Tuesday, 22 October 2013

You get what you give

The old adage that you get what you give holds pretty well true for your learning management system (LMS) and e-learning in general.  I hear pretty often that your LMS is just a tool - but it's actually a bit more than that - it's a system (obviously, it's in the acronym).  A tool implies something simpler, you may have to calibrate a tool, but the skill is then all in the user of said tool.  A system is different and the setup can be extensive; in fact if you want to really get the most out of your learning you need to invest a lot in your system (no, I'm not talking financially here - time, effort and sometimes blood, sweat and tears).

I've touched on this before around configuring your system.  You can use it fully out the box and go do your task but that only really works if you want an 'out the box' look and feel and default functionality.  Of course if you're using a simple Cloud-based LMS that is really just a launch and track platform then it won't take much set up initially... I could say more here, but I'll let you be the judge of how good your current system is!  In Totara LMS I like to spend the best part of a day setting up the system to run the way our clients want - that usually means we have to have key stakeholders and interested parties on-board too and I like to run something we call the configuration workshop to pull that together.  Believe it or not the configuration of an LMS is a big deal; you should set the hierarchical structures, the roles and definitions, the workflows, the templates, the menus, the reporting, the language, permissions, menus, blocks, theme (colours, fonts, design etc), learning structures etc etc.

The same is true when you set up your e-learning course.  Maybe you write your course in a third-party rapid platform like Captivate or Articulate Storyline, or maybe someone makes it for you, but when you bring it in to your LMS you can just have it as the 'course' and leave it as is... or you can use your LMS to actually get more out of it.  In the same way as configuring your system before you get going is necessary and sets the tone for the learning the setup of the course itself can have a huge impact - in fact if you want to get beyond the 10 of the 70, 20, 10 model you need to realise that it's actually essential.  Yes have your learning objects and your super-swish wow pieces, but don't forget simple things like setting up a course forum, feedback and even simple choices so the course starts to become interactive.  If you set your course up this way the interactions don't require you the trainer to be across them all or to be the fountain of all knowledge.  Try posing a question and let the learners answer it collaboratively.  Most MOOCs are not about the awesome content but about the interactions, this is tapping into informal learning, even if your organisation is very formal and regulated.

Once you get past the initial set-up of the course you can let it run and run and reap the rewards you invested in set-up... or you can continue to invest and continually get higher return on investment.  To me this is the difference between being a competent teacher and a great teacher.  Good teachers spend time setting and planning their lessons, great teachers do this but realise the need to constantly update and stay on the pulse of what their students are doing.  This doesn't mean a constant rewrite or churn of material, but asking the right questions and posing challenges along the way.  When something new comes up, why wouldn't you bring it to the attention of your learners and provoke debate about it.  I used to use the news, articles and even what was happening in pop music and soap operas when I was a teacher - the most powerful tool you can have is relevance (and it sure helps to stay up to date).

The last part of your investment comes in the way you conclude 'stuff'.  In an LMS this means getting the closure correct for reporting and automated updates to things like competencies, certificates and badges (Open Badges anyone?).  For your learning that means the follow up with things like getting feedback and making sure learners get the 'well done' messages/badges they have earned and are properly recognised in their learning plans etc.

The thing is you don't have to do any of that.  You can just buy a bit of e-learning and stick it on your simplistic launch and track LMS.  You'll still be able to track compliance... just don't expect a huge return on that type of investment.  If you really want to succeed though you have to be prepared to put in some work - the rewards will be worth it.