How One Organization Abandoned a Free Open Source Learning Management System and Saved a Pile of Cash
COLA is a physician-directed organization whose purpose is to promote excellence in laboratory medicine and patient care through a program of voluntary education, consultation, and certification. With approximately 7500 global customers, COLA is the world’s largest laboratory accreditation organization.
About seven years ago, COLA decided that deploying a learning management system (LMS) would provide the company with much needed flexibility with the delivery of their online learning programs, while simultaneously offering them increased efficiencies and cost savings.
COLA decided that it could best achieve its goals by implementing a popular open-source LMS solution with the help of third-party consultants and developers. The belief was that a free LMS solution could be configured to meet all of their business requirements at a much lower cost than a commercial-off-the-shelf system, even when factoring in the consulting costs associated with having the system built to their specifications.
Things didn`t work out as expected. The longer the free open source LMS was in place, the more money, time, and people were required to try and make the system run properly. At one point, COLA was spending an additional $500-$1,000 per week on LMS maintenance, and, that figure did not even include expenses related to internal staff time.
The good news is that COLA’s management didn’t sit idly watching the bleeding. They abandoned the open source LMS, selected a system that better matched their requirements, and even won an industry Award for their learning initiative.
The year 2012 will likely be remembered as the “Get Off Your Butt” year. In recent months, major studies have been published indicating that sitting for extended periods dramatically increases our risk of getting a wide range of diseases and significantly shortens our lives.
How dangerous is sitting for long periods? Studies published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that people who sit for the majority of the day are 54 percent more likely to die of a heart attack. The bad news is that exercise has little impact if it does not replace time sitting. If you feel smug about hitting the gym before going to work and sitting all day, you shouldn’t. Getting up and walking around, or working at a standing desk rather than seated, should be a priority for desk-bound knowledge workers.
As if dying weren’t motivation enough, research continues to indicate that physical activity improves brain health and ability to learn. According to a study done by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia, even exercising for just 20 minutes improves information processing and memory functions.
The bottom line is that our days should be filled with non-seated physical activity.
As learning professionals, we’re part of the problem. Much of the learning content and events we create are traditionally designed to be accessed by sedentary learners seated at a desk. Since it isn’t good for business to kill your customers, we should be using the latest scientific research to create learning content and events that:
- Improve learning
- Contribute to the quality of life of our learners
Here are some ideas on designing learning that encourages activity other than sitting:
- Have you organized a full day, on site workshop? Have people first meet at a remote location such as a coffee shop for initial orientation. Then, have them walk 20 minutes to where the next session will take place. Yes, it will potentially be hot/cold/raining/snowing/windy. That’s what outside looks like. Your learners will arrive for the next session with brains caffeinated and oxygenated, a match made in heaven for learning. Taking a break for lunch? Don’t order in. Walk to a restaurant or remote loaction. Since a large number of your learners will attend this workshop wearing shoes that weren’t designed for walking, it’s best to let them know in advance that they will not be seated all day.
- In instructor-led sessions, create activities where learners need to stand. One common example would be to have learners get up and write on a whiteboard. Or, have them review learning content while standing at a table rather than handing out materials to seated learners.
- Classroom-based, instructor-led sessions are synonymous with coffee and donuts. Rather than having these items in the classroom, place these things far away in another room. Yes, we can have a donut but we’ll need to work for it.
- In traditional online learning, keep lessons short. Many learners will feel they can’t leave a lesson midway. Short lessons allows them to engage with learning content yet take breaks.
- Remember podcasts? No, they aren’t dead. In fact, some of the greatest content on the Web (such as my beloved, mind-blowing RadioLab) is available as a podcast. Audio podcasts on MP3 players free learners from looking at a screen. This allows them to learn while walking. Perfect.
- Add prompts to learning content to let people know they can take a break and move around. Sometimes, people just need a reminder.
Nilofer Merchant wrote a blog post for Harvard Business Review last year titled “Culture Trumps Strategy, Every Time.” It contains a fantastic definition of organizational culture that I would have printed on a t-shirt if I wore an extra large instead of a size small:
“Culture is the set of habits that allows a group of people to cooperate by assumption rather than by negotiation. Based on that definition, culture is not what we say, but what we do without asking. A healthy culture allows us to produce something with each other, not in spite of each other. That is how a group of people generates something much bigger than the sum of the individuals involved.”
Blatant Media is a culture-centric organization that fits Ms. Merchant’s definition above. Blatant culture isn’t dictated in a memo from headquarters—”please respect our culture by being supportive of your colleagues”—rather, the culture is defined by many small things, habits as Mr. Merchant calls them, that together create a positive and effective workplace:
- The Xbox games room
- The late afternoon e-mail threads with colleagues that make you laugh out loud
- The beauty of the work surroundings
- The style of communication
The Virgin Company, for instance, understands the style of communication can have a significant impact on culture. Call a typical telephone company and you’ll get a message saying…
“Your call is important to us. Please hold the line until the next available customer service representative.”
Call Virgin Mobile and you’ll first be asked what type of music you’d like to listen to.
“If you want to chill, press 1.”
This style of communication isn’t limited to Virgin Mobile. I once took a flight on Virgin Airlines where the safety announcement was narrated by someone I assume to be Barry White, over sexy background music. The final line was…
“Please be careful as you open the overhead compartments because, you know, shift happens.”
Your organization’s communication style should be consistent across different media and applications, including your learning management system. Take a look at the labels and system messages learners encounter. Do they project the culture of the company? If not, explore whether these can be changed, either by your system administrator or by your LMS vendor.
Social Accountability International (SAI) is an award-winning company that provides training, policies, and procedures to help organizations protect the basic human rights of workers around the world. One of the company’s key services is named Social Fingerprint®, a program to help organizations understand and measure their social impact, and then learn how to improve it.
The Social Fingerprint® program requires that participants undergo a training program. Traditionally, this training consisted of two to five days of instructor-led, classroom-based instruction per year. This approach created a number of challenges.
- For one, SAI’s customers are global, making face-to-face instruction difficult.
- In addition, once individuals completed their training, they would often return to work and would soon forget what they had learned. The result was that it was exceedingly difficult for customers to implement SAI’s recommendations.
In the hope of addressing these and other challenges, SAI decided to expand their learning strategy to include self-paced, online learning. Support for this initiative required the acquisition of a learning management system.
We’re doing something completely different for our next Webinar. Gone are the PowerPoint slides replaced with live demonstrations of some of the most powerful but perhaps lesser known Absorb LMS features.
Join Blatant Media team members, Donna Gernhaelder, Don Landry, Dan Medakovic, and Richard Nantel for a fast-paced presentation demonstrating:
- Post enrollment triggers
- Scheduling and emailing reports
- Deep links to courses
- Capturing learner profile data using a survey
- Creating and using Smart Departments
- Adding YouTube videos to courses
- Tracking learner progress in a curriculum
And much much more.
Whether you’re an Absorb LMS customer, use a different learning management system, or are considering acquiring your first LMS, this session will likely give you ideas on how you can optimize the management of your learning initiatives to provide a rewarding experience for your learners.
||Absorb LMS Tips and Tricks
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM MT (GMT-7)
We’re pleased to announce that Absorb LMS customer, COLA, has won a Silver Excellence In Learning Award from Brandon Hall Group in the category of Best in Learning Technology Implementations for their submission “COLA’S New E-Learning Experience.”
The winning entry describes COLA’s move to Absorb LMS from an open source learning management system and reports the following benefits and return on investment:
COLA is spending less on the Absorb platform than it did on the old proprietary system. Further, because it is an internally hosted solution, there is no external hardware dependency. Indeed, updates to the materials available by the solution can be made by multiple COLA staffers. COLA no longer needs to hire a vendor to print certificates, and COLA customer service staffers have experienced a 50 percent drop in customer complaints since the new tool went online.
Factoring in all savings to date, COLA estimates its reduction in costs to be $60,000 since the new system went online.
In addition to spending less, COLA is selling more. COLA experienced a measurable spike in sales of its educational products and services.
COLA is a physician-directed organization whose purpose is to promote excellence in laboratory medicine and patient care through a program of voluntary education, consultation, and accreditation. The U.S.’s largest private accreditor of medical laboratories, COLA helps clinical labs comply with federal lab quality requirements established under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act Amendments of 1988. Additionally, COLA also helps labs comply with licensure requirements in various states. COLA is also the only CMS-deemed accreditor to be certified under ISO standard 2001: 1998 affecting quality management system.
You can find out more about COLA and review the 80+ courses this organization provides at http://cola.org.