By Lorri Freifeld
With technology changing every second of every day, it’s no surprise a learning management system (LMS) quickly can become outdated. But it’s no easy task to re-engineer a current LMS or find exactly the right new one to purchase. For some of the latest LMS innovations, see the sidebar below, and check out the lessons three 2010 Top Young Trainer winners who faced such challenges in the last two years learned about LMS functionality and training.
Financial services firm Vanguard originally had implemented a learning management system (LMS) out of the box, but there wasn’t a lot of customization, and it wasn’t too user friendly, according to Tamara Ganc, senior manager, Vanguard. “We eventually customized it a bit, but it was still difficult for the crew [employees] to find things, and feedback on the system showed signs that significant changes were needed.”
In 2008, Ganc and her team were tasked with leading the charge to build a front end to the LMS on the firm’s corporate Intranet. “Beginning in February 2008, we went through a visioning exercise, working with a group internally in IT to create a functioning prototype,” Ganc explains. “We used the AGILE development methodology: Build a piece, show it to us, we decide if we like it. We then used that prototype in spring 2008 to shop the concept to senior leadership to get the needed dollars to move forward.”
Construction started in late fall 2008, and the new portal, called “My Learning,” launched in late spring 2009. New functionality now allows crew members:
• To receive learning recommendations from Vanguard University based on such things as their development goals and career interests and content that is relevant to their current jobs.
• To find just-in-time formal and informal learning more efficiently. This includes videos, audio clips, interactive Flash demonstrations, and articles. The portal aggregates relevant informal learning sources such as articles, podcasts, and video clips with related e-learning, books, and classroom solutions.
“We broke up the branding of learning into different topics,” Ganc adds. “So now you can filter your search by role, topic, division, and competency, and can add things to your ‘Saved Learning’ section. We enhanced the overall search function of the Intranet system also, so you can search for learning directly from the Intranet’s homepage. Also, it used to take multiple clicks to enroll in a class. Now it’s just two. Plus, certain outside vendor courses show up in a portal search.”
To introduce the 12,000 Vanguard learners to the new portal, Ganc and her team created a marketing campaign using two avatars (one representing the new portal and the other representing the old LMS) to showcase the benefits of the new front end (“I’m the new portal; I’m just a little friendlier,” the My Learning avatar says humbly).
“We also did a series of commercials explaining that the old portal was going away, and a new one was coming,” Ganc notes. “We launched an overview using Captivate as a demo, and on the day of launch, we had the avatars greet the learners on the My Learning page and introduce the help demos. A series of online Webinars also was offered a few times a day.”
Results? Vanguard probably invested approximately half a million dollars in the project, Ganc says, and has seen a huge spike in enrollments since launch. “On the day of launch, we experienced a 300 percent increase in planned learning (learning crew members designate for completion).”
Going forward, Ganc says, a Phase Two project team is looking to incorporate more peer-to-peer learning, so crew members and managers can recommend learning to each other. “We also want to integrate the learning portal into the search results of the Sharepoint site since our IT department, for example, has 3,000 people in a hub on Sharepoint,” Ganc points out. Farther down the road, Ganc hopes for “the ability for crew to generate their own content, plus an expert you could instant message with your question—kind of like a corporate YouTube and Facebook.”
Learning Management at The Mirage
The Mirage, a Las Vegas-based resort and casino, looked to an outside vendor for its new LMS. “We started by creating a work team to evaluate, discuss, and determine the need for a new system to support the upcoming needs in training. Then we moved on to a standard request for proposal (RFP) process to compare systems available,” explains April West, director of Training and Diversity Initiatives, The Mirage, who sat on the LMS Core Implementation Committee. “The work team was highly involved in the evaluation of the RFPs and demos to provide recommendations about the best system for our identified needs and anticipated changes.”
West says the biggest challenge was customizing the system to meet the unique needs of her company. “We have multiple properties in various locations that function autonomously and independently in many ways from each other, so that is where the system consultants were most valuable in determining what enhancements and changes could be made to the system to allow us to obtain the desired results, from report templates to end-user interface to back-end administration/permissions, etc.”
The resulting new system is Web-based and housed on a secure outside server, which allows learners far greater usage and access, West says. “In addition, the new system includes enhanced report capabilities, and allows us to provide varying levels of permissions to any of our 60,000 users. This provides them with the ability to more quickly and easily assign, monitor, and evaluate the training of their people/teams. In addition, the system can be set up with equivalencies and recurrences for repeat training requirements.” The LMS pulls information directly from other in-house systems to keep the information/data current daily.
“The system has allowed us to more readily pull information from the system via reports,” West notes. “It also has created transparency between locations because we can see and have access to the training being conducted at the various locations.” West says the company now can use the system to set eligibilities and limit enrollments based on that, so trainers aren’t contacting learners manually. “We also use the system to track No Shows/Cancellations to determine if there are issues to be addressed,” she adds.
West says the majority of active users are the various training teams; she estimates there are approximately 250 to 500 active daily system users and up to 30,000 passive or less frequent users. Companywide classroom-based administrator training was required for the training teams and also mandatory for any users the property determined would have permissions to assign training in the system to employees.
West spearheaded an event in a central location, where training staff engaged with employees to introduce them to the system, help them register, and demonstrate the system to them so employees felt more comfortable using the system to find training opportunities.
In addition, each location does ongoing training to support its users based on the way the system is being used at each property. “For example, we do a monthly one-hour voluntary training for users and a quarterly event to help users register and gain experience with the system and its uses/benefits,” West says. “We also have ongoing conference calls with training team users to monitor/discuss/evaluate the system and ensure fixes/enhancements are being addressed by the vendor. We also use this time to address best practices and to ask questions of others who may help at our location.”
Laboratory testing and services company LabCorp went through a fairly rigorous planning phase within the organization before it even began soliciting for proposals to create an LMS to serve 27,000 LabCorp employees and external clients, according to Marty Blevins, training project administrator, LabCorp. “We brought all the major stakeholders into a room and created a list of must have, should have, and would be nice if…By the end, more than a dozen operational groups were represented in the room, so coming to consensus took considerable time and effort.”
Through these planning efforts, Blevins and his team constructed a narrative for what training should look like and what role the system would play in each of the business units. “We provided a script to potential vendors and said, ‘How can we do this on your system?’” Blevins says. “We then judged how well each vendor performed in each area. We used a weighted range model that ranked categories such as ‘user interface’ with requirements such as ‘accessibility from the Web,’ ‘customized appearance by location,’ and ‘multi-lingual capability’ on a five-point scale in terms of performance and importance. We then were able to compare the different systems ‘apples-to-apples.’”
Prior to the new LMS, there were several smaller electronic learning packages in use throughout the company. As the LMS replaced the general functions of those systems, it began to provide what was really needed—unity of user experience. “The LMS ties in with our HR system to ensure user information is updated on a daily basis,” Blevins says. “Some of the features we have not yet tapped include talent management modules and career path modeling.”
LabCorp purchased its new LMS as the economy began to decline, so Blevins says the greatest challenge in the implementation was finding the appropriate resources to implement and manage it at a time when taking on additional personnel was not an option. “We were able to leverage the talents of several training professionals and subject matter experts from various parts of the corporation to launch the program in a phased approach. Rather than tackling the entire population, we focused efforts on certain strategic sub-populations and job titles.”
“We approached each user group as a separate implementation project, so the type of LMS training and delivery was tailored to the audience that would receive the training,” Blevins explains. “For one group that was geographically widespread, for example, we concentrated on making the interface as simple as possible and providing visual online cues (as well as verbal and written communications and change management techniques). For our sales team, the administrators put together a package of training documents on the use of the system and put links on their intranet portal. For end-users, formal training was minimal.”
Today, between 8,000 and 9,000 users actively use the system with new groups being added as resources allow. The final implementation plan will put approximately 27,000 users on the system.
So far, the LMS primarily has been used to replace functionality from various other systems, Blevins says, “so the large ‘wow’ factors have been somewhat muted. That said, the LMS has provided greater tracking ability and has reduced the number of manual steps needed to manage training encounters. But its biggest advantage will come into play as we are able to incorporate user groups that previously did not have access to electronic learning and formal learning programs.”
The Latest LMS Innovations