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Monday, January 19, 2009

Learning Materials

I've been having a very nice email conversation with a reader who contacted me with a question. The question is one that I've seen before, and I thought it would be worth asking for help from the community. Here's the basic question -

What belongs in an LMS?

more specifically, the question is:

For learning materials / content that is not a course such as videos, reference, documents, do you house these inside your LMS?

They have about 300 or so courses (ILT and courseware) on a variety of subjects in the LMS. They have quite a bit of other learning support materials. There is internal debate about putting this in the LMS vs. having it reside on the intranet (SharePoint in this case).

Advantages of having it in the LMS:
  • Usage tracked on a per-user basis (so you can see what dept, etc. are using materials)
  • Organized using the same structure as rest of courses
  • Appears near the courses so learners don't have to hunt around for it. And when a person thinks "learning" - there's a single location
  • Encourages use as part of learning
  • Uses same approval workflows
Advantages of having it ouside the LMS and on the intranet:
  • Easier to access directly when outside the LMS
  • Organization is easier outside the LMS
  • Content inside the LMS seems cleaner without all the non-course material
  • Materials not developed/approved by L&D do not require management in the LMS, instead they use SharePoint to manage
A few additional notes:
  • The CLO is asking for best practices, and in this case believes that there is a somewhat magic number of having "no more than 300 courses in the LMS."
  • Part of this is a philosophical debate about whether materials that are not really "training" materials should be inside an LMS.
  • They know that they can link between stuff inside the LMS and back to the other resources, but that doesn't really solve it. It's more a question of whether the other materials have first class status in the LMS and all the normal charateristics of something housed there.
Additional Aspects

Workflow of Other Types of Materials? - If you believe it makes sense to put this in the LMS, then there's the added question of how you handle the workflow, approvals, etc. for these other materials?

Value in Additional Tracking? - If you currently keep these kinds of materials in your LMS, do you get significant value from the ability to track to a specific user level?

Where do You Draw the Line? - Assuming that you are willing to put some or all of these additional materials in the LMS, you must draw the line somewhere. Where do you draw the line between having something in the LMS vs. putting it outside?

Additional information from my blog and other bloggers on Learning Management Systems (LMS) can be found by clicking the above links as provided by the eLearning Learning community.


Paul Angileri said...

In my experience the determination of what went into the LMS centered around whether the content was finished and ready for inclusion in the course. Granted there was some course testing that involved unfinished materials, but that was a small sample. It's been my experience that developers, at least on the projects I've been a part of, are mostly individually autonomous and empowered to handle projects themselves, but they must follow team standards. Within that, how the work got done was less important beyond the following ADDIE and team processes. The same went for content. File/content organization was handled by the individual contributor on my latest few projects, and only finished material went into the LMS. The materials we worked on outside the LMS were most often housed on a network share and accessed via a file manager. In some cases we used SharePoint, but only for collaborative documents.

Rodolpho Arruda said...

Tony et al.

After some years selling, implementing, using LMS from different vendors (plus Moodle) my opinion is this: LMS is not silver bullet for the problem of knowledge/competency gap in the organization as it doesn't manage any learning at all. It does manage content, learners' access and evaluations. LMS is a tool for the L&D/HR manager. The reason we have been talking so much about informal learning, mass collaboration, learning 2.0 is partially because the LMS has failed to satisfy basic learners' needs. So what belongs in an LMS?

1) Certification/Accreditation management: companies still need to know who went through which course and when, and what was his/her score at the end of it.

2) Learning paths: some competencies require that content is presented in a specific order, an order that could be hardly reproduced in informal learning by learners without direct guidance.

For all the rest I think Sharepoint would do it just fine. Just make sure you build a rich web of connections between the different "workspaces" that host your learning objects, so learners could navigate through them more easily.

My 2 cents

mike said...

We have regulatory/compliance training that has to be tracked and that stuff definitely goes in the LMS. Other things that don't have as strict of a tracking requirement around who has and hasn't completed them can go on our intranet. Some of our materials are listed in both.

So my answer to what goes in the LMS is a big ol' "It depends!"

John said...

I think that for the sake of usablility and access, it surely belongs in the LCMS. Whether tracking is necessary or not would seriously influence whether or not it belongs in the LMS, in my view.

I agree with your reasons not to put it into the LMS, (but they sound more like reasons for not placing it in the LCMS). I try to think about where the material might be used. Consider a video on widget winding. If the video is usable by those not taking the widget winding class, by all means make it available outside the LCMS. If, OTOH, it is really some user-generated content related to the class, stick it in with the class.

[Yes, I am purposly being pedantic about LMS vs LCMS. I have read articles and stories about LMSs, only to find out that they are truly LCMSs only and have no tracking or learner managment features. It is important that we distinguish these.]

Anonymous said...

It all depends who you ask! Of course, LMS/LCMS vendors will tell you that everything should be in their LMS but that is not necessarily the right answer depending upon many factors related specifically to your organization and its objectives.

The extremes are probably broader than most would appreciate. When organizations are really interested in reusing content and they are interested in simplifying maintenance with more volatile content, my answer would be to NOT store any content in the LMS at all. Both LMSs and most LCMSs are not well built for content storage and management, content maintenance and provide limited features for tagging (formal or social) etc etc.

Broadly speaking, the LMS should be regarded as a course management system (which is its origin) and increasingly the motivation to adopt social learning and Web/Learning 2.0 forces one to move away from the LMS as it is being used at this time.

I have tended to get involved in projects where reuse, scale and standards are very important. I have never stored content in an LMS. Even in training and regulatory compliance the advantages of limiting the LMS to course management and delivery and using a content repository for all content functions are substantial. It makes more sense and gives better visibility on content compliance. It all depends upon how you build your infrastructure.

This subject is of great interest within LETSI ( LETSI has the role of developing the next generation of SCORM or SCORM 2.0. The evidence that we are currently observing is that monolithic applications in learning infrastructure will go the same way as other monolithic applications and they will be broken down into a set of modular functions/services and infrastructures will tend towards a 'best of breed' approach. So it also depends on factors around the longevity of content and the timeframe and nature of short term issues vs longer term strategy.

Your content will end up costing more than your LMS so you should give it priority, especially if you are part of the growing trend of organizations that want to get more value from their content than just putting it in an LMS for training purposes.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Tātou

I go along with what Allyn says. The LMS (or LCMS - are we all familiar with the real distinction?) must not be the tail that wags the rest of the organism. An LMS that determines that resources must follow a certain format or be of a particular type is so limiting it's not true.

Nor must there be any barrier to moving content that's inside the LMS to being outside it. While this is a property of the LMS, it usually defines what stays in the LMS once it's put there. And barriers to putting content of a specific type into the LMS determines what's made accessible outside the LMS.

So really, it comes down to how the LMS has been designed in the first place. A truly flexible LMS should not present significant barriers to content being placed in the LMS OR outside it, even if the access path to it goes through the LMS, as often is the case.

Catchya later

Anonymous said...

This debate continues I see. One of the replies said it was a "big 'ol depends", and I have to agree. The LMS began as a "registrar" system for the management of training assets, be they classroom or e-learning. As sexy as LMSs have become with so many other "LCMS-like" features, it cannot hide its true colors.

I think the bigger questions (and drivers) should revolve around:
- Who is the learner?
- Where are they when they need to learn?
-What is the urgency associated with their learning moment of need?
- What is the most compelling blend of media to deliver the learning asset effectively?
- what technologies are in the hands of the learners?

Certainly there are more questions, but the emphasis is on the learner's work context (Tony uses the phrase work concept). The worker's context/concept should define the answer to the question of "What goes into the LMS?"

Given learning is a blend of formal training, informal applications of information, and the ability to access shared knowledge...sometimes quickly (just-in-time) and sometimes in the course of a formal curriculum where time sensitivity is not a driver of urgency. One of these three venues alone is not enough. And one system cannot handle the variability of content types or accessibility demands.

The LMS tracks training - not learning. Formal training, compliance-centric courses, etc belongs on the LMS. but that is only a subset of what is learning. And if learning is to be continuous, it needs to follow the tenent of getting the right learning to the right learner in the right amount at the right time in the right format and to/from the right devices.

To me, that means multiple repositories...some smart...some dumb. What is necessary is a simple way to access each variety by the their work context/concept.

We built a poor man's portal in the form of a Web front-end that organizaes links to various learning repositories, LMS, Blackboard, SharePoint, Streaming media servers, etc. We don't have a true LCMS, but the "network of repositories" acts as a virtual LCMS of sorts.

Just one more way in the never-ending mission to skin this cat.


Clark said...

Tony, I agree with Allyn and Ken. There should be a place where people go (on the way to creating custom portals for each person by role and more), and it should include those resources as well as courses. The course management is really for the administrators, not for the learners (ok, they might want to see their status, but put that in a widget on their portal/dashboard, or make it available through a link). Wrap social around those resources, and you start having a real reason to go to the 'resource site' and turn it into a performance ecosystem, not just a bloody LMS.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

@Clark- !

Norman Lamont said...

When our LMS was introduced there was an expectation that from now on elearning would be developed in its 'native' authoring system instead of the HTML and Javascript we'd used before. It didn't take long to realise that was a non starter because
a) the authoring system was old and clunky
b) you could only view content created in it via the LMS
c) the LMS was utterly clunky and required a separate logon from the learning site

We were forced by the IT/HR project that bought the thing to put our compliance and accreditation testing into its native format, which was justifiable on tracking grounds (but proved to be a ridiculous pain in the butt technically) but insisted on elearning courses being 'hosted' outside the LMS but being referenced from the LMS catalogue. So it's an odd situation where some courses can be accessed in a 'free' non-tracked way AND in a tracked way from inside the LMS.