5 great resources to help your search for an LMS

Guest Post by Susan O’Connell, Learning and Organizational Development Manager at Habitat for Humanity International

 

With a large global staff working in over 70 countries joined by thousands of new volunteers each year, Habitat for Humanity International’s learning needs led us to join LINGOs as a founding member back in 2005 and begin leveraging the IntraLearn LMS that comes with our Level 2 membership. The system served our early needs well, but over time our motivated learners have been giving the LMS a bigger and bigger work out.  At times registering up to 200 new users each month, we realized that we were ready to leverage LINGOs’ SCORM Dispatch capabilities to implement a new LMS that would provide learners with differentiated access privileges for self-enrollment and immediate access to learning resources, along with additional automation for both our users and learning managers. Recognizing the need for a new LMS is the easy part. With around 500 LMS vendors out there, choosing one can feel like wandering through a forest searching for the perfect tree.

Here are five resources that I found very useful during this selection process and that I would recommend to anyone else facing the same challenge.

1.       Start with your organization’s needs and requirements

In three or four bullet points, describe the top issues that the organization is experiencing with the current system and restate those as a summary of your top needs. This short, high-level summary was very useful throughout the selection process to communicate with various stakeholders, to define the requirements, and to make the final selection. I’ll continue to use it as we move into implementation.

After you have summarized the needs, document the requirements. The requirements are the specific features and functionality that the new system should include. This will be more detailed than the needs summary and it will take longer to finalize. You’ll have to distinguish which requirements are absolute ‘must-haves’ and which are ‘wants.’ Use the needs summary along with input from key stakeholders to do this.

Send the requirements to the vendors you are interested in and ask them to use these to plan a demonstration of their systems. Then, make sure their demonstrations cover these requirements. Most vendors I worked with were happy to have the requirements but I was surprised that a couple ignored them completely until I pushed them! This said a lot to me about what those vendors would be like to work with.

2.       Talk to other LMS users and administrators

Choosing a new LMS for your organization can feel daunting if you’ve never done it before – or even if you have. You can gain a lot of confidence and knowledge by reaching out to others who have been there. Think about all of the contacts you have available to you through your LINGOs membership, other learning providers for your organization, and your own personal and professional contacts.  Everyone I contacted was more than willing to share their experiences with me.

Create a list of questions that you would ask each contact while listening for whatever additional information they might offer. Every organization has their own unique needs and resources, and it will be important to know what those differences are to frame their input in context. I found it helpful to learn how various organizations were staffed to support the LMS and if they had renewed the contract with their vendor yet. Through these contacts I learned that one vendor raised their price 25% after the original three-year contract was up.

3.       Attend conferences and webinars

Using our LINGO’s member benefit to the eLearning Guild, I was among one of the 1,800 attendees and 69 suppliers at the DevLearn conference in 2011. I did not talk to all 1800 attendees, but I certainly tried! In each conversation I mentioned Habitat’s search for an LMS and picked as many brains as I could for experiences and suggestions.

At the DevLearn conference, I attended a useful session titled “The ABCs of selecting an LMS” delivered by Mike Baker and Stacy Lindenberg of First Citizens Bank[1]. Among other great tips they shared, I picked up the idea to ask one of the LMS vendors to provide me with a well-known industry report on learning management systems, which normally costs about $1,500.

Throughout the selection process I attended any and all free webinars that touched on the topic of Learning Management Systems. These were offered by organizations like the eLearning Guild, Brandon Hall Group, and TrainingIndustry.com. It was through one of these webinars that I discovered the vendor that we ultimately chose.

4.       Partner with your Information Technology Department

Your IT department may not be familiar with Learning Management Systems, but they know how to work with software vendors and they know the ins and outs of implementing systems within your organization. At the beginning of our selection process, we were assigned a terrific IT resource who attended vendor demonstrations with me, asked technical questions related to systems integration, and guided us through the contract review. He also helped navigate some of the internal relationships with key stakeholders.

5.       Leverage the LMS vendors

Finally, don’t forget to leverage the vendors you are talking to for whatever resources they can provide! As I mentioned previously, this was how we were able to obtain an otherwise costly industry report. Three things that you should absolutely ask a vendor to provide are:

  • A demonstration of their system that shows how it will meet your requirements.
  • An informal and initial pricing estimate (you don’t need a formal price quote until you’ve narrowed down the top 1-3 vendors, but knowing how they structure their pricing and the range is useful in the early stages).
  • A ‘sandbox’ environment – basically an account that allows you to access their system to test your requirements, test the SCORM Dispatch packages, and try out your user scenarios.

If you find yourself lucky enough to be in the position to select a new LMS for your organization, I hope the five resources above are as useful to you as they were to me. For those of you wondering which vendor we ultimately selected, it was the Intellum Exceed system. Check them out as part of your search, but remember that your organization’s requirements will determine which system is best for you.  

[1] You can access many resources from conferences, even if you don’t attend! For example, you can access backchannel resources from DevLearn here.

 


 Interested in learning more about SCORM Dispatch and what it would mean for your organization? LINGOs Member Agency LMS Administrators have a chance at the July 17 LMS Administrator Question and Answer Session.

Eventbrite - LINGOs LMS Administrator Community Q & A - July 17, 2012 at 11:00 a.m. eastern time

Maximize your agency’s ROE in Learning

Posted by Marian Abernathy, LINGOs Director of Member Services & Communications

You’ve set up your learning portal, selected the courses to include, enrolled your learners, identified learning champions, and even designed and published some e-courses… Congratulations! Your launch is under way. Here are four tips from fellow members to help you to increase your organization’s return on investment (ROI) and YOUR return on effort (ROE).

Engage with your learners: Think about web sites that visit frequently they interact with YOU! (Think Facebook, LinkedIn, Membership sites)… They send you updates and allow you to connect with others. Share some of your learners’ stories about how their learning is helping your agency achieve its mission. Check out the PSI University Voice, a regular e-newsletter that highlights fellow learners: ttps://gallery.mailchimp.com/ac2ff5a03c3fa8ac9e157d738/files/Sept_2011_PSI_U_Voice.pdf

Communicate individually with your learners: send a personalized message when you approve registration for a course, suggest a time-frame for completion, and follow up. IJM (International Justice Mission), a Level 1 member, uses the shared LINGOsLearning portal, and as such doesn’t have the Order Manager functionality in place. Thus, an LMS Registrar processes each request manually. In doing so, the registrar sends the staffer a personalized email (from a template) noting the course title, availability for a defined period of time, and promises to check back on progress.

Support your learning liaisons or champions: Most learning in an organization happens informally. Help your learners share resources with one another; make it easy for them to tell each other about useful resources. CARE is one of several agencies work strategically with learning liaisons or champions. Approximately 60 CARE field-based employees serve in a global network of CARE Academy Liaisons.  As such, the field-based Liaisons collaborate with the CARE Academy team to promote CARE Academy courses in their locations. CARE Academy provides the Liaisons with a series of resources to do this important work. Check out the Liaison Center here. CARE engages with Liaisons with a monthly newsletter, and has fun pop-quizzes. For an example, see the January edition.

Follow-up with your learners: Pull reports regularly and contact learners to remind them of the course they requested, ask about their experience with it, ask how they’ve applied what they learned. IJM’s learning registrar regularly sends messages to staffers a set number of weeks after enrollment to note the learner’s progress with the course (not opened, in progress, or completed) and to encourage utilization of the course and sharing info on application of learning.

LINGOs members shared additional ideas and approaches to build interest, excitement and utilization of learning resources globally in INGOs at December’s Virtual Coffee Break “Engaging your Staff: Marketing Learning to Global Colleagues.” Watch the recorded session, led by Barista Catriona Moriarty of Conservation International. 

What other ideas do you have to increase an international NGO’s ROE and ROI on learning? Please share here in comments or in the LINGOs group on Linked In

We hope to see you at the February Virtual Coffee Break “More than Uno, Dos, Tres: Launching Language Learning Resources at an international NGO” on Thursday, February 9 from 11am- noon eastern US time (for information on the session and login link click here). Check Events on our Member Site for upcoming in-person and virtual events!

Grameen Foundation’s LMS Launch Story

The Grameen Foundation joined LINGOs as a Level 2 Member at the beginning of October, 2011, just in time for its newly hired Talent Management and Engagement Manager, Astha Parmar, to attend the LINGOs member meeting. Astha leveraged the work that colleagues had done before she came on board, her own knowledge and skills, and the resources from the LINGOs membership incredibly well and fast.

Astha built on the knowledge shared in the community, and documents many of those ideas and tips (including many shared in last week’s superb virtual coffee break in which Conservation International’s Catriona Moriarty shared her agency’s experience in the first year of building engagement and marketing learning through Conservation International’s eCampus).

 In the spirit of community resource, LINGOs asked Astha to share her experience and approach, which she kindly does here.

 Guest post by Astha Parmar, Manager, Talent Management & Engagement, The Grameen Foundation

 

Hi Marian,

Thank you for (last week’s) thoughtful post– you really hit the key points here. As you pointed out, we did launch in two weeks (and actually in week 3 of me joining Grameen!)

Here are a couple of thoughts on our approach.

 

Pre-Launch

  • Talent Strategy: Our VP of Human Resources actually did a great job prepping us for the launch. We’ve done a lot of ground work in terms of having a talent strategy, seeking feedback from our employees and collecting data on key learning needs. So when I walked in, we had a couple of pieces in place: topic areas that would interest employees and leadership excitement/ commitment to pushing learning.
  • Community: My ability to attend the LINGOs Conference was just such a huge plus in getting me started. The connections I made and the understanding that LINGOs is not just a portal—but a community deeply committed to helping international development organization’s build capacity—was invaluable. Plus between you and Joey, I really walked out feeling like I knew what I had to do to get set-up.
  • Helpful skills: Finally I do want to add that I have launched LMS’s before and worked in the world of online course development. Which helped.

Launch

  • Branding: Folks can see the branding of our portal here (http://gflearning.org). Getting a URL that was super easy to remember and consistent with our brand was important. The look and feel is deeply aligned to our mission and overall org branding.
  • Usability: I used shadowbox to create the in-page pop-out effect. My goal here was to make the main page actionable and draw the learner in. You actually don’t need super technical skills to make this happen—but a working knowledge of html helps. Or unwitting friends who are software engineers and will trade help for food—that will work, too.
  • Selecting Courses: A couple of thoughts on picking the courses:
  • We aligned the launch with an organizational initiative. So we were just launching a new online project management tool, and we rolled out GFLearning with PM courses as a support for this initiative. A couple of advantages— the employees saw this as supporting their day-to-day work needs; and instead of me doing demos, the person heading the PM initiative stumped for the our portal (goes to credibility)
  • It’s daunting to review and pick the courses that are right for your organization. But I have found that between the course completion reports published by LINGOs and the feedback on the PSI University catalog—you can get to a good shortlist fairly quickly.

Keeping the momentum going

  • Bite sizing releases: Instead of launching too many courses from the get-go, we have chosen to launch courses in bite sized chunks. So we launched with the Project Management Courses. Next we did a mini release in which we responded very quickly to initial employee requests that came in after our portal launched. Folks loved this. Now we’re doing topically focused releases, our next one being on Management Skills.
  • Organization-Created Content: Almost all LINGOs members I have interacted with emphasize the importance of creating and hosting organization specific courses. Since we don’t have the bandwidth to do this upfront, we have used some short cuts to get there. We host a lot of online brownbags, and I have started importing these into Camtasia, editing these out and aggregating them on GFLearning. Encouraging departments who need to share process/program info with employees to use the platform has also worked for us.
    Also, most people think of online courses as an actual training. I have created some very quick resource aggregations with Articulate and published these on our portal as a quick fix to get some info out.
  • Impact stories: we have only been launched for about a month now and folks have busy schedules—so to incentivize people to share, I sent out a ‘share your feedback’ email with some targeted questions. The pay-off? Everyone who got responses in by a certain date was entered into a $15 book credit, for a book of their choice that would further their learning. Worked!
  • Email updates, leadership support and field calls: ..all the usual suspects!

Initiatives we’re working up to: a new employee orientation/learning plan and more sophisticated Grameen authored training courses. Last thing I would emphasize is that we follow the 70-20-10 principle of learning, so all my Lingos effort is in context of an on-the-job and people supported learning strategy that’s geared to further our mission.