Archive for October, 2011

When SaaS Gets Sassy (Part One)

October 31, 2011 2 comments


Dan Medakovic, VP Learning Solutions

Would You Like Fries With That LMS Order?

I recently hosted a webinar on “How to Choose an LMS for Your Business” in which I explored the current state of the LMS market. A key point was that I have observed a resurgence of rising client expectations around customization of the LMS user interface. I think almost everyone would agree that SaaS products are great. They provide relatively low-cost, feature-rich products that quite often require zero involvement of your I.T. department to launch and support. They are frequently updated and usually configurable to the degree that you can turn features on and off, set variables and parameters to support your business rules and usually offer the ability for you to “brand” the user interface. Throughout the configuration and branding processes, however, a client will typically make several concessions and compromises because no matter what, SaaS products are still very much by their nature “one size fits all”. Still, the cost-benefit of SaaS typically makes any compromises worthwhile.
The 80s: When ‘Custom’ Was Still King (and so was New Wave Music)

Let’s take a step back for a moment. It’s 1982 and your organization needs an LMS. What do you do? Probably build one from scratch. You would likely spend a minimum of several hundreds of thousands of dollars and end up with a system that met only some of your original requirements, was extremely expensive to maintain and support and was difficult to upgrade. Hopefully the system was well documented should any of the key developers leave the organization and take all of their product knowledge with them.
Several years later, your business will have changed and you likely needed to either replace or rebuild the system at great expense. Yes, you had your LMS but there was much to be desired about this model.
The 90s: A Host of Choices (or a Choice of Hosts)

Fast forward to the early 1990s. More commercial LMS products were now on the market. Competition had driven prices down to slightly less than what you would pay to build a system internally, but you now had the added benefit of being able to have the application deployed more quickly and hosted and supported remotely by your software vendors (who were now calling themselves Application Service Providers or ASPs). I.T. now only needed to be involved to review the vendor’s security and hosting practices and to help with any 3rd party system integrations (such as with your HRIS system).

All in all, this was a vast improvement over building and hosting the system yourself but these systems were still out of reach for small and medium businesses and for the vendors, things had improved but were still not ideal. Yes, their client LMS implementations were now hosted in a central data centre but each client likely still had their own highly customized version of the LMS. Vendors were supporting multiple code bases, having to take months to upgrade all clients to new product releases, and having their development teams tied up building new custom features to keep their largest clients happy.

There had to be a better way – and there was! But you’ll have to wait a few days.

Please come back for Part Two: The Rise of Mass Customization in the LMS World.

How to Start a Successful Training Company (Part 1)

October 27, 2011 7 comments

This is the first in a three-part series. Part one is an introduction to selling learning content to individuals and organizations. Part two will examine the most important learning management system requirements to support the sale of training. Part three will show how Absorb LMS meets the needs of commercial course providers.

Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Work Week made number one on the New York Times and Wall Street Journal non-fiction bestseller lists a few years ago. This book presented a methodology for creating a successful online business that required little effort to maintain. The book described the ability of Mr. Ferriss to earn, at times, tens of thousands of dollars per month from online sales of a nutritional supplement he had invented; all by working four hours per week.

The book’s premise—that it’s possible to earn a great income with little effort—appealed to the unemployed, those working in jobs they hated, and the 80-hour per week, soon-to-be burnout victims who felt trapped in a pattern of living to work rather than working to live.

In recent weeks, I’ve spoken to a number of prospective clients who are looking for a learning management system (LMS) to sell learning content they have produced. Some are looking to acquire their first LMS. Others, wiser from bad experiences, are looking to switch from a system that does not meet their requirements to one that does.

What’s clear from speaking to these learning providers is that if planned and implemented correctly, it’s possible to create a successful online learning company similar to some of the businesses described in Tim Ferriss’s book. You’ll need to work more than four hours per week (I’ll discuss ways to keep the administrative effort low in part two of this series), but the revenues and profits can be impressive.

How Successful?

Here’s an example. One course provider I spoke to last week has 300 unique learners per month paying $299 per course. Each course takes a learner about 15 hours to complete. That translates into annual revenues of $1,076,400. The company sees growth ahead and predicts they’ll soon have 500 learners per month, raising annual revenues to $1.8 million.

To succeed in this type of business, you’ll need the right content and technology. Let’s consider content.

Your odds of succeeding selling courses on easy- to-learn topics with heavy competition are low. Focus on niche topic areas where learners and organizations are highly motivated and willing to pay you fairly for access to your content. Leave the “Introduction to Microsoft Word” courses to the big-name, off-the-shelf course library providers and bloggers of this world.

Compliance and Regulatory Training

Certification training topics in regulated industries are a good place to look for content ideas. Learners will gladly pay to take your course if the resulting certification will advance their careers. Organizations will happily send you their learners for certification training if it reduces the risk of liability from having unqualified employees.

If your learners need to be recertified regularly, you’ll benefit from the financial stability of recurring revenues. Your revenue growth will come from adding new learners. This is a great business model; significantly better than one where you need to continually be chasing new customers to buy a course they only need to take once.

Once you have found a potential topic area, look at who your competitors will be. If there are many companies providing similar courses, and if they seem established or are selling their courses at a lower price point than you envisioned, continue your search. Once you’ve found an appropriate topic area, consider partnering with a subject matter expert for the creation of the content. You want to get good content authored quickly.

You and the subject matter expert will need to spend considerable time becoming experts on the regulations behind the certification training you provide. This will require ongoing effort since regulations change. The good news though, is that changes in regulations will often mean that learners who have already taken your courses will need to update their training to maintain their certification. This will provide an additional source of revenue for your firm.

In part two of this series, I’ll discuss the critical learning management system features you need to succeed selling online learning content.

Help Your Learners Remember Everything Through Spaced Repetition

October 17, 2011 1 comment

I was introduced to the concept of spaced repetition in a 2008 Wired magazine article about Piotr Wozniak, a memory expert. Spaced repetition is a technique where a learner reviews learning content at specific intervals. This learning practice is based on research that indicates that the best time to review information is just when you’re about to forget it.

Review information too soon and you’re wasting your time. Review the information too late and it’s like you’re learning it for the first time since it has already been forgotten.

Spaced repetition is an immensely powerful method to learn anything that needs to be memorized. It’s a highly effective way, for example, to learn languages. Consider using this technique for any subject where the learner can’t easily access performance support material on the job. The bottom line is that if it needs to be memorized, use spaced repetition.

The Absorb LMS has a feature that automates spaced repetition. It’s called the Post Enrolment Trigger.

The Post Enrollment Trigger is available for any learning event in the Absorb learning management system; whether it be a course, a video, a classroom-based event, a Webinar, etc. This feature provides an automatic way to have content to review presented to a learner at a specific time.

In the example illustrated above, a learner will automatically be enrolled into a new learning event—ideally a short review—ten days after completion of a course. The learning event into which the learner is automatically enrolled, can, in turn, have its own Post Enrollment Trigger that enrols the learner into a third learning event 20 days later. (Spaced repetition best practices indicate that the interval between learning events should increase with time.)

Spaced repetition is a very powerful learning technique. With the Absorb LMS, you can automate the entire process, helping learners to remember the information they want and need to know.

Categories: Best Practices, Features

Connection Point MVS Selects Absorb LMS

October 12, 2011 Leave a comment

We’re pleased to welcome Connexion Point MVS to the Absorb LMS user community.

Connexion Point MVS is an industry leading service provider for a wide range of storage and network infrastructure. They are experts in installing and maintaining data storage on the desktop, in the data centre, and in the cloud. The company is based in the UK and has operations in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

You can find out more about Connexion Point on the company’s Web site:

On behalf of everyone at Absorb, welcome!

How Absorb LMS Can Empower Learners to Choose the Learning Modalities They Prefer

October 11, 2011 1 comment

I’m having a great time learning the administration side of the Absorb LMS platform. Absorb has a great portal called that contains short, two-to-four minute narrated video clips that illustrate clearly how to perform common tasks such as importing a SCORM course, creating an instructor-led event, generating customized reports, etc.

In one lesson about how to create a survey, I spotted a feature that could be immensely powerful in many learning initiatives. It’s a little checkbox called Link to Custom Field.

With this checkbox selected, you can have each learner’s answer to a survey question written to a custom field in their user profile. (Absorb LMS allows for up to 30 custom fields.) As illustrated above, you could use this feature to find out what learning modality a person prefers. Most importantly, you could then use the learners’ answers to group and enrol people by preferred learning modality.

You can then use the survey data to help plan out the delivery of your content for specific learning programs. If you have good representation across all learning modalities, you could create a blended learning program that allows different individuals to access content in different ways. The result would likely be higher learner satisfaction and potentially better results. To help measure the effectiveness, each group could be asked to complete the same online quiz.

This is just one of the ways you can use the Link to Custom Field feature. You’re only limited by your imagination.

This small checkbox could have a big impact on the effectiveness of learning within your organization.

Why I Joined the Absorb LMS Team

October 3, 2011 10 comments

I’m excited to be starting a new chapter in my 25-year career in the fascinating world of learning technology. After more than a decade with Brandon Hall Group (formerly Brandon Hall Research), a leading research and advisory services firm in the areas of learning and talent management, I’m now a member of the Absorb LMS team.

My years at Brandon Hall, first as an analyst and since 2007 as CEO, have given me the opportunity to attend a lot of learning management system briefings and see many products. The Absorb solutions have always stood out for their innovation and ease-of-use.

Here are some of the reasons I’ve joined the Absorb LMS team:


This company is doing things that I’ve never before seen as a learning management system analyst. For example, content from the Absorb LMS can be embedded as widgets into Web pages. So, if you wanted to present learning content to, say, your customers, you could do so right from your Web site. Update the content within the content management section of the LMS and your Web site will immediately display the new information.

Here’s an example of this approach implemented for financial guru, Dave Ramsey. The video displayed, which resides within the Absorb LMS’s content management system, has been published to the Dave Ramsey site.


The Absorb LMS is being implemented in ways where the technology doesn’t look at all like a traditional learning management system. A lot of software companies say that their product can be branded for their customers. What this often means is that the company logo can be added and colors modified to reflect the corporate look and feel. The Absorb team takes this much further.

Here’s an example of the Absorb LMS as implemented for Specialized Bikes:


Does this look like your LMS?

Likely not.

The two examples above illustrate revolutionary thinking about the role of learning management systems. In both cases, learning content is integrated into organizations’ infrastructures in ways that reflect their cultures and project their brands. Learning content isn’t something on the periphery. It’s central to the organization.

Client loyalty

Absorb is growing quickly and adding high-profile customers across all industries. Some well-known clients include:

  • Adobe Software Systems
  • Elsevier
  • Indiana University
  • New York University
  • Rolls-Royce Motor Cars
  • Virgin Mobile
  • American Medical Systems
  • Dannon

Getting new clients is a sign of a company with a great sales force. Retaining clients, on the other hand, is a sign of a very well-run company where all team members across all departments work together to create a rewarding customer experience. Absorb LMS presently boasts an enviable customer retention rate of more than 95 per cent. In an industry where about 35 per cent of organizations are looking to replace their existing LMS, the Absorb LMS team are clearly meeting the needs of their customers.

To all my old friends in learning and development, I look forward to continuing our conversations in my new role as VP, Enterprise Learning Solutions, Absorb LMS. To those of you meeting me for the first time, I look forward to discussing how these revolutionary technologies can help transform your workforce into high performers.


Richard Nantel