Thursday, 24 January 2013

Unlocking the Power of Hierarchies

I like the "unlocking the power..." type title, makes it sound like I've got something really cool to share rather than my usual level of diatribe around elearning and learning technologies. I actually think this is a vital topic though, I work with a large number of clients who use learning management systems (principally Totara LMS and Moodle) and the importance of structure is so important to the usability and eventually the ultimate success of the LMS. In fact for me it's really the separating factor between Totara and Moodle; Moodle is essentially a course management system rather than an LMS and that's principally because it's about launching and tracking elearning modules. Totara has wider management, blending and reporting; but it might just as well be a CMS (albeit a blended one) without making use of the hierarchical features and the proper set up of the hierarchies.

Totara works with two key hierarchies (it has another couple in there, but we're talking structure here) that so many other functions rely on, namely Organisation and Position. Some systems have one and you can usually achieve most of your aims off this, but two really allows you to replicate matrix type management set ups which are so common in business today so particularly useful. As with all user data this is best if it can come from a single source of truth and this is often held by your HR system (or HRIS), but just creating a sync and saying job done is not the same as really setting it up to maximise your use; this takes a planning stage that is not about IT, it's about managing and leveraging off your data.

Step one is to simply review the structures and integrity of the data you hold (regardless of whether it's in your HRIS or a spreadsheet). The number of times clients are prepared to spend money on a data sync to pull across bad data is a constant source of surprise to me. I think there are two key things here, one is if your data is correct and the second is it usable. Correctness means does the hierarchies in your data actually match the way they are in your organisation and also are people actually in the positions in the organisation that your data suggests? A fairly simple review of your organisation should answer the first one and the second either requires a knowledge of your people and the organisation or a known correct source of data.

Step two is then to prepare your data by fixing any issues in step one. For structures you need to basically go through the process of creating org and position charts, I like to do this on a whiteboard in a traditional org structure type diagram before converting to a spreadsheet - if you need some examples email me ( Fixing the correctness is twofold process; firstly you have to correct what is wrong using your correct source of truth (this could be a big task that involves investigation) and secondly you have to fix the process that has allowed the data to move so far away from the desired levels of integrity.

Step three is the most commonly missed step and involves an understanding of how your LMS works and how the data is going to be used. You need someone with a good knowledge of both their system and L&D to go through how the system works and how it uses these to work. We do this in configuration workshop and also reinforce during administrator training at Kineo Pacific. Without this knowledge you can make assumptions about your data that will affect the way the system ultimately performs. An alternative is to make sure that someone like me is involved in step four to cover this!

Step four is the actual setup and data mapping - this is where we take the hierarchies from your system and map them into your LMS. This is either setting up the automated sync or it's setting up the spreadsheets for doing it in a slightly more manual way. In Totara you can also build and enter completely manually through the system, but this is a last resort rather than the preferred way.

Sorted. Now there in the system we can use them! I'm going to cover that in the next blog, this will probably be in a couple of days time flying the opposite way across the Tasman, but by next week I promise!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Over the Tasman