Your LMS Works, but is it Working for You? – Part II

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In Part I of this article, we discussed the importance of taking a really good look at the things you encounter daily. More specifically, we discussed your LMS (though living with bears also came up). By completing Step One, we’d amassed a list of requirements you currently have for your LMS.

Hopefully, your current LMS already meets most or all of your requirements. If not, think about adding another requirement at the bottom of your Step One list: that your next LMS actually meet all of your requirements.

Now let’s move on to some slightly more fun territory. Rather than simply listing the features and capabilities your LMS must have in order for it to work for you and your organization, let’s compile a list of features you would like to have.

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Step Two: Dream up a list of nice-to-have features

There are probably some features that you don’t currently have but would like to have.

I’m not sure there’s ever going to be a “Do my job for me while I drink this coffee and let me know if anything unusual happens” button. But if you temper your dreams just a little bit, you can probably think of a lot of real ways your interactions with your LMS could be nicer. No doubt you’ve already thought of some of these while going through Step One.

Well, it’s time to take the inevitable first step in making these dreams a reality: let’s put them in a list!

We’ll start by mentally running through the same list we used in Step One. Only now we’ll sidestep reality just a bit and imagine those same processes and features in a magical world of perfect software design. How would it be different? Try answering the following questions to build your wish list:

  • Would your LMS import information about people automatically as they entered the organization? Where would this account information come from?
  • Would the people happen to be the cast of your favorite movie or your favorite living authors, or favorite non-living authors somehow allowed to co-exist with us through some sort of stable space-time tunnel? (Go ahead and put that little fact on the list, too. It’s your dream list and no one can take it away from you.)
  • Would course assignments be easier to make somehow? Would your LMS allow you to arrange, structure or filter people in some way that would make it more logical or to more closely follow how your organization actually organizes people and assigns training?
  • How could reports be better? I know a shorter answer might come from the question, ‘how could reports not be better?’ instead. But seriously, what information do you and your organization really need out of your LMS? What would the ideal format be for this information? Would the ability to simply export the report data out of your LMS and into tools on your desktop make the situation better or worse? I imagine this is a fruitful area for some serious daydreaming for most LMS administrators.
  • Are there external systems or websites you wish your LMS could somehow just magically communicate with? What information would they share?
  • Do any of these other systems already support some sort of communication standard, ability to import data, or support for scripting? Do they expose an API (Application Programming Interface)? Is there any way for an LMS to realistically communicate with these other sites or services?

Write a list and then see how many of these you can pin down for sure. It may be very illuminating to get a sense of what is technically feasible.

Getting systems to talk with each other is the biggest factor in eliminating organizational headaches. Openness of standards is the key. Who knows, your LMS may wind up being the glue that improves the way everything works, though I’d be a little leery of that, myself.

I think an LMS makes the most sense doing just what it was specifically made to do. I also think an LMS should be able to talk with the rest of the world, or at least export its data in a format for other systems to read. But enough about that; we’re talking about your dream list, not mine.

A nice user interface (UI) is a feature. Just because it doesn’t ‘do’ anything doesn’t mean the design of a good UI isn’t critical to great software. An LMS is no exception. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that due to the complexity and flexibility of medium to large scale LMSs, they’re actually in even greater need of thoughtful UI design. How does your LMS stack up? Is it easy to navigate and use?

If your LMS could be pretty, sure, that would be great. But wouldn’t it also have a minimum number of mouse clicks needed to navigate through its innards to edit a course’s description or view a report for a body of learners? You know better than I do the various ways your current LMS gets in your way when trying to accomplish common tasks. Hopefully it’s not so bad. But if it is and you regularly tremble with rage while performing some repetitive data entry in your LMS, I doubt it takes too much for me to convince you that it doesn’t have to be that bad. Can you envision some specific ways in which it could work with you rather than against you?

Consider writing down a certain baseline level of usability you would like for your LMS to have. Perhaps a statement such as, “I should be able to easily find and perform any task I have frequent need to perform without having to suppress the compulsion to completely clear off the top of my desk with one slow sweep of my arm, lighting my computer on fire and running off into the mountains to compose epic poems.”  Feel free to personalize this statement for you.

Finally, and this one is fun, close your eyes for a minute and transport yourself back to the point of view of one of your learners. Don’t think about what they see now when they log into your LMS. Think about what they would see in an ideal world:

  • Would they see helpful instructions or updates from the administrators?
  • Would the courses be easy to locate and take? (Of course they would!)
  • Would the learners have access to forums or other forms of ‘social’ engagement with other learners and LMS admins?

You could write down this experience in a short story format (with intrigue! explosions!) and then distill it into a list of features. Sure, reports and administration are important, but let’s not forget about the other half of the equation without whom there would be no point in having an LMS at all.

Review Steps One and Two

Take a look at your two lists from Steps One and Two. Are there some items in either list which should be in the other list? Are some nice-to-haves, now that you think about it, so important that they should actually be requirements? And is it possible that some of the requirements you initially wrote down are actually just nice-to-haves which you could, in fact, do without if you found an LMS which did not have them but did have something else you couldn’t live without?

A list of LMS requirements is probably more subjective than anyone in your organization would care to admit, so I would recommend you share this task with others. Find key stakeholders who will provide a breadth of vision for what your dream LMS would do across the organization. Then brew a large pot of coffee, gather round and compare your lists.

Now that you have your two lists, we can continue to Part III where we wrap it all up by seeing if you’re paying for too much LMS, consider how your current LMS has improved over the years (and how it’s likely to continue to improve in the future), and give an honest look at the highs and lows of switching to a new LMS.

Looking for Learning Management System software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Learning Management System software solutions.

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About the Author

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Dave Gauer

Dave Gauer is a Senior Software Developer at Michaels & Associates, a full-service custom training content development company. Dave specializes in web-based applications, but occasionally enjoying forays into other areas of software engineering for the training industry. His most recent and heroic venture has been as lead developer of the company's Percolate Learning Management System (LMS). On occasion, he is generous enough to allow others to taste just a tiny fraction of his almost unbearably insightful take on the human experience.

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