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Tips for Creating Effective Video Training on a Budget

November 3, 2014 Leave a comment

Dan MedakovicLet’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).

Shooting Tips:

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.

Popcorn and Movie Tickets

Editing tips:

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!

An Absorb course with video lesson, file upload assignment (task) and Quiz.

An Absorb course with video lesson, file upload assignment (task) and Quiz.

LMS for Small Business – 5 Benefits & Considerations

September 23, 2014 Leave a comment

Dan MedakovicIt 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. 

auomated enrollment rule

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.

Easily add lessons to a course using existing or off-the-shelf content.

Easily add lessons to a course using existing or off-the-shelf content.

 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.

5. Flexibility

  • 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.

Please free to try Absorb, or to contact us and we’d be more than happy to discuss your business needs and see how they could be supported using Absorb LMS.

Absorb 5.0 Availability and a Top 20 Learning Portal Award!

September 4, 2014 Leave a comment

dan in white

 

We here at Blatant Media are thrilled to announce the imminent release of Absorb LMS 5.0 – a major upgrade to our multi-award-winning Absorb Learning Management System.

 

Absorb LMS version 5.0, which will be released on September 8th, contains over 400 new features and enhancements including:

  •     Mobile (responsive HTML5) administrator interface with an all new look and feel
  •     New administrative dashboards and widgets
  •     Multi-language admin interface
  •     Significant security enhancements including administrator audit trails
  •     Major performance improvements built on new architecture and overall optimization
  •     Flexible competency models and certification enhancements
  •     Enhanced reporting functionality
  •     Advanced exam authoring
  •     Expanded course administration/ownership rights
  •     New “mass actions” for user and course management
  •     And hundreds more!

The release of Absorb 5.0 positions Absorb as the best LMS for organizations looking for ease-of-use, multi-language support, security, robust functionality and a great user experience at a fair price.

“We are very focused on, and invested in, maintaining our leadership position in the industry by delivering new features and technologies in a way that is intuitive and useful for our clients”, says Mike Owens, President of Blatant Media.

This customer-driven model and constant focus on innovation has led to continued growth and accolades, with the most recent award being the addition of Blatant Media to the TrainingIndustry.Com “Top 20 Learning Portal Company List for 2014“.

“It’s super awesome to be on the Top 20 Learning Portal list for the fifth year in a row!” says Mike Eggermont, Co-founder of Blatant Media.

top 20 learning portal companies 2014

 

For more information on Absorb 5.0, please visit absorblms.com.

The Evolution of the Absorb LMS: An Update

March 6, 2013 Leave a comment

dan suitIf you’ve spoken to our staff or visited our website or blog recently, you may have noticed 3 things:

1. Absorb LMS has a fancy new look and feel!
2. We are no longer talking about Smartlab
3. We are now talking about something called “Mercury”

Absorb LMS is rapidly evolving, right along with the entire learning technology industry. The rise of mobile learning, and specifically, the success of the Apple iPad and iPhones, have created new challenges – and new opportunities – to rethink how we deliver online learning.

It’s been more than 10 years since blatant^ was founded on the principle of building a better Learning Management System. Over time, we have added many new features, mostly at the request of clients and sometimes because we’ve anticipated what’s to come and tried to lead the market in that direction. We’ve always aimed to implement these new features so that they will be both useful and easy to use. We also try to ensure that we maintain a high-level of design standards. The user experience is tantamount.

A few years ago (a lifetime, in the technology arena) and as part of this ongoing product evolution, we created a completely custom platform that sat “on top of” Absorb LMS. It provided some of our clients with a completely custom HTML5 interface, and added some additional functionality to support increased marketing, learner messaging and learner engagement requirements. This platform – Smartlab – also ran on iPads (where the old Absorb FLASH interface would not) and it offered all of the Absorb functions plus some new features and widgets: FAQ, Quick Polls, Twitter Feed, News Feed, Rotating Banner Ads and Contests. All of which could be targeted at specific groups of users with the standard drop-down audience filters that Absorb provides for course and resource targeting.

For the clients that adopted Smartlab, this was great. For a while. We all learned some things and thought long and hard about how we could make Smartlab even better.

What we learned:
1. HTML 5 is great for iPads but an IDEAL user interface should scale in size and layout regardless of the size and type of device that the learner is using.
2. Custom is great, until you want to change it. Then it can get expensive and time consuming.
3. Custom does not like upgrades. Having a custom anything kind of defeats the purpose of the SaaS model, where all users get all new features at the same time.
4. Custom can get very expensive and requires tons of planning and review work. If many people are involved in the decision making process, this can drag on for some time.

How we improved it:
1. We took the best features of Smartlab (Polls, FAQ, Contents, News, Twitter, Banners) and made them available to all of our Absorb users (current and future).
2. We renamed this ‘Absorb Mercury Edition’. Smartlab was a weird name anyway, and besides, it was still 95% powered by the core Absorb LMS.
3. We changed the entire product to have a slick new “responsive design” that detects and adjust its layout depending on the size and orientation of the browser/device being used.
4. We dropped the design fees for the (formerly Smartlab) Mercury options by over 80% and eliminated 6 months of project management effort.
5. We recognized that only some of our clients would be interested in Mercury’s bells and whistles and so made it available as an easy add-on module that can be purchased and turned on at any time.

Our clients think this is great. Whether they upgrade to the new Absorb Mercury Edition or simply migrate to the new Absorb LMS responsive interface, they will still benefit from complete cross-platform/mobile support in a beautiful user interface. In other words, you don’t need to use Mercury to take advantage of the adaptive features in the new learner interface – this is now standard to the Absorb platform.

So to recap, Smartlab has been improved and renamed Absorb Mercury Edition (or “Mercury”, for short); the price and implementation time were reduced dramatically, and Absorb now scales perfectly across different types of desktop computers and mobile devices, thanks to the new responsive design.

Since it is part of the core Absorb LMS platform, Mercury also gets regularly updated as part of our standard development cycle. And for clients that want or need a custom interface, we still offer that service too, and at a much lower cost due to the new Absorb Mercury Edition architecture.

It’s an interesting and dynamic time in the learning technology industry, and we’re excited and inspired by all the change.

Managing documents, videos and links in your LMS.

March 26, 2012 Leave a comment

It seems to me that with our industry’s focus on Mobile and Social Learning, people are often overlooking some great opportunities to effectively integrate their existing documents, videos and websites (links) into the formal training delivered via their LMS.

 

 
It’s not surprising, of course, that most LMS purchase requirements are centered on formal learning processes and standards such as:

• Flexible reporting options
• Certifications and Compliance
• Approvals processes or rules-based learning plans
• Multiple enrollment methods
• Support for a wide variety of content types
• Extended Enterprise
• SCORM compatibility
• HRIS or CRM integration, etc.
 
These requirements solve the primary business and process challenges that drive LMS adoption.
Increasingly, we also see “nice to have” or “must have” requests for mobile and/or social learning.
 
What seems to be missing from most organizations’ LMS deployment strategies, however, is a plan for managing all of their various learner and employee resources in the context of the LMS.
 


I think that this is due primarily to three causes:
1. A belief held by some L&D practitioners that static learning content (Standard Operating Procedures, HR Policy Documents, Technical Manuals , Marketing Brochures) need to be transformed into interactive e-learning courses if they are to exist in the LMS.

I am still seeing LMS projects stalled because people are struggling with how to convert all of this “static” content into “engaging e-learning content”.

2. A belief that these resources are best left in a document management system and not in the LMS.
While there are some companies that are spending time and money to integrate their document management system (like SharePoint) with their LMS, it may not be necessary to do so. In some cases, all these organizations want to do is to provide their users with an easy way to access documents or content that is tied to a job position, department or the learning outcomes of a course. Maintaining two different platforms to achieve this may be overkill.

3. They haven’t thought about it yet.

A lot of organizations are focusing all of their energy on implementing the LMS to help reduce the administrative workload associated with managing course delivery and tracking. For these people, there is a great opportunity to extract more value from their LMS over time. This should be considered for a future phase of the LMS initiative.

Does it really need to be this complicated?

I don’t believe so. It should be easy to place learning resources where you want them: within course content, alongside course content or generally available as a global resource. You should also be able to categorize global resources while simultaneously choosing who gets to access them.  Here are some suggestions:

Adding Resources in the Absorb LMS


One of the cool features of the Absorb LMS is that it provides the ability for administrators to easily create global or course-specific resources through a simple process involving only a few steps.

The process involves uploading a file (e.g., a video or PDF) or typing in a URL and choosing:
1. If the resource should appear:
a. In a Global Resource Folder (a.k.a. Category)
b. Under the Resources tab in a specific Course
c. As an instructor’s resource associated with a specific course.


2. You can then choose to make the resource visible to all learners in the system (the default) or restrict it to groups of users based on filtering on one or more aspects of the Learner’s profile. These Learner fields are customizable and can include anything from Company, Department, Location, Job Title, etc.
Filters can be fine-tuned and layered for a very flexible set of rules. For example, you could create a resource that is visible to two groups of users, everyone in Human Resources, and everyone with the word “Manager” in their job title. Absorb will display the total number of learners that meet the criteria that you’ve set. In this way, you’ll know instantly if you’ve done something wrong such as set a filter to be too broad or too narrow (affecting too many or too few learners).
3. Upload your file or type in the URL for the resource.
4. Add a description (if you want to).
5. Click “Add” to finish the process.

The following image shows an example of creating a Global Resource for the Production Department in the Absorb LMS. Note, the system will place the resource in the “Pricing” category and it will only be visible to the 107 employees in the Production Department.

Sometimes, you may want to include a document, hyperlink or video as a lesson within an Online Course, rather than as a Resource associated with a course. In this case, reading the content can be made a mandatory task within the course itself. In this case, you would simply edit the course Outline and insert a new lesson. The lesson will appear as part of the course content, wherever you have placed it in the course structure. If you want to test the learner, you can easily create and insert an Absorb Quiz as the next lesson in the course.
 
You may even want to take things a step further, and allow users to generate their own content, or if you want to incorporate news releases, polls, FAQs and Twitter feeds alongside your learning content, then we would encourage you to take a look at SMARTLAB, which includes a set of learner engagement and Content Management functionality. The great thing is, it’s easy to add resources to Absorb and the process for filtering by audience is exactly the same as the process for setting Self Enrollment rules at the course level.

Using an LMS for Highly Effective Retail Training: Part Two

January 9, 2012 Leave a comment

My last entry provided a setup scenario for using an LMS in retail. I’d like to now get into some practical examples of how you can use an LMS effectively to solve some of the common training challenges faced by retailers.

 

Here are five common training challenges faced by retailers, and some examples of how using an LMS can address those challenges:

 

1. SCALE: We all know that employee turnover in retail is extremely high. This means that there are ALWAYS new hires in need of training. Getting many people trained quickly, so that they can start being effective in a short period of time will have a major, positive, business impact. Obviously, not doing this effectively will have a major, negative business impact; you just may not see it this way if this is your status quo.

 

A good LMS can be used to automate a lot of your learning processes. For example, we typically integrate the Absorb LMS with our client’s HRIS (Human Resource Information Systems) in order to automatically create LMS Learner accounts.  Using the automation available in our LMS, new hires can be automatically notified of their LMS login credentials, sent to the correct branded area of the LMS, put into the proper department for reporting and approvals, enrolled in courses, course bundles, curricula and assessments and provided access to resources specific to their job, department and/or location.  In short, once you create a new employee record in your HR system, the LMS can completely handle initiating the training process and even sending reminders to the learner and their manager to complete required training.  In terms of scalability, this can be automated for dozens of new employees per week or thousands. Can you imagine manually on-boarding 1,000 new users into your learning program in time for the Christmas rush?

 

2. TIME TO MARKET:  Depending on the nature of your business you may be introducing new products on a weekly basis. Let’s take mobile phone retailers as an example. The technology is constantly evolving and new devices with new features and operating system updates are coming out all the time. How can you possibly hope to have your staff stay on top of the latest products?

 

Some of our smartest clients have rediscovered the power of video-based training. What they’ve effectively done is cut out the middle-man (e-learning designer) so to speak. By having product or category managers discuss new product features in short (3 to 8 minute) videos, they are able to get effective training content into the LMS and out to Learners in a matter of hours, not days or even weeks. As a best practice, these videos are presented as short courses which require the learner to complete a quick quiz in order to complete the course. In some cases, (using our SMARTLAB LMS), the Learners also receive points for completing training. These points can be used as incentives in a number of ways, e.g.  to qualify for contests or to be redeemed for merchandise or product discounts. The added benefit of delivering short video-based courses is that the Learners start to recognize the product or category managers and may start to build a connection with the individual as well as the brand. This idea of brand immersion in an LMS could be a topic for a short book so I’ll stop there and let you use your imagination.

 

3. BUDGET: Even if we have a firm grip on what it would take to stay on top of these challenges, we simply may not have the money to implement our ideal plans.

 

Once you’ve got your LMS in place (presumably, having built a business case and proven out a great ROI) you will still have your ongoing challenges with training budgets. Doing more with less ($) can be frustrating at best.  Using the video example above, you can utilize any number of under $200 HD video cameras to create great looking training videos. You don’t even need an authoring tool. Just shoot, edit (using free or inexpensive editing software) and upload into the LMS as an online course. Adding a quiz at the end as a knowledge test will ensure that they’ve watched and understood the content.  In our Absorb LMS you can follow this process to create a quick and effective course without an authoring tool, by simply uploading and sequencing one or more short videos, adding a quiz and including some downloadable resources (such as product brochures or sales sheets).

 

4. AUDIENCE SEGMENTATION: While you will have general on-boarding training that all retail employees must take, your employees are probably specialized to some degree. Targeting and segmenting training content can be a formidable challenge.

 

Your LMS should allow you to assign courses based on any aspect of the Learner’s account or profile such as their job title, department, location. Our customers use our Absorb LMS enrolment filters to enable self-enrolment and/or automated enrolment of training based on these common filters as well as adding custom fields to the profile through the Absorb Survey tool.  By renaming custom fields and populating them through surveys you can build rich and powerful Learner profiles that go beyond the information pulled in from the HRIS. For example, our client Oakley engages learners by capturing who their favourite Oakley sponsored athletes are and then pushing out news and twitter feeds from those athletes, targeted only to those Learners who have an expressed interested in that athlete (another great SMARTLAB feature). The bottom line is, you can really only enable product specialization if you have a way to target content at the right people.  Simply creating a wide variety of courses and making them available via self-enrolment is often not effective.

 

5. MEASURING THE ROI OF TRAINING: We all want to do this but it’s nearly impossible without having accurate training data that can be tracked and correlated with store performance (sales) data.

 

Over time, you will have built up a meaningful amount of historical training and sales performance data. Typically, this will come from two systems, the LMS (training data) and your Financial system (sales data). If you’ve set up your LMS with measuring ROI as one of your end goals, then you should already be tracking things like, total training by course, by learner, by product, by location and by department as well as training costs per course and per learner. With good financial data, you should be able to then correlate training on a specific product at a specific store (or even a specific team of employees) with sales data for the following 3 to 6 months (for example). If you do this properly, you will be able to identify which training content/activities are having an impact on sales. Of equal importance is that you will be able to see which activities are having little to no (or even negative) impact. Not only will you be measuring the impact of your training investment but you will also be able to continuously enhance your programs each quarter or fiscal year. Who knows, you may finally be in a position to confidently request a budget increase!

 

As I said in Part One of this post, retail is a complex science (with a bit of art thrown in from time to time) and I have tried to keep this practical and specific. I do hope that I’ve generated at least one or two ideas for you to explore further.

Please contact us if you want to discuss any of these ideas. We’d love to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

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Using an LMS for Highly Effective Retail Training: Part One

January 4, 2012 Leave a comment

LISTEN AND LEARN (is what we do)

One of the things I love best about this job is that I have the great pleasure of speaking with a variety of  senior training managers across many industries on a weekly basis. I like to think that they learn as much from me as I do from them but sometimes, I am sure that I am the one that really benefits from these conversations.

It’s important for us as a learning technology provider to participate in these discussions and to really listen to the challenges faced by our customers “in the trenches”. I know we are good listeners because our products reflect a lot of the great thinking generated by these interactions. In particular, we have collaborated with some brilliant clients (like Oakley) to develop an understanding of some great best practices in the area of retail training.

Recently, I had a long conversation with a training manager of a department store chain that has about 100 stores and no Learning Management System. I want to share some observations here that came up in that discussion, specifically in the context of retail employee training. This seems particularly pertinent given the recent announcement of 100-120 planned store closures by Sears/Kmart.

FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL

Retail is a complex science. Although no one retailer can control the economy (many would argue that Walmart does in fact play a significant role in the global economy) we do understand that effective marketing will at least get people into your store; so let’s talk about what happens if marketing succeeds in that goal.

Great store design and merchandising will impact how much time people spend in your store and what they will purchase. This is the realm of a select team of employees but the people that have the most direct impact on your potential customers are your retail (sales) employees.

Your retail employees will define your corporate culture, reflect your corporate standards, impact customer satisfaction and loyalty and ultimately, increase the amount that each customer spends in the store. That’s all, of course, subject to who you hire and how well trained they are.

Let’s agree that you can provide high quality training without an LMS. The opportunity, however, is in scaling that training; providing it quickly and in short, focused interactions that are relevant and measurable. And dare we add ‘fun and rewarding’ for the learner?

In PART TWO I will discuss some observations and best practices for how an LMS can really impact your retail employee performance.