Even Small Firms Need a Learning Management System!
Learning Management Systems (LMS) used to be available only to big corporations with thousands of employees, huge budgets and the IT resources necessary for deployment and ongoing support. This left small business owners with limited options for managing the employee training needs essential to the success of their company. Today there are LMS solutions that are particularly suited to the needs of small businesses and it’s possible to set up an LMS and get the features you need without straining your budget. If you are just beginning to explore options for a small firm, this brief overview of the purpose, benefits and types of LMSs available may help you get started.
What does an LMS do?
An LMS is a software application that functions as a platform for the administration of training programs, the on-demand delivery of online courses and content to the workforce, and the documentation, tracking, and reporting of training activities of employees. Features available with most LMS solutions include the ability to organize employees into learning groups (i.e., by location or function), assign learning resources based upon employee need, manage classroom training events and technology-based courses, track compliance, professional certification and continuing education requirements, and collect and download data on course completion rates and learning performance measures.
The right LMS…
…makes best use of limited HR and professional resources.
Having one central system where all learning and training content can be housed, organized, deployed and tracked makes administrative tasks easier and faster. Providing access to content online (e-learning courses, videos, podcasts, PDFs, etc.) cuts time for development and delivery of classroom training.
Providing access to general learning content online cuts down on time away from work required to attend training, making it possible to focus classroom sessions on the content that targets employee needs. And for firms with scattered workforces, providing on-demand training electronically to offsite employees eliminates travel costs, time and event coordination associated with requiring all employees to be in the same physical space for a classroom session. As for making it possible to quickly provide your workforce with updated content, information and training, the technology can deliver real-time job support to employees when and where they need it.
…enables easy, accurate reporting.
Automated reporting lets you quickly identify employee status regarding certifications and/or competencies, training completed, enrollment in self-paced courses, assessment scores, training costs, feedback and more.
An LMS typically enables personalized content offerings, as well as “self-service” type learning and knowledge reuse so that users can access the content that applies to them at their own pace. This gives employees some control over their own learning process and allows them to monitor their progress.
Used as an information hub, an LMS can promote involvement and collaboration through application sharing, discussion threads and polling, user input, instructor feedback, promotion of new content to specific audiences, publication of news articles and connection to a news/RSS feed. You can also create contests to motivate employees to complete training by a specific date.
There are many LMS solutions on the market offering a myriad of features and functions. To sort through the choices available, you need to consider some key questions.
- What current and future workforce learning challenges do you want to solve?
Identifying true needs will help you focus on the system capabilities that are essential to your operation and growth.
- Do you want to manage the system in-house or have this function handled by the vendor?
If you have the IT personnel and staff able to provide user support, you may opt to save costs by hosting and maintaining the LMS on your own server.
When internal support resources are limited, paying a fee to a third party vendor for the use of its software, computing power and technical expertise may be a better choice. In this case, a “Software-as-a-Service” (SaaS), a web- or cloud-based service, will run the system on their servers, pay IT personnel to keep the LMS up and running, and provide support for end user questions. There is no upfront investment in hardware or software infrastructure and upgrades are seamless and are part of the service.
- Do you want to be able to make changes and add content without having to go through the vendor?
Your response will determine whether you need an LMS built on open–source or proprietary software.
Open Source software means that you have control over the source code and can edit it as much as you want to fit your particular needs. This gives you unlimited freedom, provided you know what you’re doing. Many open source solutions are completely free, while others offer a free license but have a small charge for support or other services. Still others charge a small licensing fee. Essentially, open source isn’t necessarily “no cost”, but it is free in the sense that you are free to do what you want with the source code.
Proprietary software means you cannot make changes to or even access the code. In some cases the software might be free and the vendor may charge for support or upgraded versions. Most have licensing fees just to install the software.
Generally, LMS options are a combination of these considerations. So your choices become:
- Open source software, managed in-house: Costs include internal resources for whatever is required to keep the system up and running. – Since there are no license or support fees, this approach can be the least expensive as long as nothing breaks. You would need a critical mass of users actively developing their skills in mastering, troubleshooting, and maintaining the tool to make this work.
- Proprietary software, managed in-house: Costs include software license and internal staff to do whatever is needed to keep the system running and all users supported. – Similar to the previous model with the added cost of the license.
- Hosted, proprietary software: Costs include software license and the vendor’s resources required to keep 100% uptime (the amount of time that cloud systems and cloud services hosted by a cloud provider are up and accessible by end users), and 24 hour user support services, access to help materials, etc. - In most cases, this is the priciest solution but may be suitable for a small business with no more than 100 employees using off-the shelf courses.
- Hosted, supported open source: Costs include cloud uptime and support services that come with it. – This model provides maximum flexibility for creating/updating content and offers the same “trouble free” experience of using the vendor’s servers, trained personnel, and support materials without the licensing fees.
Keep in mind that whatever choice you make, an LMS is only one part of the online employee training system. You still need to have a library of training courses and materials to deliver and will need to factor in the costs of buying or building training content.
LMS providers offer an array of features and bundled services so it will take analysis and some research to identify the right LMS model and provider for your company. If the prospect of researching and implementing an LMS solution seems overwhelming to handle internally, consider engaging a consultant who has experience working with firms similar in size to your own. The potential savings in time and money in the long run should make exploring this tool worthwhile!
Speak to our learning experts at Matchstick today for more information. http://matchstickinc.com/contact-us