMSs cannot be hosted locally.

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After you’ve chosen a vendor, establish a trial period with feedback from all stakeholders. If your budget and resources allow you to cooperate with a software development partner, consider building an LMS from scratch. In such a case, a vendor will help you nail down the details of the new system.

Do you need to create an LMS from scratch?

Companies evolve in terms of both size and business purposes. An organization might spot that it has outgrown its current LMS and begin to consider other options. Many existing solutions are more complicated than necessary. That’s because they’re designed to solve problems for ALL users.

Also, when starting to work with an LMS, organizations often need to adjust their processes to this LMS as well as to adapt to the types of training content the system provides.

If you choose to build an LMS from scratch, you’ll have a software product you know everything about, that allows you to do whatever you need, and that looks the way you want it to.

That’s what Toyota Motor Europe (TME) chose to do. To manage the flow of information and streamline the education process, TME implemented a centralized custom learning management system.

The system, called Toyota Connect, is effective in providing access to frequently updated eLearning modules, content management tools, online registration, assessment tracking, and an integrated user-friendly authoring tool to create unique regional content. This use case shows the viability of building a custom LMS.

A custom LMS allows organizations to:

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If you decide to outsource your LMS implementation, a reliable software development vendor can facilitate the process by suggesting how to create good training content, designing all required features, and integrating your LMS with external and internal software. Yalantis has experience building mature software projects. We’ll gladly back you up during the LMS journey right through your launch and provide further tech support.

Claritus, a global mobile and web application development services company with 250+ app developers to design apps. https://www.claritusconsulting.com/

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