LMS – One Size Fits All?
Image Credits – Harvard Business School Online
“Please make sure that the LMS is completely customisable and easily extendable. Once you have the full list of customizations to be made and the effort involved in that, give me a cost for this.”
Most of my sales calls end with this line, after I have completely listed down eLucid’s features, and we have had a detailed discussion on what are the learning requirements of our prospects. 0 – that is the number of times I have been able to deploy our LMS without customisation of its features for every individual client. In fact, quite often, the capability to accommodate customisation requests is the clinching factor in the client’s decision making process on whether to go ahead with eLucid or not.
Quite surprising, isn’t it? As a product seller, you’d hope to make your feature list so comprehensive, that you’ll be able to say yes to any and every client requirement. Yet, we’ve had to customise the LMS’s capabilities to exactly match the unique business process needs of our customers. Why is that?
Every organisation is not created equal. Neither are the people. Every industry has a list of unique needs that actually drive the growth of companies in that industry. For example, if you’re a company in the Pharmaceutical industry, the one single learning activity that’d drive your learning would be mobile learning – product training, presentation skills, which involve video and PPT based learning, that on-field sales guys can quickly consume and incorporate in their conversations with doctors.
If you’re someone from the Analytics industry, then certifications module would be extremely critical for you, and you would be faced with challenges like how to introduce the entire Analytics course catalog to all of your employees/learners.
If you’re in the IT industry, you would primarily be looking for an integration that allows you to take automatic tests based on coding assignments. Bottomline – adopting an LMS and leveraging it to create maximum impact – this is possible only when you’re using a LMS that is especially focused/optimised/tuned towards your specific industry or business process, or the skill-gap you’re looking to bridge.
Is the Standalone LMS Good Enough?
That brings us to the question – is any one LMS good enough for me? If I have to simply customize every single time I adopt a new LMS, then I might as well start with something basic, and invest in customizing. However, the answer isn’t so obvious.
Some LMSes might be very superficial in terms of their feature list, and not very comprehensive in covering different learning scenarios. Some LMSes, might have brilliant features, but relevant only to a specific industry. Some LMSes might have a comprehensive list of features, but not really easily integrable with your enterprise applications
– so simply looking at the feature set is not enough.
Evaluating whether an LMS can be customizable, and extendable is extremely critical. The LMS needs to be able to assist you in automating your admin tasks which are controlled by factors like what sorts of different training do you have, the number of learners you have, your company’s hierarchy and reporting requirements. The LMS needs to be able to talk to your business applications. It needs to accommodate very specific type of learning content that you’ve already produced, and produce results that can flow seamlessly into its internal learning progress database.
It is extremely rare that you would find all your needs already built into the default capabilities of a LMS and even if you find one, you should be able to justify the cost investment, the implementation time-frame, and the migration plan should be simple. Honestly, for this to happen, you’re expecting too many diverse things to fall into place at the same time. Should you wait for this to happen before actually procuring an LMS? Probably not.
What Happens if you just go with the Default LMS?
Truth be told – you would still do fine! But just fine. The LMS would largely be an untapped resource in your effort to power up your learning frequency. Because the LMS has been built to account for a certain number of generic requirements, but not tuned for specific sets of learners.
For example, let’s say you’re using a particular metric – Learning Hours – i.e the number of learning hours needed to be completed by a learner to acquire a certain competence. And you’re saddled with an LMS that does have a lot of great reporting dashboards, but doesn’t present data in terms of ‘Learning Hours’. Sad. Your senior L&D management is used to looking at this metric, because that’s what matters in your business. Now, your LMS provider tells you that this can’t be built of the existing codebase! Bummer! You will have to again spend hours on exporting reports every month from the dashboard, create a nice Excel pivot table and THEN send it to your boss. Sounds easy enough? Surely not.
Take another example – the biggest challenge faced by Learning professionals is to make online training engaging for the audience. To make people come back to the LMS to complete the courses. For this – something as basic as sending them email reminders goes a long way in increasing course completion rates. But there’s a catch – you’re an enterprise product vendor, and almost 90% of your team uses only a particular messaging platform as the tool for internal communication. They hardly check email! What happens in this case? Even if you send notifications in the form of email, it will be weeks before they see those reminders, rendering the entire effort useless! Needless to say, just the default Notifications module is worthless for you, unless it is customized to deliver reminders via your internal messaging platform.
This is just one more instance of how a customized LMS is best suited to create real difference with your learners.
The Cost Factor
It generally pays off if you’re looking for a customized LMS, because if you state your requirements during the LMS purchase process, the vendor will always give you a customised quote. Trust me, being the head of a sales team that sells LMSes all-day-long, they’re very likely to give you a sweet deal because they know that you’re in for the entire LMS package, and not just the custom code. In fact, they might even amortise your cost over a 12-month period, or whatever is the billing frequency you’ve opted for. Don’t fret even if the customization arises at a latter stage. Your learning needs change, so there’s a good chance you might need something at a latter stage. If that happens, you’re still in for a great deal, because you can always use your good offices with the customer relationship team to secure a significant value-add in exchange for customer loyalty.
What does ‘Customizability’ tell you about the LMS itself?
The very fact that an LMS is NOT customizable is a warning sign that its internal structure might not be able to scale up to your learning needs. On the other hand, easy customizability means that the LMS has a pretty flexible and extendable internal structure both from a technology and infrastructure perspective. You can expect better discovery calls in the future with the Relationship Manager from your LMS vendor. You’ll hear lesser noes from your vendor when you come up with customization requests.
I’m inclined to believe that a customer comes up with a customization request only when they absolutely need it – its something critical to their internal business operations. Remember, this is an added cost to the customer, where it has to be completely justified, and suitable reasons have to be given on why the current capabilities of the LMS aren’t suitable. So, as someone, who’s reaching out to the LMS provider, you’re already in that stage, where you ABSOLUTELY need it, and would rarely just be fishing around for possible solutions to your learning needs and the consequent costs.
In such a scenario, an LMS provider that says YES(though, at a cost premium) is certainly a much better situation than being stuck with the same set of features, with no real progress to be reported to your senior management.