An Introduction to E-learning and Learning Management Systems (LMS)

Not so long ago (or, back in the early ’90s, when I was a first-year college student) there were two ways to get a post-secondary education: by attending classes at a university or college with hundreds of other coffee-stoked students, or by signing up for what used to be called “distance” learning (or even before that, “by correspondence,” as though courses consisted of a series of letters exchanged between the student and the professor, and delivered by the Pony Express). Distance courses still exist, of course, but increasingly, even these programs are undergoing drastic change because of their use of technology.

Over the past decade or more, a new style of education has been emerging for traditional in-class college and university programs as well, changing the ways instructors and professors teach and students learn. Humanism—the philosophy originally espoused by universities—has always held that technology could and should be used, along with rationality, ethical philosophy, and universal morality, towards improving the human condition. However, it seems that the balance is being tipped increasingly towards a privileging of technology over other means to that end.

Universities are jumping enthusiastically on the technology bandwagon, and it’s no longer uncommon for professors to supplement their lectures with PowerPoint presentations, or for students to take notes on their laptops (Acadia University, in Wolfville, Canada, has been offering “free” laptops to all first-year students for more than ten years). And an ever-growing number of professors set up course web sites that allow students additional opportunities to ask questions, or to access the course syllabus, should they have happened to lose that pesky, fly-away hardcopy version handed out the first day of class.

What does all this extra technology-based stimulation mean in practical terms (besides reducing the number of times the prof has to answer questions about when the term paper is due)? With PowerPoint replacing “old-school” photo slides and clunky overhead projectors, burnt-out bulbs interrupting lectures is no longer a concern. Students can use their laptops not only to take notes more speedily (most people type faster than they can write), but also to access dictionaries and other writing or reference tools in situ.

Course web sites can also offer students supplementary materials without the time-consuming hassle of going to the library (a decided benefit for students with physical disabilities). Graphic elements, such as art, diagrams, or photos, can help students who are visual rather than auditory learners. Chat rooms and other collaborative tools can help to maximize student participation in courses with ever-increasing enrollment caps.

The benefits of e-learning are not just for universities. Many elementary and high schools are also implementing learning management systems (LMS) in their classroom, for attendance tracking, creating and administering tests, e-mail, grade posting, and many other administrative and teaching tasks.

And certainly no less important—probably much more important to readers of this blog—is the fact that businesses of all sizes are changing the way they perform certain operations as a result of implementing e-learning and learning management (LMS) applications. Human resource managers are discovering how to optimize employee performance with e-learning or LMS software.

What Is a Learning Management System?

An LMS is a software technology that allows organizations, including corporations and educational institutions, to manage and schedule all aspects of teaching and training. An LMS can aid in creating course calendars and other material, in easing administration and communication, and improving tracking of student or trainee progress. An LMS can be implemented through the Internet with open source software, it can be licensed from a provider, or it can be purchased by an organization. The term e-learning refers to any training or learning that is done with an LMS application, or that is computer based.

Top Business Benefits of E-learning with an LMS

  • Reduced costs associated with training fees, travel and accommodation expenses for workshop or course trainers, and lost employee work time

  • Computer-based training can more effectively and actively engage the student and produce better test results and higher rates of retention, thereby improving on-the-job competency and efficiency

  • Larger numbers of employees can receive training in shorter periods of time; employees can be exempt from certain courses or modules if they demonstrate competency by passing a pre-test

  • Reduced administrative hassle for course registration, and course content, resulting in further reduced costs

  • Greater volumes of employees can receive timely training, as a result of by-distance access to online training programs or courses

  • Reduced employee turnover, as more efficient training and better test results can boosts employee confidence and performance

  • Modules for employee training can assist organizations with compliance issues, partly due to more consistent or “centralized” course content

What Risks Do Business Managers Need to Consider before Implementing a Learning Management Solution?

  • Align learning with business goals, as well as employees’ personal goals, to make sure time and resources are maximized.

  • Develop a well-planned business case to win senior executives approve a proposed e-learning or LMS project.

  • Identify the gap between actual or current training results and desired results, so that you can choose an e-learning or LMS solution that addresses your specific needs.

  • Assess your company’s IT infrastructure to decide whether to implement a hosted or a licensed solution.

  • Make sure you choose a solution that will integrate with your existing human resources (HR) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.

Mitigate Risk with Online Software Selection Tools (Or, How an Online Software Selection Process Can Help You)

  • Compare vendors offering LMS solutions with those offering content management system (CMS) solutions, to find out which best meets your needs.

  • Evaluate vendors that provide modules for competency and performance management.

  • Examine functionality that supports course content authoring or publishing tools.

  • Determine which solutions satisfy your requirements for classroom or e-learning facilities.

More LMS and E-learning Resources

Not all of your students or trainees may be geniuses, but their training results can be markedly improved with LMS-based training.

Think of this simple formula (slightly modified from the original), if you need further incentive to consider LMS:

e-learning = mc²

with “m” representing the mass number of employees you can train more effectively, the management of knowledge, as well as the money you’ll save, and with “c” representing the speed (Latin celeritas) at which you can train them, and get them back on the job and performing better than ever.
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