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Next-Generation Management Systems - Part One
by Bray J. Brockbank

 
   
 
   

Until more recently, executives considered training programs a necessary evil. An expense and liability not easily justified. In part because training ROI relied too heavily on fuzzy metrics.

The focus of organizational learning and training came in the form of new employee orientation and personal development seminars. Training technologies and programs were not integrated, scalable, flexible or interoperable.

In an effort to justify cost and meet organizational training objectives, corporate CxO's sought to consolidate disparate knowledge and learning technologies into a centralized point of access and management, while leveraging existing investments (legacy systems, resources, etc.) in enterprise infrastructure in order to provide employees with simple, seamless access to knowledge, training and learning.

This organizational investment in information technology eventually led to a new delivery method for corporate training that would rival and complement classroom-based instruction: eLearning.

Today, eLearning has emerged as a comprehensive organizational training solution.

Now, more than ever, organizational management is asking:

  • How do we unleash our proprietary knowledge?
  • How can we structure new and existing knowledge into focused, directed program efforts?
  • And finally, how can we then achieve rapid dissemination, management and utilization of that knowledge in an on-demand basis?

As organizations are transitioning from old economy to the new knowledge economy - they're recognizing the imminent need for an organizational LMS that will provide an integrated, scalable learning technology platform - built for the future.

Organizations are witnessing an explosion of 'e' developments, as conventional business processes, legacy technologies, and Internet-based applications converge into an amalgamated network of technology challenges, business models, and service offerings.

The focus of eLearning is no longer to simply train but to channel knowledge into ideas and use those ideas to create business competencies and solutions. These newly found skills and ideas can then be channeled and used by the organization to thrive in an environment of intense competition and relentless change.

eLearning represents a wide range of business activities and technologies, including distance education, computer-based training (CBT), web-based training (WBT), Internet-based training (IBT), courseware delivery and online learning and testing. eLearning represents the total integration of multimedia, instructor-led, and real-time training - in a human, collaborative environment.

Learning Management System (LMS)

In today's eLearning market, a complete eLearning technology solution can be divided into seven components (or technologies) that work seamlessly together. Although each component is an independent tool in the eLearning industry, together they create a complete eLearning solution. eLearning components include: content, collaboration, testing and assessment, skills and competency, e-commerce, Internet video-based learning, and LMS.

An LMS ties all other eLearning components together. The LMS is the infrastructure or framework used to track, support, manage and measure eLearning activities. It connects all learning and training systems, content, tools and components together. It has the ability to launch, track, manage, and measure information from courses produced by a select group of content vendors. An LMS helps manage and measure the entire learning process, whether the organizations' needs are managing computer-based training (CBT), web-based training (WBT), document-based training (DBT), instructor-led training (ILT), or blended training methods (BTM).

On the technical side, an LMS is a server-based software system that controls eLearning needs and uses. Presentation of content occurs on a Web browser. Middle-tier application server and back-end database server power the course materials, collaborative tools, and other data essential for learning. LMS browser-based access enhances usability for administrators, students, and instructors on the front-end. Separating the LMS application logic onto the middle-tier and maintaining course materials, student records, and associated data on back-end servers increases the scalability of an LMS solution.

Learning Content

The three types of eLearning courseware content include:

  • Off-the-shelf content
  • Content developed with third-party authoring tools (in-house)
  • Custom developed courses

Most organizations assemble course content through various processes - through buying off-the-shelf content, developing courses internally (in-house) and outsourcing for custom courseware development.

Off-the-shelf (or third-party) content is either developed for one LMS or for a selected group of LMS. Off-the-shelf content vendors include: NETg, SmartForce, SkillSoft, etc.

Authoring tools content is proprietary to the tool and its content may work with multiple LMS products. Authoring tool products include: Authorware, Dreamweaver, etc.

Custom developed courses are developed with third-party course developing tools or through a home-grown, proprietary authoring tool. Customized content is developed to meet the unique needs of an organization.

Industry Development

The eLearning industry is comprised of three vendor segments: technology, content and services.

Technology: This segment includes LMS, learning content management system (LCMS), authoring tools, training delivery systems, enterprise resource planning (ERP), application service provider (ASP), live eLearning tools, streaming video, EPSS, testing and assessment tools.

Content: This segment includes third-party content providers, books and magazine publishers, enterprises, subject matter experts (SME), government agencies, colleges, universities, schools, training organizations, learning portals, IT firms, and system integrators.

Services: This segment includes EIP, corporate universities, learning service providers (LSP), content aggregators, learning consultants, consulting, professional services, certification service providers, collaboration services, and online mentoring services.

Types of Learning Management Systems

In the current LMS arena, vendors have taken three separate and distinct approaches in engineering their LMS. The three approaches include:

  • Proprietary (closed)
  • Standards-based (supported)
  • Open architecture systems (interoperable)

New Market Segment Emerges

The LCMS came about for two reasons: first, some LMS customers' required the ability to create and manage content; second, the rapid increase of competition and the perceived deterioration of a LMS value proposition - dissatisfaction with LMS installations and the inability to integrate into other enterprise applications.

LMS and LCMS are complementary in nature - working together toward a total solution. The LCMS was not created to replace the LMS, but rather came about as clients' needs varied widely and required the additional capability of content management. The LCMS focuses on reducing time to performance while the LMS focuses on connecting eLearning components and reducing training administration time.

LCMS solutions are a group of software products that include a learning object repository (LOR) with authoring and delivery interfaces for eLearning and knowledge management - designed to support the express capture, delivery and measurement of knowledge in a web-based manner. LCMS focus on achieving "personalized" learning on demand (LOD) to drive performance in an organization by delivering content to learners to solve business problems.

Research firm, IDC defines a LCMS as: "a system that is used to create, store, assemble, and deliver personalized eLearning content in the form of learning objects." But like LMS, LCMS providers have distinguished themselves with unique features and functionality. Some offer various degrees of customization while others offer ease of integration with other enterprise systems.

LCMS create, manage, maintain, deliver, and track Web-based content. They provide functionality such as content migration and management, learning object repositories, content re-use and individualized learning through learning objects, asynchronous collaborative learning, testing and certification, and interconnectivity with virtual classroom and LMS applications. The LCMS is designed to support the capture, delivery, and management of knowledge in a Web-based manner (from Managing Knowledge with Learning Objects: The Role of an eLearning Content Management System in Speeding Time to Performance, WBT Systems).

In addition to delivering training, LCMS catalog reusable pieces of learning material, allowing each piece or chunk to be mixed and matched to tailor learning to different groups. These content pieces are called learning objects (LO's), or reusable learning objects (RLO's).

Harvi Singh, an LCMS specialist stated that, "learning management systems have focused first and foremost on the administrative aspects of class, student, and instructor logistics." He further declared that LMS's are "not designed to address the issues of interactivity, scalability, reusability, personalization, and the level of tracking capability required with online learning content." Singh argues that the eLearning industry needs a system "designed to help companies collect, organize, manage, maintain, re-use, and target instructional content." (Learning Content Management Systems: New technologies for new learning approaches", eLearning Magazine, February 2001, p.36).

In the near future, everything in the organization will focus on the management of knowledge, learning and training. For this reason, the LMS platform will evolve to manage all organizational processes and activities.

Bray's excellent series on eLearning continues with Part Two of Next-Generation Management Systems in the next issue. (ed.)


     
   
     
   

The Author

 

Bray J. Brockbank has fifteen years successful experience in marketing, management, product, and public relations development and execution. Mr. Brockbank has also been a marketing and business consultant to small and medium-size technology companies. He has extensive experience and success in marketing and managing software, technology, and enterprise learning solutions on a global scale. Mr. Brockbank has also taught on an adjunct basis marketing, management, and technology at a prominent North American college. He can be reached at: BrayJB@hotmail.com .

     
   
     
   
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Copyright 2002 by Bray J. Brockbank. All rights reserved.

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