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Posts Tagged ‘online courses’

How to Let Learners Choose Activities Within a Learning Path

Richard Nantel, Vice President, Enterprise Learning Solutions, Blatant Media | Absorb LMSAs I’ve mentioned in the past, there’s a large and vocal group of learning pundits who are vehemently anti learning management system (LMS). They view LMS as creating inflexible learning environments where learners are provided with few choices and force fed content created by a training department.

In reality, though, it’s possible to create a learning environment using a LMS that provides learners with choices over their learning activities. Although given the ability to pick the courses and learning events they prefer, these learners will still meet the learning requirements established by their workplaces or industry requirements.

Here’s one way to do this:

Management Curriculum

  • In the Introduction section of the Management curriculum displayed above, a learner can choose between a self-paced or virtual instructor-led course. There’s no need for the learner to take both courses since they contain the same content; only the learning modality is different.
  • In the Management Skills section, the learner can take any two of the three courses listed.
  • In the Task section of the curriculum, the learner can select and undertake any two of the three tasks listed.
  • Finally, everyone must complete the Exam.

We rarely hear complaints that universities provide rigid learning structures. After all, undergraduate university students can enroll in elective courses (darkroom photography, astronomy, children’s literature, art history, whatever) that may not be central to their core study area, yet count towards their degrees. By creating curricula that empower learners with the ability to choose courses they prefer, you can create a similar environment within your learning management system.

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 Step-by-Step Guide to Setting Up Your Learning Management System (Part 10)

This is the final instalment in this series! Here are all the previous posts:

STEP 10: Create Reports

Congratulations! We’re at the last step of the process. The reason we’ve left the this step to the end is that it’s easier to create the reports you need when you have actual activity data in the system. So, you could potentially take a break after adding learners to the system, allowing them time to interact with the content. Then, you can create the reports that will allow you to evaluate the success of your learning initiatives.Absorb LMS Schedule Report

In this step, you want to:

  • Create relevant reports. Common useful reports include:
    • Learner progress in different courses, either for all your learners, a group of learners, or individual learners
    • How learners collectively answered test questions
    • Course evaluation reports
    • Certifications obtained
  • Save those reports if your LMS provides this option
  • Push out those reports to external managers if the LMS contains this feature

Timeline

You don’t need to go through all the steps in this series in order. Some steps can be done simultaneously by different people on your team, as the image below illustrates.

For more information

We regularly present the content from this series as a Webinar. Please see our list of events

A Step-by-Step Guide to Setting Up Your Learning Management System (Part 9)

June 7, 2012 1 comment

Break out the party hats and noise makers! The LMS we’ve been setting up throughout this series will now be going live. We’ve accomplished a lot so  far in this series: 

STEP 9: Add Learners

In some systems, your LMS will be “live” as soon learners are added to the system. Learners will be automatically informed of their login information as soon as their learner accounts are created. Also, the enrollment rules or automatic course assignments you’ve created in step eight may now be triggered, which will inform learners that they are now enrolled into courses.

If you’re risk averse, you may want to do a partial roll-out to just one group of learners to see how things unfold before going live with all learners. If you’re fearless, you may just want to go live for everyone.

There are four common ways to create learner accounts:

  • Integration with an HR system or other enterprise application. (See this document describing common ways learning management systems can be integrated with other applications.)
  • Learner self-registration
  • Import learner information contained within spreadsheets
  • Create individual learner accounts

Integration with an HR system is fast and efficient but will likely only create learner records for internal employees. You’ll still need to figure out how to get external learners into your system.

Learner self-registration can be a great option, but you need to ensure that you’re somehow capturing the identifying characteristics you’ll need, such as learner group, job title, etc. during registration. You’ll also need a way to ensure all the learners you need to serve have actually registered.

Importing learner data from spreadsheets can be an efficient way to get started. You’ll need to get access to the data and will need to make sure that the columns in your spreadsheets map to the learner record fields

Creating individual learner accounts isn’t an option for anything but the smallest learner initiatives. The time and effort is just too high.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Setting Up Your Learning Management System (Part 8)

June 5, 2012 3 comments

We’re very close to welcoming learners into your new learning management system. Completed so far in this series: 

STEP 8: Create Enrollment Rules or Course Assignments

In some learning management systems, you may need to first create learner accounts within the LMS and then assign learners to the appropriate content. In others, you can create rules related to access to content and course enrollment prior to the creation of learner accounts. So, depending on your system, this step may be step eight or step nine in setting up your LMS. For the sake of this post, we’ll assume we can create enrollment rules first and then create the learner records. The advantage of this approach is that learners will automatically have access to the relevant content the minute they are registered within the LMS. There will not be a delay between the time they are registered in the system and the time they receive notification that they have access to content.

Once again, the work you did on the content inventory document will make this step very easy. You’ve already identified who needs what content, and whether that content will be assigned to that group of learners or simply placed in a course catalog for the learner to select if they wish. You now simply need to create those assignments within the LMS.

Here are some examples of enrollment rules:

  • If learners belong to the group Internal > Sales, assign them to the course titled “Managing Accounts”
  • If the learners have the word manager in their job title, assign them to the curricula called “Management Certification”
  • If the learners are located in San Francisco, provide them with access to an instructor-led session titled “Team Building.”

Absorb LMS enrollment rules

A Step-by-Step Guide to Setting Up Your Learning Management System (Part 7)

May 29, 2012 4 comments

By the time you complete this step in the process, you’ll be very close to making your new learning management system available to learners. So far in this series: 

STEP 7: Create Curricula/Learning Paths

If you’re only making individual courses available to learners, then you’ll be able to skip this step altogether. If, on the other hand, you plan to make curricula/learning paths available, you’ll need to create those course groupings.

Once again, the course inventory audit document you created in Step 3: Establish Who Needs What Contentwill make this step much easier. Simply looking down a user group column will identify the content each group requires. If it makes sense to you to bundle those courses into a curriculum, go ahead and do so.

In bundling courses into a curriculum/learning path, you’ll need to decide:

  • Do the courses need to be completed in a specific order
  • Do courses issue individual certificates or does the learner receive a certificate for completing a curriculum
  • Does the learner need to complete all the courses or only some courses in the curriculum

TIP:

If you have high-priority courses many learners will need to take, consider investing the time and effort into presenting this content in different formats. You could, for example, present the material through:

  • A self-paced online course
  • A virtual classroom session
  • A face-to-face session in a physical classroom

If your LMS supports course equivalency and the option to complete some, but not all the courses in a curriculum, your learners will appreciate the ability to take courses in the formats they prefer.

In the example below, the learner must take the course titled “Welcome” but can choose between a self-paced or a Webinar-based version of the course called “Safe Handling and Transportation.”


A Step-by-Step Guide to Setting Up Your Learning Management System (Part 6)

May 23, 2012 5 comments

We’ve passed the mid-way mark in our structured approach to setting up a learning management system. So far, we’ve examined the following:

STEP 6: Import, Configure, and Test Content

If you have a large amount of content, this will be the most time-consuming part of your new LMS implementation. Being a strategic LMS super administrator, you realized the scope of the effort in `STEP 2: Perform a Content Inventory Audit’ and consequently may have created a number of course manager admin accounts in `STEP 4: Define Administrator Roles and Create Admin Accounts.’ So, you won’t need to tackle this alone.

If you don’t have a lot of existing content, you’ll of course work through this step fairly quickly.

In this step, you’ll:

  • Create within the LMS topic areas or categories for your content to match the topic areas you identified in your content inventory document
  • Import or create the relevant content within those categories
  • Configure the communication templates associated with your content. These messages and/or e-mails will be how the system informs learners of events. Templates may include:
    • Enrollment messages
    • Reminders
    • Completion messages

Depending on the features of your LMS and the specific requirements of your learning initiative, you’ll then need to configure your content. Here are some common settings you may need to adjust:

  • Images associated with course
  • Course prerequisites
  • Course expiration settings
  • Cost of the course if it will be sold and if your LMS contains e-commerce capabilities
  • Passing grades of exams
  • Education units issued by completing the course
  • Certificates issued upon successful completion of individual courses

Absorb LMS Course Certification Settings

TIPS:

If you have a very large amount of content, considering tackling the content associated with your highest priority learning requirements first. You can then proceed with the other steps in this document and go live with the most urgent content first. You can continue adding new content while learners are completing their high priority courses.

Broadband internet accounts are designed for fast downloading of information. Unfortunately, their upload speeds are much slower. The result is that downloading a 100 MB file video file may go quickly but uploading such a file can take longer. If you have a lot of content to upload, speak to your vendor about options. They may import the information for you or provide you with a way to batch upload a large number of files.

Do you have a many courses that are very similar? (A common course type we see is a video followed by an exam of some type.) If so, you might be able to create one course, configure its settings, make duplicates of it in within your LMS, and then replace the title, video, and exam. Another common example might be instructor-led courses. Duplicating a course and changing the title, date/time, venue, and instructor may save you time over creating each from scratch.


How to Start a Successful Training Company (Part 3)

November 21, 2011 1 comment

Richard Nantel, Vice President, Enterprise Learning Solutions, Blatant Media | Absorb LMS

This is the final post in a three-part series. Part one was an introduction to selling learning content to individuals and organizations. Part two examined 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.

I’m writing this post on a flight to Seattle where Mike Owens, co-founder of Blatant Media, and I will be meeting with the great team at Adobe to help them plan out their learning management system (LMS) strategy. It’s been 12 years since I was last in Seattle. During my last trip there, I attended a conference on the design and development of help systems for software applications.

A dozen years ago, help systems were all the rage, largely because enterprise software was rarely easy to use. We now expect software and hardware to be intuitive and self explanatory. There remains, however, a huge disparity in the level of usability of enterprise software. In my 11 years as a learning management system analyst, I saw applications that were so horribly designed from the point of view of usability that they’d immediately demoralize any but the most mentally tough user. (No wonder 30 per cent of organizations report that they are looking to replace their LMS.)

Apart from relying on your gut reaction, how do you evaluate usability in enterprise software? Consider the following criteria:

  • Basic usability: Each feature is an island onto itself. You use a feature to perform a task and the application returns you to the home screen where you can then use a different feature. If you’re lucky, the interface design will be clean and uncluttered, and the features will be easy to find and use.
  • Workflow enabled usability: After performing a task, the application provides you with logical choices for what you may want to do next. In other words, the LMS is designed with workflow in mind. Older readers may recognize the following as Microsoft’s early implementation of this idea.

Absorb LMS and Absorb SMARTLAB provide something similar (minus the little paper clip person.) After adding a new learner to the system, for instance, the software displays the following suggestions:

  • Usability through automation: The application contains the ability to automate common tasks so that they do not need to be manually repeated. This is the highest level of usability, where the application does your work for you.

Automation is the holy grail of usability.

Automation frees the user from their natural physical limitations.

Automation creates scalability.

Automation should be a top priority for anyone starting a business.

Absorb LMS and Absorb SMARTLAB have been designed to automate the administration of learning. Here’s how:

  • Enrollment keys: When a customer comes to you and says they want 300 learners to take one of your courses, you can send that customer an e-mail from within Absorb that contains a special code called an enrollment key. The customer distributes this code to his or her employees who, in turn, paste it into a registration page. Once registered in the LMS using the enrollment key, learners can be automatically defined as a group and enrolled into a course or curriculum.
  • Email automation: Each course can have its own templates for enrollment, reminder or “nudge,” and completion emails. (If you want to really bug a learner, set the frequency of the nudge e-mail to daily.) These e-mails are automatically sent to learners when appropriate. 
  • Report automation: There’s no need for an administrator to log into the system to view a report (although they can if they want to). Reports in Excel or comma delimited format can be set up to be automatically e-mailed to one or more individuals daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly. The client who sent you 300 learners probably wants to know the progress of his or her learners. Make this customer a recipient of a weekly learner progress report and they’ll be thrilled to be kept informed. .
  • Certificate management: Certificates are automatically issued to learners upon completion of their training. If applicable, learners will be automatically notified that they need to recertify at a later date. If the content required to recertify is different from the original content, the system will automatically enroll the learner into the correct course or curriculum using a feature called the Post Enrollment Trigger.

Final thoughts:

In part two of this series, I presented a scenario where you, a commercial courseware provider, receive a call from a customer wishing to have 300 learners take one of the courses you’ve created. This should be a cause for celebration, not a source of stress. If your LMS is designed to automate the administration of learning, you’ll quickly be able to add these learners to your system and ensure they are accessing the content they need. The next time your customer calls, they may want 5000 learners to take your courses. Through automation, the administrative effort will be exactly the same as for a single learner. (The revenues on the other hand, will be much larger.)

As a commercial training provider, focus your effort on growing your business, creating fantastic content, and providing a rich learning experience for your users. Don’t get sucked into the quagmire of manually administering and tracking the experience of your learners one by one.

How to Start a Successful Training Company (Part 2)

November 3, 2011 1 comment

Richard Nantel, Vice President, Enterprise Learning Solutions, Blatant Media | Absorb LMS

This is the second in a three-part series. Part one was 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.

In part one of this series, I mentioned the importance of selecting niche topics where learners and organizations are highly motivated to pay for training. Certification training in regulated industries is a good place to look for potential topics.

Now, Let’s look at the learning management system requirements to support a business that sells learning content.

QUESTION: What do you believe is the most important LMS feature requirement for a company that sells training?

Chances are you answered “integrated e-commerce.”

Integrated e-commerce can certainly make the financial processing and tracking of selling training easier. But it isn’t the number one requirement. You could, if you wanted to, sell access to your training content using third-party shopping cart software such as Miva Merchant or Zen Cart, an open-source solution. In addition, many Web hosting companies provide you with shopping cart software as part of your Web site’s control panel. The bottom line is that selling products and services online is a lot easier now than it was five years ago.

So if integrated e-commerce isn’t the most important LMS feature required for commercial training companies, what is?

ANSWER: Automation

Automation

Here’s why.

All learning management systems allow you to:

  • Register a learner
  • Enroll the learner into learning events such as courses
  • Generate a report showing the learner’s progress

Some LMS will allow you to issue certificates.

Few LMS, however, provide a way to automate the entire process, from payment to issuance of a certificate, and beyond to recertification. Lacking automation, administrators are forced to manually perform these tasks. The result of manual processes is a business model that doesn’t scale.

Automation = Scalability = Future Success

Let’s say the total combined time to administer one learner from the time he or she has paid for a course, through enrollment, to the point a certificate is issued is 30 minutes. How will you handle the process manually when a company contacts you to say they wish to send you 300 learners for training that needs to be completed in 30 days? This scenario translates into 150 hours of administration; just ten hours short of four, 40-hour weeks.

Top Learning Management System Requirements for Online Training Providers

So, here are the most important requirements for a company that sells online learning:

  • Automation — You’ll be miserable and spending sleepless nights as soon as your company starts to grow if you ignore this critical requirement. You want the entire process of administering one, hundreds, or thousands of learners to be as automated as possible. Ideally, you want your learners to self-register, automatically be enrolled in the appropriate course or curricula, receive a certificate upon completion, and be notified of recertification requirements, if any, at a later date. In addition, you want the tracking of the learners’ progress to be automated. Rather than having to log into the system to see learners’ progress, you want the system to automatically and regularly push reports to you so that you can quickly glance then when needed.
  • Ability to provide self-paced as well as instructor-led courses — You may be thinking right now that you’ll only be offering self-paced online courses. Your needs may change. In a a few months, you may want to provide live virtual tutoring to learners for an additional fee (smart!). Keep your future options open by choosing a system that will support instructor-led, either traditional face-to-face or virtual, as well as self-paced, learning.
  • SaaS: You don’t want to be wasting your time on configuring your technology.  You have better things to do than installing modules and tinkering with settings or paying someone to do these things for you. Select a product hosted by a provider and let them deal with ensuring that the technology is always running smoothly.
  • E-commerce support — As much as you can easily add a shopping cart to your Web site (see above), you may want to consider a LMS that has integrated e-commerce features to track the cost versus revenue of each course, as well as a way to easily provide discounts to certain groups of customers.
  • 24/7 support for learners — Do you think you’ll enjoy getting a phone call from a learner at 2 am because he or she can’t access their training? Do you think you’ll be able to keep your calm when you discover that the learner doesn’t have internet access and the issue they face has nothing to do with your technology? Being a personal 24/7 help desk is very hard work that can sap your enthusiasm for your business. Technical support for learners should be a priority.

In part three of this series, I’ll discuss how Absorb LMS meets these requirements.

PHOTO CREDIT: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mzpi/4507812682/ (Creative Commons-licensed content for commercial use)

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.