By David Patterson, Learning Light
The shopping list for your next-generation LMS starts with a high-quality content creation experience that makes it simple to build content and courses fast.
The final link in developing an online content strategy that will help you close your skills gaps and keep it closed is to choose software that supports the building of content in a process that’s easy and intuitive. That’s where the selection of the learning management system must be carefully considered. What you need is a next-generation digital learning system that includes easy course authoring and supports interactive, collaborative engagement of learners in an online setting. The following summary provides a checklist of features that stand out as the most important.
High-quality Content Creation
The experience provided by the LMS can either be an obstacle or a passage to creating and accessing online content. If the process for uploading new lessons into the software is difficult, people may put it off long enough that your experiment in online learning will fail. Likewise, if the newest or most relevant content is difficult to find or access, that too will delay your efforts to fill your skills gaps.
What makes for high quality? On the creation side the most important thing is having a library of templates that content authors can use as the foundation for setting up new courses. Also, built-in editing tools and the ability to “book-end” generic video content with custom content makes for multimedia friendliness in an LMS. All of these are functions are built into Eurekos, a leading LMS developed in Europe for the international market.
On the learner side, LMS platforms that borrow elements from social media interfaces such as Facebook or Twitter have an advantage because they seem familiar to users, encouraging them to dig in and find what they need quickly to do their jobs. Eurekos, as an example, provides a “playlist” for learning; a worker or manager can set up a Netflix-style delivery to guide learners through a progression of lessons targeted for a job role or given situation.
Eurekos also offers a dashboard with a calendar to help learners stay on top of their classwork commitments. The same dashboard displays information about announcements, enrolled courses, team members, and related conversations.
Keeping Content Fresh
Digital content doesn’t stand still. Yet nobody has the time to cull through every reference or link in a system to make sure they’re kept up to date. Eurekos automatically manages those kinds of details through a tagging system. Should a product name change, for example, the LMS will sweep through the contents, locate every reference to the outdated information, such as a link that has been modified, and allow it to be updated as a bulk operation or singly, to keep it current. A dynamic link feature can be used, as well, to create and manage links with one-click inserts.
The best learning is often a collaborative activity. But that does not mean it has to take place in a physical classroom. Just as important is the ability to schedule a virtual meeting on the fly as people need to come together to sort out decisions and share ideas and concerns before, during, and after training. Eurekos, as an example, allows for scheduling of GoToMeeting webinar classrooms to facilitate these real-time sessions and provides other mechanisms such as discussion groups for asynchronous communication.
The Eurekos LMS also provides news feeds, gamification, Q&A, content ratings, sharing and recommendations, to drive learners to content that has particular relevance and has gained popularity within the organisation. Teams within Eurekos can be self-organised to allow learners to gather in smaller groups to focus on specific topics. And assignments can be set up with a peer-review requirement.
This takes several forms. First, there is the integration that allows the learning platform to be branded as part of the overall architecture of the organization rather than as a separate program. For example, if a customer relationship management application is the mission-critical system for staff, being able to integrate the LMS with that is more inviting for users than having it hung out as a separate program altogether.
Integration also encompasses the capacity to use content from other sources. As an example, H5P is a standard for interactive learning objects. Those learning components that adhere to the standard can be seamlessly imported and exported to and from an LMS to set up a richer collection of content. This is especially important in a corporate setting where mergers and acquisitions are common; training modules can be shared from multiple sources to quicken the pace of cross-training.
Responsive Web Design
People have personal training preferences. Some want to grab a quick lesson on the train during their commute while others prefer to sit at their desk computers and do it on the job as they face a specific work challenge. The content you create needs to be responsive from the outset so that no matter what type of device is being used to view the lesson, it comes across exactly as it was intended. A leading LMS takes responsive web design into consideration, saving content creators from having to check multiple screen sizes as part of their development process.
I have great sympathy for those who need to administer LMS platforms. For that reason, I prefer those platforms that enable users to create, update and manage digital lessons quickly and easily. Content is becoming increasingly volatile, and some of the platforms I’ve reviewed lately make it very difficult for people to update, manage and curate content.
Administration also entails project management functionality, such as the ability to assign a team of people to create course materials and then put it through an automated review process as a workflow before the lessons have been released to the rest of the staff. The Eurekos LMS, for example, includes a visualization feature that lays out the course structure clearly and succinctly. The person in charge of a given learning project can view each module, unit, chapter, session, and video in an outline form for drag-and-drop management of all of a course’s elements.
Finally, administration also needs to take into consideration the different roles that users have—whether on the backside as overseers of courses or on the front side as consumers of the learning. Either way, Eurekos enables creation of various roles that can be assigned permissions to run the LMS or preserve access to learning content. For example, whereas Eurekos allows learners to self-organise creation of “teams,” administrators are given the right to define communities as an additional layer of organisation, which may span a single division or unit within the company or the entire workforce.
As part of running a responsive blended learning program, it’s important to collect data to assess and measure learner progress, whether for the sake of keeping compliant with regulations or for the purposes of employee reviews. Having access to this kind of information can help you identify areas where your members of your workforce excel and struggle so together you can address their skills gaps. From there you can create customised learning paths based on the learner’s role, expertise level, interests, and other factors. Learning analytics will also help you track the most popular learning modules, which can be a clue to identifying effective content experts and revealing subjects that warrant development of additional learning materials.
The optimal path is to build learning once and allow the software to handle translation duties for menu structures, interface elements and administrative tools. Eurekos currently supports 11 languages: English, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, German, Dutch, French, Russian, Greenlandic and Arabic. Additional languages can be added quickly to expand the footprint into other geographies.
The Importance of Choosing Well
The right learning management system goes beyond the basics of serving as a repository for courses. It really becomes a platform for managing learning experiences that can take place in many systems, situations and processes. As you’re considering your choices, don’t make the selection a checklist item; be more holistic and choose an LMS that will help you generate the kind of learning organization you aspire to have.
David Patterson runs Learning Light, a centre of excellence in the latest learning technologies. Much of this article was based on a recent review he did of Eurekos.
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