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Thursday, March 04, 2010

LMS Solution for Simple Partner Compliance Training

Background / Requirements

I’m just starting consulting with a company that has a single course (might eventually be broken into a few different course) that needs to be delivered to an audience of 600-1000 partners as part of a larger certification process.  Thus, they need to be able to report back out who’s completed the courses.  Courses will be authored using a Rapid Authoring Tool.  This may grow to be a little bit more than this, but likely not much.

So, that’s a pretty simple set of LMS requirements.  It worries me just a bit that I might be missing something important that will turn into a Learning Management Systems (LMS) Selection Gotcha?

Fast Selection

And while this wasn’t the basis for the post One Week to Select an LMS – No Way, it’s a situation where I’m not seeing the need to spend a lot of time going into a detailed selection process. But it’s almost like my background with and knowledge of all the different LMS products (see LMS Satisfaction Features and Barriers, Low Cost Learning Management Systems, Rapid Learning Management Systems and Open Source Learning Management Systems) feels like it’s hurting me in this task. 

Current Thinking

So, without a lot of thought, here’s what I’m currently thinking and I hope folks will weigh in…

I was a little surprised when I realized how much some of the mainstream SaaS LMS products (Articulate Online, Learn.com, etc.) would cost.  Something like $500/mo.  And we wouldn’t really be using much of the functionality.

We are definitely considering doing something like a hosted Moodle solution.  Pricing is very attractive on some of these.  However, the interface and user interaction doesn’t quite align with what we want.  Still , it’s definitely in the running and other than interface, I’m not sure what I’d get with other LMS solutions that I don’t get with Moodle. 

I’m also looking at whether we could just put the content on one of the social learning hubs such as LearnHub, Coggno, odijoo which seem to offer a way to put this up for a very attractive price (Free).  We have the advantage that the content here is not sensitive, so if someone else took it, more power to them.  I don’t have direct experience with these systems and worry a bit about the risk associated with doing it this way.  Thoughts?  Anyone have much experience using these social learning hubs for that kind of purpose?

What else should I consider?

25 comments:

Christiaan said...

Hi Tony,

This is an interesting case. If I understand you correctly, the only thing this company wants to know, is if someone passed the course, but not with very detailed who answered what at which question? Have you thought of creating the course in a tool that has certification generation based on score included.

I don't know if there is an incentive for the partners in being certified, but you could offer the course on a simple webserver, and ask them to send the certificate afterwards, or make the access only available after logging on (personal) on a website. Than you have no costs of LMS at all. And you do know who started the course and in the end presented the certificate. I think an LMS is worth the investment if you want to relate exact answers to individuals.

Susan said...

Is this the only course they're planning to deliver? In which case, does investing in an LMS at all make sense? And what's the timeline for course completion? The way most hosted solutions are priced out, time isn't on their side for getting all those people through. Initial thought is that they need something hosted that would charge them by the number of learners rather than by the month. Does that even exist right now? Hmmm. LMS for the occasional trainer.

Tony Karrer said...

Christiaan - you are correct that they only need to know if someone passed the course. There is a requirement to complete, but as you say, they could just print a certificate at the end and send it in. There's the possibility that there would be cheating on that, but that could be minimized via requiring a login. Thanks for the suggestion.

Susan - most pricing plans are roughly per user/per month. And you are right - that doesn't align with their needs / use case.

scooterpdx said...

You might want to check out edu20.com, which is the business version of edu20.org. A hosted LMS that is very inexpensive. Needed some work last time I looked at it, but they're making progress.

Jodi said...

Tony:

Might I suggest that this company look at TOPYX, while TOPYX would fall into the $500 a month range it offers social learning around the course (a private mini facebook if you will) on top of the reporting needed and all the LMS features you would expect, plus it has no implementation fees, no start-up fees, no hosting fees, no limit to the number of users or any fees associated with users, no limit to the content added to it. Plus it has eCom capabilities if needed.

Dave Ganly said...

At the risk of advertising too much, we're just about to launch our low-cost solution, www.notionlearning.com in the next few weeks - it may be exactly what you are looking for. Please don't hesitate to get in touch. Our pricing is certainly below what you mentioned in the post.

Rob said...

Tony,

It doesn't sound like your client is looking for an LMS so much as a simple inexpensive means of delivering a course and being able to document who has taken it for certification purposes.

We have developed a platform (called BizVisionPro) that does just that. It is currently being utilized by Caterpillar to train their dealers and a number of professional associations to provide continuing education to their accountant, banker, lawyer and dentist members. Other organizations are using the platform to teach basic electricity and electrical safety.

In order to apply for certification, participants submit four random letter codes that have been displayed throughout the course (to document they have viewed it). Once they have submitted the correct codes they can print out their certificate. We could also have participants answer questions related to the course material, if preferred.

We can also generate a list of all people who registered for and completed the course. Further, you and/or your client could have online access to that data at any time in our admin section.

Finally, we don't charge any upfront or ongoing fees to use our platform. Most of our partners charge for their courses and we just retain a relatively small shall of the transaction. In the event the content is free to the user, we just charge our partner a small per-user fee.

The one difference between the scenario you describe and what we offer is that our platform is video-based - either live or on-demand. However, our experience has been that shooting video may be the most rapid, least expensive "rapid authoring tool" there is.

None of our professional ed networks are publicly accessible, but I'd be glad to send you some links to sample courses or give you an online demo if you are interesed in seeing more.

Rob

Steve said...

Since you don't need all of the functionality that SCORM offers, perhaps build your own using the LM-Light format (http://www.lm-light.net).

I built a similar system to provide anti-phishing training to a group of banks - it took about a weekend to put together the "LMS" part of the system (but somewhat longer to develop the course itself!).

Anonymous said...

The vast majority of small to mid-sized companies in the world do not need the bloat and overhead of an LMS.

That aside....the requirements that you outline here are very simple and I would steer clear of any LMS and just code it up from scratch. We're talking hours, not days/weeks, to develop a simple 'mini' tracking system that would include:

1. A simple login page.
2. A back-end database to store: username, password, certification status, course 1 completion status, course 2 completion status, etc.
3. A simple php script that, when called from the course content, simply writes to the database the desired results.
4. In the course, add a simple mechanism to call the php script to pass the data you need to track. If using Articulate Presenter or Adobe Presenter or Captivate, for example, you could just create a simple swf in flash and insert in last slide at end of course. That swf would call the php script and pass the data.

Easy, flexible, and none of that scorm/aicc hassle to deal with. Not to mention an LMS implementation or any real maintenance requirements...

Albert Lilly said...

With hundreds of choices for such a simple task it can be daunting. Many of the open source options seem to end up costing more in services to deploy. Brandon Hall of course can make this simple and is something we and many other folks are listed and categorized at for making the selection process a bit more simplified. http://www.brandon-hall.com/publications/learntechproducts/learntechproducts.shtml

Alon said...

Hi Tony,

If you do end up going with a learning hub and are considering Odijoo, we'll be glad to answer any questions you may have about risk.

Please email our support team at support@odijoo.com and we'll try to answer your questions!

-Alon

Evelyn said...

I can understand the frustration. I spent a year evaluating over 40 LMS systems for user and management functionality.
There are a lot of basic systems out. Check out the Sharepoint LMS or PeopleMatter (Acadia, HCS). I used to manage the PeopleMatter system at a different company. Currently, I manage the Learn.com system. I'd would be happy to share a summary of my evaluations.

EllenB said...

Tony -- You opened the floodgates on this one! (I experienced something similar when I blogged about the high cost of so many LMSes out there: [http://alearning.wordpress.com/2010/02/15/more-than-one-lms-option/]

I learned a lot, including seeing examples from the Edu20.org group and am still poking around the Educadium option, which is free and seems to have ways to change labels, link to asynchronous courses, and include testing.

With more and more companies adapting Moodle and re-selling their configurations, the LMS market has gone BOOM and prices -- thankfully, for small project like this one! -- are coming down.

I hope you'll post what your client opted for -- or at least the short list.

Chris LaBossiere said...

Tony:

My name is Chris LaBossiere andI am one of the owners of Yardstick Software Inc.

When I read CERTIFICATION I was excited to read-on. We have a heavily weighted Exam component of our application which is used in low-stakes and high-stakes (proctored) certification environments.

Our system is a fully hosted and managed one (Saas), however is also 100% customizable and configurable for your partner's specific branding, security, sign-up and process.

We run certification programs for dozens of clients, and you can see some of them here:

http://www.tumitraining.com/
http://moen.protraining.com/
http://training.wef.org/
http://snapon.protraining.com/

I can arrange a product demo, and we can certainly fit within your budget.

Chris LaBossiere
Chris@YardstickSoftware.om

Tony Karrer said...

This is great! Thanks for all the pointers to options.

Rob - interesting idea to put the codes in the course to verify they've viewed those portions. A bit like a scavenger hunt. I'm curious about the effect of trying to stay aware of codes.

Steve - why would LM-Light be a good choice instead of choosing something that already produces SCORM?

Anonymous suggested a custom solution. Not sure I could get behind that even with the few number of programming hours it would take. How does a custom solution pencil out? Does anyone else think that's a good idea?

Albert - I've seen BH's publications, but I'm not sure I agree that they would help me in this situation. Am I missing some golden answer in there?

Alon - Thanks for stopping by and offering help. Good use of social media!

Evelyn - appreciate your offer. Would welcome an email (akarrer@techempower.com).

Ellen - I will try to share back out, I hope you will as well. BTW - I've really been enjoying your blog and really happy to have you as part of eLearning Learning!

iJamesSaxon said...

Hi Tony!

I have skimmed some of the close to free types you mentioned. It sounds like a possibility if you are able to do enough branding and maybe can pay to have ads disappear. That way you get much of the power of the LMS without the overhead. But the legal aspects of each site would have to be considered.

Will the course be a SCO? If so, that would make it easier to find a solution like moodle and make a lot of the framework disappear, like layers of nav, and extraneous menus to make it very one-clickable.

If it's not a SCO (or maybe even if it is) and it doesn't need to have a secure serving situation (where content is piped through some ACL), and learning enforcement is not a huge concern, then it seems to me you're almost looking at some HTML, a little javascript, and maybe some small custom REST app to capture the user's info at the beginning, and the completion at the end. All you need to do is make it a little difficult to leap to the end, and you've got a nice setup without having to learn a big framework just to avoid it.

I'm thinking a little jQuery on the client. Some Web Service ready back end. I think it would be possible to make that happen pretty quickly if that were the spec.

The tradeoff is who's putting out what kind of effort? A developer and HTML person or an expert who knows the particular LMS to manage the modifications?

Have fun!

James

Tony Karrer said...

James - I get what you are saying and a few years ago that's probably where I would have headed. But it doesn't seem like I should need customization of an LMS to get this out there somewhere. But I'm still not sure what that answer is - so maybe it will turn out that spending programming time to make this happen will make the most sense.

Tim Martin said...

Tony.

As an eLearning vendor, I feel like I'll have failed if I don't include myself in this product listing! It seems everyone in the industry is chiming in. (I'm only sort of kidding...)

This, to me, sounds like a situation where an LMS is too much. LMSs have their time and place... Where long term management of users is crucial... Where gap analysis comes into play... Where sophisticated import and export are crucial.

I don't think this is that place.

This sounds like a category of product we're defining as "Training Delivery System" or something catchy like that. It is simply the ability to deliver training to a collection of users and track their progress, and it has to be an open, connectable system.

We call ours SCORM Cloud (and it can be integrated with other systems, like Moodle or Wordpress). Further, we've added the ability in the console to do the simplest form of delivery possible (via email addresses).

Yes, during that first month, if everyone at the company trained, the cost would be in the $500 range. But from that month forward, if no one was training, the cost could be as low as $75/month.

OK, thanks, I feel better now that I've put our name in the list!

RichM said...

I am yet another vendor convinced that our offerings perfectly suit your needs.

Udutu takes an innovative approach to LMS functionality. We've approached this with two things in mind; One, elearning is best distributed where your learners already are, be that a portal, intranet, private social network or public social network such as FB, LinkedIn, Ning, etc.; and two, where possible, upfront software and infrastructure costs that might limit the rapid growth of elearning should be eliminated.

Our LMS offering leverages Facebook to accomplish both of these tasks. With no upfront costs for course authoring, distribution or hosting you have a private LMS platform existing where many of your learners likely already are, in Facebook. The FB gadgets, UDUTUTeach and UDUTULearn can be found in FB’s apps. They are free to add and, as you might guess, relate to whether you plan on being a teacher and/or a learner. You can manage access/permissions to your courses through the group funtionality inherent in FB or on an individual level. Learners correspond with the instructor or each other without having to open up all the elements of their FB existance.

Again, from the point of course authoring right through to distribution there is no upfront cost what-so-ever. It’s only when a learner actually accesses a course for the first time that there is cost. It starts at $5 and is only charged the first time. There are then no additional costs for the learner to access the course again and again. The beauty of this approach is that it removes the guess work about whether an upfront or monthly cost can be justified. The only question to ask is; "Is what I plan to teach and track worth $5 per learner?" If a delivered and reported on learning objective isn't worth the $5 then we'd argue that it might be best suited for any number of free or inexpensive hosting options where tracking is unnecessary. This model is primarily business and commercially related. For the K-20 and not for profit institutions using this tool (we have a growing number of them) we have specific agreements that better suit that kind of learning environment where an ROI is not usually part of the equation.

Another point to consider is that what actually get’s charged by the teacher/organization is entirely up to them. This makes our solution perfect for those who may be selling their training and/or certification and want to have any easily calculated and predictable cost structure and ROI.

A way to consider our model is that it's cost is directly related to the success (or failure) of your elearning program. Our tools provide everything needed at no upfront cost but if no-one shows up and takes a course then there is no further cost either. You stated a potential learner group of 600-1000. If all 1000 attend the course then the cost is higher but the central arguement remains the same; “Is what we are teaching and tracking worth $5 per learner?” Conversely, if only 20 learners access the course and the dynamics of social networking and feedback halt the ongoing success of the program, then it has only cost you $100, PLUS, you can now communicate with those learners, gather feedback directly as well as the reporting provided, and then refine and re-launch the improved, updated course.

Hopefully I've covered some advantages of an innovative approach that we are quite proud of and excited about. Everything I've described can be applied to other social networks. An obvious one that could be made into a really powerful LMS is LinkedIn but, to date, they haven’t been willing to open up their API along the lines of FB. Any private portal, social network, Sharepoint install or intranet platform that can provide user authentication and grouping information can be made into a custom LMS using our gadgets. We have a number of corporate and governmental organizations already using this solution and the list continues to grow.

Our site is at www.udutu.com!

Best of luck!
Rich

Graham said...

Hi Tony,

My guess is that EDU 2.0 for business (http://www.edu20.com) has everything you're looking for, and is free to sign up, create classes, test them out, etc. When you want to enroll students, it's $1 or less per student/class. If there's a feature you need that's missing, we can generally add it within a week or so.

Cheers,
Graham

Anonymous said...

Tony
I have no idea if this company would meet your needs, how good it is or how much it costs, but you might want to take a look at it too for comparisons. Claims SCO too. http://dokeos.com/node/20

http://dokeos.com/en/deployment/professional

They have an open option to try it out and play too.
http://dokeos.com/en/buy.php

Wish you had an email address rather than having to post here! :)
B

Marty said...

Tony, our company is finally in a position (has the funding) to look for an LMS that will be used much like you describe, although we have dreams of it solving all of our training requirements. We already have an online learning provider, and they gave us an LMS with the contract. It's not a great tool - it drives us crazy with the manual hoops we have to jump through just to upload test questions. But we didn't pay to have them customize it for us when we initially bought it, either. So we're considering that, if they can give us a good customized LMS, it might be the best idea to use what we have and spend the money to build it out properly rather than adding another tool. It might be an option for your client to use what they already have and spend money to make it what they really want. We all buy the toys, but we rarely spend money on the human resource to make it right.

Jim said...

In a previous comment EllenB mentions Educadium " ...which is free and seems to have ways to change labels, link to asynchronous courses, and include testing."

For anyone exploring LMS options, you can find it at http://educadium.com ... it's free for up to 25 users. As others have noted, most organizations don't need to spend a fortune on an LMS and Educadium is one of a growing number of companies providing an inexpensive, yet comprehensive and fully supported alternative.

Mike said...

Another option that you may want to consider that would be free to setup up, host and deliver would be www.learnopia.com. It would allow you to post your course and deliver it, without any cost to yourself or your students.

my name is ama said...

Hi Tony,

I am Lina. Kinda newbie to elearning. I also have same case like yours. I just wondering how's your progress. Hope you dont mind to share your summaries of findings.

Cheer,
-Lina-