Reflecting on my recent consulting experience on Learning Management System (LMS) selection and implementation, it is far too easy to think that all the hard work is behind you once you launch the system and have a catalogue full of e-learning courses. Granted, it takes a herculean effort to manage multiple business stakeholders; gather functional requirements; sort through over 1,000 LMS vendors in the market; liaise with IT, organize demo sessions, and the tasks go on. However, LMS is expensive, so is e-learning development effort. If you want to set your e-learning initiatives for success, a sustainment plan needs to be in place. Keep in mind that LMS is an organic system – it will change and grow as you interact with it. Some of the features you use heavily today might be minimized in the future; other new functions will be introduced; learners’ needs will change and demand different way of accessing information; and managers are likely to require more complex reporting. As every organization is different, when formulating your sustainment plan, you need to consider your company’s culture, business objectives and strategy, government policies and mandates, employees’ attitudes and habits, as well as work environment.
Below are some areas you might consider when putting together your e-learning sustainment plan.
- Establishing a Content Policy – content ownership, revision, audit, and archival along with your data retention should be part of your overall LMS standards. A content policy outlines what you need to do with your content once it is launched to the users. Some questions to ask are: how often would you need to review your content (the answer is depending on how time sensitive and how quickly your particular content becomes outdated)? Who serves as a third-party subject matter expert in auditing the content so it is accurate and free of bias? How to decide which content should reside in the LMS and which should not (I have seen company memos being stored in an LMS just because it is available for storage), and what criteria would you use in keeping and removing content? Your content policy should address these concerns by establishing the responsibilities and required tasks of the e-learning content owners.
- Having a Standard – in addition to content policy, there are other course design standards to consider for e-learning: visual design standards, interaction design standards, writing style guides, assessment rubrics, and instructional design best practices need to be in place. These standards provide e-learning practitioners with guidelines in creating content and implementing learning experiences beyond modules and courses. This article discusses the various standards you should consider. Another area to consider is LMS standards. LMS standards ensure that your learning material can be understood and playback correctly when porting them from one LMS to another. The technical term is called “interoperability”, meaning that no matter which e-learning authoring tools or LMS vendors you use, the information can be shared between the systems so long as they have the same specification. The most commonly used standards are SCORM 1.2, SCORM 2004, AICC, and xAPI. The Articulate Community does a good job explaining the differences.
- Foster a Community of Practice (CoP) – it is quite common to have a working committee during the selection process of an LMS or other learning technologies. However, once that effort is done, you need ongoing championing of e-learning. Establish a community of practice so you can continue the information exchange and collaboration across your organization. CoPs represent an environment in which individuals, experts and novices, come together to develop and improve their e-learning skills, and to learn about different techniques, tools, and methods in a systematic way. Many CoPs meet virtually, using in-house social platforms such as Yammer or Slack to facilitate members’ interactions and exchanges. Some communities set up shared spaces within the LMS to share their courses and projects in progress. Ideally, I would recommend a blending of both virtual and physical meetings to build rapport and culture. For your reference, Tony Bates has written an article on designing effective communities of practice. While his focus is on higher education, it is equally applicable for private sector organizations.
- Partnering with your LMS Vendor – just because you purchased the system and signed the contract, it doesn’t mean your relationship with your LMS vendor ends there. Many LMS companies are actively seeking user inputs, and these feedback often get added to the roadmaps of development. An LMS roadmap shows where the product came from and which direction it is heading, what new releases are upcoming, and how do they prioritize features and resources. You don’t need to be a passive receiver of that information. Instead, be proactive in providing insights and real life use cases. Submit enhancement requests, ask how the LMS’s development process is managed, and if it is based on customers’ demands. E-learning industry is full of change, you would need to take on a partnership approach with your LMS vendor in shaping the future direction.
- Fitting in with the Larger Context – as e-learning professionals, sometimes we forget that there is a larger context within the organization. Learning doesn’t happen in isolation in organizations. Often, it is linked to performance support and talent development. Furthermore, learning strategies need to be aligned with business outcomes. Introducing an LMS fundamentally shift the culture of the organization. As part of that, change management needs to be embedded into the sustainment plan. Modern workplace learning is a continuous process, not a one-off event. To prepare the business and its employees, a structured change management framework need to be in place. These two change management organizations are good places to start in learning about change management: Prosci and The Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP).
Change is always challenging. To ensure ongoing stakeholders buy-in of your e-learning investment, it is critical to have an e-learning sustainment plan, and in the age of agile organizations, it is a good idea to keep your plan flexible and adaptive.