There's no such thing as the perfect learning platform. Each one has advantages and disadvantages, but not all are created equally.
Creating the right employee learning experience for your company is one of the most important strategic decisions you’ll ever make.
An online platform — Learning Management System (LMS) or Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) — can be a powerful tool for helping your people grow to reach your organisation’s full potential.
Earlier this year I spent three months searching for the right platform provider for Wolff Olins — to grow their people and clients. It wasn’t easy; it’s an opaque industry whose business model largely relies on privacy — closed demos and paid trials.
This is what I wish I had when I was getting started.
Quick overview of the marketplace
Getting an industry overview is difficult — and often expensive. I consulted with three learning technology experts to focus my search. Here’s a sketch of the industry with examples.
Saba. Trusted provider. Focused on talent and leadership development.
FutureLearn. Simple, clean. Set up by the Open University, focused on higher ed, now open to companies. Full disclosure: I helped create the initial brand and their first MOOC on the Secret Power of Brands.
OpenedX may also be a good free option if you want to re-purpose an open source MOOC.
Skillshare. Public, democratic, affordable, anyone can set up or take a class. Focused on tech, entrepreneurship and creativity.
Inkling. A beautiful designed eReader turned learning platform. Ex Apple leadership.
Yammer. Private social network. Incorporate online classes into existing systems. While at Wolff Olins, we used Yammer to support in-person workshops by adding online discussion and resources.
Fuse Universal — YouTube for business, a social platform for learning. Strong social functionality for scalable peer learning.
Think outside the box. In many ways, an LMS is no different from a CMS. You may find a private blog via Tumblr may be just as impactful — and more affordable. Or, employee communication tools like Slack may serve similar purposes.
If you’re looking for a more in-depth audit of platforms and best practices, get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions to inform your platform brief
1. Who is your core audience? What do they need to know to be successful on their jobs? For example, this is for everyone in the company to up-skill in digital — strategy, project management, design and development.
2. How will this platform support continued learning and progress? What learning outcomes are you seeking through the platform? What are your core functionality needs?
For example, this platform is to help the entire company:
Share new ideas, tools and ways of working with each other more frequently
Functionality: A community where anyone can upload content
Solve key business challenges instantly
Functionality: A q + a functionality, email notifications when there’s a new question or response
Connect people to the right mentors and thought partners
Functionality: Ability to search for people based on disciplines, areas of expertise and interests.
3. What are your existing programmes and tools for learning and communication (in person and online)? What’s working? What could be better? Collect user feedback through small workshops, interviews and surveys.
4. What is your budget and timeline? Why now?
For example, a new company strategy or leadership programme. This is may determine whether you go for a third-party or in-house solution.
5. Who can champion this platform? Who are the key decision makers? Do you have the right team in place? It’s important you have senior leadership buy-in, but also people on the ground who can make it happen. Check in with IT to make sure you know what technical and security requirements are.
Questions for the platform provider
1. Why should you work with them over everyone else? What things make them special?
2. What does their customer success programme look like? What are their most successful case studies, and why?
3. What was their role in creating change in these organisations? Can you have a conversation with one of their existing clients?
4. What is their point of view on measurement? How can they help you understand your progress?
5. What’s their product vision and roadmap? What features will they be building in the next three to six months?
6. Can you trial the platform with a select user group?
You’ll need a small core team — representative of HR/L+D and technology/IT — to get to the right strategic solution for your company. You’ll also need to involve stakeholders across your organisation, such as senior leadership, finance, content and internal communications. Remember scheduling meetings with the right people is hard so much to get those in the calendar as quickly as possible.
Understand vision and business strategy
Conduct learnings needs analysis
Form learning and development strategy and platform brief
Research learning platform market
Create engagement and impact strategy
Create a long list of potential platforms
Send out a Request for Information with your brief to 5–7 platform providers
Invite 5–7 platforms in for an initial demo
Remember unless you’re based in one of the major business cities (e.g. New York, London, San Francisco) it may be difficult getting a demo in person
Invite 3–4 platforms for second demo with wider team
Create content for pilot
Pilot 1–2 platforms with small group of 5–10 users for 2–4 weeks
Gather feedback, refine content for bigger pilot
Negotiate contract for preferred provider
Pilot platform with bigger group of 10–15 users for 2–4 weeks
Gather feedback, refine content for launch
You may decide at this point it’s worth the return on investment to build your own platform.
Launch to whole company
Set up programme to implement regular changes as if you were a product team
Learn from these common mistakes, shift behaviour
Functions + Courses -> People + Needs
Remember only 10% of learning happens through formal training; the other 70% happens on the job and the other 20% through mentoring. You have to start with people and what they need.
Action: Map out learner journey to see where platform would fit into work
Vanity metrics -> Meaningful progress
It’s not enough to look at the number of log ins, time spent and completion rates, you need to understand how your online platform contributes to learner outcomes and your business objectives.
Action: Define key learner outcomes and meaningful evidence of progress
One company announcement -> Thorough engagement strategy
You can’t just expect people to sign up and continue using your platform. Like any good product lead, you have to think about the engagement strategy across the learner journey.
Action: Co-create a engagement strategy with your internal marketing team and a learner