What is an LMS and how can it benefit your company?
A Learning Management System (LMS) organizes the management, documentation, tracking, and reporting of training data, either as a module within an HRMS or as a standalone application.
Although specific functionality varies from system to system, potentially an LMS will include a directory of learning options, automate the delivery of training (whether that’s the administration of face-to-face courses or access to online, bite-sized topics), and the post-learning evaluation of how new skills and knowledge are applied in the workplace.
It’s also common for an LMS to offer the capability to link all your learning and development activity to your in-house policies and systems; for example, your competency framework and performance management processes.
This article offers an overview of common LMS features and benefits and focuses on some of the key success factors for getting the most from your learning management system: data management, linking to competencies, and system integration.
Key LMS features
In brief, most currently available learning management systems will offer some or all of the following functionality and features:
- Administration – this is the foundation function, so to speak. Whether it’s recordkeeping, access to courses, events, or other materials, or evaluation of the learning’s impact… it all requires tracking and recording. An LMS will do all that for you, including sending appropriate notifications to prompt timely action from learners and their managers. Also included should be any compliance requirements for learning materials, such as SCORM or AICC standards.
- Learning ‘directory’ – a catalog of all learning options available to employees, usually categorized in a suitable manner according to role and function and/or competencies supported.
- Support for professional qualifications – whether it’s an entry requirement for the role or ongoing continuing professional development, some employees will need to acquire or maintain professional qualifications or certification; including licenses and subscriptions. An LMS should track such requirements and prompt the necessary maintenance activity.
- Evaluation – worth mentioning separately because of its importance, an LMS should also prompt and track evaluation of learning delivered, especially the impact on performance in the workplace. This is basically measuring the ROI of your training.
- Reporting – whether it’s evaluation data or uptake statistics, an LMS should offer a range of standard reporting options that will help monitor and prove the worth of your learning activity.
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Features that are less common but on the rise include:
- Social learning – people learn from each other, often as much as they learn from structured training materials. Social learning features connect employees with each other, and with external sources of knowledge, via platforms and content, encouraging networking, sharing, and collaboration.
- Artificial intelligence – AI is becoming more ubiquitous in our lives and LMSs are no exception. Users may interact with the system via chatbots (or ‘virtual coaches’) to obtain learning recommendations. And those recommendations can be AI-guided, similar in principle to the algorithms used by, say, Netflix and Amazon to identify user preferences and needs.
- Gamification – combining learning with fun is a way to enhance retention, thus improving the chances of application in the workplace. Increasingly, LMSs are increasing learning engagement by incorporating game elements, such as points, badges, leaderboards, contests, and rewards.
Potential benefits of an LMS
By easing and consolidating the administration of your learning and development activity, an LMS offers the benefits of centralizing the training function, even if your business isn’t large enough to support (or need) a separate training department.
What’s more, by standardizing processes, you have a training function that is consistent and easier to access and use for employees.
Costs, value for money, and ROI
Not only will an LMS reduce your administrative overhead for learning and development activity, but it will also collect the data necessary to monitor and prove the value of your investment in training.
A comprehensive and (subject to role and responsibilities) standardized onboarding procedure gives new recruits the best possible start in your organization. An LMS can be used to design and deliver just that. And if your LMS is integrated with recruitment technology (perhaps they’re both modules within the same HRMS) then those recruits will already be familiar with the access portal.
Employee satisfaction and retention
A common reason for leaving a position or employer is a lack of training and development opportunities. With an LMS, employees have direct access to training options and a degree of control over what they learn and when (subject to the system configuration according to your in-house policies and processes). Not only does this aid retention of talent, but the empowerment and control factor also boosts engagement and satisfaction.
HRMS Learning Management Data
The types of data stored in a learning management system are varied, depending on whether it is a basic ‘training administration’ system or more of a holistic system encompassing performance or succession data. Traditional training data would include details about courses, materials, locations, pre-learning requirements, and instructors/trainers.
Enhanced data that may also be found in employee records could include education (professional or otherwise) such as degree received, certification details for work achievements, or skills and their related performance management ratings. The key to maximizing the benefit and return on your LMS investment is maintaining the quality of the data it contains.
Ideally, all employees have access to their own records, including appropriate editing and updating rights. The person most likely to know what is accurate, and to have the motivation to keep it so, is the person to whom the data relates.
As already mentioned, if you have some form of an in-house competency framework, it makes sense to incorporate that data into how you manage your learning and development activity.
This might mean linking specific learning options to specific competency statements (in a "learn this and demonstrate that" kind of way) or even combining with performance management assessments to identify potential future successors for key roles and devise learning programs that support your succession planning.
Integration Is Key
Regardless of what training data you store, integration is key! Perhaps your LMS is an integral part of your HRMS but if you’ve opted for a standalone, best-of-breed LMS, it’s best to have an automated interface to ensure that employee data flows between systems in order to minimize data entry and maximized utility.
A highly integrated system might look like this: an employee requests training, the manager approves it, the time and attendance system blocks out the days for the training, the payroll system takes action if necessary (e.g. allocates a different pay code), and if the training results in a certification or new skill level that justifies an enhancement to the employee’s salary or benefits, this too happens automatically.
One last point which may seem obvious but bears emphasizing: given the increasingly scattered nature of today’s workforce (not least due to the increase in remote working due to the pandemic) any LMS should be optimized for mobile devices, allowing all employees – regardless of location – to have easy and equal access to learning opportunities and career development.
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