Managing Multiple Learning Management Systems – The High Cost of Choice
Did you know that today there are approximately 500 Learning Management Systems in the market? Did you also know that no one vendor, or small group of vendors, have significant market share? In fact, it’s a scattered and fragmented market, one that is wreaking havoc on Learning & Development. A big contributor to this is managing multiple learning management systems.
The reason for this isn’t complicated: LMS features have simply become commoditized. Small and emerging providers can provide the same capabilities as market leaders, meaning there is no “must-have” LMS in the market today. In this environment of too much choice, the buying decision is complex and drawn out, and the unintended result is that learning organizations often end up implementing more than one LMS. In fact, according to Bersin, 27% of companies utilizing learning management systems today are managing between two to five LMSs, with a small percentage managing six to ten-plus!2 Let’s explore the main reasons for this redundancy:
According to Brandon Hall Research, in 2012, almost 50% of organizations surveyed were considering replacing their current LMS.3 What’s even more stunning is that 58% of the organizations considering LMS replacement, have only had their current system in place two years or less.
What’s leading to such high levels of dissatisfaction and rapid replacement? Well according to Brandon Hall, reporting, enterprise integration and ease of use seem to be the biggest culprits.
Though buzz would indicate differently, Learning & Development is really only at the very early stages of social learning. So what we’re seeing according to Bersin is that nearly half of all large organizations are purchasing social platforms – including social learning management systems from emerging providers – at the departmental level to test their effectiveness. These social capabilities are not yet integrated into mainstream platforms, creating yet another layer of LMS redundancy.
So what happens when organizations have multiple learning management systems to manage? They have a very big dilemma that none of their LMS vendors can, or will, solve for them. Here’s a roundup of the major issues:
Duplication of courses
When you have to support multiple LMSs, the typical way to load courses is to create multiple instances of the same course and distribute them separately through each LMS. And remember, SCORM packages are incredibly large. They contain media assets like images and video that can add up to gigabytes of data. So what you end up with, as any LMS administrator will tell you, is a potentially slow, error-prone process that has to be repeated multiple times.
Unprotected intellectual property
If you consider your training content a competitive advantage (who doesn’t?) then it becomes critical to know that users are abiding by the terms of your course licenses. However, when courses are sent to a learning management system, content owners have no idea if the LMS is enforcing the agreed upon rules. They must take a risk and simply trust that their content is being used correctly and not modified in any way. This risk is significantly amplified when content is loaded through multiple LMSs.
The maintenance nightmare begins when you make changes to a course that’s already been dispersed through multiple learning management systems. That’s because anytime you need to make an edit, no matter how minor, it requires the entire SCORM package to be re-generated and re-distributed. Think about a typo in a topic that appears in multiple courses and that also flows through multiple LMSs. Simple maintenance now becomes very resource intensive.
Lack of SCORM compliance
It’s a known fact that SCORM compliance among the different LMS platforms is inconsistent causing courses to behave differently depending on the LMS they are run on. This means your SCORM package needs to be regularly validated and “tweaked” against each LMS your organization is using.
The Not So Optimal Solutions
It’s actually pretty surprising, with over one quarter of organizations currently managing multiple LMSs, that this problem still tends to fly under the radar. However, as more course publishers comprehend the risks they are taking, face the wrath of unhappy users/customers, and miss revenue opportunities, they are finding that there are few good choices available to them. Let’s explore:
Status Quo: let the LMS administrator deal with it
It’s their job, right? LMS admins have an obligation to ensure that courseware plays nice with the LMS. However, with the proliferation of LMSs in the marketplace, it becomes exceedingly difficult to provide such ‘interoperability’ in a timely manner. Too often, time is spent testing, adjusting and republishing courseware to address inconsistencies between learning management systems.
Set up a support infrastructure
We’ve seen a surprising number of course publishers forced to set up support operations to deal with customer satisfaction issues. These support desks typically perform three functions:
- Quality testing: to ensure learning products perform correctly on each target LMS. This often results in courseware modifications to make it work with the different LMSs.
- Feedback: Once courses are deployed to a remote LMS, there are no direct feedback mechanisms for end users to report issues. Therefore feedback is collected via phone and email and stored for next scheduled revision.
- License compliance: This one’s actually a pipe dream. With no visibility as to how courses are being used, the options for controlling and monetizing content are extremely limited.
Develop a software solution internally
The buy-vs-build debate merits an entire blog post on it’s own, but let’s touch on some of the salient points of this decision. There are indeed some organizations that have successfully developed an internal solution to automate the loading and updates of courseware to multiple learning management systems, but it takes a lot to make this happen. At a high level:
- Expertise: including network protocol, programming and LMS solutions expertise. So, if software development is not one of your core competencies, you’re risk of project overruns increases dramatically.
- Long time-to-market: According to the Standish Group, the average time to market for custom developed solutions is 9-18 months compared to 3-9 months when purchasing an off-the-shelf solution4.
- High maintenance costs: Standish goes on to report that annual maintenance cost can run as high as 40% of total project cost with high risk of overrun due to lack of experience and best practice approach.
Enter the Cloud
With so many problems associated with loading, updating and tracking content usage of courses in an LMS, the question begs: why store courses in an learning management system at all? Today, with cloud technology, a single instance of a course can be stored and delivered from the cloud, and the LMS leveraged strictly for its core capabilities: access and administration.
This was the thinking when Xyleme set out to solve for our clients: the pervasive problems faced due to separate and manual uploads of SCORM courses to one or more LMS. In close collaboration with these customers, and leveraging an agile development process , the Bravais Cloud Player was born.
As the name indicates, with the Bravais Cloud Player, SCORM courses are now stored in a central repository in the cloud where user and/or group access permissions can be set for each individual course. Learners can access these courses from any learning management system they use with scores reported back to the LMS.
In one fell swoop:
- Course duplication is eliminated though a single instance of it in the cloud
- Courseware works with any and all LMSs
- Content is fully controlled through one point-of-entry and therefore IP protected
- Content maintenance is drastically simplified
The ROI begins to become abundantly clear!
The Bravais Cloud Player provides another major advantage to training organizations: the ability to generate analytics and view comments and ratings across all of the LMSs that your organization supports. This provides a holistic view of how your courses are being used and how they are performing. And who doesn’t want to know that?
To learn more, take a look at this short video. In a few minutes, you’ll understand the nuts and bolts behind this breakthrough Bravais module.