Many small businesses have a big need for employee training and certification. Keeping track of an educational program can be a difficult prospect, though. Which employees need training, and which have already taken it? Who’s certified, and when do their credentials expire? Finally, is it easy for your employees to get the training they need?
That’s where learning management software (LMS) systems come in. LMS platforms used to be cumbersome and expensive, but newer offerings are easier to use, and they cost less, too. Now that these LMS systems fall within small business owners' reach, be sure you know how to select the right learning management system for your needs.
LMS Software Suitable for Small Business
LMS vendors historically focused on selling to big enterprise companies, but now vendors offer LMS features designed for small businesses. “The technology has been made much easier for the learner to use,” says Jason Corsello, senior vice president of strategy and corporate development at Cornerstone OnDemand.
Whereas LMS solutions once delivered online training with an eye toward compliance, times have changed. “Now it’s much more self-directed,” Corsello says. “It’s friendlier to people in small business organizations trying to get the training they want.” Not only has system design evolved, the software complexity has been greatly reduced. A decade ago, implementing LMS systems typically took six months and cost upwards of $50,000.
“Companies have improved their SaaS [software as a service] offerings,” explains Dan Medakovic, vice president of learning solutions at Blatant Media Corporation, makers of Absorb LMS. “Now the vendor does most of the heavy lifting.” Cloud-based LMS providers have reduced implementation workloads, and most deployments no longer require the horsepower of a large IT team.
Match LMS to Your Business Needs
With more LMS systems in reach, business owners can choose from a host of features and functionalities. Is your business in a regulated industry? Are compliance requirements a factor? If so, Medakovic says, “Accurate and detailed reporting is a core feature.” Even a very small food-handling company will need to demonstrate that they have completed the necessary health and safety training. An LMS system that can track those records and produce them when needed is vital.
Knowing how an LMS system develops and delivers content will also help steer entrepreneurs toward the right product. Corsello suggests asking each potential vendor how its system approaches content. “Does it require your company to provide its own content and upload it? What other content sources are available out of the box?”
Most modern LMS systems make it easy to upload and curate internally-developed content, but the decision to create that content is something your business should firm up before finalizing the purchase. It’s also useful to know if you can bundle third-party content—TED Talks is just one example—as part of the system.
Future-proof Your LMS Software
Training programs are never static; new classes, new content, new requirements and even new formats come out all the time. Medakovic encourages business owners to consider how their system will handle tomorrow’s needs. “Make sure your LMS supports the latest formats for content,” he says. “A platform that’s compatible with the most popular authoring tools on the market is essential.” And be sure to consider whether the LMS supports a range of mobile platforms—an increasingly popular way for employees to access training.
Even the training strategies will change over time. For example, the concept of self-directed training is gaining speed in the learning and development world. "Employees want to learn things they care about,” he explains. Employees eager to land a promotion or move forward in their careers may want to develop skills in a specific area. “The ability to provide self-directed types of content is a big trend,” says Corsello.
The manager or business owner may require specific training, but they might choose to offer their employees optional courses, as well. Self-directed learning gives workers a way to pick the training that suits their needs.
Be Prepared for Your LMS Software
Today’s LMS software systems are relatively easy to launch, and many of them take only a few days to install and populate. But before any of that happens, your business needs to have its learning strategy in place. “What types of development and training do you need to provide?” Corsello asks.
Different companies opt for different approaches. Some prefer two-minute videos that cover how to safely use a piece of equipment, while others opt for multi-module courses on advanced skills that take weeks to complete. Many businesses use a mix to give everyone the learning opportunities they need.
Once you nail down the types of training to provide, it’s important to identify who will use the system. “Determine when and where employees will need access,” Medakovic says. Different formats provide a better fit depending on your organization's culture, and how your employees will access and receive training.
Even if you don’t have your entire content library ready to go before you install the LMS system, you must at least have a starting place in mind before firing up a new system. “While every company would love interactive e-learning, most small businesses will launch an LMS just using PDFs and videos,” Medakovic explains.
[Learn: How to Make a Training Video]
Julie Knudson is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in technology magazines including BizTech, Processor, and For The Record. She has covered technology issues for publications in other industries, from food service to insurance, and she also writes a recurring column in Integrated Systems Contractor magazine.
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