Why do you want an LMS?

Why?I don’t think there is one blog about learning technologies that doesn’t have a post on the need for an LMS. The death of the LMS is a topic that you will find many discussions on (don’t get me started!). From my perspective, in order to implement a system that a company wants, I have to understand why they want it in the first place. In doing this, I am often struck by several observations.

1. Who is this LMS for?
You will find the many perceived benefits to having an LMS outlined in any RFT or proposal you pick up. I often feel strongly however, that the benefits are mainly from the L&D side. Day to day “customers” aren’t going to see the reduction in administration for a basic course from 5 hours to 1; they aren’t going to see the compliance reports submitted to the CEO; they usually don’t know about the potential time and cost savings through elearning. In fact, sometimes you are going to be asking them to do more than ever – go online, see for themselves what courses are available and go through a registration process. All this instead of just picking up the phone or sending a quick email, which you will hear over and over is “they way we’ve always done it”. Sometimes your new LMS can be a hard one to sell!

2. We will have plenty of time to file our nails…
Some of L&D team members can be unrealistic in their expectations of what the LMS is going to do. I sat in many meetings where, after a lengthy discussion over a process or a form, someone would turn to me and say “you are our saviour – all of this will be gone once the LMS comes in”. However, as anyone who has ever managed an LMS will know, often it doesn’t reduce the amount of administration you have to do; yes it automates some processes but more often than not it replaces them with new LMS-related administrative tasks.

3. What can this LMS really do?
Several times I was approached with “ideas” and “suggestions” for an LMS, e.g. the inclusion of a “simple career planning tool that would see where you’re at and then generate a training plan for you and monitor it and tell you if you were on track to meet it or not and then do your ironing….”. Clearly these conversations were not with people who had a) understood the concept of an RFT or b) ever been involved in developing technology such as a “simple career planning tool”. Be careful of scope creep, as they call it in project management circles. Sometimes (always!) non-technical people don’t understand the complexities of development. While you are buying an LMS and being given the opportunity to customise it, you can only really switch on or off existing features and change the branding. Anything outside of this requires *customisation (* read: lots of money). So while my L&D colleague walked away wondering why I couldn’t just “make” the LMS have a career planning tool, seen as he can do one up in MS Word in 10 minutes, I walked away wondering what his reaction would be if I asked him to develop a ten week management programme in an afternoon!

To conclude: I guess what I’m really saying is: manage expectations. Manage the outcome expectations with your customers, your colleagues, your boss, etc. But even more importantly, manage your own expectations – don’t assume that anyone else has a clue about what it is that you do (or don’t do!).

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