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Exploring the Next Generation of Learning Management Systems

Angela Pisciotta-Perez
Nov 28, 2016

A Learning Management System (LMS) is a critical component to manage, track and retain regulatory, onboarding, soft skill and company-specific training. With hundreds of solutions on the market, how do you narrow down and select the right one for your company? Prior to searching for an LMS, your team will need to gather key factors on what tools and resources are important in your short and long term training strategies. What types of trainings are you looking to produce? What tools, file types and resources does your system need to be able to accommodate for these trainings? How will your users be accessing the system? Do you want a branded platform? Is it important that the LMS provider have pre-published trainings uploaded into the system or available for you to purchase? You may want to reach out to department managers and inquire where most staff is struggling in order to ensure your LMS solution can help address those needs.

Once you have determined your key factors, you can start your search online. The information you gather will assist in identifying your company’s needs and save time during the evaluation process. Just from our initial online search, we were able to input our “must haves” and a few clicks later we had more than 44 Learning Management System companies. With 23 different features, you can easily navigate through each Learning Management System. The Learning Management System search company also asked if we preferred all products available or most popular. Of course, we viewed both options. The most popular provided a scale from customers, users and social.

Here are some areas you may want to consider for your key factors …

Do you want a system that is customized and branded for your company? Branding options can be more than just logos and colors. It can include customizing welcome screens, navigation and internal and external links. Some LMS solutions go so far as to allow you to create multiple interfaces so that different roles, positions or locations can see a dashboard and layout that is customized to them.

A system that is easy to navigate is crucial for receptiveness for both the student and the administration. Having a clean and simple interface along with allowing your learners to access the system using both Web browsers and mobile devices can help lessen the burden of time and the feeling of inconvenience when launching companywide mandatory training.

Additional content
While you certainly want to have the ability to create and host your own training sessions, consider an LMS that provides or allows you to purchase additional content. This could help engage employees with soft skills and courses that allow someone to better themselves, ultimately creating a stronger workforce.

Tracking and reporting
Ensure that the solutions you are vetting have the capability to track and report on your learners' progress and can serve as your record retention system for future regulatory or audit needs. Tracking can include administrator access to user and course progress, along with system-wide reports, learners access to a grade book, automated e-mail reminders on course deadlines and manager access to direct reports.

Each LMS system has a number of different unique add-ons that can include integration with human resource systems, automated workflow capabilities, different training or activity types, certificates, quiz builders, social integration, gamification, and so on. Keep an open mind when listening to the different unique features because although you may not have a need or are using them today, they can help take your training platform to the next level down the road.

Gamification is an educational approach to motivate students to learn by using video game design and game elements in learning environments. The goal of this system is to maximize enjoyment and engagement through capturing the interests of learners and inspiring them to continue to learn. I am not sure if you have ever sat through a compliance course, but most would not agree that it’s an enjoyable or engaging experience. Therefore, this may be an added benefit for what your company is looking for.

Customer service
Customer service is an extremely important factor for any company. Would the company be able to answer your questions in a timely manner? Everyone has probably had experience with companies who are horrible with customer service and give responses over a week later. If you aren’t able to get assistance via e-mail or calling, then how do you scale a Learning Management System on customer service? You can view their Customer Case Studies to learn more. Each Learning Management System provides tutorials about their system. This provides how many users and courses there are, and how long they have been a customer. Are the LMS systems familiar with the ever-changing, over- regulated mortgage industry? Since this industry is so complicated, you may want to use a system that is able to accommodate all of these ongoing changes.

Are the fixed courses related to our business? Would we be required to start from scratch? Courses that we didn’t need to create would be a huge time saver, especially for our compliance team. Do they have Microsoft-developed courses? This training would benefit employees on creating documents, scheduling meetings, calendar reminders and building Excel and/or PowerPoints. Some of the Learning Management Systems provide channel learning, franchise, manufacturer and distributors as well. Another “must have” might be the ability to create exams and provide certification. Functionality is essential to provide question/answer randomization, multiple question types, timed exams, answer feedback, max attempt options and re-usable question banks. Results that would be accessible to the learner via a grade book, this would allow the instructor and learner to view and interact. Being provided with editable certificates once the student completed the course would be helpful as well. Some Learning Management Systems aren’t user friendly and creating tests once the employee completed the training can be a nightmare. You might have to use a different company just to create and track testing. So if you found an LMS that did both, it would be a tremendous benefit to your company.

Continuous change
As you know, the mortgage industry is continuously changing, and with change comes training on new regulations and products. So your next question should be, would your Learning Management System keep up with the continuous change? How often are they updating, improving and evolving? A Learning Management System should always be looking for improvements and updates. We were surprised that several Learning Management System companies did not have an upload feature. We have training programs where we require students to upload documents. Knowing that we require this feature, we were able to disqualify several companies for this reason.

Another “must have” is affordability. I shouldn’t say that our current Learning System quadrupled our pricing but  it did! And by doing so it allowed us to see that the grass was in fact greener on the other side. Every Learning System we reviewed had more features than what we currently work with. Not only that, we could gain more time with the auto tracker, testing and certificate features. We could now allow our learners access via their cellphones and/or tablets.

Recently, we had the opportunity to vet and select a new LMS. Let me walk you through our process. We had great success with starting at Capterra (Capterra.com). This allowed us to narrow down Learning Management Systems by filtering the results from over 400 down to 44 with a few clicks, ensuring that as we continued vetting and reading about the systems we were only looking at those that fit our initial criteria. We then dug in a little deeper and started looking at the  companies’ websites, reading the reviews and ratings on Capterra and watching short demos, we were able to cut another 30 off within a few hours. Finally, we were down to our top 14. From there, we scheduled one-on-one demos where we could really see the systems, and ask company-specific and training-specific questions.

Finding the right Learning System can be quite a challenge. Every LMS we reviewed was courteous, friendly and responded quickly to our e-mails. Armed with our “must haves,” we were sorting through hundreds of options and narrowed it quickly down to 44 and within a week, down to three. Keep both your short- and long-term training needs and goals in mind, while keeping an open mind about those add on features and let that act as your compass to finding the perfect Learning Management System for your company.

Angela Pisciotta-Perez is the training and education specialist for Mountain West Financial Inc. and has been with the company for six-plus years. Angela is responsible for the new hire training, lesson plans, and the evaluation and monitoring of students’ performance. She also administers educational and quarterly Webinars, and serves as editor for the MWF Quarterly Staff Newsletter. She may be reached by e-mail at [email protected].

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 print edition of National Mortgage Professional Magazine.

Nov 28, 2016
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