David Mallon at Bersin & Associates has summarized the recent multi-author discussion on learning management systems (LMSes) in a way that’s succinct and insightful, and I won’t repeat it here except to say that the question at hand is whether what I’ll call the conventional LMS is falling by the wayside as we use more and more social media and networking Web options for learning.
Here’s what gets confusing for associations and non-profits: most of the experts are grounded in corporate training.
Corporate training — from an administrative standpoint — is very different. They need to track compliance, and generally use LMSes to make sure workplace training is completed by employees, often because such training is tied to competencies and/or performance goals. Some of the most elaborate corporate LMSes also enable instructors to schedule rooms, reserve equipment, order books, and organize their sessions (how cool is that?!?).
So, as Jane Hart said in her comment to my post “LMS Resources,” the first question is really whether we need an LMS at all.
Here’s my take (in summary; Chapter 2 in the aLearning trail guide provides more detail). An LMS can help you:
- Track, record, and provide reports on certification and licensure training. So if you’re offering any of these online and through your association, you probably need an LMS.
- Automate the registration process. So if your programs attract hundreds or thousands of learners per event, and they must register within a restricted period of time, and LMS could make the registration process more efficient.
- Gain visibility over completions. So if you want to know who’s accessing an online offering, how often they’re accessing it, whether they’re completing it, or even how they’re doing on the quizzes or testsGa, an LMS can give you that information.
For example, if you have an online course that is not tied to a certification program and you don’t care who accesses it or how long they spend in the course, and the learners aren’t likely to register en masse, you really don’t need an LMS.
But let’s say you decide to charge a fee for the course. And let’s say the culture of your organization is such that members who end up registering but never accessing the course are likely to want their money back. You’ll want to have some way to track who spent X amount of time in the course and who didn’t. An LMS can do that.
Let’s say you want an idea of how much traffic the course is getting so you can justify your next elearning program. An LMS can do that, too.
Let’s say you want to integrate your internal (white label) social networking system with your courses so learners can continue to stay in touch post-course. Let’s say you want to be able to send out periodic Tweets about new resources related to course content, or updates on controversial regulations. An LMS that’s integrated with your social networking system (or has its own, embedded) is your answer.
But if you’re offering a publicly available video intended to raise awareness about a particular issue, or providing a quick tutorial about your association’s new governance structure, investing in and hooking up an LMS is probably overkill.
An LMS is a significant investment for your association. Don’t just assume you’ll need one — or that you won’t need one. Decide what you’ll need to know about the course and its learners BEFORE you create the elearning offering, and let that be how you decide the LMS debate for your situation.