In the first article of this series on How to Implement an LMS, Part 1: Laying the Groundwork, I went over the basic case for why you should even bother with an LMS in the first place, what signs may be present that indicate it’s time to make a switch in LMS vendors, and some of the must-have features that should be present in any 21st-century LMS. Going over those aspects laid a good introductory foundation to the LMS implementation process. The next phase is to conduct a thorough series of analyses that will help you narrow down what it is you really need an LMS to deliver in your organization.
I think the most important thing to say about this analysis phase is this: Don’t skimp on it! If you’re in the situation of being thoroughly dissatisfied with your current LMS, then you want to do everything in your power to make a better choice this time around, right? And if what you’re facing is being a first-time LMS adopter, you want to make the best choice the first time around. Either way, the analysis phase I’ll be describing in this article is possibly the most important part of the whole LMS implementation process. It may feel like a time-sink, but the pay-off in terms of making better LMS decisions is well worth the extra time and effort it takes to conduct a thorough analysis. Otherwise, you run the risk of making a poor choice that misses the mark. The analysis phase includes assessing the general audience, the learning already in place, a technical analysis, a business-case analysis, and finally a training/learning departmental assessment.
Assessing the General Audience
Don’t think that you already know everything about the people in your organization when it comes to training and learning, which gets harder and harder to tease out depending on the size of your company. Here are some aspects to keep in mind:
- Technical experience/ability.
- Experience in company/organizational learning.
- Willingness to use online and/or hosted systems.
- What they want from an LMS. (style, activities, functions, etc.)
- Site-specifics. If you have manufacturing and/or other manual labor employees, how practical is it for them to engage in learning through an LMS? You’d also be surprised how much you can learn about your people just by observing them and their supervisors doing their daily work.
The Status Quo of Learning
You also need to get a very clear sense of what learning efforts are already present in your company. If your training/learning programs are already collected under one umbrella (centralized), then it will be relatively easy to come up with this information. If your training/learning efforts are all over the place, now is a good time to find out what’s really happening in your company, because you must know this information in order for it to become part of whatever LMS you eventually adopt. It’s not uncommon for companies in this situation to find all kinds of different training and learning happening in different departments. Note that bringing such disparate efforts under the umbrella of a single, centralized LMS doesn’t have to mean they’re being taken away from those departments, just that all of it needs to be tracked in one central place.
This is a fairly straightforward analysis of your company’s technological infrastructure. You want to make sure you can handle whatever LMS you ultimately choose to adopt. Pay attention to things like bandwidth, computer (desktops/laptops) hardware/software capabilities, other device capabilities (tablets and smartphones if you’re considering going mLearning), and so on. Get your IT folks involved early on, and well before bringing in any LMS vendors for demonstrations. You need to know from the outset what technological constraints apply to you so you don’t waste time on systems you can’t handle.
This involves more thoroughly understanding what each department in your company really needs to get from your learning efforts overall and more specifically from an LMS. Sit down with key people from each department and interview them about their training and learning needs. It will help you figure out what LMS features are must-haves versus nice-to-haves versus not-needed-at-alls, which will help you narrow down the list of potential LMS vendors.
Training/Learning Departmental Assessment (often HR)
In many smaller companies and organizations (and even some larger ones), you may not have a distinct training/learning department. Oftentimes it is a function of human resources (HR). Either way, you need to assess this department carefully as it will be using the LMS more than anyone else, especially for all the back-office functions (administration, data entry, data usage, etc.). Keep the following in mind:
- Administration. Figure out who fits in with various aspects of the LMS that need to be managed (administration, design, delivery, development, reporting, technology, etc.). As you assess this department, you need to be getting an idea of who will be responsible for each major LMS aspect.
- LMS Policies. Who decides what constitutes passing and failing grades on courses? In the case of failures, will re-taking the course be an option, and will those failures be reported to managers? Who decides which trainings and courses are required versus optional? Which courses can be offered purely online, which can be hybrid, and which need to be offered as more traditional instructor-led classroom-based options? Who has access to grades and transcripts?
- Instructional Design. How much needs to be designed in-house and what are the capabilities present for that? Are there courses out there already that fit the purpose that can be imported into the LMS? How social does it need to be (meaning the use of social media in the form of chat rooms, blogs, discussion threads, etc.)? Do content experts need to be involved in designing and posting courses?
- Delivery. How much access do instructors need/want to the LMS? Are there deadlines for registering for some types of courses that aren’t self-paced online?
- Professional Development. Will the LMS include professional and career development offerings? If so, who’s in charge of orchestrating and guiding those activities? Do those people need access to grades and transcripts?
- Reporting. How robust does reporting need to be? Who will see report data and how much detail do they need in terms of attendance, results, completions, and grades? Will reports be furnished to those who need them at regular intervals or accessible to them in real-time or on an as-needed basis (meaning they can log on and generate their own reports). Is the reporting only for internal purposes or will it be used as compliance evidence for external stakeholders and agencies?
What I’m trying to do here is just introduce you to the kinds of things you should be looking at in the analysis phase of an LMS implementation process. As I mentioned towards the beginning of this article, you need to take this analysis phase very seriously, because doing this part right will save you a lot of headaches and hassles as you go further down the path of LMS implementation.
In fact, this part of the process is so important that I’m going to write another article just about this analysis phase that will go into greater depth about many of the questions you should be asking when conducting this kind of organizational analysis and assessment. To do it right, and especially if your company is on the medium-to-larger end of the spectrum, you should convene an interdisciplinary team to conduct the analyses and assessments. I’ll detail who should be on that team in the next article, along with at least seventy (70) questions that should be asked during the analysis phase.
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