Learners today are presented with a wealth of choices and opportunities for learning. They can turn to Blogs, wikis, social networks, video sites, etc. to find learning content. The problem, though, is that it can be difficult to find high quality, informative learning content among a massive sea of choices.
How much stuff is out there?
- YouTube alone experiences 100 hours of video uploaded every minute. (https://www.youtube.com/yt/press/statistics.html)
- 200 billion tweets are published to Twitter each year. (http://www.internetlivestats.com/twitter-statistics/)
- There are currently 17.6 billion Blog pages on WordPress alone (http://en.wordpress.com/stats/)
- The most amazing metric, though, comes from the American Library Association which says that by 2020, information on the Internet will be doubling every 15 minutes.
Research indicates that the time, effort, and cost to create e-learning courses using authoring tools is exorbitant. This often quoted ASTD article states that it typically takes 127 to 184 hours (16 to 23 days) to create, using authoring tools, one hour of self-paced online learning containing moderate interactivity.
An effective solution to the problem of learning content overload and pressure on course developers to create courses quickly and cheaply is to leverage the workplace learning management system (LMS) as an on-ramp to the world’s best learning content.
Traditionally, instructional designers and course developers create courses using third party authoring tools and import these into the LMS to deliver to learners and track their progress. Comparatively, the course assembly tools built into some learning management systems (LMS) allow you to quickly create courses that contain:
- Instructional videos from the most popular sites including YouTube, Vimeo, TED.com, etc.
- Articles from Wikipedia and other online encyclopedia
- Blog posts from such reputable sources as Harvard Business Review
- Slideshare and Prezi presentations
- Free online courses
- External discussion forums in the form of Facebook or LinkedIn groups, Reddit discussions, etc
Although the source files for the content types listed above are located outside of the LMS, the system can still track the learner’s progress through the courses. Learner activity reports can then be generated, shared, exported, and e-mailed to instructors, administrators, managers, and others.
Based on the estimate that a traditional e-learning course takes 16 to 23 days to create, and assuming a conservative annual salary of $65,000 for an instructional/designer/course developer, and 250 work days per year, a simple one-hour page-turning type course using a traditional authoring tool would cost $4160 to $5980 to create.
Comparatively, a course of a similar duration featuring, say…
- An existing YouTube video
- A quiz
- A PDF document
- A existing Prezi presentation
- A final exam
…takes less than two days to create at a cost of $520, including the time to find and vet content, create assessments, and assemble/test the course. This translates into cost savings of $3640 to $5460 over a traditionally-authoring course. Given that most organizations provide dozens of courses to learners, the cost savings translate into tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
Higher learner engagement
Also, courses leveraging existing Web content (videos, Blogs, presentations, etc.) produce learning events that are potentially more engaging to learners than boring page-turning courses. (After all, learners hang out on such sites outside of work.) This translates into significantly higher level of course completion and increased learning.
Organizations will always need to create some courses in-house. But for a multitude of topics, cost savings and increased learning can be obtained by leveraging existing Web-based content in their learning management system.
Choosing the right learning management system that will best serve the needs of your organization and users can be a daunting task. It is inevitable that your training and learning requirements with constantly evolve, so selecting a solution that can be easily customized to suit your needs is a no-brainer.
Customization gives you the ability to modify your LMS to perform specific functions and organize your information according to your unique requirements. Make sure your chosen solution not only supports the features you need, but also provides intuitive administrative options that allow you to tweak how you use the system.
With its modern interface and responsive design, it couldn’t be easier to customize Absorb LMS. Many custom settings are easy to turn on/off with just a few clicks, while others control automated processes specifically designed to reduce time-consuming manual administration and save you time.
As an example, user management features in Absorb LMS provide robust customization options to control:
- Granting or restricting user access
- Defining user roles and permissions
- Adding and maintaining custom user fields
- Designing user registration tools
- Organizing users into groups
Watch blatant^’s Client Advocate, Ryan McAllister, as he highlights the powerful customization options available for user management in Absorb LMS:
Let’s face it, most companies don’t have hundreds of thousands (or even tens of thousands) of dollars available in their courseware development budgets, but they still have a need to create effective training content for their employees, customers or channel partners.
High-end interactive e-learning content development can get expensive, and pushing out static PDFs or PowerPoints is a great way to make you the least-popular department in the entire company, a pariah at the annual company picnic.
The good news is that it is now easier and cheaper than ever to create engaging video content. If you plan carefully, you can even do this using a smartphone or inexpensive HD Video camera, and some consumer video editing software.
Here are some pre-production tips:
Create a script with a SME (Subject Matter Expert). You need to make sure that your learning objectives are covered and that the information is accurate.
When it comes to casting for the video, use someone who is articulate and has great energy. If your SME is great on camera, then even better, it will add credibility.
Script it into short, logical clips. This will help immensly during editing and uploading into the LMS.
Incorporate humour when appropriate. Your viewers will appreciate this greatly. If you are simply not funny, or if you think you may be crossing the line with a sensitive issue, then don’t do it.
Scout your locations to check for excessive noise and lighting conditions. It’s almost impossible to get rid of background noise later on, and having good lighting makes a huge difference in the perceived quaity of the final video. Natural light always works best for low budget videos, so shoot near a window if possible, or under the shade of a tree, for example. Full sun can cause glare, over-exposure and too much contrast so indirect natural light is best. Early morning or early evening natural lighting is always the nicest (the golden hour).
If you’re using an HD smartphone, make sure it’s in landscape mode (or “sideways” in layman’s terms). That sounds really obvious but it’s easy to forget if you don’t shoot a lot of video with your phone.
Shoot close-up when someone is talking (From shoulders to the top of their head). This is more engaging for the viewer and also will get you much better audio quality.
Listen for background noise. If you can, purchase and use a clip-on (lavalier or lapel microphone). You can get basic ones for under $50 from Best Buy and higher quality ones at your camera store. You can hide the cord under their shirt and clip the mic on near their collar.
Always use a tripod (you can get them for phones too). Shaky camera work is not cool. If you don’t have a tripod, then rest the side or bottom of your camera or phone up against a wall or on a table for stability.
Don’t be afraid to shoot mulitple takes until you get it right. You can always erase and shoot again (and again) if you start running low on space.
Take a few still photos of the scene. You may want to use these later in editing.
Try to create a dynamic pace. You can do this by inserting still images to reinforce a point, cutting away to close-ups of the subject that is being discussed, and using music in the background. Just make sure the music is not drowning out the dialogue.
Be sure to use royalty-free (legal) music and licensed stock images in your videos. You don’t want to get into trouble down the road for copyright infringement.
Output your videos as shorter lessons (5-10 minutes max). These can be sequenced and grouped into Chapters in Absorb. This makes it easier for the learner to complete the course in “chunks”, may reduce potential issues when streaming video over cellular networks and also allows you to insert quizzes and/or tasks and assignments in between lessons.
My favourite video editing software (Pinnacle Studio) costs only $99 and offers a lot of professional features. It also includes a library of royalty-free music and a host of special effects.
The other great thing about video is that it plays well across various devices and platforms. We recommend that you publish your videos as MP4 files and then import them as Video Lessons into your Absorb Online course.
Once you’ve added your video lessons to Absorb, you may want to insert Absorb Quizzes along the way, and perhaps a final Exam. You can adjust the weighting of each of the assessments as they apply to towards the learner’s final mark for the course.
You can also make the video files available for download by creating course-specific resources from the same source files.
Video is an effective learning tool and anyone can now make high-quality videos with a little planning and effort. Give it a try!
More than just a pretty face…
Our company motto is, “Make software that feels right”. A simple and somewhat vague message perhaps, but it has served us well, based on the feedback we consistently get from clients, potential clients, and industry pundits. The visionaries who guide the evolution of Absorb, founding partners Mike Eggermont and Mike Owens (“The Mikes” as the team calls them) have been kicking down the walls of convention in the LMS industry for 12 years now. One of the many examples of this outlier thinking is the multi-award winning Absorb learner interface.
The Mikes unique approach to how the learning audience interacts with the software is one of the key differentiators between Absorb and the rest of this overcrowded market. The aforementioned feedback invariably includes adjectives like clean, sleek, beautiful, and easy which as we’d hoped, feels right.
In most environments, there is a range of comfort with software in general. On the one hand, you have individuals who only occasionally use computers, and only when they have to. This type of user often has little or no patience, and the end goal must be placed directly in front of them, or at least not more than a couple of clicks away. On the other hand, you have a whole new generation who have grown up constantly plugged into technology. They have much more sophisticated tastes and can spot a dated interface immediately.
So how do you make an interface that “feels right”, accommodates all level of computer users, and yet offers a positive learning experience? The answer is in the old cliché; “less is more”.
Many other systems out there want to “wow” learners with all of the cool things they can do in the LMS. In order to showcase these features, they tend to cram them onto the landing page. The problem is, most learners don’t give a hoot about all of this stuff. I call it the 90 cubed rule; 90% of the time, 90% of the audience doesn’t touch 90% of those features. Learners are far less in love with your LMS than you are. They want to get their training done and get on with their day. All the superfluous bells and whistles get in the way of that. They end up serving only to overwhelm people and discourage learning. Absorb has stripped away the clutter to present learners with a welcoming environment.
I won’t use any examples, because each environment is unique, and what may be clutter in one learning program may be critical to another. The point is: cut to the chase. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience. What do they want/need out of the system? Once you isolate those requirements, get rid of the rest. The Absorb learner interface is highly customizable. Clients select the functionalities, in the form of “tiles” they need to support their learning strategy. In some cases as few as two or three tiles can accomplish this, as our client “Aftermath” configured their interface:
Nobody likes an interface that is text heavy or crammed with info. Images and open spaces actually serve as a navigational tool and allow the eye to spot what is relevant.
Absorb brings more to the table than simply offering the advice of putting less in front of the audience. Workflow for your learners is as important as the tile selection. A great example of this is our “Resume” tile. This has been a fantastically popular addition to the interface. One of the biggest pain points for learners that we uncovered in our 12 years in the business is the situation where a person is searching for where they left off with their training. Online learning is typically self-paced, meaning people get to it when they have a spare moment. The problem is, those spare moments can often be days or weeks apart. The ingenious “Resume” tile takes the individual back to the launch page of the course they were last undertaking. This, coupled with Absorb’s clear tracking of progress through a course allows someone to return to the exact point where they left off within two clicks of arriving at the dashboard:
The space allotted does not allow me to go into more examples, but hopefully you get the idea; Absorb is not just pretty, it has loads of functionality built in to speed up navigation and put the focus on what is important. Your training.
What else is important? Your branding and your culture. These are two things many organizations have invested heavily in. Absorb lets you tie those into your training to not only maintain a theme, but to reinforce them. Your images and your company vernacular can be clear and present throughout the interface. Maybe in your world, they aren’t a series of courses, they are an “Integrateducation” as our customer Dialog chose to call them:
In many cases, this is the face of your organization or at the very least, of your entire training program. In either event, you want an interface that lends credibility to your training.
Just because we preach “Less is More”, this isn’t to say you can’t add value to your audience by presenting them with more than just course material. The trick is, it must be of interest to the person navigating the interface. That is where Mercury comes in. Mercury takes advantage of the same powerful rule engine that Absorb uses to control enrollments and resource access, build reports and learning Groups and so on, to deliver peripheral content to an individual that is relevant to the individual.
The addition of our Mercury Module lets you manage contests to encourage quick course completion, targeted news stories, and polls and the extremely powerful scrolling billboards (below) allow you to slip in additional self-promotion focused on the person viewing the screen.
Let’s not forget where the learner is accessing their learning from can be a detriment if your LMS interface can’t accommodate the tiny real estate afforded by mobile devices. Simply shrinking down the interface, even a three-tiled configuration, is not the answer. The HTML 5 masters on our team have designed state-of-the-art responsive design into the Absorb interface meaning we don’t just resize your interface but the interface restructures from a horizontal to vertical layout to allow for thumb-friendly, north-south navigation. Brandon Hall and Deloitte Bersin both felt this innovation was award worthy and bequeathed their Advancement in Learning Technology prizes to Absorb in 2013.
A great admin toolset is important no doubt, and Absorb delivers there too. What often gets left behind however is the learner who, at the end of the day is the most important piece in all of this. Something to consider when selecting your LMS…
A friend of mine, an Oxford-educated mathematician, had a smart strategy to succeed in university. When two or more of her professors scheduled exams for the same week, she would immediately ask the instructors to clarify to what extent these exams would influence the final class grade. If the exam in one class was worth, say, 25 per cent of the final grade, and the exam in the other class was worth 50 per cent of the final grade, she would spend significantly more of her efforts studying for the second class.
This seems logical and self-evident.
And yet, I’m a bit ashamed to say, the relative weighting of exams was the last thing on my mind when I was a student. Presented with two exams, I’d either study equally for both or study much more for the subject I found more difficult, even if that subject’s exam was only worth 10 per cent of the final grade. Had I been as smart as my math-whiz friend, I would have largely ignored the 10 per cent exam and focused on the big fish. After all, if you can get 100 per cent on a preliminary exam worth 50 per cent of the final grade, you can pretty much ignore this subject going forward and sleep soundly knowing you’ll pass the course.
Assessments are an important part of learning and development strategies. Exams, of course, measure knowledge and retention and help establish whether a person is qualified to do a job or attain some type of accreditation.
Since we tend to overestimate our own knowledge of a subject, exams also provide an important feedback mechanism. An exam can be a wake-up call, telling us we aren’t the experts we think we are. Exams designed to provide this type of reality-check feedback really shouldn’t count for as much of the final mark as an exam designed to measure overall knowledge of the learning content.
Consequently, learning strategies can benefit from providing exams with different weightings. A course, for instance, might contain a preliminary exam worth 20 per cent of the final grade, and a final exam worth 80 per cent. Did you fail the first exam? Don’t despair! You can still pass the course if you stop goofing off and get a decent mark on the final exam.
To implement this type of strategy, look for assessment authoring tools or a learning management system that allow you to add weightings to exams:
If you implement this strategy, be prepared to discover a few really smart students, like my math-whiz friend, who do poorly on the first exam and ace the second one.
It really wasn’t that long ago that Learning Management Systems (LMS) used to be exclusively utilized by large enterprise organizations with thousands of employees. This is because the cost and complexity of these systems was such that only large companies with huge budgets and lots of I.T. resources could afford to license, deploy, and support them (usually on their own internal servers). Implementations took several months, involved many consultants and people with technical skills, and then usually required at least one fulltime LMS Administrator to manage and support the system on an ongoing basis.
Meanwhile, small businesses were left to grapple with spreadsheets for tracking, and relied primarily on sending their employees out to the local corporate training center to supplement any live-on-the-job training.
Fast forward to today, where the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model has brought with it a level of scalability that allows complex systems (HRIS, LMS, etc.) to be hosted in the cloud and deployed without any I.T. involvement at all, while simultaneously and significantly reducing the cost to entry for these systems.
Over the last few years, the LMS market has seen the majority of its growth (in terms of first-time LMS adoptions) in the Small & Medium business space. Yes, large organizations continue to switch LMS vendors for various reasons, but small and medium businesses have discovered the many ways in which they can benefit from licensing a SaaS LMS, such as Absorb.
Five Ways an LMS Can Benefit Your Small or Medium Business
Here are 5 ways (to name a few) in which a Small or Medium Business can benefit from adopting an LMS:
1. Save Time and Money by Automating Your Training!
- It’s long been known that replacing your Live training with self-paced courses can reduce employee training time and costs by over 60% (source, 21 years of personal experience combined with data from various studies over the years).
- A good LMS will allow you to create learning paths based on job roles and then automate the process of enrolling employees into these learning paths. Wouldn’t it be great to know that the minute that you add a new learner to your LMS, that person will get an email with their account details and notifying them that they’ve been enrolled in their new hire training programs? You can also set this up so that learners who have a change in job role can be automatically enrolled in their new learning paths. All you need to do is change their job title in the LMS – a process that can also be automated via a simple scheduled data exchange between your payroll system and your LMS. Of course an Administrator can also do this quickly without the need for any integrations. We’ve had clients tell us they’ve saved 50% of their training administration time when switching to Absorb from another LMS. Can you imagine how much time you’d save if you don’t already have an LMS?
- Another benefit to this is that you will never forgot to enroll someone in their required training, once you set up the appropriate rules in the system. And it’s not at all complicated.
Here’s an example: You can see how 8 people meet the criteria of this rule which is “anyone who’s job title contains the word “sales” should be enrolled in this course automatically”. Rules can be made more complex or left very simple, like this one.
2. Use Your Existing Training Content
- Wouldn’t it be great to be able to quickly and inexpensively create courses using simple videos and existing documents such as PDFs, product manuals and brochures? This is a great and inexpensive way to get started building out your content in the LMS. Over time, as you update your content, you can choose whether or not you want to make it more interactive and/or use more multimedia.
- You can also easily find and purchase off-the-shelf elearning content that will be compatible with your LMS. Sites like Lynda.com offer huge catalogs of great content on general business skills, software skills, and management topics.
In Absorb you can, for example, create a course using an existing video followed by a PDF brochure, and then add a simple quiz in a matter of minutes. You just click to create a new course, give it a name and description, and then start adding your Learning Objects. Then you can add your enrollment rules and get back to your game of Candy Crush while your employees automatically receive their enrollment notification emails and start their training.
3. Accurate Reports Made Easy = No More Spreadsheets!
When the CEO says to you, “I’m meeting with all the managers in 15 minutes, and I need a compliance training report, grouped by Department and sorted by Job Code as well as a report that shows how much we spent on all safety training by department in the last 6 months”, wouldn’t it be great to know you could pull that together in less than 10 minutes and quickly export it to Excel or PDF?
Better yet, wouldn’t it be great to be able to say to your CEO, “Actually, I set those up as automated reports weeks ago. You and the members of the management team have been receiving them weekly via email, but I’d be happy to print off a set of copies in time for your meeting”.
Using your LMS you should be able to track:
- Your company’s Skills Inventory: who has which certifications and/or competencies and if/when they expire
- Who attended which training, where and when (some of which may be a legal requirement)
- Status of people enrolled in self-paced courses
- Who completed assigned tasks that were part of a course
- How people scored on assessments and control what happens if they fail (this also allows you to improve your courses)
- Details on exams and quizzes, so you can make sure you are asking questions in the best way
- Money and time spent on training (by course and/or by employee)
- People’s feedback on your course offerings so you can make adjustments
- Bonus: In Absorb you can easily push out surveys and single question polls to gather any info that you want
4. Extend Training to Your Customers and/or Partner Organizations
Once you’ve got an LMS in place, it makes sense to think about how it can be extended to learners outside your own company. Imagine the impact you can have on things like revenue, customer satisfaction, and market share, by having a more knowledgeable customer or reseller.
A good LMS will make it very easy to set visibility rules on all of your content, so that a learner will only see what they are supposed to see in the system. The reality is you can create simple or very complex rules to ensure that learners see exactly what you want them to see. Reporting filters also ensure that you can easily filter your report results to specific audiences as well.
5. Create an Engaging Information Hub
Now that you’ve got learners coming to your LMS for mandatory training, take advantage of the situation and give them lots of reasons to come back (and stay longer). In Absorb you can create and brand Billboards to promote new content to specific audiences, you can publish News articles or connect to a news/RSS feed, or you can engage people in Polls and gain more insight into your audience’s interests and needs. Contests are a great way to incent and reward people for completing training by a specific date. Your LMS can really start to look and feel like a one-stop information hub, rather than a portal with a few lonely courses hanging out in there.
Five Key Considerations When Selecting an LMS
First off, I’m not going to talk about budget. Well okay, maybe a little bit. I think it’s a given that you should license software that you can afford, and that different companies have different needs and different budgets. LMS software varies as much in price as it does in quality. As with most products you get what you pay for. Here are 5 key considerations when evaluating LMS for Small and Medium Businesses:
1. Simplicity of Deployment and Support
- Your LMS should be hosted in a secure, scalable environment (e.g. not on a server in a closet somewhere). Make sure your LMS provider is using a reputable hosting company and ask about up-time. We use Amazon Web Services and have a track record of greater than 99.9% uptime.
- Your LMS should be simple enough that you shouldn’t need any technical skills to get it up and running and to continue to work with it. If your company is very sophisticated with its use of technology, then your may actually have an IT person or Department who may want to get involved to help set up Single Sign On with your network and/or an automated feed from your HR or Payroll System into your LMS. The latter would be used to automatically create and update learner accounts in the LMS, which is not a requirement, but a great bonus if you can do it.
- Your LMS should work on a variety of devices: phones, tablets, “phablets”, PCs and Macs without the need for any Apps. This is done using “Responsive” design, which automatically adjusts the LMS interface/layout for different screen sizes. It literally means that you do not need to worry whether a learner is on an iPhone or Android phone, for example. Where it gets a little tricky is in ensuring that your content runs on mobile devices. Video is a great format for this and there are many inexpensive tools that you can license to convert PowerPoint presentations (and other material) into mobile friendly courses.
2. Quality of Interface Design
I’ve seen a lot of LMS products over the years (at one time I was a Sr. LMS Analyst with Brandon Hall Group). If you follow learning technology blogs and reports at all, you will notice that good design has recently become a bit of a hot topic. With over 500 LMS in the market that share roughly 90% of the same features, great interface design becomes an increasingly important differentiator. Let’s face it, most of your learners (especially the millennials) do recognize a good looking website from an ugly one. When they come to work, you don’t want to depress them with ugly corporate software.
Companies like Apple have really pushed the importance of design from the consumer space into the corporate space. Here at Blatant, we take great pride in the fact that our Absorb LMS always gets lots of compliments for good looks. But it’s no surprise; we’ve spent a lot of time and energy making the user experience and enjoyable one, and trying to ensure that the quality of your brand is reflected throughout. This is even more important once you open up the system to external audiences.
3. Ease of Use
This is super important. The whole point of an LMS is to reduce the effort around learner training assignments and reporting. If your LMS is not easy to use, then you may have just made your life more complicated than it already was. Ease of use is one of the main reasons that companies choose Absorb and making intuitive software is our number one goal here at Blatant.
4. Automation Features
If your organization’s training practices are complex enough, mature enough or just busy enough to justify licensing an LMS, then you are going to want to take things further and automate as many processes as possible. The two most obvious opportunities for this are:
- Automating the enrollment of learners into required training courses, bundles or learning paths: This is really important when you have required training for a specific job role, required training for compliance, or desired training for a career path. This is the “low hanging fruit” of LMS ROI.
- Automating reporting: You will find that managers/supervisors inside and outside your organization will typically want to see the same sets of data on a regular basis. Simply create these reports and then schedule them for automated email delivery. No more last minute report requests. Your job description may include “creating training reports” but that doesn’t mean you need to be doing it every day.
- Flexible Business Rules: make sure it’s easy to filter content by audience type, especially around custom data fields that map to how YOU segment your learner audience. E.g. Employee/Partner/Customer/Reseller Type/Job Level
- Flexible Content types: Don’t get tied down to one or two proprietary content types for course content. This is one the reasons why we support a huge variety of content from web links, to tasks, to videos, to PDFs, to Quizzes and Exams, to Surveys and of course, industry standard content like Tin Can (XAPI), SCORM and AICC.
- Flexible User access: connect from Phones, Tablets, Phablets, PCs and Macs
So you can see that there are many things to consider and I hope that you have found these tips to be helpful.
After more than a year and a half in development, Absorb LMS version 5 was launched this week. This release contains more than 400 new features and enhancements. Highlights include:
- A responsive, HTML 5, multilingual admin control panel that works on iPads and other tablets
- The addition of competency management features capable of issuing badges
- A significantly enhanced assessment tool that allows for multiple question pools, weighted tests, and weighted questions
- An increased ability to automate the administration of learning from learner registration, to enrollment in courses, to issuance of certificates and badges, and generation of progress reports, all supported by customizable, personalized communication
- Most importantly, the intuitive design of the administrative features of the system has made Absorb LMS even easier to use
Also, it’s very pretty:
Watch this short video for an overview:
Better yet, contact us for a demonstration.