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The Worst Type of Question to Ask in Your Learning Management System Request for Proposal (RFP)

July 31, 2012 1 comment

I have to say, I feel really badly for the organizations that have issued some of the RFPs I’m seeing.

  • They turned to a research firm or various Web sites for a list of learning management system features
  • They copied most of these features into a RFP and sent it to vendors
  • Along with proposals, they asked for supporting documentation such as server security specifications, marketing materials, terms of service, etc.

In response to one recent request for proposal, I submitted about 150 pages of information. If the organization that issued the RFP gets ten similar responses from other providers, they’ll need to wade through about 1500 pages of material…  just to create a short list of systems to evaluate further.

(This is nuts.)Question mark made out of puzzle pieces (Some rights reserved by Horia Varlan/Flickr)

Picking a learning management system shouldn’t require an army of people just to read the RFPs and attempt to rank the systems to narrow the field down to a manageable few. A request for proposal should make the selection of technology easier, not harder.

Simply by eliminating one type of question, many of the RFPs I’m seeing would become much more efficient technology selection tools by reducing—significantly—the scope of the submitted proposals. Best of all, removing this type of commonly-asked question does away with information that provides zero value to your technology evaluation exercise.

Here’s the number one question you should remove from your RFP:

“Describe the procedure to [INSERT NAME OF TASK YOU WANT TO COMPLETE] using your learning management system.”

Why is this so bad? Let’s have a look using a specific example:

RFP QUESTION: “Describe the procedure to set up an instructor-led session using your learning management system.”

RESPONSE FROM VENDOR:

How to set up an instructor-led session in Absorb LMS:

  1. From the main Admin control panel, click the Courses menu to left
  2. Click Manage courses
  3. Click the button labelled +Add Instructor-led course
  4. Choose how your course will be categorized in the course catalog
  5. Give your new course a title
  6. Add a course description
  7. Click the “Learners can enroll and register for sessions” radio button if you wish to let learners enrol themselves in your course
  8. Click “Next.” This will take you to the tab that allows you to add a session
  9. Click “Add session”
  10. Yada
  11. Yada
  12. Yada

Let’s be honest. Does the textual procedure description above—even with the addition of screen captures—in any way help you evaluate this technology? This is like trying to describe a piece of music to someone using only words:

  • We first hear a violin playing a light, playful melody, supported by a viola and bass.
  • The melody is then repeated by a second violin. This time, the viola starts to play a counterpoint to the melody.
  • The melody is then repeated a third time. This time, horns and bassoons join in.
  • etc.

(Surely you’ve all recognized this as the opening to the first movement of Beethoven’s 6th symphony.)

Asking for textual descriptions of how a feature works is the worst type of question to ask in your learning management system request for proposal. This question type is, however, exactly what you should be asking in live demos of the software. Seeing features demonstrated, and trying the features in a trial account, will very quickly help you select the right learning management system.

Why Your RFP May Not Get You the Best Learning Management System

July 24, 2012 8 comments

It’s a Request for Proposal (RFP) response week for me. I have two proposals on my plate, both due at the end of this month. I write one or two of these per month, as do my colleagues. As a group, we’ve seen excellent RFPs and some that were both demoralizing to complete and obviously ineffective tools for the evaluation and selection of technology.

Some organizations believe that the best way to acquire a learning management system (LMS) that most closely matches its needs is to:

  • Create a committee of stakeholders to identify requirements
  • Compile these requirements into a detailed RFP
  • Send the RFP to a large number of LMS providers
  • Read, score, and rank the submitted RFPs
  • Invite the top scoring vendors to provide demonstrations of their technologies

In theory, all of this should work. In practice, though, this approach often fails.Stack of papers

Here’s why:

If your RFP is poorly designed, some of the vendors you have invited to participate will not respond. Suppliers who do not respond may have the best technological match for your requirements, but, you’ll never know. It isn’t that these no-show vendors don’t care about your project, they just need to manage their time and establish priorities like everyone else. Given the choice between having productive meetings with existing and prospective customers or spending three days writing one RFP, the vendor will at times pick the former.

Here are some tips for issuing a RFP that will generate responses from more vendors:

Keep the RFP short. The proposal I’m completing today will be about 40 pages long and will have taken about three days to write. This is about average. If the organization issuing the RFP receives 10 similar-size proposals, they will need to sift through 400 pages of information to create a short list of systems. Are we having fun yet? Eliminate low-priority requirements from your RFP; save the nice-to-have features for the demo phase of your technology selection.

Avoid questions no one will answer. I’ve actually seen the following questions in a RFP:

  • “What tactics or activities do you currently use to generate sales leads? Provide a list of your top lead sources and the percentage of leads that are generated from each source.”
  • “Provide a copy of your strategic plan for the next one, two, and three years”
  • “Provide annual reports, including year-end financial statements for the past three years”

This may come as a surprise but companies tend to be a bit private about sharing things like strategic plans. Also, whereas public companies need to disclose their financials, private companies do not. So, you’re unlikely to get Profit & Loss and Balance Sheet reports submitted by private companies. As for public companies, you can find their financial information online without asking for it.

List near the beginning of the RFP a small number of must-have features and mention that vendors who don’t meet these top-priority requirements have no need to complete the RFP. All vendors will love you. Vendors who can fulfil the top-priority requirements will be happy to answer how they meet or don’t meet your lower-level requirements. Vendors who don’t meet your top-priority requirements will be thrilled that they didn’t need to spend three days writing a proposal that didn’t stand a chance of winning.

Don’t issue an RFP “just to see what’s out there.” A respected learning professional once mentioned to me that she knows of one organization that issues a RFP for a learning management system every year just to get a sense of what’s going on in the industry. This organization has no intention of acquiring a LMS. Are you curious about how LMS technology is evolving? Ask vendors to give you a demonstration instead of asking them to respond to lengthy RFPs.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

A request for proposal may uncover what a learning management system can and can’t do, but a RFP isn’t a good way find out HOW a system does what it does. Importing a SCORM course, for instance, may take a minute in one system and an hour—with the vendor’s assistance—in another. In their respective proposals, both vendors will say they meet the importing SCORM course requirement.

If you work for an organization or within an industry that requires issuing RFPs for the acquisition of technology, then by all means do so. Keep in mind, though, that scripted demos, where the client tells the vendors what they would like to see, quickly identify which systems will be the best fit.

August 22: How to Provide Learning to People Outside Your Organization

We had a great turnout for our May 30th Webinar titled “How to Provide Learning to People Outside Your Organization.”  Consequently, we’ll be repeating this event in August.

  • Date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012
  • Time: 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM MT (GMT -6)

We’ll cover:

  • The impact of the “extended enterprise” on learning and development
  • How a learning management system (LMS) can reduce the effort required to manage external learning programs
  • How to register and enroll external learners into your learning initiatives
  • How to provide reports to external managers and administrators
  • What to do when the learning initiative ends
  • How extending learning to people outside your organization can be great for business

This session will also include a live demonstration of the features in Absorb LMS that support extended enterprise learning initiatives.

The full description and registration form is available here:

https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/436751055

Register Now

Absorb LMS Welcomes its Newest Customers

Welcome. License Some rights reserved by olishaw on Flickr

As we’ve mentioned, it isn’t possible for us to announce every new customer:

  • Some customers select Absorb LMS as a departmental LMS within an organization with an official enterprise system in place.
  • Some clients wish to have their new LMS implementation secret until they’re ready to make an official roll-out to learners.
  • Some clients are commercial courseware providers who prefer not to disclose the platform being used to provide learning to their customers

So, here’s a partial list of the organizations that have, within the last few weeks, selected Absorb LMS to support their learning initiatives:

Active Network — Active Network is a technology and media company powering the largest network of organizations, activities, and people. Their technology helps businesses automate and simplify operations, management, and participation, while their media properties are home to millions of people looking for things to do. More > http://www.activenetwork.com/

Aspire Bariatrics — Aspire Bariatrics is the developer and provider of AspireAssist™ Aspiration Therapy System , a breakthrough weight loss solution for people with obesity. More > http://www.aspirebariatrics.com/

AXIS Specialty U.S. Services — AXIS provides specialty insurance and reinsurance on a worldwide basis through operating subsidiaries and branch networks based in Bermuda, the United States, Europe, Singapore, Canada and Australia, as well as a Representative Office in Brazil. More > http://www.http://axiscapital.com/

Catalyst Repository System — Catalyst helps corporations and counsel manage e-discovery and work together on complex legal matters. Their secure, grid-based systems helps organizations handle the largest legal matters in the world —from multi-language litigation to multi-party regulatory investigations. More > http://www.catalystsecure.com

Krillo Consulting Partners — Krillo Consulting Partners is a consultancy specializing in the areas of talent management, leadership development, training and capability development, and organizational development.

Mitsubishi Electric Cooling & Heating — Mitsubishi Electric US is a recognized leader in the research, marketing, sales, engineering, and manufacturing of electrical and electronic equipment used in information processing and communications, consumer electronics, industrial technology, energy, transportation and construction. More > http://www.mehvac.com/

Montreux Solutions-Geneva — Montreux Solutions–Geneva provides on-line training for individuals working for private security companies, enhancing individual professional knowledge and competencies. Montreux Solutions professional on-line training supports career development by demonstrating knowledge of, and a commitment to, international law, human rights and industry standards.

National Rehab — National Rehab (NR) supplies medical products that help people lead healthier, happier lives. They are a provider of wound care, urological, ostomy and incontinence supplies as well as orthopedic products. More > http://www.nationalrehab.com/

New Flyer Industries Limited — New Flyer is the leading manufacturer of heavy-duty buses in the U.S. and Canada. Offering the broadest line of transit vehicles, they have secured their strong position by providing reliable transportation solutions that meet the needs of today while anticipating the needs of tomorrow. More > http://www.newflyer.com/

nVoq Inc —  nVoq Inc. is a privately backed software company based in Boulder, Colorado. nVoq’s main product is SayIt, a speech-to-text solution designed to improve workflow. nVoq was founded in 2000 by veteran technology entrepreneur Charles Corfield. SayIt™ is a hosted service used by a variety of customers including major communications companies and health care organizations. More > http://www.nvoq.com/

Cpl Integrated Services — Cpl Integrated Services is a division of Cpl Resources Plc., a leading provider of recruitment and HR outsourcing solutions throughout Europe. Cpl Resources Plc. is organised into ten individual companies, each providing specialist recruitment and HR solutions across a number of sectors. More > http://www.cplintegratedservices.com/

Salt Lake City Airport — Salt Lake City International Airport is located five miles northwest of downtown Salt Lake City. Eight airlines and their affiliates serve Salt Lake City International Airport: American, Continental, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, United and US Airways. It is a hub for Delta Air Lines. Along with commuter partners, they operate around 219 scheduled daily domestic flights. The airport served 20 million passengers in 2011. More > http://www.slcairport.com/

Transportation Investment Corp — Transportation Investment Corporation (TI Corp) is a public crown corporation established under the Transportation Investment Act to implement the Port Mann/Highway 1 Improvement Project, including construction, operations and maintenance of 37 kilometres of improvements to the TransCanada Highway through Metro Vancouver, as well as development, implementation and management of tolling operations to pay for the project. More > http://www.pmh1project.com/about-the-project/about-ti-corp/Pages/default.aspx

UL-DQS (Underwriter’s Laboratories) — UL DQS Inc. was formed as a strategic partnership between Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and DQS (Germany’s first certification body). As a result of this merger, UL DQS, and as a member of the DQS-UL Group, UL DQS Inc. is able to provide highly skilled, local resources to our value-adding assessment services. With a global presence including offices in over 50 countries and more than 2,300 leading industry experts, UL DQS Inc. helps organizations achieve business objectives. More > https://www.dqs-ul.com/en/

Zones, Inc. — Zones is a national provider of end-to-end IT products and solutions to businesses. Zones technical experts take care of all the research, quoting, authorizations, capabilities, and possible risk factors to craft flexible, expandable IT solutions and customize them for their clients’ unique IT implementations. More > http://www.zones.com

Do Social Media Eliminate the Need for Learning Management Systems?

July 12, 2012 2 comments

Richard Nantel, Vice President, Enterprise Learning Solutions, Blatant Media | Absorb LMSThere’s a large and vocal group of learning pundits who are vehemently anti learning management system. They view LMS as metaphorical feeding tubes rammed down the throats of learners, force-feeding them information they’ll soon forget. Within a LMS learners are, they believe, like geese on a foie gras farm. In these pundits’ eyes, a more ethical approach is for these learners to roam free, munching on the content they encounter on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and elsewhere.Goose farm Some rights reserved by muffinman71xx/Flickr

Social media provide exciting and engaging learning opportunities and can play a central role in blended learning programs. But, these don’t replace the need for a centralized learning environment.

Within almost all organizations, you have:

  • Super keen overachievers who will immediately head off and learn what they need to learn with little support and direction. Just make a passing mention that it would be good for them to have some project management skills and they’ll be up until midnight surfing the Web to find out everything they can about the topic.
  • The no-one-told-me-I-need-to-know-this type, who will only interact with learning content if it is mandatory and clearly assigned to them.
  • Everyone else on a continuum between these two extremes.

The super keen overachievers do really well roaming free, munching on the content they encounter in social media sites. Members of the no-one-told-me-I-need-to-know-this group will want to know the specific URLs they must go to on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and elsewhere. And, they’ll want to be guided in what they should do when they get there.

The bottom line is that I’m thrilled that maintenance technicians within a medical device company might have a Facebook learners group. I just want to make sure these technicians are all qualified to service their company’s devices before they are inserted into me. Regardless of whether they are keeners or no-one-told-me-I-need-to-know-this types, I want all these people to have met the learning requirements to perform their duties well.

Next week, I’ll be presenting some ideas on how you can empower learners by allowing them to select preferred content types as well as integrate interactions within social media into your LMS.

Stay tuned.

A Few Small Changes While You Were Away on Vacation

True story: My mother once went on a short trip with her sister. When she returned home, she discovered that my father had cedar shingled the bathroom walls.

Cedar shingles (Photo: Muffet/Flickr)I don’t know what inspired my dad to do this. He wasn’t the type to read home decorating magazines. And, he wasn’t the sort of guy who commonly undertook home renovation projects. I picture him sitting on the couch reading the newspaper one Saturday morning and having the epiphany that, since shingles look great on the exterior of maritime houses, they’d look fantastic on the walls of our upstairs bathroom.

This wasn’t an easy project for my dad, who was, like me, a member of the measure-once-cut-multiple-times school of craftsmanship. He had to saw holes in the shingles for light switches. Adding to the challenge, the small finishing nails he used wore away at the dry wall, making the shingles a bit wobbly.

Upon her return home, my mother wasn’t pleased.

The shingled bathroom walls were a continual irritant in their otherwise happy union for about 15 years until my father finally gave in and allowed my mother to call a contractor to renovate the bathroom.

I’ve just returned from a two-week vacation and was relieved to see that no one undertook to shingle the walls of the Blatant Media games room while I was away. What is new, though, is the arrival in our Atlantic Avenue Art Block offices a fourth painting by David Brunning, TheKidBelo, one of Western Canada’s premier visual artists. You can see the others here and here.

Painting by David Brunning, TheKidBelo