Whether you’re searching for your first learning management system or ready to upgrade your learning platform, buying the right technology isn’t a decision to be taken lightly!
It might not even be your decision ultimately. You might be researching, testing and presenting the best options to the people with power.
But whether you’re the one signing on the dotted line or setting up the contract, the steps you need to take remain roughly the same. Which is why we put together this guide to help everyone from L&D leaders to CEOs, whether they’re in fast-growing startups or well-established global companies
This is your tool for finding the perfect learning technology; from working out what you need to successfully launching the tool that transforms your organisation and its learning culture.
- Everything you need to know about the LMS and its learning technology rivals.
- Common, and not so common, features for learning platforms.
- Working out what you need from a learning platform.
- Pricing, budgeting and working out your costs.
- The buying process for an LMS or LXP.
- Building a business case for a learning platform.
- Your data and reporting requirements.
- Integrating with your current tools and systems.
- Implementing your LMS or LXP.
- The future of learning platforms.
- Meet HowNow, the modern LXP for fast-growing and forward-thinking companies.
Everything you need to know about the LMS and its learning technology rivals
What’s an LMS, and what do I need to know about it?
Welcome to the land of acronyms! Learning and development is full of them, but the learning management system (LMS) is the one you’ll probably see popping up more than any other.
So, what is it and why are you likely to come across it so often?
Defining what an LMS is
Well, in its simplest form, it’s somewhere for organisations to store, provide and measure their training or learning content. It’s a place for employees to log in and complete compliance courses or find the onboarding guidance they need as they join a new company. If employees are lucky, their employers might upload content that helps them develop new skills or gain knowledge.
A brief history of the LMS and its role today
Just like the film Inception, the timelines of the LMS’ backstory can be a little confusing, to say the least. Various decades are credited with welcoming the first version of a learning management system, but the mid to late 1990s is most commonly given the nod for its emergence as a corporate software force.
This is when e-learning became a common and viable tool for businesses. But much like that Christopher Nolan masterpiece, what came before gives us a lot of context for the LMS and its success. Our reference point is essentially face-to-face training.
Back in the early 1990s, shipping people off for training courses or signing them up to external qualifications were seen as the only formal options for learning in the workplace. The trouble is that takes people out of the office for a decent chunk of time, and the costs soon add up. So, it’s no wonder that people were so impressed by the LMS’ capability to bring consistent resources into a single place. One that was accessible in the office rather than hundreds of miles away.
The problem for the LMS (and anyone born around that time and rapidly approaching their mid-30s) is that we’re decades away from the 1990s. And when a global pandemic puts an end to face-to-face training, that reference point fades away – instead, the LMS becomes our reference point of what came before…
Is it time to move on from the LMS?
In 2019, Association for Talent Development (ATD) research revealed that 83% of talent development professionals were using an LMS. What’s interesting is that, despite those high numbers, if you Google that statistic, you’ll find a fair few articles questioning whether or not the LMS is on life support or has already passed onto the workplace tech afterlife.
So, how can something so many companies use and the one L&D acronym to rule them all be in such doubt?
Well, a third of respondents said their LMS had limited capabilities in general, and a similar proportion said the same thing about its data and reporting functions. With four in 10 saying their employees lacked sufficient time to learn using their LMS, clearly showing that, for some, the LMS isn’t solving the pain points they expect it to.
A quarter of LMS users stated their intention to change to a different LMS provider, the trouble is that they’d find the same problems waiting for them from the moment they logged in. That’s why it’s time for us to log out of this one acronym and start thinking about the problems we need learning technology to solve for us.
Comparing your learning technology options
Ever used the term Pritt Stick when you really meant glue? Or scrambled for a Post-It when a genius idea comes to mind, without realising that’s just the biggest brand name for a sticky note?
That’s the point we’ve been making so far. People use the term LMS because it’s the one they know, and it’s synonymous with learning tech. But when it comes to solving their workplace learning problems, there are more options out there, and some are likely to be much better!
Here are some of the alternatives that also highlight the limitations of the traditional LMS…
Content creation tools
The most common example you’ll see is the authoring tool, and there’s more than a fair dose of irony in that two-word title. Typically, these tools are filled with pre-existing templates to build out learning content, lessons and courses, so there’s a fair amount of L&D ghost writing involved.
Essentially, there’s a drag and drop or presentation style interface that you can use to create the content or course structure, which you’ll then populate with images, audio, videos and other elements. You’ll also encounter interactive parts, enabling you to add tests, questions and full quizzes that test recall and knowledge levels. You’ll find different authoring tools for different levels of content creation capability, meaning there should be an option for everyone.
In a lot of cases, there’s an ability to co-author with others on the platform and when it’s ready, you can export it and upload it to your LMS, LXP or other learning tool.
Typically, an LMS is limited on the content front. Why? Because it’s dependent on what you upload onto it. This means people face two problems, they run out of content and end up thinking, what now? Or they can’t find the type or topic of content they want and hit a brick wall.
That helps explain the popularity of content libraries like LinkedIn Learning, Udemy or Coursera. When companies buy a subscription to this kind of service, they open up thousands of courses to each learner in their company. The only trouble is you might find them going from too little choice to too much, with a new sense of overwhelm preventing them from finding the content that’s related to the skills they need to build or knowledge it’s crucial they acquire.
Shared drives and knowledge hubs
Companies in the early stages of their learning journey might start smaller by simply starting a shared place to store important documents and people’s knowledge. Companies unhappy with their current LMS might realise that they were only using their tech as a file storage facility and have outgrown the current tool.
Learning experience platforms (LXP)
The biggest rival to the LMS’ learning acronym throne, the LXP is a tool that prioritises the end-user rather than the admin behind the tech.
In an LMS, decisions are made from the top-down; which content is available, who is it available to, and when do we assign it to them? Typically, an LXP empowers people to seek out learning content while using AI to personalise resource recommendations and still allowing managers to set an overall structure and strategy that it all exists within.
In general, LXPs host more diverse content types and third-party resources while offering integrations with tools people use each day. This allows learning to happen as they work. With an LMS, you’re tied to the idea of learning being something people go to do rather than something that happens as they go about daily tasks.
All of the above in a modern LXP built for the L&D problems of today
Chances are that with each option we’ve discussed so far, including the LMS, there was something you agreed with. One aspect that drew a nod or even went as far as enticing a ‘that sounds about right’.
And you’d be right! There are redeeming, appealing, and absolutely brilliant aspects about each, that’s why it’s pointless compromising or placing yourself strictly in one box. That’s our view, and it’s why we built HowNow – the LXP that connects people to the knowledge they need faster, everywhere they already work.
We’ll act as the single front door for all your learning! The place where people can share knowledge alongside all your internal resources and third-party content. We’ll integrate with any course libraries to bring every resource to the end of a single search and make that knowledge available where people already work!
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Which companies need a learning platform?
Now, before we get into how you might use learning platforms in your business, you might be wondering whether you should or if it’s the right fit for a company of your size or in your industry.
The answer is an emphatic and resounding yes! And we don’t even know what your business is yet.
Every company can benefit from having a tool that drives learning, a place where all your resources live and empowers people to find those on-demand. Whether you’re a small startup or working at a huge, global business, the principles and benefits of learning, developing, building skills and sharing knowledge are just as important.
The better question is whether you can find a platform that scales with your company and has a flexible pricing model built around the number of learners. Something we’ll get to later…
Common use cases for learning platforms
Why’s it important to know your various learning technology options before we talk about how you might use them? Because if we look at problems and solutions solely through the prism of the LMS, we’ll make the same mistake as those people who search for an LMS rather than for a tool to solve their problem.
For example, an LMS doesn’t really help you provide self-directed learning or drive knowledge sharing, so it would be wrong of us to discuss that before we establish the full range of options.
Probably the most common use case for the traditional LMS. It’s not just the one it’s most synonymous with, but the one that’s arguably contributed to its poor reputation. Compliance is important. There’s normally a legal reason behind it or a key cultural motivation for why it needs to be done.
The issue is when it’s the ONLY thing an LMS or learning platform is used for. That’s when people start to associate it with logging in once each year to do something they’re forced to, as opposed to a tool for learning, development and progressing towards goals.
New people join your team or company, and you want to give them access to relevant information and resources that get them to productivity quicker. Most people turn to learning tech in these instances because they want to offer on-demand content, consistent experiences and automate the process where possible.
Some of our best, useful and most relevant knowledge lives in the heads of our employees! People who’ve been in your company or industry for a while have built up relevant experience related to your product or customer – the goal should be to capture it and make it available to their colleagues.
Creating a learning culture
Without the right tool to drive learning, it’s hard to build a culture where people are developing independently, picking up new skills and sharing that knowledge. Finding it more easily can help facilitate that learning culture, where it happens organically and becomes something people do naturally at work.
Whether it’s big or small, every company has a gap between the skills they have today and those they’ll need to reach future goals. We call that your skill gap and learning platforms are where people often turn when they need to close it – this is where we really start to enter the world of personalised learning. Skill gaps can’t really be closed by general courses, you need to customise pathways based on what people know now and what they’ll need to know moving forward.
Enabling your teams
We’ve mentioned companies and businesses a lot so far, but the need and desire for a learning tool are often driven by a particular team within an organisation. A sales team might need to upskill its reps to close more deals or a customer support team may need a way to improve how their staff troubleshoot and solve client problems.
It’s one of those unwritten rules, but thriving teams are normally led by inspiring and effective leaders. And even those who are born to lead need coaching, advice and support to develop their managerial skills. There’s also the idea of needing an effective team leader in place to create effective learning and development among employees. That’s why many companies prioritise leadership development because they see it as the first piece in their L&D puzzle.
Am I ready for an LMS or learning platform?
Signs you’re ready for your first learning platform:
- You’re outsourcing learning and training and want to bring it in house.
- People are coming to you and asking for opportunities to learn.
- You’re sending onboarding content manually each time someone joins.
- Compliance management is also something you’re managing manually.
- Learning is informal with no real structure in place.
- There’s a need to report on your employee’s progress or development but you’re currently lacking data and insights.
Signs it’s time to upgrade from your current LMS:
- People aren’t logging in or engaging with your current LMS.
- You’ve got loads of content but nobody really knows where any of it is.
- Your people learn on the go and need a learning tool that offers a dedicated mobile app.
- It’s currently solely populated by your L&D team’s content but you’re ready to incorporate course libraries, third parties and internal knowledge.
- People are coming to you and asking for MORE opportunities to learn or better ways of doing it.
- The current LMS you’re using doesn’t integrate with tools like your HR system or employee management software.
- Your current tool prevents people from finding resources on-demand or in the moments where they really need them.
LMS red flags: What to look for (and avoid)
LMS is a legacy term, which means you’ve got to be wary of legacy products! Popping your head into some of the old school learning management systems is like walking into a grandparent’s house that hasn’t changed since the 1970s. Sure, there’s a sprinkling of charm and you can spot things that might have been fresh and new once upon a time, but there’s very little there to please the modern eye.
The trouble is, you can’t just call in the decorators for your learning tech. Instead, use the below list like a colour chart for red flags and warning signs.
- The interface feels dated: The modern learner wants and expect something as slick as the tools and tech they use on a regular basis, think social media platforms and polished apps.
- It limits how much you can create: Does it simply let you attach documents or create PowerPoint-style presentations? Modern problems require more modern content formats, like podcasts or YouTube videos, and the ability to order, re-order and build learning journeys from them.
- You need to buy add-on products: if it doesn’t work without you spending extra cash on additional products or tools, it might not be the simple or all-in-one solution you need.
- Support is limited: You’re best off checking recent reviews to get a clear understanding of the support available to you.
- It doesn’t let you incorporate external content: We’ll get to the power of curating content later, but if it doesn’t let you embed and integrate with external sources, you’ll struggle to populate your learning space.
- You need an obscene amount of technical knowhow: If it’s overly technical and built around a select few having that technical knowledge, very few will be able to benefit from using it.
- Reporting isn’t customisable or particularly detailed: Limited reporting means limited insights and that means you’re limited on how you’re able to demonstrate impact. For example, if you can only show completion or engagement rates, you don’t know the influence on skills progression or employee development.
- It doesn’t integrate with your other technology: People are most motivated to learn at the point of need, so if you can’t integrate your learning tool where they already work, they can’t learn in the flow of work.
You deserve better than red flags, which is why we’ll give you a gold star learning experience! HowNow is as intuitive as modern consumer-grade products, meaning it’s far easier for learners and leaders to get up to speed.
We’ll empower you to create and curate content, integrate it with your other tools and measure skills proficiency so that you can really understand learning’s impact. That all adds up to easy collaboration, self-directed learning, detailed reporting, productive learners and happy leaders.
Book a demo today and one of our friendly experts will be in touch to show you the hows and whys of HowNow.
Why are learning platforms so hot right now?
Three fascinating trends that are changing workplace learning
Trend one: The global pandemic and the rise of hybrid/remote work
If we look at Google search trends for the past five years, there’s one key date to keep an eye out for – March 2020. COVID forced businesses to reckon with how they were conducting learning, development, collaboration and skilling. And without the ability to learn from colleagues in person or tap on shoulders to find resources, many companies were desperate for a solution to these problems.
And, like most of us, they headed to Google. Searches for LMS and learning platform shot up immediately.
If we look at remote collaboration, for example, we see a huge spike in interest around March 2020. Almost any trend graph you look at for terms containing virtual, remote or working from home follows the same pattern and highlights this global shift in mindset that is continuing to transform how we work today – whether that’s at home, in the office or with a mix of the two.
Trend two: Changing content consumption and learning behaviours
Something else that was utterly revolutionised by the pandemic was how we consumed content or interacted with technology. It had been bubbling away for a while but shot up almost as rapidly as those graphs above; we consumed more on-demand content than ever before, expected more personalisation from platforms like Netflix and really had the time to indulge ourselves by using apps like Deliveroo from the palm of our hands.
And from a learner or employee perspective, you can imagine people having these kinds of thoughts. If Netflix can recommend the right content that enriches me, why can’t I find the same experience when it comes to learning at work. Or, if Deliveroo can let me jump in, grab what I need and have it in minutes, why is all the information I need to do my job better not available in the same way?
Luckily for those learners, the comfort blanket of training courses and in-person events was pulled away from a lot of companies. Which seemed to be the turning point or crystallising moment for realising that they needed to offer better ways of learning and developing at work.
Trend three: What’s possible with technology
Of course, transformation is normally only possible if you’ve got the technology to do it. You can’t imagine anyone with the idea for a bike got very far before the wheel was invented – physically or metaphorically. And it was at this moment (COVID not the wheel’s invention) that many realised their traditional LMS or learning tech wouldn’t have the capabilities or features to support development in a fast-changing world.
We’re managing teams all over the world who want to learn in their time and on their terms. In their distributed state, people are craving better ways of sharing knowledge and learning from colleagues. People also want to learn things that make them better at their job and not simply study for the sake of it, which means more personalised and on the job learning.
Sadly for the LMS, it’s not built to do those things, and that’s why we’re entering the LXP era.
Analysing the data behind the rising importance of learning tech
Search trends can only tell us half of the story (if that), so we better look at some hard data. LinkedIn’s 2021 Workplace Learning Report backed some of these mindset shifts caused by the pandemic and where we’ll be working in a hybrid world.
59% of L&D pros named upskilling and reskilling as their top priority (up 15% on 2020), while virtual onboarding came in third place with 33%. Along similar lines, more than half (51%) of L&D pros also stated that internal mobility is now a greater priority than it was pre-pandemic.
Then you’ve got the money aspect. 33% of L&D pros expected their budgets to increase in March 2021, slightly down on the 37% a year earlier, but impressive given it plummeted to 22% in June 2020 and companies have been going through a lot of turmoil since.
Employees are driving this in their own right too. ClearCompany research revealed that 76% of people are looking for career development opportunities, while 68% believe training and development is a company’s most important policy.
According to Gallup, 59% of millennials say learning and development opportunities are important in applying for jobs. But just 29% of employees are “very satisfied” with their current growth opportunities, meaning those offering progression are more appealing than their current employers.
When that investment happens, employees are more productive, you can develop leaders, save money on hiring by upskilling and retaining employees and keep ahead of industry trends – as you can read about here:
Common (and not so common) features for learning platforms - finding what ticks your boxes
We’ve already covered a lot of the basics in our typical use cases. It’s pretty much a given that it’ll offer centralised resources in some capacity and help you connect people with resources for tasks like onboarding and compliance, but what about the key and common features you need to consider?
Analytics and reporting
A must-have! Your LMS’ reporting tools are your way of tracking whether people are compliant and completing training. Typically, you’ll be able to run and export these kinds of reports, which are useful if you need to share numbers with stakeholders. However, those statistics don’t tell you whether the training people are completing is having any impact on the business or its goals – too many LMS offerings only tell you if that box has been ticked.
Look out for platforms that enable you to measure skills proficiency instead. They’ll help you understand whether L&D efforts are helping people progress and become better at their role.
Also consider whether your potential learning tech lets you report in real-time to provide in-the-moment snapshots or view detailed dashboards at the drop of a hat.
Assessments and certifications
One way to test knowledge and growth is, unsurprisingly, with tests! Whether they’re simple quizzes or more complex practice scenarios, it’s worth considering the types of assessment that best fit your learners and working out which learning platforms offer those capabilities.
For example, if you’ve got a majority of customer-facing employees, a platform without practice scenarios won’t help them test their chops in a pressure-free environment!
Content creation and authoring tools
Today, you might only need to upload existing or third-party resources, but tomorrow you’ll probably need to create content in your learning platform. However, some traditional learning management systems lack that creation or authoring capability.
Don’t fall into the trap of picking something that requires you to pay for a separate authoring tool or waste time creating resources in a different platform.
No man is an island, and neither is a good learning platform! However, you’ll typically find the LMS is more limited than other tools when it comes to integrating. How well it plays with others affects how easy it is for us to automate tasks and how easy people find it to learn in the flow of work.
For example, an integration with a sales or customer support tool helps people search for knowledge where they work, in the context of how they work. And if your LMS doesn’t connect with your HR tool, it prevents you from automating tasks based on when people reach particular milestones.
Consider which tools it’s vital your learning platform integrates with before you begin looking at or trialling available options.
Something that looks dull and impersonal isn’t going to inspire people to learn! But if your brand’s personality and values are shining through, it’ll help foster a greater sense of connection to the learning tool. That might be as simple as adding your logo or brand colours and as complex as a completely custom interface to wow people from the first login.
People learn in different ways, especially if your employees are out on the road and working on the go! It’s not a feature you’ll find in every learning platform, but mobile apps are becoming more and more common. Picture estate agents or event staff needing to access key information on site, these are the situations when a mobile app is worth its weight in gold.
Track offline learning
Small but important! Not all learning is going to take place within your platform but it’s important that you can still account for and measure it in one tool. That’s how you’ll create a true, 360-degree picture of someone’s learning journey.
Data security and privacy
There’s going to be a lot of sensitive data in your learning tool, so it’s absolutely vital it remains safe and secure. From people’s details to sensitive company data, you need to consider how it’s protected, where it’s stored, and the security credentials of any potential platform.
Course and learning path management
If you’re going to personalise learning and make it more effective for individual employees, you’ll need the capability to build out custom pathways and courses in your learning tool.
It’s an old L&D trope, but one-size fits nobody. When you’re building out onboarding courses, for example, think about the things everyone needs to know and the information that’s just not relevant to that individual.
Now, this isn’t something you can expect to find in your really traditional LMS, but more modern solutions recognise just how much we learn from our colleagues. Whether that’s by allowing everyone to upload to the platform or adding collaborative features like forums or Q&As on content.
How you can put this into practice: Advice from Cognism's People Team
It’s all well and good understanding how to do this in theory, but what about in practice? To gain insight into how the process works in real life, we asked Cognism’s Katie Harrison, People Operations, to explain how they arrived at the idea of needing learning technology and recognised their key use cases or features.
“As a rapidly expanding company, we recognised the importance of having a centralised information/learning hub to create a shared learning culture and enable personal growth. Our priorities included allowing everyone to be able to share knowledge but primarily be able to find and access it too, so HowNow’s approach of ‘bringing scattered learning together’ really resonated with us and our objectives.
“With increasing numbers of people joining us remotely, the onboarding piece also started to feel critical as we needed all new starters to have a consistent and thorough onboarding that could be automated, regardless of location or role. We are a small HR team so being able to automate as many processes as possible while at the same time minimising questions was also really important when considering an LMS.”
As you can see, awareness of Cognism‘s size and trajectory was crucial to their decision. They understood where they were today and where they’d likely be moving forward, recognised how learning could support the changing ways they’re working as well as their smaller HR team, and used that to inform the solution they choose – HowNow.
13 questions to ask before choosing or buying an LMS
- What are the biggest pain points and problems for your employees? This should be one of the biggest considerations for your thought process.
- Who are your learners? What do they do, where do they work and which teams are they in?
- What’s your current strategy? Which parts of it work and which don’t work? This is a chance to create a blank canvas and bring over only the effective methods.
- Where are people naturally learning? If your current strategy doesn’t work, it’s time to look at people’s natural behaviours. Where do they go when they need to learn something new?
- Are our employee numbers growing? If so, congratulations, but remember to factor this into your search. You need a platform that can scale with your company.
- How big is your L&D, HR or people team? Small teams need learning solutions that do a lot of the heavy lifting. If a tool is very manual, a limited team is going to struggle.
- Where are we getting content from? Similar to the above, small teams can become a bottleneck for creating learning content. Consider whether a learning platform offers content or curates it for you – that way, people aren’t running out of resources.
- Who’s creating content? You might choose to allow internal subject matter experts to share knowledge through your platform, so make sure you’re looking at tools with that capability.
- What’s our budget? Seems obvious, but it’s important to establish a budget before you fall in love with something that’s out of your price range.
- How quickly do we need to get up and running? If the answer is pretty sharpish, then you’ll need to consider which options are easy to set up and ready out of the box.
- Does it integrate with our important tech? Which tools are people using every day, and how important is it for your learning platform to integrate with those?
- Which learning styles are most important for us? There might be more than one, but it’s worth thinking about whether self-directed learning is a priority? Or perhaps it’s the collaborative style that best fits your culture? This will influence your technical decisions.
- How often do we need to report, and on which metrics? No point having a platform that doesn’t allow you to prove its worth through numbers and data…
The big content question: curation, creation or a combination
Avoid the temptation to create every piece of content! If you’re a young or fairly small company right now, you might not have a lot of existing content to upload, and if your L&D team is quite small too, they’ll struggle to create enough content to keep people logging in and engaging regularly.
Two things can happen in these situations; people run out of content to explore on your platform, which ultimately harms your chances of building a learning culture, and L&D teams become a bottleneck for distributing content to people. That’s why more people lean towards curating content, bringing existing third-party resources into your learning space.
But, that means avoiding the temptation to lean too far into curation. If everything is created by a third party, when and how are people going to find the information that’s specific to your organisation?
And that’s the backstory behind why a mixture of content creation and curation is such a popular approach – it’s also why you need to consider these two capabilities when finding a learning platform.
If you can cover the standard and general knowledge using third-party resources, that will allow you to dedicate time to creating high-quality and specific content related to your business’ goals and challenges.
We spoke to Guy Wallace, President at EPPIC around the role of content and how we should approach it in L&D:
“A lot of content is based on topics not on tasks and outputs. When people are focussed on a topic, they don’t know where to end.
“If you’re focused on the knowledge, skills and tasks that enable people to perform outputs and we’re focused on performance, it’s clear whether people need to know about this, that and the other thing. We need to skinny down the information we give people before giving them application exercises with feedback.
“Too often, we’re asking people to memorise things that the performance context doesn’t demand a memorised response from. Maybe it should allow for a referenced response like job aids or performance support to get the job done. Ultimately, we should be looking to impact performance.”
What do you need? Getting successful with learning platforms is about more than just tech
Understanding and setting goals and objectives
Chances are you’re looking at goals on multiple levels, and you need to consider all of those before going to market and looking for a learning platform.
Firstly, you’ve got the overall company goals. Are you hoping to sell 1,000 more units of your product, improve your customer service rating by 20%, add 10 new features or something else altogether? That will influence the criteria you’re looking for in a platform.
Secondly, what are the specific use cases you’re aiming to tackle by introducing or upgrading your learning tech? Think back to our use cases, whether it’s onboarding, upskilling, or knowledge sharing, this will be another influence on what you’re looking for.
Next, how about your L&D or learning culture goals? Are people telling you they want more self-directed learning? Is mentorship the best fit for your company? Would knowledge sharing drive you towards productivity?
But why is it so important that THIS is your first step for success? Because people often fall into a trap of searching for particular tools or features as they go to market instead of considering the problems they need to solve.
You can’t measure success unless you define it, and your learning platform is unlikely to be a success if you’re not establishing what you want to achieve with it or which goals it should help you reach.
Here’s an example. You see that one platform has a forum feature and decide that’s must-have criteria for your new tech. However, what if a tool has a built-in discussion feature on each piece of content rather than a standalone forum? Both help you achieve social learning in their own way, but you might not be aware of the second option if you think function-first.
It’s also worth considering your goals around when you’re planning to launch, establishing your budget and speaking to others, which we’ll get to now…
Expert advice from Guy Wallace, Performance Analyst & Instructional Architect for Enterprise Learning & Instructional Development.
According to Guy, setting the right objectives comes back to alignment with the rest of your business and flexibility to change as their goals evolve:
“L&D strategies and operational plans need to directly reflect the strategies and tactics of the enterprise or function that they serve. Maybe they’re an L&D function that serves only sales, they’d need to take their cues and directions from the plans of the enterprise. If they’re not directly aligned, then they’re misaligned!
“These things aren’t set in stone, they change throughout the year. So there’s a need to be continually aligned and realigned so that you don’t get misaligned with your customers or stakeholders.
“If you’re a multinational company with many different divisions and doing different kinds of work, you’re going to need a more formal process. So, the larger an organisation is, the more formal an alignment mechanism needs to be. If you’re a small organisation and can meet with key stakeholders… then you can find out what’s new and different, what’s changed since the last time you articulated a plan of action. The critical business issues are going to change more than once per year, so there’s a need for a continuous, updating process so that you can stay aligned.
“It can be formal or informal, but it needs to reflect the culture of the organisation. A lot of organisations have formal meetings, annual reviews and quarterly updates, and L&D needs to be part of that and invited to the table.”
Your learner and stakeholder requirements
None of us ever really want to hear this, but it’s not all about you. It’s crucial that when you start this process, you think about and speak with the end user of your learning platform. After all, if they don’t use it, you won’t be able to make it a success or prove the return on your investment.
As a manager, you might be tempted to think in terms of where you’ll save time in managing learning and how you’ll become more productive. However, that’ll only help you in the short term because if learners and stakeholders don’t buy into your strategy and platform, that’ll just cause you more pain in the long run. So, rather than writing out a list of your problems, create a wishlist that ticks more boxes for more people.
Stakeholder considerations and key steps to take
- Collect and listen to learner feedback. When you send out engagement surveys or conduct employee reviews, what are they flagging to you from a learner perspective? Are they plainly asking for more opportunities to learn? Are they flagging challenges your current strategy or tools don’t help them overcome?
- Speak with stakeholders. Department managers and leaders will have their own set of goals and challenges, understanding them at this early stage will help you find a learning solution that solves those.
- Engage C-suite and senior leaders. Obviously, this is the group that’s likely to give you the thumbs up or thumbs down, but they also hold the power to lead by example. Understand their pain points and reservations early on and use that insight to pitch the learning platform in terms of how it will tackle those.
- Start conversations early and keep them going. All these tips get people on board at the ground level, ensuring they feel heard and involved – something you can’t overlook the importance of. As you move through the process, keep them involved where you can. That might mean using them as a sounding board when a platform feature tackles their pain point or just keeping them in the loop.
Expert advice from the Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC) and Guy Wallace
We spoke to Livestock Improvement Corporation’s (LIC) Joss Black, Sales Training and Development Advisor, and Jason Ward, Instructional Designer, about how they established what they needed from HowNow, and their advice was simple: “start with your pain points.”
“For us, it was finding resources; stuff was in 20 different places and really not searchable” and they used that pain point to guide their search for a learning solution. They also explained how their focus on driving great onboarding experiences helped them establish what they needed. But it was more than that, as they explained, they thought about the specific onboarding experience in the company.
“Onboarding was a big priority initially. We had the benefit of an onboarding and induction program that all our staff need to go through and that was a great starting point, most of our people have been around for some time, they’ve been through that program, they have access to content they need in other ways at the moment.
“So what is it for a brand new person starting? What do they need up front? How can we front foot it for them so that a new person only has to familiarise themselves with the platform rather than 20 different places to go.
“That was the big driver for us, for someone who’s brand new in LIC, what do they need and let’s get that up first.”
We also asked Guy Wallace how L&D can engage with the right stakeholders.
“Have some sort of routine or agreement that you’re going to check in with key stakeholders. Maybe you’re going to buy them lunch, you meet with them and get to the point around what’s changed in your business situation and what are the new challenges .
“You can say, here’s what we’re working on to support you, are these the right things? You can’t do everything, you don’t have the resources, money or people. You need to prioritise and check in to see if you’re aligned, working on the right things and allow those leaders the opportunity to redirect you.
“You’re a support function, you support them, and either you’re absolutely working on the right list of things or you’re not. That needs to be addressed… you can say this is what I need from you in order to serve you better.”
Auditing your current tech, tools and strategy
Wait, shouldn’t this be one of the first things you look at? You might think so, but auditing what currently does and doesn’t work as your first step might simply send you down a path of finding something that tackles your current limitations. Rather than finding something that progresses you and your people toward goals and tackles the biggest pain points in your business.
However, doing it after your goal analysis and stakeholder conversations can paint a better picture of what people want to achieve and why your current approach might be preventing that.
- Look at the numbers. It’s spreadsheet and report time! While people’s feedback tells you one side of the story, digging into the data can help you add valuable context. For example, you can look at how long people are spending in your current learning platform, or perhaps you look at that on a departmental level to see if any group within the business is particularly engaged or disengaged. The statistics should also help you work out whether specific content types work best and other similar learner preferences.
- Does it support your current and future goals? Here’s why it’s so important to work out your goals before auditing the current approach. This allows you to think in terms of ‘why doesn’t this approach or platform help us achieve what we’re trying to do today’ or ‘what limitations do we have that would prevent us from reaching where we want to be tomorrow?’
- Does it support the way your learners learn? You’ll also know what learners are looking for in their user experience by this point, meaning an audit can help you figure out why your current offering might not meet that expectation.
- Establish admin pain points. Another numbers game, but studying the data should also help you figure out where admins are wasting time and which tasks prevent them from being productive elsewhere.
- Determine your current return on investment. If your current platform doesn’t offer good value, try to figure out why and avoid making the same mistakes as you start searching for a replacement.
- Where are the delays happening? It’s a common theme for a lot of companies, but they’ll often find that some part of the process or set-up is causing bottlenecks or delaying people from learning. Whether that’s creating content or finding information, you need to consider timings and timeframes.
- Are you falling into the old habits trap? How much of what you’re doing is because it’s the way we’ve always done it? Legacy designs, processes and tools might be preventing you from doing things in ways that are effective today.
- Why do YOU think the process doesn’t work currently? It’s important that you sit down and have an honest conversation about the less tangible things. In your opinion, why aren’t you firing on all cylinders?
First-time vs. platform switching - which approach do I take?
We’ll be honest, whichever boat you’re in, an open mind will be your best asset on the open seas of workplace learning. If it’s your first platform, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed about whether you’ve got the right expertise in the team or if you’ll be able to prove return on your investment. The good news is that you’ve got a blank canvas to work with! So there’s no reason you can’t set yourself up for success.
If you’re coming from an old learning platform or LMS, ditching that ’our last platform did this’ mindset will be incredibly helpful. Keep that open mind, think of this as a fresh start and use all the steps we’ve offered so far to ensure you’re now ticking the right boxes.
We’ve also written a guide to how you can switch seamlessly between learning platforms!
Pricing, budgeting and working out your costs
How much are you planning to spend on your learning platform? This is something you’ve got to work out before heading out into the workplace tech world and searching for a solution! Why? Because there’s no point trialling platforms that don’t fit the scope of what you’re willing to spend or have available.
Setting your budget
We’ve written about learning budgets pretty extensively here, but here’s a quick overview of the typical spend. According to the 2018 UK L&D Report, 50% stated that they spend up to £200 per employee per year. That was the most common response, while 12% reported that they spend more than £1,000 and 17% and 13% answered £201-400 and £401-£600, respectively.
The global average, according to Statista, exceeded $1,000 USD in every year between 2008 and 2018. While we have reports that explain whether people planned to spend more or less in the years since, this is the most recent set of available data that really digs into the monetary values.
The way businesses typically arrive at these amounts is to take their total learning and development budget and divide it by the number of employees. That is unless they choose to invest the full amount into a single course or content library for everyone to log in and use (which might not be the best option).
Typical pricing structures and models
Thankfully, the pricing for many learning platforms is close to that more common approach; you’ll find most priced by user numbers on a monthly or annual basis. At HowNow, for example, our prices are structured in per user per month terms, based on the size of your company.
You might see others working in brackets, offering prices for up to 50 users or setting the costs by user brackets (0-50, 50-200, 200-250 and so on), but typically there’s a familiar feel which helps you make fair price comparisons.
The problem is that, unlike HowNow, many providers aren’t as open about costs and it means you’ll have to complete a form to find out if they fit your budget.
For the ones that aren’t forthcoming, Capterra has a pretty extensive list of starting costs to help guide you on your budgeting journey. The only downside is that it’s limited to LMS products and not alternative tools like LXPs and other learning platforms.
There’s a chance you might come across per user, per use models too, where costs vary depending on the features and functions of the platform you want access to.
Other costing considerations you need to be aware of are:
- Whether there’s a fee for implementation and set up.
- If it costs extra for support once you’re up and running.
- Whether content is included and if there are regular payments associated with that.
- If any form of in-person support is included as you set up and launch the platform.
- If discounts are available when signing up for long-term contracts.
The buying process for an LMS or LXP
Going to market and adopting the right mindset
At this point, you’ll have a pretty good handle on what you need and that means it’s time to go on the hunt for a solution. You might put a request for information (RFI) or request for proposal (RFP) out there and see what comes to you, or you might turn to your network and search for suggestions. It might even be a case of searching through Google, but whatever you do, it’s important that you’re using the right mindset, wording and approach.
We’ve alluded to the popular acronym phenomenon already, but people really do decide they need an LMS or start looking for one because it’s the term they know. Or maybe they’ve heard a feature name a bunch of times and decide that’s the term that will lead their exploration of Google’s search results.
But remember that what you put out there is what you’ll get back. If you ask for an LMS, that’s what you’ll get, but if you articulate the problems you need to solve well, you’ll cast a much wider net when it comes to solutions.
That’ll give you a wider pool of candidates based around solving your problems and help you create a shortlist of platforms or tools to trial and demo.
Trials and demos: dos and dont’s, how to maximise that period and what to do next
We’ve all taken a free trial at some point. Maybe it was signing up for a streaming service to binge a new show or trying out a different gym, and most of us have probably broken the golden trial rules. These typically involve waiting until the last few days to use it or not thinking about what we want out of it before it begins. Normally that ends only one way – we’re no wiser about whether it is a good fit or something we want to continue using.
A learning platform is a far bigger decision than gym steaming or show streaming, so you definitely do want to be in either of those positions when your company’s L&D efforts are depending on it.
You’ll be testing out a few learning tech options, so you’ll want to make sure you’re approaching each one consistently. There’ll be findings to present to stakeholders, so you’ll need to think about that systematically, and ultimately, you need to set limits on what you can achieve in that limited time.
Here are some tips to help you make the most of your demo or trial period:
- Be clear on what you want to see in the demo: What are the main use cases you’d like to solve with a learning platform? Trying to see all the bells and whistles might seem like a nice idea, but you’re better off knowing whether it’s going to solve the right pain points than seeing every single feature.
- Explain that criteria to the sales rep: A good rep should ask you what you want to see or which problems you’re trying to solve ahead of your technology tour. At HowNow, our sales team host discovery calls to understand what’s important to you and then send over a pre-demo summary of what they think you’d like to see. However, you might not get that five-star service with every provider, so it’s worth communicating this if you’re not dealing with a proactive sales rep.
- Establish and explain what you’re aiming to get out of a trial: If any of your shortlist makes it past the demo stage, you’ll need to carry out similar exercises to establish what you want to achieve in a trial period. Remember to set realistic expectations because if you spread yourself too thin, you won’t get much from your trial.
- Dedicate time to testing it out: If you wait until day 13 of your two-week trial, you won’t get anywhere near knowing if it ticks your boxes. Set a structure or plan and be intentional about how you’re going to use it.
- Ask questions during your trial period: If something comes to mind or you can’t figure a feature out during your trial, don’t wait until it ends to flag it. Ask the rep for some advice when that issue arises and ensure you get the most value from your trial window.
- Document your findings and be consistent as you do it! If you were test driving a car, you wouldn’t take one around the block for five minutes and the other on a motorway for an hour, you’d use them in similar ways and make fair comparisons. A good idea would be to set up a template to document your findings in the same way, or to set up a scoring system of must-have and nice-to-have features.
- Avoid recency bias: Documenting thoughts and findings in the same way will allow you to compare objectively. You should also try and trial them within a close time period to ensure you’re not forgetting one you tried first and leaning towards the recent option because you remember it well.
- Involve the right people at the right moment: Consider when certain stakeholders need to be brought in or when the best time is to give them an update on how the demo and trial period is going.
- What do you do after each demo? It’s worth considering the timelines after trial. Do you need to speak to stakeholders and then set up a check-in with the provider? When are you planning to make your decision or move certain platforms into the next stage of your purchase process?
It’s highly unlikely you’ll experience love at first learning platform (unless you’re checking out an all-in-one tool that helps you do it all), so it’s important to demo a few options and compare them. Partly because seeing a few in action or at least digging into what they do provides context, it might open your eyes to features you never thought about or even change your mind on others.
What support is available from those platforms?
There are certain things it’s hard to quantify on a spreadsheet, it might seem deep but there are some aspects you just have to feel. Or at least sit down and discuss in a less point-scoring kind of way. One of which is the amount of support on offer from that platform and the feeling you get from the people during the trial and demo process.
The truth is that successfully launching a new platform isn’t something you can do on your own, you need to rely on the provider and their customer success team. In fact, as you progress through the process and whittle it down to your final few, think about speaking with someone in their CS department. Why not ask them what a typical implementation process looks like or the current methods they’ve got for supporting customers?
At HowNow, for example, our customer success team have weekly check-ins and treat those as two-way conversations to help improve a customer’s learning space. They’ll take any questions but also enter the conversation with prepared tips and advice based on how the platform is currently being used. The idea is that, instead of overwhelming customers, marginal tweaks are made over time, and that adds up to ongoing and significant improvements.
It also helps if a support team are hands on ahead of and during launch, something we’ll come to later (we were lucky enough to pick our CS expert brains on how to successfully implement a new learning platform!)
References and customer stories
Another great resource as you consider your options is the customer stories and case studies available on a potential provider’s website. Look out for companies in similar industries and of similar sizes, search for use cases that relate to yours and have a good old read of what that customer had to say. Of course, take it with a pinch of salt because companies are highly unlikely to post anything but glowing recommendations and inspirational success stories.
To balance that out, head over to somewhere like Capterra or G2 in order to get a better understanding of what customers think. As you get close to deciding on a platform, ask for a customer reference or to speak with an existing customer in order to gain a different perspective and speak to a fellow end user of the platform.
Building a business case for a learning platform
You’ve established your own needs, done your research and tested the options that caught your eye – it’s time to pull it all together in one document that presents your findings and preferred next steps.
A business case presents the scope of the project you’re undertaking, the benefits of carrying it out alongside the risks of not doing so, the costs in relation to those benefits and a whole host of other things. And it frames all of that, unsurprisingly, in terms of the overall business – not just the benefit to individual people or departments but the risks, costs and rewards associated with the business reaching its goals.
We’ve written a definitive step-by-step guide to building a business case for your learning platform, but we’ll also cover some of the key advice here.
Tips for structuring your business case
- Start with an executive summary: Chances are your business case is going to be read by multiple different people and audiences, some with less time and investment in the project. For those, they may only read a few paragraphs, so make sure everything they might want or need to know is front loaded in an easy to read way.
- Outline why you need a learning platform and your L&D goals: Try to incorporate different data points and context here, as it will help you make a stronger argument. Start with what you’ve learnt internally (such as employee feedback or data on performance limited by a lack of learning) but support that through industry data and comparisons with competitors or similar companies. Nobody likes a negative nelly, so make sure you frame your needs in terms of both problems and opportunities presented by learning technology.
- Explain who’s going to be involved: Budgets aren’t just about the finances, it’s about the people and how much of their time will be needed to get it up, running and a roaring success.
- Present multiple options and frame them in terms of how they solve those problems. Remember that doing nothing is an option too and explaining the downsides of that will help you make your case. Discussing harmful effects on productivity, progress or retention will demonstrate why standing still is your worst option.
- Highlight which is your preferred option and why: Including multiple options will provide stakeholders with context, but it’s crucial that you explain why a particular option is the preferred one.
How to build a business case that doesn’t bore people
What you include in the business case is important, but how you present it might determine whether people actually engage with or understand the information. Follow these tips and make a compelling argument.
- Keep it brief where possible: Nobody wants to sift through 40 pages, so ensure you’re using an appropriate amount of detail. Devote more page space to the important stuff and keep some of the contextual parts a little lighter.
- Talk positively about the future and relate it back to the company goals: Scaremongering will only get you so far, but it won’t get people enthusiastic about your new learning platform. Focus on all the positive things this project will achieve instead.
- Think about the format: What’s going to connect with your audience? Would a short video summary go down better with your stakeholders? Is a mixture of formats the best option?
- Talk about the benefits, not the features: You might be wowed by all the technical parts of how the platform works, but most people will be won over by the benefits. Especially as they’ll be lacking the context of the trials and demos you’ve undertaken.
- Write your executive summary last: That way, you can pick out all the interesting parts of your business case and create the true greatest hits.
Selling the learning platform internally
Not everyone you need to win over is going to require such a formal approach! They might just need a little snippet at the right time or to feel like they’re being included and, hey presto, they’re on board with what you’re offering. But a lack of stakeholder engagement can pretty much spell the end of your preferred learning platform before you’ve even got started.
Five tips for selling your platform internally:
- Understand the biggest pain points and objectives for your key stakeholders: What are they trying to achieve and which barriers are they facing as they try to get there? If you understand those two things, you can pitch your learning solution in terms of how it will support their mission.
- Align your business case with the business objectives: It’s goal déjà vu time, but in a similar way, if you’re presenting your learning platform in terms of how it supports the overall company goals, you’ll probably find more people are on your side.
- Discuss, don’t present: You’ll have a better chance of winning people over if they feel like you’re talking with them and not at them. If you treat it as a pitch or presentation, you won’t be able to have an honest and feedback-driven conversation with people. The earlier you address any questions or concerns, the less time they’re lingering around.
- Support your case with real-life examples: Never underestimate the power of great storytelling! If you can show people situations where your suggested platform has supported companies in achieving their goals and really hone in on the human aspect, it’s likely you’ll create a better connection with it.
- Have your plan and next steps in place: Momentum could make or break whether people get on board. An amazing pitch followed by radio silence is a surefire way to kill it, so be ready to pounce after you’ve sold your learning platform to key stakeholders.
Who and when: your two-word approach for success
Timing is everything, especially if you’re hoping to get the right people on your side. For example, if someone’s responsible for data governance, there’s no point bringing them in at the last minute – you should be checking in with them to see if the options you’re looking at meet internal criteria.
It’s a similar scenario when it comes to your learners, why not use them as a sounding board once you’ve tried out your different options? Send a survey asking them which features or benefits most appeal to them or they’d be least likely to use. What if you commit to a platform that’s all about live classes and it turns out all your people prefer on-demand learning?
IT will have technical aspects they can either approve or reject while finance might be holding the purse strings, so it is really a case of picking the perfect moment to loop them in.
When and how are you bringing decision makers into the conversation?
The person who ultimately says yes or no will very rarely join you for demo calls or trial set ups, so you’ve got to consider when you’ll bring them in and how you’ll communicate findings relating to each platform.
The same applies to the people who might be involved in conversations with that final decision maker or will have some kind of influence.
You’ve also got to think ahead, are you winning over the people you’ll need for it to be a success once it does launch? Department leaders, HR pros and C-suite executives will all be crucial in one way or another and bringing them in at a stage when they feel listened to and part of the project can only help.
The more you do things like this, the easier it is to spot potential advocates for learning and your platform, which could be invaluable further down the line.
Who’s doing the selling?
Be honest with yourself, are you going to do the platform justice if you’re pitching upwards to all the company’s top brass? It’s fine if the answer is no, that might be when it’s worth bringing in the sales rep from the company to give a short introduction. Remember our advice from earlier, think about what that audience would want to see and gain from this process.
If you choose to go down this route, why not record the session and keep it in your back pocket to show others if that platform becomes the preferred choice and eventually the learning space for your company.
Benefits of learning technology
We’ve talked a fair bit about the benefits of learning technology in this section, it makes sense to list them in one place. Knowing the top level benefits of a platform will allow you to quickly convince others of the value.
Here are some of the key benefits of HowNow, which might help you understand how learning platforms can drive organisational growth and productivity.
- Bring your scattered knowledge into one central location.
- Create access to uniform resources and ensure the same level of consistency across onboarding experiences.
- Empower people to find knowledge on their terms and in self-driven ways.
- Allow employees to learn socially and share knowledge with each other.
- Tap into artificial intelligence to recommend relevant content to each individual.
- Measure more than just tick boxes and start to understand which skills people are developing and to what extent.
- Build personalised learning pathways that empower people to perform better in their roles.
- Integrate with the tools you use every day to drive learning in the flow of work.
The cost of delaying
Whether you’re searching for your first platform or you’ve got something that doesn’t work in place, there will be a number of inefficiencies costing your company in a number of different ways.
For example, if all your resources are currently scattered across different places, people will be wasting time looking for the information they need. According to research, the average employee spends around 25% of their day searching for information, while another recent study revealed that 55% believe finding and sharing organisational knowledge is a challenge.
That brings two other problems to your door, the time people waste switching between platforms and the impact this all has on their ability to be productive.
And what about the impact on people’s development? Without a learning strategy and the right platform in place, they’re not developing the skills needed to keep up with industry trends and progress your business towards its goals.
The longer these problems continue, the more problems they pose to your business – hence the cost of delaying…
Common objections and how to overcome them
Treat this like you would an interview and ask yourself which tricky questions you’re likely to get and what any push back might look like. We’ve listed some of the typical objections we encounter below with some advice on how to win those people over.
Objection: We have other projects we need to complete first, like getting benefits in place.
Overcome it by: Explaining that there will always be another project or reason to put it off! However, learning platforms will help drive your other projects forward and adapt as your company evolves. The sooner you invest, the sooner you can maximise the impact of all projects.
Objection: We don’t have the bandwidth to roll out a learning platform right now.
Overcome it by: Determining how much actually needs to be done by your L&D, HR or people team. From curating content and finding prepopulated platforms to choosing a platform that’ll help you get up, running and managing your platform, there are many options out there that streamline your process and lower your burden.
Objection: We don’t have enough content to launch a learning platform.
Overcome it by: Explaining that you don’t need to shoulder all of the content responsibility yourself! You can curate relevant content from third parties and focus the limited time you have on creating business-specific content.
Objection: We’ve got a lot of important workshops and training on the horizon
Overcome it by: Welcoming that and asking where people are going to find the resources from those workshops after? Better yet, how are we going to support them in applying that information in their role when challenges arise? If you have a learning platform in place, you can do both effectively.
Objection: We’re not ready for a learning platform yet.
Overcome it by: Using a little bit from each of our first three answers. Ask when you will be ready? Why aren’t we ready? And what our bandwidth problems are? A learning platform can solve challenges we’re facing right now and amplify some of our key activities, so why wouldn’t you be ready? Especially when there’s so much support available to you.
Objection: We don’t have the budget for it right now?
Overcome it by: Presenting the potential gains in performance, productivity and employee engagement or retention. If you can highlight how investment in learning will provide impressive returns, you’re more likely to loosen the purse strings.
Objection: We think it would be best to get a content library in place.
Overcome it by: Remembering that learning works best when it’s personalised and that just because someone has access to a content library, they’re not necessarily going to use it or find something that makes them better at their job if they do. That’s the point you need to get across.
Objection: It’ll be too much work to migrate everything from our current system.
Overcome it by: Finding a platform that lets you automate parts of this process or helps you manage it through their support team.
Objection: We’ve used learning tools before and they haven’t worked for us.
Overcome it by: Understanding what went wrong before and reassuring them that this time you’ve understood all stakeholder requirements before bringing these options to the table.
Objection: We don’t need a learning platform we need…
Overcome it by: Understanding why someone is so wedded to that idea or piece of technology. Remember, it’s our job to act as consultants and understand the problems people want to solve before deciding on a solution. That’s the conversation you need to have.
Your data and reporting requirements
It’s something you’ll end up thinking about indirectly as you build your business case, but we do need to think explicitly about how we report on learning and prove our return on investment. Adopting a reporting mindset and taking the steps we’re about to cover will also help find the right platform.
And why exactly is the data so important? Well, according to the Learning Performance Institute, 63% of leaders said they have no reliable way to measure people performance in their business. While 81% said they track course attendance and 66% course completion, only 19% had found a way to measure behavioural change. And that’s the key point, you need to prove you’re driving both changes to how people work and learn alongside progress towards the business goals.
So, not only will you be performing better than most other L&D departments, you’ll be taking ownership of the numbers and communicating them clearly to the people who need to hear it most. Two words to remember at this point are visibility and credibility, strong reporting achieves both.
Who are you reporting to and how often?
Both of these influence the reporting capabilities you’ll need from a learning platform! If you’re communicating L&D impact directly to the CEO, they might be more interested in the influence on your bottom line or the wider business goals. Whereas reporting into a head of HR or people development might mean a greater focus on employee development, satisfaction and happiness.
But when it comes to reporting, not all learning platforms are created equally. How do we know? Because we’re one of the only tools to allow you to measure skills proficiency and the improvements driven by learning. That gives you a greater insight into the employee development impact of your learning strategy.
By the same token, if you want to prove impact on company goals and the bottom line, you’ll need reporting capabilities that integrate with the tools you use to measure business performance – or at least speak openly with them.
And you also need to think about when and how you’ll be asked to report on learning. If people are often dropping by unannounced to ask for insights, real-time dashboards are a must! If there are multiple reports you need to produce on a regular basis, customisable dashboards are crucial. And perhaps your leaders simply want to receive top-level insights in their inbox periodically, automated reporting is a saviour in situations like these!
Reporting insights from Laura Overton, Founder of Towards Maturity and Co-creator of Emerging Stronger
We asked Laura about how L&D can keep its seat at the C-Suite table and the role of reporting in driving its reputation in the business. She explained that the pandemic allowed L&D to pivot when it came to their role.
“The pandemic provided many L&D professionals the opportunity to roll up our sleeves and get involved in equipping organisations to respond rapidly to change. We were invited to make a difference, fast, when it counted and where it counted.
“How we responded and how quickly we responded created the opportunity to get noticed and build credibility. We were working with the business on the issues (and metrics) that mattered most. What we do next and what we report on next will either strengthen or dilute our credibility.
“So what’s important to your business ? How can you work with them to tackle the next challenge or opportunity? When it comes to reporting, what do you need to track together to ensure you are making a difference where it counts?”
We also picked Guy Wallace’s brain on how data can be used effectively by L&D and people teams.
“We need to gather data about learning activity but shouldn’t necessarily report it out. We need to report out business impact results! We improved the efficiency and effectiveness of your performances and the processes and workflows where they’re performing.
“Those are the business metrics, and we need to understand which business measures we’re going after. We ought to be reporting out how we took it from X to Y, here’s what it was before and here’s what it’s doing now – since the learning or performance support was put out there.
“Too often we don’t get credit for performance support, but if we show that we didn’t do any learning program but we used performance support and it improved performance measurably and using the business metrics, then we win.
“We should track learning activity, the things that are jokingly referred to as butts in seats and butts on site, and whether people felt engaged. Because if we’re not getting transfer back to the job for what we taught people and it’s not having an impact, we need to figure out why. Maybe what we taught was great but it didn’t transfer for whatever reason, perhaps because it didn’t get support or people said `let’s do it the old way’.”
Which metrics are you reporting?
What if it’s your first learning platform? Sifting through your L&D data can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack or searching for a lighthouse in thick fog – it’s a mix of not knowing what you’re looking for and not being able to find it. Which is why we’ve put together this list of tips and top metrics to consider when choosing and using a learning platform.
- Consider your main use cases for finding a learning platform: If it’s employee onboarding, in which ways do your potential platforms help you track levels of knowledge or time to productivity? If it’s to enable your sales or customer success team, will it allow you to make correlations between their performance and time spent learning?
- Participation and completion rates: Although we mentioned the importance of impact over simply completing training, the amount of time people spend learning and the rates of people who do are key for context.
- Pass and success rates: Does your potential platform allow you to set up assessments and effectively measure those?
- Skill assessments: We mentioned it already, but it’s important to understand if people are building the skills they and your business need to progress? It’s all well and good knowing how many people have completed training but the impact of it is your best tool in proving L&D’s effectiveness and return on investment.
- Content creation: If your learning platform empowers people to upload content, measuring the rate and engagement with user-generated resources will help you understand engagement with both the technology and the idea of social learning.
- Budget and cost per employee: This is another valuable one for context, especially if you’re comparing against a previous LMS. However, even if you’ve used no learning tech in the past, you can compare to general training spend and industry averages.
- Employee satisfaction: You might not be able to do this in your learning platform, but you can use other tools to understand the impact of L&D on employee happiness. Ensure you are asking the right questions before and after launch and assessing the change in responses.
Integrating with your current tools and systems
Technology works best when it works together! There are a lot of different tools we need to use at work, so when they integrate with each other, it saves us switching apps as often, allows us to import data, automate tasks and much more – which ultimately helps us become more productive!
According to Asana’s Anatomy of Work Index 2021, “amid the race to stay connected across tools, workers switch between 10 apps 25 times per day—fragmenting communication and reducing efficiency.” and psychologist Gerald Weinberg explains that every extra task or piece of context we switch between can suck up anywhere from 20% to 80% of productivity.
It’s quite ironic that one of the biggest aims of using learning technology is to make employees more productive and, yet unless it integrates where they already work, it’s actually likely to have the opposite effect.
Which apps is it important for your learning platform to integrate with?
This is a big one! Your HR system is home to all of the information about your employees, and when people join the company, it’s helpful if you can send that data directly to your learning platform. Why? Because that allows you to automatically enrol people in onboarding courses or send them resources based on their start date. In HowNow, we allow you to set rules for assigning content to people, whether that’s based on a milestone date or completion of another piece of content.
This empowers you to onboard faster and in a scalable way, where teams receive consistent onboarding, and you lose the headache of doing it manually.
Shared storage apps
Sure, your content might live in multiple places, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be accessed in one single platform. Finding a learning solution that integrates with the likes of SharePoint, Google Drive, or something similar stops people having to hunt around in different places for resources.
According to Beezy’s 2021 Digital Workplace Report, which asked IT and non-IT professionals for their challenges in completing workplace tasks, 81% of IT staff flagged locating specific files or people with specific expertise as a difficulty – as did 57% of non-IT respondents.
By integrating your learning tech and storage solution, you’re preventing that issue from occurring in your workplace.
Slack and Microsoft Teams have replaced so many of the interactions we used to have in the flesh, but we’re not sure people quite realise the scale! More than 12 million people use Slack on a daily basis, and the average user is signed in for nine hours, while Microsoft Teams is home to more than 75 million users!
The question is, what happens to all the brilliant knowledge that gets sent in those millions of messages each day?
Sadly, a lot of it gets lost. But not at HowNow, where we use empower people to save knowledge in the here and now. Our platform integrates with Slack and Teams, allowing us to save messages as Nuggets that can be shared with everyone else. That means insights from experts become available to everyone, repeat questions have consistent answers, and there’s no app switching to do any of it. You can even share resources from your learning space directly within Slack and Teams.
Content and course libraries
If you’re using the likes of Coursera, Udemy or LinkedIn Learning, you want that content to be available in the same place as all your other resources. Creating one single search results page can help on that mission to reduce the time spent looking for information.
Tools for customer-facing employees
49% of employees prefer to learn at the point of need, and when is knowledge needed more than in dealing with customers? By integrating learning with the tools that sales reps and customer success staff use when dealing with clients, they can find the knowledge needed to conquer challenges quicker and as they happen.
Implementing your LMS or LXP
Imagine you’ve spent all that time finding, testing and convincing others your learning platform is a winner… and then you launch it only for it to become your company’s biggest software tumbleweed. Not on our watch! Most LMS buyers’ guides would stop before the launch process, but HowNow isn’t a wild west cowboy when it comes to this kind of thing.
Like a pair of swinging saloon doors, a successful learning platform launch goes in two directions – everything you do before day one and what you do in the first three months afterwards.
Our Customer Success Team break it down into three sections containing activities you need to do before and after launch:
You can also think of it in terms of what you need to do before launch and what you need to do from day one onwards.
Planning pre-launch activities for successful learning platform implementation
Like a plane soaring seamlessly into the sky or a ship pulling off a smooth exit from port, it’s planning that makes for a successful learning launch. From creating awareness to populating the platform, there’s so much you need to get right ahead of day one. We’ve covered all the big ones in detail here, but we’ll go through some of the top level stuff here and now.
Understand how it works for yourself
It seems like the most logical starting point, but you’ll be surprised by how many people skip it. The enthusiasm and excitement are just too much sometimes, but a lot hinges on whether you’re au fait with how the tech works.
How are you going to communicate the benefits to people before launch effectively? Can you really plan the content you’ll be uploading if you don’t know how it functions? Are your demos to employees going to go down well if you don’t know it well?
The answer to all these questions is a no or probably not. You don’t need to be the expert, that’s what your support team are for, but you need to be knowledgeable!
Build the team behind the platform
Every great learning platform implementation has a great team behind it! Think of all the roles and responsibilities, build out your team around those and ensure people understand what they’re in charge of.
If you overlook a key part of the launch process, let’s say collecting feedback for example, that will not only impact how well the implementation goes but the long-term success.
Tap into other departments where you can! Marketing teams will be great for communications advice, the IT department can advise on technical aspects and project managers – you guessed it – are useful for managing the project.
We spoke to LIC, the agritech and herd improvement co-operative, about how they built the team behind launching HowNow in the company. Their approach was to recognise the relevant experience and transferable skills within the team:
“We looked at who had the skills, we’re a small team. We recognised that Jason was critical from his technology background and learning experience as an ex-teacher. Joss was the next longest-standing member of the team with the broadest knowledge of what our sales team needed – that’s how it came together.”
Audit your existing content and populate the learning space
There’ll probably be some existing content you’re happy to upload, the question is whether it’s enough to keep people engaged? Launch is all about momentum, and if there’s not enough content on the platform, you might find it running out of steam as people have nothing left to explore.
This brings us back to our curate and create debate. Chances are you won’t have the resources to create it all, so it’s about finding third-party content. Or, if you were using HowNow, switching on preferred content providers, allowing you to fill your learning space with more of the content people like.
Build a learning brand people love
A creative product name, great logos, values and messages we love – people become attached to brands for all sorts of reasons! But a nameless, faceless and personality-lacking learning space is going to be like Teflon for most of your employees.
Instead, create a distinct look and feel that fits with your company branding, something that excites people to head in and use it, a place that aligns with the company culture.
We’ve written a step-by-step learning brand guide that will take you through the process.
Running test sessions or soft launches with small groups
The canaries in your learning coal mine, it’s helpful to find small groups of people who can test it out ahead of launch. The feedback these people can offer is invaluable to making tweaks that make it work! It should also influence the messaging in your pre and post-launch communications.
Look out for advocates! If people are showing enthusiasm in these sessions, tap into it and make them your learning champions. They can be powerhouses when it comes to getting others on board.
Create a communications plan for launch and beyond
Awareness, excitement, anticipation, that’s what you want in the build up to launch. Sadly, without a strong message and communications plan, you probably won’t achieve any of those. If nobody knows it exists, nobody’s going to use it! So ensure you create a plan that takes you up to launch and beyond.
Find out where and how people already communicate and talk about learning. That will help you build something that resonates with them. For example, what existing language do they use and can that be woven into your messaging?
Six pre-launch tips from the LIC team
- Roll it out to small test groups before you try and do a mass launch.
- Don’t assume people’s level of technological understanding.
- Have individual meetings and make sure the functionality works for everyone before launch.
- Keep track of who’s attending these pre-launch calls and meetings.
- Find the person who’s most resistant to the tech and get them up to speed – half your problem will have been dealt with.
- Don’t overwhelm people and overload them with information. Give them enough to get them interested and curious about how it works.
Implementation, launch day and a successful first few months
Your pre-launch checklist
There’s a lot to remember ahead of launch, so here’s a quick checklist that makes sure you’ve not missed the key requirements to get up and running.
Launch timelines, goals and processes
One of the best pieces of advice is to set realistic expectations during the implementation and launch period. Trying to do too much too soon is unlikely to lead to success, and at the same time, getting people engaged during the first few months is crucial to the long-term project. And that’s why you need to set achievable short-term goals that foster a sense of achievement while driving people to use the platform regularly.
Your ASAP goal: Activation
The sooner people have logged in and got a feel for the platform, the sooner you can start tackling your use cases and building learning habits. That’s why your first objective post-launch should be reaching an activation milestone – we’d recommend 90%.
Resend invites to people who’ve yet to login (and plan that email copy ahead of launch, so it’s ready to go) and look at the analytics to understand if it’s certain teams or departments that aren’t engaged.
30-60-90 day goal setting
We always work with our clients to understand what they’d like to achieve by certain milestone dates! We’ll ask them what success looks like after 30 days or which habits they’d like to have formed by day 60, and we do it in an ongoing capacity in order to tweak and develop goals over time.
The important thing is that they’re achievable, and the steps needed to get there aren’t going to overwhelm or scare off learners.
For example, once you’ve reached that activation goal, you might choose to set a target around user-generated content – as part of your efforts to drive social learning. Perhaps that means people sharing an average of five resources by a particular date, and then you can discuss with your support and L&D teams how you can encourage people to do so. Or perhaps if upskilling is your key use case, ensuring everyone has completed a skill review or proficiency assessment might be the next goal after activation.
The future of learning platforms
A lot has changed in recent years, and that means we need to turn to the most up-to-date research available, starting with LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report 2021. Published annually, the latest addition offers some fascinating insights that can help us understand where learning tech is and should be going.
Better capabilities for measuring and developing skills
LinkedIn’s report backs up our point that learning technology needs to become more adept at measuring skill levels and helping people build their proficiency. It revealed that upskilling is now the top priority for L&D pros globally, as 59% naming it their key focus – 15% higher than it had been as early as June 2020. At the same time, more than half (51%) of L&D pros stated that internal mobility is more important now than it was pre-Covid-19.
Udemy’s 2021 Workplace Learning Trends Report presents the same finding, with 62% of respondents naming closing the skills gap as the top goal of their L&D program in the previous year. But are we always clear on what upskilling means and how we should approach it?
“Does upskilling mean doing existing skills better (define better) or does it mean learning new skills (which skills? For which purposes?)? We must know what people need to be able to do.”
That’s the question Patti Shank, Founder of Learning Peaks, returned to us when we asked her about upskilling’s growing importance in the workplace.
“What skills do they need and how will they specifically be using them? What additional tasks do they need to be able to do? I highly recommend Guy Wallace’s book, The 3Ds of ThoughtFlow Analysis.
“If we are providing instruction, we MUST measure whether it delivers the desired outcomes (my new book, Write Better Multiple-Choice Questions to Assess Learning, should be very helpful). The right assessments measure needed results so we can assure that our efforts are worthwhile. Assessment can also help us continuously improve instruction and reduce waste.
“Sometimes we leave people on their own to maintain skills, upgrade existing skills, or learn new skills. Many workers can do this but if that’s the case, we need to define the specific skills needed so they are not trying to learn the wrong things. Most people have extremely busy lives so if we want people to upskill in these ways, we need to provide support.”
To better understand the skill measurement landscape, we also spoke with Laura Overton, Founder of Towards Maturity and Co-creator of Emerging Stronger. She explained that L&D needs to be clear in its role when it comes to driving skill development and understanding that has to be the first step.
“For L&D to add value to the skills agenda we need to look at more than reporting. Skill building – ensuring that individuals are genuinely equipped and ready – involves more than sharing new knowledge, it involves transfer of learning in the workplace, practice, building confidence and capability.
“If L&D wants to be known for our role in this, we need to define how and where we can add value back into that process. We then need to define with our stakeholders what success will look like and determine the leading and lagging indicators we need to track to monitor that.
“Probably then, and only then, will we be in a position to clarify what we need to report – to ourselves and to others. If we can get this right my expectation is that completions might not be high on the list!”
The rise of virtual and remote learning
Interestingly, the same LinkedIn report crowned virtual onboarding the third most important priority, with 33% of respondents naming it as their top challenge – highlighting that learning tech also needs to evolve to support hybrid working and remote learning.
But it’s more than that, in the hybrid working era, learning tech needs to offer learning opportunities to people working remotely more often. A Nespresso study revealed that “41% believe that ‘working from home means I miss out on learning and development opportunities’, and 34% agree that ‘working from home means I miss out on career development opportunities.”
And that could be the reason why 73% of L&D pros are planning to spend less on instructor-led training, and 79% expect to increase their investments
More social learning features and collaborative elements
We already spoke about the end of siloed working, and top-down learning and the numbers highlight this is a trend heading in just one direction! Learning technology must continue to provide collaborative and social ways of learning, especially given the numbers around its effectiveness. The same LinkedIn report revealed that “Learners who use social features — Q&A, course shares, and learning groups — watch 30x more hours of learning content than learners who don’t.”
That’s supported by the fact that 72% of US executives are planning to invest in tools that improve virtual collaboration, as part of their commitment to support hybrid working.
Making knowledge available at the point of need
A staggering 61% of respondents in Udemy’s survey named a lack of time as their biggest L&D obstacle, once again highlighting the need for integrations and microlearning content that’s available and understandable at the moment an employee needs it. In fact, almost 50% of employees prefer to learn at their point of need!
The growing need for personalised learning
Achieving all of the things we’ve mentioned so far is far easier when learning is personalised, helping people build relevant skills and tackle tasks they encounter in their role. Learning and development professionals agree too with 77% stating that personalised learning is vital to employee engagement and development.
For some more insight into the role of personalisation, we again spoke to Patti Shank, Founder of Learning Peaks, and asked for her advice on how companies can achieve it.
“Personalisation can mean any number of things, so it depends on what you mean. Some people think it means, for example, the need to fit an individual’s learning style, for example. But learning styles are a myth and have been copiously debunked.
“We know from research that people learn best when we employ learning methods proven to make a difference —such as adequate practice with appropriate feedback and spacing learning for better retention. We also know from research that what people think are the best learning methods for them are typically NOT the best learning method for them.
“In my view, REAL personalisation means tailoring instruction so it is relevant to individuals’ actual performance needs. And to do that we must know what people need to be able to do and how to design so people CAN do what is needed.
“Most workplace instruction starts with a bunch of topics rather than an analysis of what participants need to be able to do. A bunch of topics often includes irrelevant information and too little practice.”
Meet HowNow, the modern LXP for fast-growing and forward-thinking companies
We know what you’re thinking, how am I going to find a platform that ticks all of these boxes, has helpful sales reps to guide me through the process AND happy smiling faces in the support team.
You’ve already found it! HowNow is that learning platform 🤩 we’ll help you build a learning ecosystem around how your people work and develop today!
Firstly, we create one single search for all of your resources by helping you bring scattered knowledge, shared drives and content libraries into one central place!
We then integrate with all the tools your people use on a daily basis, like Slack and Teams, allowing them to find knowledge where and when they need it. Plus, we’ve even got a browser extension which means internal knowledge is served alongside Google search results!
And the more they use HowNow, the more relevant our content and knowledge recommendations become, helping you save time assigning and searching for it, and skyrocketing productivity levels.
Empowering everyone to create and share knowledge
Experts live at every level of your business, and we believe they should have a tool to share all their wisdom with teammates. Think about the amount we learn on the job, from colleagues who’ve built up valuable experiences on the job – unless we tap into that knowledge, it’ll leave the business when they do…
Enter the Nugget! An easy way for anyone in your business to create resources in HowNow in a matter of clicks and share it with relevant colleagues just as quick.
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