Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About LMS But Were Afraid to Ask-Well Maybe Not Everything!

  • Written By: Sherry Fox
  • Published: October 24 2008


As the 1977 Trooper song says "We're here for a good time, not a long time," and while the song was referring to living rather than working, the latter part of the lyric certainly holds true for today's workforce. People just don't stay at one job for very long anymore.

For many organizations, gone are the days of simply hiring an employee, giving them a half decent salary with a few perks, and hoping like hell they'll stick around for the long run. It's no longer just about what an individual can bring to the organization; employees today are also expecting a lot more from their employers. They not only want a job, they want a learning experience.

Today, if a company wants to retain its employees, it must take great strides to make that experience a rewarding one. Organizations must be willing to develop and nurture their employee's career goals by creating what I like to call, "a recipe for success"—a recipe that not only benefits the employee, but the company too. This recipe should include a well-rounded talent management strategy, a pinch of competency objectives, and a heaping spoonful of learning management.

Learning management coupled with thoroughly planned learning processes have become important factors in generating competitive advantages. In fact, studies have shown that corporate learning is an effective way to increase an organization's overall performance. But even the best learning strategy cannot work without the right technology to back it up. Thus, the difficultly for many organizations lies in determining what type of system to buy to compliment their learning strategy.

What Is Learning Management?

Learning management is a term used to define strategies that are developed to help achieve learning outcomes. A learning management system (LMS) provides the necessary tools for managing, creating, scheduling, training, or learning in an organization.

LMS typically helps to manage both classroom and on-line learning (also known as e-learning). Some LMSs often manage classroom learning alone or e-learning alone, rather than handling both. Some LMSs may also include content authoring and management, as well virtual classrooms.

How to Decide Which Type of System is Right for My Growing Business

Where does one start when it comes to choosing an LMS? With a plethora of choices available that include core human resource (HR) functionality or more robust features including talent management, succession planning, competency and performance management, and incentive management, how do you know which one will best suit your organization?

Before you can choose the right type of system, it's important to first determine what is driving your decision to buy in the first place. In my experience with LMS, some of the main drivers for organizations in purchasing a new LMS have been

  • the need to automate reporting and tracking;

  • to keep up with regulatory and statutory certification requirements; or

  • to align learning with strategic business goals.

With the trend moving towards educating employees and nurturing their career goals, enterprise software vendors have taken marketplace demands into consideration by developing all-in-one solutions (better known as suites). So rather than a pure LMS, consumers are now finding solutions (or suites) that mix all facets of HR together. What's interesting, however, is that many solutions are also sold as best-of-breed, allowing buyers to mix and match.

The bottom line when choosing an LMS solution is that organizations must focus on getting the most critical functions they need, while ensuring the system is modular enough to allow individual components to be easily added as required.

Learning for the Future—Emerging Trends

In this section, we'll review some of the emerging trends in learning management that your organization may want to consider down the road. Understanding where learning management is headed tomorrow will allow you to make better informed decisions today.

Mobile Learning

Are you one of those people, like millions of others, who can't live without their Blackberry? The recent serge in mobile phone use globally over the last decade has provided a great opportunity for enterprise software vendors to turn their future developments to the mobile market—and mobile learning is no exception. In fact, because the global workforce in general has become more mobile, it only stands to reason that their learning opportunities should be mobile too. With more and more organizations adopting learning and talent management strategies, employees are constantly under pressure to keep up with their training—especially those competing for a specific position. Finding the time to attend training courses or to even logon from their personal computer at work to complete an online training module can be difficult. But having the freedom to login remotely through a personal digital assistant (PDA)—now you're talking!

Web 2.0 (Social Networking)

Web 2.0 (also known as social networking) has become a popular tool in the learning community. Web sites such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn—among others, continue to increase virtual interaction on a social level. With new functionality emerging at a rapid pace, social networking encourages the sharing of information and knowledge, and it's all bundled neatly within a secure framework.

LMS Vendors at a Glance

Here are two of the leading LMS products that I have recently had the opportunity to see up close and personal. Both Saba and SumTotal have joined Technology Evaluation Center's (TEC) roster of LMS vendors and are currently working with our research analysts to have their products "TEC certified".

The list below is not an exhaustive one; in fact, there are hundreds of products available on the market.

Saba (Learning Suite 5.4). Saba's people management solutions are used by more than 1,300 organizations and over 17 million users worldwide. Saba's targeted clientele are usually companies with over 25,000 users. Its solutions help to increase organizational performance by aligning workforce goals with organizational strategy; developing, managing, and rewarding the workforce; and, improving collaboration. In my opinion, Saba's Learning Suite provides robust functionality, with easy-to-use screens, and drop-down menus. Saba's product offerings address all aspects of strategic human capital management (HCM) and are available both on-premise and on-demand.

What's unique to Saba? The fact that they have their own university! For more information about it, you can read my blog entitled "Saba University: What a Concept!"

SumTotal (Total LMS). SumTotal's LMS solution helps accelerate performance and profits for more than 1,500 small to medium businesses (SMBs) and governments worldwide. Its talent development suite of learning, performance, and talent management applications enables companies to identify knowledge and competency gaps across their entire value chain.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with SumTotals' Narendra Patil, director of product marketing and Bill Docherty, senior director of product management who were kind enough to do a product briefing with me and some members of my team. What impressed me the most about SumTotals LMS solution was its unique best-of-breed capabilities, including open activity architecture (OAA)—which helps customers leverage existing curriculum workflows and processes, and total versioning. It enables users to easily tag, update, and manage revisions to curriculums, classes, and training manuals.

Some Other Vendors to Consider

While the above-mentioned vendors are just a few that have developed a learning management solution, here are some others you might want to consider reviewing. They provide a combination of talent, performance, and learning management solutions.

Many of these vendors and products, incidentally, appeared in Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Corporate Learning Systems 2008. The Magic Quadrant is a research tool that was developed by US-based research and advisory firm Gartner Inc. and offers a visual snapshot of a specific market's direction, maturity, and participants. Gartner conducts research on more than 100 technical industries and its quadrant report is updated every one to two years.

Figure 1. From Gartner's Magic Quadrant (June 2008)

If you are not sure where to start with your LMS software selection, I recommend that you give TEC's decision support system (DSS) eBestmatch a trial run.

Whether you're just at the beginning stages of your LMS software selection or you're already a few months into your project, TEC's eBestmatch will help ensure that you're putting all the chances on your side in choosing the right solution for your learning needs.

Ready, set, learn … after all, knowledge is power!

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