One of the key challenges for training centers is getting students engaged with the learning management system (LMS). Training administrators focus on how a system functions for the training department, increasing the ability to deliver and automate business processes. Subject matter experts and instructional designers focus on the curricula. Who focuses on putting a “face” on your training center? Administrators also have to maintain a focus on the end-user experience.
Your LMS is a Web Site – Treat it Like One
Many training departments use vendor-hosted learning management systems. The actual web link might be something like “http://www.johnshouseoftraining.com/clients/ABCCompany/portal.aspx”. I’m sure the training personnel can remember it, but what about a student? How easy is the process for a student to even get to the site? The employee often winds up going to ABC Company’s web site, logging in to the corporate intranet, accessing the training or human resources page and finally clicking a link open the LMS.
An easy solution to the problem of a lengthy vendor URL is to have the information technology group create an easy-to-remember subdomain and redirect that specific page to the vendor’s URL. For example, http://training.abccompany.com/ would send someone directly to the learning management system without all the middle steps. An alternative solution is to work with your LMS vendor to purchase a unique domain for the training center; for example, www.abctraining.com would simply be the LMS’ web page. Both solutions are user-friendly and easily implemented.
Be sure you’re using one of the free analytics tools with your learning management system. Sure, course completions are a great way of knowing the site is being used. But how are students navigating your site? Google Analytics is a very powerful free tool to help an administrator get a feel for what’s happening on the web site. Google Analytics shows a wealth of information – how visitors move through the site, what pages are most visited, what types of device and browser users have, even what country and city a visitor is from.
One way to put Google’s reporting to work is to identify when the site has the least traffic so that you can provide some direction on when maintenance processes and updates can be performed. Always make an effort to affect the least number of users. Running an update or installing a patch at 9:00 AM might be convenient for your IT staff, but could throw users off the site in the middle of an exam. If your LMS vendor doesn’t support the use of Google Analytics, make it a priority feature request.
When working on the portal for your learning management system, take the time to think about the information students need or want. There are hundreds of widgets and RSS feeds out there that can be integrated with simple HTML. Provide information that students will actually find interesting; one simple gauge of success is when people visit the page at times other than just for training. Update the page regularly – the more traffic your site has, the more frequently you should update it.
Your portal should also be an extension of the corporate brand, reinforcing key messaging. Employees are often your brand’s very best ambassador or champion. Keep them informed.
Logins Should be Easy
Nothing is more frustrating to a user than “Bad Account or Password”. In today’s world, everyone has a dearth of passwords to remember. Although unsafe, many people use the same password for multiple sites. Many sites now force the use of strong passwords, especially those that grant access to corporate intranets. Simplify life for your learning management system users if at all possible through the use of centralized authentication services.
Central authentication can take two forms. First, there is a concept called “single sign-on”. When a person logs in to their PC in the morning, he or she is using specific credentials to access network resources. The user’s identity can typically be communicated from that credentialing process to the learning management system, completely eliminating the need for users to remember a separate user name and password. This is only effective if each person has and uses a unique network credential.
For companies that use a large number of independent contractors or restrict network access, an alternative is the use of “open id” systems. Millions of individuals have user accounts through Google, Yahoo, and Facebook. Open identification systems allow a person to identify (authenticate) themselves to your learning management system using an account from one of these popular systems. An open authentication system simply allows a person to say “I’m email@example.com, password ABC!@33”; the LMS then sends that information to an authentication server. The authentication server says “yes, this is Jane Smith” and sends back an identifier that the learning management system can match to the account. The learning management system does NOT store an individual’s private log-in information in these open authentication systems. The system is somewhat more complex than that, but you get the idea.
These two approaches not only minimize frustration for students, they minimize the number of phone calls and e-mail requests related to forgotten passwords.
Make Required Training and Navigation Intuitive
People shouldn’t have to hunt down information on what training they are required to take. When a person enters the learning management system, give them a list of an unmet training requirements and an easy way to register for the next class occurrence. One basic principle of web design is the “big honkin’ button” that almost demands the user do something – unmet training needs are a great use for big buttons.
What are the three most common tasks a person will need to do when they visit the web site? How many “clicks” are needed for them to do these tasks? Basic web design says that the most important or common tasks should never be more than a single click from the main page.
While information on required training should be up front, that’s not the only information a person may need. A learning management system should allow users to find relevant information in at least three ways: by the individual, by the topic, and by the calendar. Information “by the individual” would include past and future training, relevant documents, profile information, etc. Information by topic is often accomplished through a category structure. The calendar may seem obvious, but keep it simple and easy to use.
One way to help out users is to use a system that generates direct hyperlinks. If you are sending an automated e-mail on a particular class, the learning management system should be able to provide a specific web address (URL). Include the link in your e-mail so that the recipient doesn’t have to hunt for the content after opening the e-mail. Always include the full URL as plain text that can be copied and pasted into a web browser — some security software prevents the user from simply clicking the hyperlink.
The LMS Needs to Work
No system is perfect. There will be problems. There are times your learning management system might go down due to technical or server issues. These occurrences must be minimized. There are some steps LMS administrators can take to minimize LMS technical issues:
- If using a vendor for hosting, be sure the terms of your service-level agreement are clearly understood. Asking for 100 percent uptime is unreasonable. Shoot for an acceptable number and a plan for responding to issues. For more on managing your vendor relationship, see Three Steps to Better Vendor Support.
- Only make programmatic changes after they have been fully tested on a duplicate (sandbox) site. Untested changes, no matter how simple, can have unintended consequences.
- Make programmatic changes, including applying updates and patches, at times when the least possible number of users will be affected.
- When implementing a new feature, be sure you test it fully using a “test” course or class and a small group of users.
- When launching a new online class, a member of the training department should always be the first person to register and take the class. Nothing is more embarrassing than announcing the launch of a new course and having that course function improperly.
- Test using a computer that was NOT used for development. Sometimes development software will install specialized drivers or tools such as video codecs. Testing on a non-development machine ensures all potential users can view the material as designed.
- Test on the slowest possible connection your users might have, so that you can decide if any material takes too long to load. Programs that sit on a loading screen frustrate users.
Of all the problems that will alienate students, inaccurate information is by a real problem for engagement. When a student logs into a system, they expect to see accurate, current information. Think about online banking. If the “available balance” was only updated once every two weeks, how confident would you be in that system? How about if the “ATM Locator” provided you with a directions to an ATM that was out of service?
There is certain information that students expect to be accurate and timely:
- The class calendar, showing upcoming classes
- The date, time, and location of a class for which they are registered
- Their required training, including status
- Their training history
- Contact information for training personnel
- Web links to resources and classes
Of special note are automated e-mails. If an automated email is being sent by the system, the information contained within it MUST be accurate. Another mistake that hurts buy-in involves duplicate, missing, or delayed e-mails. Receiving an e-mail that a class attended two weeks previously has changed location really hurts the system’s credibility.
Engaging Takes Effort
Getting users to engage with the learning management system isn’t difficult, but takes effort by the training staff. A few simple steps such as regularly updating your LMS web page will pay big dividends over time.