Years ago, the learning and development (L&D) industry predicted that the future consisted of one learning platform to fulfill all of an organization’s training needs. Today, we know that isn’t reality. Corporate learning ecosystems are quickly evolving as more tools and technologies are introduced, offering vast benefits for providing specialized, role-specific training. But this shift can create major administrative headaches when learning ecosystems grow out of hand.
Often, organizations find themselves with several learning management systems (LMSs) and learning platforms implemented across different teams with each department having specific requirements and unique needs. This creates a collection of siloed systems and disparate technologies that make it difficult to manage content spread across systems or to have a holistic view into training throughout the entire organization.
What a complex learning ecosystem might look like:
By establishing a modern learning infrastructure, organizations can share training and track data regardless of the learners’ environment while meeting the needs of various stakeholders. To address and respond to these emerging needs, a more thorough understanding of the technologies in the learning environment is key, including what tools are in play today, what’s coming next, and the technical considerations for managing multiple systems. And a solid centralization plan is essential for managing a growing learning ecosystem with multiple components and systems.
Complications Spread Quickly
Back in the day, you’d expect to see organizations using one authoring tool, a single LMS, and possibly, some off-the-shelf content to fill the gaps. As learning technologies have advanced, additional platforms and specialized applications emerged to provide more flexibility for delivering training.
We’ve also embraced more learning modalities than just the traditional page turner eLearning courses with the adoption of mobile apps, games, simulations, and virtual reality. Whether by design, by bringing in specific tools for an intended purpose, or accidentally through acquisitions and inheriting legacy systems you just can’t quite cut out, your organization’s learning ecosystem likely looks a lot like a jungle today.
If you’re heading down an overgrown path already, or are gearing up to invest in more learning tech, then it may be time to evaluate what components you currently have and how to better organize them.
It Starts With Content
In today’s world, content comes in all shapes and sizes. Some common content sources include:
- Authoring tools.
- Learning content management systems (LCMSs).
- Off-the-shelf catalogs.
- Videos that provide just-in-time learning.
- Simulations, virtual reality or gaming to practice.
How does this become complicated quickly? Let’s say that you need yearly compliance training, like anti-money laundering and cybersecurity courses. Say you purchase a couple off-the-shelf courses from one vendor. Your team also creates some new hire training and annual courses that are integral to your company. And, you need to train your employees on a certain piece of technology that the manufacturer provides. Now, you’re already up to three different sources of content! Since all three come from different tools and vendors, there’s a good chance that they use different eLearning standards, and they may not play nicely in your LMS. On top of that, each one may handle how they collect and handle data slightly differently.
Then your organization acquires another company. They’ve brought another LMS that supports a different learning standard and some legacy training that must be integrated into your organization. Your ecosystem now has two LMSs, a mix of in house and off-the-shelf courses, and an authoring tool, and they don’t all speak the same language or standard.
Eventually, it happens: You need to update a course. This may mean that you not only have to update the course itself, but you’ll also have to republish it in multiple standards to be compatible with each system and then reload it into each system. While that might not sound too bad right now, as your content library continues to grow and update, the time and effort only compounds.
As your organization’s learning ecosystem expands and evolves, it can quickly become unmanageable with the strongest and most common thorns in your side being compatibility, content accuracy and data visibility.
Nipping the Problem in the Bud
To overcome these concerns, consider centralizing all of your content together in one place. Whether it is content created in house or purchased off-the-shelf, housing all of these assets in one application solves many of the nightmares that come with content scattered across multiple locations.
Taking it a step further, you may have a tool in your content pool that you can designate to be the single application that manages and distributes all of your content. You’ll want to choose a platform that can manage and deliver multiple types of content across various systems and is capable of exporting learner data out of the platform.
What a centralized ecosystem might look like:
In the past, the standard that the LMS supported dictated the content. If your LMS supported SCORM 1.2, then you would build or buy SCORM 1.2 content. This sometimes meant sacrificing the level of detail or learner experience you intended. By designating one platform to serve and manage your content, you can overcome this common eLearning standards compatibility issue. As long as your content distribution platform supports the standards and formats you care about, you’re no longer beholden to the LMS and what it supports. The choice is yours to determine which standard works best for your course.
Centralizing content also means that you have more control over how the content is presented to ensure a consistent user experience. Want your content to be mobile friendly? That can happen. Want to limit or eliminate pop up windows? That’s possible.
Seeing the Data
If you had more insight into what happens inside a course, what improvements would you make? When using a singular content centralization platform, you’ll have better visibility into your courses, even when they are accessed from multiple systems or LMSs. While your LMS’s reporting capabilities might currently provide the level of detail you need, digging deeper into the data, such as question and answer level assessment details, will provide valuable insights into your learning and training programs. In some cases, the data the LMS collects might not even be accessible outside of that system, the “walled garden.” It’s challenging to see the larger picture when you can’t even see what learners are doing inside a course.
Easing the Pain of Revisions
Content changes in the past have meant updating multiple versions or republishing the update into multiple versions and were an administrative burden to load and reassign the updated courses into each system. By centralizing your content management and distribution, updates are handled in one place and at one time, even when multiple systems are used to deliver the course.
Harvesting the Results
Sourcing content and delivering it to learners is just one side of the equation. It’s helpful to have a record of what actually happened within the training. This means not only making sure that your courses record and capture the data that you need, but that you can also access that data in a meaningful way.
While content is the focus and deciding factor for whichever tool you choose, you’ll also want to ask vendors about the tool’s reporting capabilities.
If a centralized content distribution model sounds like something your organization can benefit from, then the first step is to catalog the components in your content garden.
For each component, including authoring tools and off-shelf-libraries, answer the following:
- What is the component or tool?
- What is the purpose?
- What standard(s) does it support?
- Who are the users?
- Which systems is it used with?
While you’re taking stock of your content garden, be sure to ask your stakeholders what they currently use or need. That should include instructional designers, the L&D department, LMS administrators, compliance officers and department leaders about what tools they’re employing, as well as the above questions. Finding out which tools and libraries are being used (or aren’t) and their purposes is the first step in organizing and centralizing your content components.
Sowing the Final Seeds
The learning landscape looks a lot different today with so many more tools and resources available, but it’s easy for your ecosystem to quickly get overgrown and for you to get stuck in the weeds. By staking out a centralized approach to content management and distribution, you can help bring order to the jungle and have the flexibility to incorporate new learning platforms and tools as your business expands and grows.
Ready to tend to your learning ecosystem and find out how to manage multiple systems and centralize your content? Join my TICE session, Mapping Your Learning Ecosystem: Uniting Content and Data Across Multiple Systems, Thursday, June 23, at 11 a.m. ET.