Many of us are used to thinking about training programs in a content-first way. If there is a training problem, the first question you might ask yourself is “what can a learner read or watch that will address this problem?” From there we might create content until we’ve built up a sizable library of materials to address our many documented problems. But does this help a new employee who is just learning the ropes?
In addition to producing lots of content, we need to think in terms of workflows. By workflows, I mean planning the experiences that make up your training program; whether it’s a new employee, a new role, or a change of operations.
Documenting and Designing Instructional Workflows
The series of experiences that make up a training program should flow together smoothly in the most logical way. Likewise, the knowledge learned (or assessed) should match the medium used to teach. We want to optimize synchronoustraining time (time spent with an instructor) vs asynchronous (time spent learning alone) and get the best of both worlds.
Documenting your workflow is the important first step. Draw a flowchart that describes each of the learner’s steps. Here are a few ideas on how to structure your flow chart to capture the critical aspects of your design.
Learning content: This is the media or activity learners must experience such as e-learning modules or instructor-led training.
Interactions: an interaction often is needed to be able to say the required training was completed. This might mean passing an automated test, signing a form, or having an instructor mark a submission.
Conditions: these conditions must be met before the learner can move on to the next step. Some examples of conditions might include: completing prerequisites, having a manager schedule the next learning content, or waiting for time released content.
A Quick Example
When using the pieces above to create a flow chart, we can indicate the experience that the learner in a particular role will go through.
In this example, learners must complete the orientation e-learning prerequisite before they can move on. As a part of the compliance training, we’ll collect their e-signatures. Next, they must schedule an on-site training with their manager. 1 week later, we’ll assign them product knowledge training.
By laying our plan out as a workflow, we can see when key tasks should be done and know who is responsible for moving the process forward. We can also step back and check that our learning goals are being met by our design.
After a workflow has been implemented, we want to be able to track learners as they progress through it. Ideally, tracking completions and conditions is integrated into your LMS but simple tools (such as a spreadsheet) can help. Documenting and tracking workflows also helps you analyze the effectiveness of your training program and make improvements.
Thinking in terms of training workflows helps us lay out the path learners should take, identify areas of complexity, and discover ways to improve the program. It’s only after you have a well-planned workflow that you should start putting pen to paper. As learners demand more self-paced and guided training programs, instructional designers are going to have to adapt our approaches and tools to create solutions that work.
Everyone working in eLearning should be aware of SCORM and xAPI even if you don’t work directly with eLearning tools or code. That’s because SCORM (and xAPI) is not a specific tool or technology but a big-picture set of standards that ensure eLearning content is shareable and reusable.
What is SCORM?
SCORM (which stands for Shareable Content Object Reference Model) is a set of standards for creating training materials that was developed by the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative from the Office of the United States Secretary of Defence. It was introduced as a guideline to creating eLearning content that is modular and reusable across multiple systems. That means that a SCORM lesson doesn’t have to be tied to a single course, learning management system, department, or organization. The ADL (and many other organizations) realized that this was hugely important when creating, maintaining, and tracking large amounts eLearning materials.
Imagine you build an awesome new training lesson as a PDF (not exactly eLearning but its digital). Your lesson is so great that another organization wants to use it for their training as well. You can easily give them your PDF files but you’d also need to give them a lot more information if they want to successfully use your lesson as part of their program.
What are all the parts of the lesson (videos, images, documents, etc)? In what order should a learner complete the lessons? Who records that a learner has completed the lesson? These are the kinds of problems that SCORM tries to solve. SCORM itself is not tied to any single company, content, or tool.
How does it work?
There are 2 parts to making SCORM work: the LMS and the eLearning content. Both need to be speaking the same language.
The LMS needs to know what to do with SCORM content that it is given. It also needs to listen for important events from the content as the learner is using it (“Quiz passed!”, “Quiz failed!”, etc). On the flip side, eLearning content needs to clearly indicate how it is meant to be deployed and it also needs to send the important messages to the LMS.
SCORM standards tell LMS developers and eLearning designers EXACTLY how this information must be communicated so they can each build their own piece and know that they will work perfectly together.
A few technical details
The most common instructions include Initialize (get ready to receive data), Terminate/Finish (store the completed data), Set Value (set a specific variable to a given value), and Get Value (get a saved value back). The values you save are the key to storing data in SCORM. Some of the most important variables to record are the Completion Status (completed vs incomplete) and a Score. Developers can also store individual question responses or time spent on the content.
A SCORM complaint LMS is responsible for listening, storing, and retrieving this data for later use.
How can I create SCORM content?
You probably don’t need to worry about the LMS side of SCORM but you and any content creators you work with are in control of ensuring the content you create is SCORM compliant.
Design: it all starts with design. When creating content, you are in control of the tools and methods you use to create your content ensuring that it is SCORM compliant. This includes both the technologies you choose and the instructional design you implement. Learning content that meets all the technical requirements to be SCORM compliant but doesn’t make sense outside a specific context is not shareable or reusable!
Configuration and tools: many authoring tools such as Adobe Captivate or Articulate Storyline include SCORM support — you just have ensure you set up and export your content with the appropriate SCORM settings. These tools ensure the content you export is speaking the right language.
Programming: SCORM is not tied to any particular tool and any eLearning content can be made SCORM compliant by programming it to communicate with an LMS.
SCORM started with version 1.0 in 1999 and since then has evolved; the most recent incarnation of SCORM is called Experience API (or xAPI). While the details of the technology have changed, the underlying idea has stayed the same: setting a standard for LMS’s and eLearning content to speak the same language and ensuring eLearning content is sharable, reusable, and trackable.
Learn more about Cogcentric and our customizable Fabric LMS!
It’s a question I’ve been asked many times as an eLearning consultant and as a developer: is it better to build your own LMS or buy one off the shelf?
Having worked in organizations that bought, built, and eventually sold LMSs, I’ve been lucky to see some of the good and bad outcomes from each case. Let’s take a look at each option and see when they might be appropriate.
Building means hiring developers and designers to create the LMS for your organization. When the product is done, you will own the code you created outright. You and your team create the system from the ground up including: provisioning servers, selecting a platform to build on, writing the code, producing the graphics, and more.
Things to consider:
Who to hire to design and develop?
When do you need to launch?
Where will the LMS be hosted?
How will you maintain the LMS long term?
After building the LMS, you still need to create content!
Designed and built according to your exact requirements to fit your organization no matter how specific they are. Expandable in the future; as long as you have developers you can keep adding to your system. Totally controlled by you; no other company can change or remove features from your system.
Expensive and time consuming; developing and maintaining software takes special skills and a lot time so it’s not going to be cheap! Uncertainty and risk; what you set out to build doesn’t always come out exactly as planned at the price you estimated. No existing documentation or support; because your LMS is completely custom built, you won’t have a community or support team to help, it’s just you.
There are many companies out there that provide LMS as a service. These are owned and maintained by the company and licensed out for their customers. Although the product is already built, you will usually find options to customize how the product looks and functions, with some limitations. When buying an LMS service, you will never own the code itself; think of it more as renting an LMS.
Things to consider
Which LMS is right for you? What customizations will you require? Besides the LMS itself, what else does the company provide (e.g. training, documentation, support, etc)?
Faster and cheaper to deploy with less development cost or time needed (just your customizations). Already designed and developed for existing requirements; you can judge the final result for yourself while know the system has been implemented and working in other situations (ideally similar to yours). Development and maintenance are handled for you; you don’t need to hire a team long-term to perform basic maintenance on the LMS. Existing support, documentation, and community; expert help is just an email away.
It can be difficult to change or add features; if your LMS is managed by another company who have many other clients to worry about, new features are prioritized according to their schedule, not yours. Your product is dependent on the LMS company; changes to their company may affect your system.
Making the Decision
The choice of whether to build or buy comes down to your specific situation.
Building is great if you have the time, resources, and expertise to create and maintain a new product (in addition to the rest of your responsibilities). For companies that have very specific training requirements, building might be necessary to meet those needs. Companies who are heavily training focused (e.g. online education programs) can also find value in building their own platform that they own and control so their product won’t be disrupted or depend on an external company with different goals. Keep in mind that programming an LMS and designing instructional materials are two completely different jobs and you’ll need to plan for both!
Buying is appropriate if you don’t want to focus resources on developing the LMS and just want to get your training program launched in the shortest possible time for the lowest cost. When surveying the market, you’ll find that each LMS is specialized for specific use cases with insights that might take you years to figure out when developing yourself. There might be an LMS out there that is a perfect fit for you! Once you have chosen an LMS to buy, you need to get you and the team trained and ready to start producing materials. You may find that your resources are best spent making the training materials as good as can be.
Ultimately when making a decision, it’s best to explore a bit of both options beforehand. First, document your organization’s training requirements. Do any existing LMSs meet your requirements (maybe with some customization)? What features do you see in the market that you like? Do you have the resources and expertise to build an LMS in-house? Who in your organization will manage the LMS long-term? Do you have a plan on where to hire or contract programmers and designers for the job?
Whether to build or buy your LMS is a tough choice that depends on many factors. Take the time to analyze your own organization and what’s available out there. There are many things to consider but the main thing is to have a vision for your training program and to choose the path that’s most likely to make it come to life.
Learning Management Systems have become an integral part of how a modern organization operates.
In 2020, almost every business surveyed by the Association of Talent Development (ATD) reported using an electronic system to help manage training; up from 75% five years prior (Association for Talent Development, 2020). We can see that the trend of applying technology in training is increasing. This has become more significant as global events such as the Covid-19 pandemic emerges. Thus, it has accelerated the need for flexibility and adaptation to keep organizations moving.
The reasons to implement an LMS have become overwhelming and it is a standard requirement for a modern business to operate.
Scale: electronic systems allow training to scale with growth of employees, clients, and geographic locations.
Saving time and money: the ongoing need for training means that streamlining content online reduces time and resources spent. 75% of organizations say the cost of their LMS is justified by its results.
Standardization: standardized training content and record keeping across large organizations to prevent fracturing information and records.
Performance: improved training means improved employee performance. 59% of organizations report that they can tie learning outcomes to business objectives. In addition, 40% saw an immediate return on investment when implementing an LMS.
Data collection: gain immediate insight into the skills and knowledge of your organization that results in better informed decision making.
Leadership: managerial and supervisor training is where businesses have been publishing the most content and seeing the most return.
Retention: training means more engaged employees who see long-term benefits for their career. These employees are more likely to stay with an organization longer.
Safety and Compliance: training reduces workplace incidents and helps to ensure legally required procedures are followed. Digital records allow faster inputs and reports of compliance data when you need it.
Culture: foster your unique culture from onboarding through to career mapping for every individual; the LMS has become the major touch point for learners and the greater company culture.
These and other reasons are why modern businesses have integrated LMSs into their day-to-day operations. It has become a necessity in the competition to pull ahead or simply keep up in many industries.
This paper explores the current general trends in the LMS space and styles of systems that have emerged through adaptation in different fields. The resulting insights will provide a set of factors to consider when assessing an LMS and its fitness for a particular organization’s vision.
Several LMS features have arisen as the main drivers of LMS technologies being adopted by almost all businesses. We consider these basic features of an LMS because they define the current minimum role the LMS performs in an organization.
(More businesses have adapted LMS technologies, it arises the type of LMS features it has.)
eLearning Delivery: an LMS provides a platform to deliver eLearning. Publishing content online remains the primary sought after feature of an LMS.
Progress tracking: an LMS tracks and records individual learner completion for the eLearning content.
Reporting: an LMS provides reporting functionality to view collected training data. Reporting is a key function of an LMS that allows you to connect your learning activity with business outcomes.
The eLearning Guild found the following 10 features that were most sought after features of an LMS (The eLearning Guild and Adobe Systems, 2016). This list of features confirms the 3 basic features we have outlined above.
Manager view of direct reports
Testing and quizzes
Catalog grade book
We can summarize that businesses concentrate their LMSs on delivering eLearning and tracking and reporting on learner completions. These features remain the primary focus even as new capabilities (such as micro-learning, experience API, crowd sourced content, and more) have emerged. Ultimately, businesses are looking for a product that does the basics really well without a lot of extras.
LMS Considerations and Trends
As existing standards are being established, the LMS industry is already looking towards innovation and evolution. Surveying trends in the industry, organizations continue to focus on enhancing the core features of learning management, not bringing in unexpected or peripheral functions. These new improvements are directed at how to do the basic LMS tasks better.
The ATD and eLearning guild have predicted that LMSs will evolve in the following ways based on their research (Association for Talent Development, 2018; The eLearning Guild and Adobe Systems, 2016).
Personalized: personalized learning provides instruction tailored to an individual based on their interests, experience, preferred learning methods, learning pace, job role, or other factors
Adaptive: adaptive learning is personalized learning that uses computer-based technology to modify content to a learner’s needs. Applying algorithms or artificial intelligence, the technology modifies content in real time based on learner behaviours and interactions.
Micro-learning: storing content in bite sized chunks along with the ability to deliver just-in-time training that is searchable and reusable.
Integrated authoring tools: administrators are finding that integrated authoring tools that allow content creation right within the LMS site provides further simplification of workflows to publish and maintain eLearning content.
Ease of use: ease of use for all users of the LMS remains one of the most sought after features for all LMSs. Businesses have identified that user friendly systems are quicker to be adopted and less time consuming to maintain. As a result, this increases in the return of investment.
These changes come in response to common training solutions that are starting to show their limitations and where there is considerable room for optimization. Personalization and micro-learning are changing the way we deliver training content; content that specifically targets at the learner and available when they need it is more effective than generic content full of distractions. However, maintaining content to support these styles of content is work intensive and requires significant human effort if done manually. Adaptivity, integrated authoring tools, and ease of use are features that compliment the new styles of eLearning delivery by making the LMS administrator’s job easier or automating the process altogether with programmed algorithms.sazw
While these trends appear to benefit LMSs across many different industries, specific styles of LMSs are evolving for distinct use cases.
Styles of LMSs
Categorizing LMS styles can be tricky because there isn’t a flat set of categories that capture the various types of LMSs; instead there seem to be certain areas of functionality that differentiate them. A style of LMS describes an overall evaluation of an LMS based on these suggested areas of functionality. There isn’t a single “best” solution for every situation. Instead, each LMS tends to perform better in some areas than others base on how each company use these LMSs.
In each area of functionality, it is best to consider a scale of how well the LMS executes each piece instead of a simple yes or no answer. The rating should assess how well the systems handle the function: usability of the end product, effectiveness in achieving learning outcomes, ease of administration, fitness to your organization, and more.
External content (SCORM, xAPI): created and edited externally and embedded or linked by the LMS.
Internal content (HTML): created as HTML and saved in an LMS database and is editable from within the LMS.
Dynamic Assignment: content is assigned to the learner based on programmed rules. Manager Assignment: content is manually assigned to learners by an manager or administrator. Learner Assignment: learners select the content they want to access.
Monolithic: large course content that take a significant amount of time to complete. Modular Learning Objects: individual modules with content that can be arranged into a hierarchy.
Single Organization: users are either learners or administrators within a single, hierarchical structure. Distributed Responsibility: access levels can be broken into a combination of roles (learners, managers, authors, admins, etc) and responsibilities can be distributed within “bubbles” of users.
Scheduling: the ability to schedule events with a time and place. eCommerce: the ability to perform payment transactions online to access content or services. Announcements: the ability to share announcements or news on the system. Discussion Forums: the ability to start discussion threads and post questions, comments, or replies.
Styles of eLearning
eLearning styles cover how the content is presented, the interface used to navigate through the content, and the process of completing the content. These patterns arise from common practices in online training; some focus more on video content while others on readings and documentation. The styles applied are the ones best suited to the content of the program.
As with styles of LMSs, it’s better to consider how well each eLearning style is executed instead of a yes or no answer. The rating of each style of content should consider: the effectiveness on learning outcomes, the usability of the end result, the ease of authoring and maintenance of the content, and more.
Slides: content is broken up into slides that are roughly the aspect ratio of a computer screen. Each slide contains enough content to maintain relatively consistent sizes of slides. Content is presented in the form of text, images, videos, audio clips, questions, etc. Users click a next/previous button to navigate through the content. Slides were made popular by classroom training often stored as slideshow presentations.
Video series: a series of videos are presented one at a time. Each page only contains one video or media content but sometimes also includes metadata in the area surrounding the video player. Users watch each video and click the next/previous button to navigate through the content. Interactive content like quizzes can be interspersed through a course but the content is primarily video based. Paginated videos were made popular by applying interface features of video players to online training formatted as videos.
Long page: content is made up of different kinds of elements combined to form a long page. Elements can include videos, images, interactive pieces, questions, and more. Users scroll through the content from top to bottom. There can be multiple long pages in a course but each long page covers a particular topic and isn’t restricted by page length. Long pages gained popularity for mixing interactive elements with multimedia elements and the adoption of tablets and phones as learning devices.
Documents: content is provided through downloadable documents such as videos or PDF files. Sharing documents was an important way to deliver eLearning before browsers and devices could support more multimedia rich content.
Full interactive: a single interface controls the navigation of the page as well as handles delivery of multimedia and interactive activities (such as in a game or simulation). Fully interactive training has been applied in educational video games and interactive documentaries.
Evaluating LMS Styles
The LMS industry has gained traction in many industries and has continued evolve in each environment. We believe there are universal trends that are emerging and becoming the new must-have features to run a modern training system. In addition, we also see styles of LMSs and eLearning that are adapting to fit their use cases.
Selecting an LMS has never been about finding the best overall system, but now more than ever with the extreme variety of LMS styles, the most important thing to consider is fitness in your specific operations and culture.
Below, we suggest a criterion that can be used in addition to your business requirements that evaluate an LMS from an instructional design perspective.
Basic features: these features are the core learning management features that allow you to deploy an online training program. It’s important to ensure these features line up with the training program you plan on implementing and its interactions with other business operations. Trending features: these are the state-of-the-art features that every organization can utilize and are beginning to see significant traction in the industry but have not yet become ubiquitous. Trending features allow you to benefit from the latest innovations and stay relevant into the future. LMS Styles: each LMS may excel in certain areas but struggle in others. Having a detailed vision and knowing what you want to build early on means being able to ensure your LMS strengths line up with your needs. LMS Custom Features: these features are specific requirements that you may or may not need but are not universally required. Sometimes, these features may be important enough for your project that they override other factors. eLearning styles: these styles determine how a learner will experience the eLearning content. It helps to plan out the types of courses and learning objects you are going to publish in the early stages of your design and assess an LMS based on how it can accommodate your vision.
Suggested LMS Criterion
How well eLearning delivery is handled.
The depth and detail of records being stored.
How well reporting is handled.
The ability to personalize content for an individual.
The ability to personalize content automatically and intelligently based on user inputs.
The ability to organize content into small, searchable, reusable chunks.
Integrated authoring tools
The ability to edit content directly in the online system.
Ease of use
How easy the system is to use for all users.
Content is edited and stored within the system.
Content is edited with external tools.
Content is assigned automatically based on programmed rules
Content is assigned by a manager or admin
Content is selected by the learner
Content is structured into large blocks
Content is divided into small blocks that can be organized into a hierarchy
Access is organized around one set of learners and admins.
Access can be distributed to groups of users with specific permissions within each group.
The ability to schedule class or events.
The ability to perform payments online to grant access.
Systems to reward and show progress.
The ability to send communications through the LMS.
Content is broken up into slides of a standard size that contain text and multimedia.
Content is primarily delivered as videos with activities interspersed.
Content is made up on multimedia on a scrollable page.
Content is made up of downloadable documents.
Content is delivered through a single interface as a game or simulation.
The “basic” LMS, a tool that helps organizations deliver, track, and report on eLearning, is now a mission critical part of almost all businesses. In general, businesses look for tools that perform the core functionality well and not for peripheral features. Common trends in the space are improving the way LMSs perform their roles by focusing on personalization, adaptivity, micro-learning, integrated authoring tools, and ease-of-use. Additionally, the styles of LMSs have evolved to meet different needs in different use cases.
A criterion that takes into account these factors can be used to help categorize and identify fitness of an LMS for a specific audience and ultimately select the most suitable product. The criterion provided in this paper helps consolidate these considerations and evaluate the current slate of LMSs for fitness in both and short and long term. While these considerations are certain to change in the future, we hope they provide a useful tool when exploring the current market.