Stepping up to an LMS and Beyond

By now, most fleet operators are familiar with the concept of a Learning Management System, or LMS. By definition, an LMS is a managed repository of enterprise-wide learning elements, possibly incorporating training course registration, online assessments, completion certification and reporting. Such a repository generally resides on a company intranet, extranet or a secure, private Web site.

For medium-to-large fleets, this repository is almost essential with the migration of so many seminar-based courses to an e-learning format. Advantages to having an LMS over a loosely-organized library of learning modules include:

• Easy, 24-hour access to multiple training elements (knowledge-based modules, visual media, simulations, etc).
• Consistency of course login, format and navigation across multiple fleet entities.
• Ability to facilitate online testing, track progress and training histories, and report on multiple training metrics.
• Automation of prerequisite paths, ensuring lower-level courses are completed before registration for intermediate and advanced courses is allowed.
• Management of course calendars and instructors for live seminars and/or “virtual” training.

An LCMS—Learning Content Management System—has the elements of an LMS but also incorporates technical content like service manuals and technical bulletins, or even company policy and best practice documents. This allows for “one-stop shopping” for learning and informational elements.

Some more advanced LCMS environments provide the ability for course designers, developers, fleet operators/managers and students to work collaboratively toward improving available learning modules. Still others provide a means to link reference information to associated learning objects.

The most recent trend in LMS/LCMS development is toward an overall Talent Management System, or TMS. On this higher rung of the ladder, system elements are expanded to aid succession planning, visual career-pathing, performance appraisals, establishment of goals and employee assessment. These features supplement the pure learning and information elements. While some TMS efforts are in the infancy stages, successful ones provide the advantage of fusing training and HR departments within an organization.

Which of these—LMS, LCMS or TMS—do you need? For medium-to-large fleets, there is efficiency to be gained by automating as much of the learning and talent progression process as possible, versus having to add an administrator to manage this manually. The efficiency of new hire and ramp-up training makes the cost of an LMS worth the initial investment.

For smaller fleets, an acceptable answer may be “None of the above,” as the initial cost of developing an LMS may outweigh the efficiency benefits gained if you only have a dozen or two employees and/or low turnover. An intermediate solution may involve hiring a consultant to build the repository on a company network or intranet, with some manual intervention required afterward.

For companies where the efficiencies gained can make up for the initial cost, finding an LMS product provider that suits your needs can be challenging.

According to CLO Media, the LMS product industry surpassed the $500 million mark in late 2005. With the advent of the TMS, continued growth is ensured in the coming years. At the time of the study, the six largest LMS product companies comprised 43 percent of the market, but smaller providers continue to be added at a steady rate and the industry is widely described as “fragmented.”

There is a high probability to be undersold or oversold on LMS products. Some that claim they can build a true LMS are only providing a means to create and deliver online training. The facilitation and management of that training may be very weak or absent. Others may try to sell you a total talent management system with unnecessary features. If you can’t see using such features within a few years, don’t pay for them!

Do your homework before contacting suppliers. Assess what your company truly needs out of an LMS or broader-based solution. Request proposals from product providers with features and benefits aligned with your needs. Always request a proposal meeting that includes time to explore solutions the provider has already developed—preferably for similar industries or like-sized companies. Price is always a factor, but consider cost-to-value more.