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LMS SOS

A learning management system can be one of the most helpful or most vexing tools in your training toolbox. It can be your best friend one day and your worst nightmare the next.

Most of our focus is on selecting a system and installing it, but the bigger pains come with supporting usage. Here are a few things I have learned (the hard way) that will help reduce the number of nightmare days.

Identify who owns which tasks. Within an LMS, there are various levels of permissions on both the front and back ends. Be clear as to who is responsible for maintaining high-level administrator functions on the back end, such as course setup and maintenance, as well as what you expect your users to own on the front end, such as roster entry, reports, and the like. Most often, the department that maintains budgetary responsibility is not the only department that will be using the LMS, so all of this needs to be identified as early as possible and periodically evaluated for any changes.

Consider which departments will be using the system and all of their potential uses over the long term. Each system comes with many bells and whistles you may think you’ll never use, but never is a very long time. Learn all of the functionality that each department might need in the future.

Consider your end user needs. The LMS can be a very powerful tool as long as people can use it effectively. Here are some questions you will want to ask yourself:

Registration: Will learners self-register? Will they be registered by someone else? Does training need to be automatically assigned at some predetermined frequency, such as with annual safety, compliance training, or certifications?

Search: When setting up content, be sure to use a consistent naming or coding convention so that all the right courses come up when your learners perform a search. This is also helpful if you set up any type of catalogue or different domains. 

Course costs: Although a majority of your content will be internally developed, you still have to ask yourself how you will manage any course fees. Sometimes if training is provided by a different division, there may be a course cost and you want to be sure up front that you know how you’ll manage this. The last thing you want to do is put something out there for your learners that is unavailable to them. If courses are being paid for and available to only a small group of the population, it might be best to manage those by hiding them from all but the applicable learners. (In that case, allow only administrators to register certain students, otherwise you will be surprised to find out how many learners are truly seekers.)

Help users help themselves. Once you have identified all the levels of permissions and users necessary, provide users with what they will need to be as self-reliant as possible. If you don’t, expect to spend many days performing a lot of tasks yourself. 

Provide how-to demonstrations. It’s never been easier to show people how to use technology. Set up group or individual webinars or Skype meetings to provide instruction and hands-on training. When I’m teaching one-on-one, I like for the learner to take the wheel as I walk them through what they need to know. Most people learn by doing, so at the end of the meeting they can say they’ve at least done the task once.

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Provide instructions. Although each technology tool comes with its own instructions, most often these do not provide the type of just-in-time information people need. For instance, consider you are an HR person who just got an email that a particular course is going to be held nearby and you are afraid it might fill up before you can get you people registered. Now is not the time for you to be sorting through a 350-page user guide.

Provide your users with one- to two-page job aids that walk them through the pertinent steps. Include screen shots. I promise you this will cut down the number of frantic calls you get from someone needing immediate help. You can also use these job aids to reinforce the web meetings you lead.

Be proactive. Regardless of how commonplace an LMS may seem, don’t make any assumptions that your people will find it easy. If you have adequately done your work on the front end in identifying all the users and their needs, then think about how you can provide LMS orientation into their new hire training. Anyone new to an LMS will need some coaching to be able to find what they need and how to make things work. It isn’t a bad idea to provide all new hires with some type of LMS orientation. You can do this through an online module, but be sure to provide some side-by-side coaching so they don’t get lost from the start.

For users who will manage reporting or administrative functions, be sure you are notified whenever you get new users coming into the organization so that you can provide them with an orientation as well as showing them were to locate instructions and any job aids, etc.

Maintain your courses and LMS instructions. It’s often hard to consider on the front end what will happen years later. You need to set up a maintenance schedule to periodically evaluate content and make sure it’s still up-to-date. Make sure you have resources planned out each year to allow for updating content, as well as take courses that are no longer current out of commission.

You will also need to think about what content needs to show up on an employee’s transcript. For topics that have an annual refresher, you may not need all of these records to come up in every transcript. Even if you want the courses to show up as completed, you may still want to archive the rosters for instructor-led courses that update over time. This will keep your instructors from entering registrations and completions into the wrong roster and make it easier for them to find the right one.

Make sure when you get system upgrades that you take the time to review all of your support documents, job aids, and orientation materials so that you can update any instructions or screen shots.

The final “old-school” recommendation I would make is to keep a log of issues and problems with courses and system functionality that includes details about the problem, root cause, and what you did to troubleshoot and repair. The one thing I do know about these systems is that the people maintaining them often change, and you don’t want to lose your database of information when that happens. There is nothing worse than having an old problem pop up after an upgrade and you can’t remember what you did to fix it.

Hopefully this will help you avoid or minimize LMS SOS distress calls. Share any of your ideas or best practices in the Comments section below.
© 2017 ATD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.

About the Author
ATD Field Editor Melissa Westmoreland is the training and development leader for the lumber division of Georgia-Pacific Corporation in Atlanta, and is responsible for supporting talent development for 16 locations across the United States. Westmoreland has more than 20 years of production, quality, compliance, and T&D experience in food, packaging, and wood products manufacturing. She has developed or supported talent development solutions for operations, leadership, and craft skills. She has been an active member of ATD since 1995. You can email her directly at MelissaAWestmoreland@gmail.com.
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