Professor Shelley Kinash, Professor / Director, Advancement of Learning and Teaching, University of Southern Queensland
Learning Management Systems (LMS) were initially designed for universities to structure online education, and thereby, to distribute resources and enable communication and interaction. Their primary function was allowing online access for distance education students. Whereas universities once mailed-out course content packages through a correspondence model, widespread application of internet-enabled online systems allowed the LMS to become a one-stop-shop, or in other words, access portal. Today, at most universities, every course (otherwise known as subjects or units) has an LMS as a backbone. This enables multi-modal flexibility, as many students assemble degrees with combinations of on-campus and online courses. Furthermore, the LMS provides access to the learning advantages of worldwide networks, productivity tools and software, and a/synchronous communication technologies in every course, including on-campus.
The LMS vendors that most universities use are Blackboard or Moodle, and sometimes others, such as Canvas or D2L. The various systems have different looks, feels and options with clusters of tools and resources in the categories of information, communication and interaction. Herein lies the relevance of LMS to business environments.
From an executive management perspective, the LMS is a solution to the questions of:
• How do I give my employees access to the latest information and training resources?
• How do I efficiently distribute messages and communicate developments company-wide?
• How do I train, sustain and grow productive culture and teamwork across the organisation, including on a multi-national basis?
From the employees’ point-of-view, a business LMS is a solution to the questions of:
• How do I complete Continuing Professional Development (CPD), in addition to meeting professional association requirements, and increasing chances of promotion?
• How do I stay on-top-of and up-to-date with the companies’ latest developments?
• How do I learn collaboratively with co-workers who do not work in the same location?
Businesses are increasingly contracting the same LMS Vendors as universities. Establishing a business LMS is analogous to building a new home.
The first choice is the builder―the LMS Vendor. The possibilities then multiply. Just like there are bungalows, multi-stories and Queenslanders, there are many options with the LMS. Furthermore, some homeowners employ an interior designer, which is equivalent to branding the LMS and giving the contents a professional, unified, look and feel.
There are three different ways that businesses can get-going with an LMS. First, they can hire an in-house Education Director who will select the LMS and lead, manage as well as produce the bespoke education solution, apart from coordinating on-going in-house education. Second, they can sub-contract an educational provider, or a consulting company, to align and adapt a package. Third, they can partner with a tertiary education institution to implement and manage the educational component on an on-going basis. There are pros and cons of all the three ways. One of the advantages of the third option (partnership with the tertiary education institution) is that staff completion of education/training through the business LMS can provide pathways and ladders to educational credentials and awards, such as diplomas and degrees.
Regardless of the way that the business chooses, there are six necessary quality design features to achieve the desired outcomes of the education enabled through the LMS. These six features can be easily recalled through the mnemonic of ONLINE. The antonyms are also provided below.
To elaborate, the tools and resources on the LMS need to be easily accessible to the staff members via their PCs and mobile phones, when they are on and off site. The interface needs to be simple and intuitive, providing clear labels and minimal layers (pages). The LMS is designed for learning, which means that: the desired outcomes (knowledge, skills and attributes) are clearly identified; there are opportunities for hands-on activities to practice, contextualise and apply outcomes; and there is specific feedback with minimal delays, and designed-in opportunities to improve and progress. The LMS must also provide multi-directional interaction between instructors and learners, as well as, learner-to-learner. One of the key benefits of the LMS is that it is online, and thereby takes advantage of the internet. This provides opportunities for the business staff to interact within the context of education, thereby alleviating some of the challenges of geographical distance. Furthermore, LMS aids to set-up and sustain industry-wide and cross-industry networks, which is an efficacious opportunity for formal mentorship and career coaching.
Finally, and above all, the business education LMS must be engaging. Engagement is not only an advantageous feature but also the distinctive difference of using an LMS. For example, most businesses now require staff to complete mandatory annual training for risk and audit compliance purposes. This training often consists of long passages of on-screen text (sometimes also narrated) followed-by multiple choice quizzes. They are boring, time-consuming and ineffective. People write down the colour of the fire extinguisher bands to pass the quiz. They have neither learned nor can apply this information if an emergency takes place. Conversely, most people are addicted to their mobile phones. The online content they are drawn-to is compelling, interesting, sometimes funny, and often memorable. Well-designed education through a LMS, can be engaging and worth the business investment.