7 steps to select the right LMS for your association, part 2.

The following is a guest blog article originally published by Jeff Cobb of Tagoras, a leading expert in strategy, learning, marketing and technology to organizations in the business of lifelong learning. The is Part 2 of a three-part series. For a refresher, here’s Part 1.

At Tagoras, a lot of technology selection work has been done over the years through many webinars and workshops related to a 7-step methodology. This time, the aim is at learning management system (LMS) selection.

Here’s part two of a three-part series to look at learning technology selection from a broader perspective and provide organizational leaders with a framework to support long-term success. There are seven steps to the process.

In part two, steps three and four are covered.

3. Understand the terms and the possibilities.
In working with each of the groups stated in step two of part one, you will certainly have to provide some education—and possibly educate yourself—on what learning technologies are available and what they make possible.

Selecting learning technologies is similar to planning a trip. You can’t really weigh the trade-offs of different options for reaching a destination if you don’t have an understanding of how traveling on a state road might differ from traveling by interstate. Or, if you don’t have a sense of why riding the subway could be better than taking a bus.

It’s often valuable to start at a higher, more generic level before moving into specific technologies. The following list, for example, from Michelle Miller’s Minds Online (another highly-recommended book) may be helpful for highlighting how technology is useful supporting learning experiences:

  • Technology enables frequent, low-stakes testing, an activity that powerfully promotes memory for material.
  • Technology encourages better spacing of study over the time course of the class and helps prevent cramming.
  • Technology facilitates presentation of material in ways to take advantage of learners’ existing knowledge about a topic.
  • Technology facilitates presentation of material via multiple sensory modalities, which, if done in the right ways, can promote comprehension and memory.
  • Technology offers new methods for capturing and holding students’ attention, which is a necessary precursor for memory.
  • Technology supports frequent, varied practice that’s a necessary precursor to the development of expertise.
  • Technology offers new avenues to connect students socially and fire them up emotionally.
  • Technology allows us to borrow from the techniques of gaming to promote practice, engagement and motivation.

 
Next, be sure the selection group is comprehensively thinking about the types of technology to support learning. Too often, discussions quickly focus on webinars, course development tools and LMSs. While these may have a role to play, a partial list of other major possibilities might include:

  • Social networking platforms
  • Streamed video
  • Podcasts
  • Learning content management systems (LCMS)
  • Wikis
  • Real-time collaboration tools
  • Virtual reality environments
  • Mobile apps

 
Also ensure those involved are familiar with traditional technology-based approaches to learning, as well as emerging approaches, and what their major strengths and weaknesses are.

Note that the people involved in selecting technologies don’t need to be experts in the technologies and approaches covered here. They really should, however, have a reasonable level of familiarity with the options.

Inevitably, this means the people involved have to commit to putting in the time and effort necessary for getting up to speed, no matter what kind of help you bring in from outside. You simply can’t offload this to a consultant or to a single person in your organization, if you expect to have real success.

4. Clarify how success will be measured.
The whole reason for putting in place a learning platform is to help support the goals your organization has for successfully serving learners. So, how will you know when that happens? And, to the point of this post, how will the platform itself help?

At this point in the process, you don’t need to determine every piece of data you want to track and report. But, you do need to have a solid idea of the types of data you feel are critical to measure success and drive the future development of your education business. And then you need to determine whether and how the platform is going to provide you with those data types.

If there’s one issue we see again and again, it’s an organization was expecting a platform to give them insight into “X” only to find that the platform doesn’t really track “X” or reporting on it is going to require a significant investment in custom programming.

So, be clear about the role assessment and evaluation plays. Do you need to be able to analyze responses at the individual question level? Compare responses across all learners?

Or, how tightly do you need to draw connections between disparate activities (online vs. offline; formal vs. informal)? What data do you want to use in marketing or in showing success to your Board of Directors?

You can set more specific measures once you know the specific technologies you will use. But, you need to have an idea of the general measure before you select technologies. How else will you know if a technology is capable of supporting your needs?

To tackle these questions, as well as the others I have raised, I suggest the following:

  • Assign a single person, or possibly a small team of two or three people, to review this post and make some initial decisions about the questions most relevant for your organization and some of the key resources you feel other key stakeholders in the organization should review.
  • Pull these together into a simple “Learning Technology Selection Brief” to document the questions and links to the resources.
  • Determine who sits on the cross-functional team and distribute the brief to them.
  • Set a date and time a few weeks out to come together to discuss all of the above. This will be a first meeting; there will be others. I suggest keeping it to no more than 90 minutes and focusing entirely on step number one stated in part one—really understanding your situation. Tackle the questions most relevant to your organization, then start figuring out your potential answers, as well as where you have significant knowledge gaps.

 
As noted, there are other steps to share in this LMS selection process. So, there’s another post to come soon, when we look at a few more.

In the meantime, learn more about Learning • Technology • Design™ (LTD), a virtual conference set for March 1, 2017 through March 3, 2017. This online event is designed specifically for professionals in the business of lifelong learning and education—those who are committed to finding new and better ways to market and sell educational programs, engage learners and create lasting impact.

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