Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Question 5 - Tell me about your LMS!

How did you organize your groups? By department? By job description? Other criteria?

I'm looking for ideas for our folder structure. If we get the structure right, we can get the reports right...or so I hope.

The current plan is for us to organize folks by department and by whether or not they are managers. There is also talk about organizing by job description. We plan to use our Enterprise system (Banner) to help automate this process.

We are taking any and all ideas.

If I get permission, I will share what we came up with on these pages a few months (I hope) from now.

BTW - thank you so much for your participation! Your feedback has been very helpful.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Question 4 - Tell me about your LMS!

What reports in your LMS do you find most valuable?

Just curious. Again, please leave comments.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Keeping Momentum

Sally (not her real name) is one of our stakeholders. She comes from another training group that happens to have the ear of the Executive VP. Since my last discussion with my Control freak, she has let herself be co-opted into our developing administrative group for this LMS.

Much to the dismay of the control freak, I've given her administrative access too.

So now, there are 3 of us.



Our stakeholders meetings have bogged down. This has made us a bit concerned. Sally contacted me the other day:

I really don't want to lose momentum. How can we get this out to the public with what we have?

Well, we have been doing some guerilla change management. B (one of the other trainers) figured out a way to send direct links while still authenticating through our LDAP. We have been sending follow-up emails with those links to the LMS.

But there's got to be more that we can do! If we can prove business value with what we have, it will be much easier to get resources.


Just look at the certification courses in here! That's many thousands of dollars right there!

(We crunch some numbers)

If we can just get more people to use it - it will be a no-brainer! Then we will get the resources we need!

And if nothing else, we will continue the change management process in the university among the rank and file. Getting folks more used to looking online for resources. We already have over 2000 users. Not bad for a system that hasn't even been formally implemented yet.

If all goes well, this thing could be like the old Faberge shampoo ad.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Question 3 - Tell me about your LMS!

Do you find the LMS enhanced learning?

(Question from @mkfrie)

I'm looking for honest feedback. Any comments welcome!

LMS/CMS as Personal Learning environment?

Less focus on information dissemination,knowledge management and more focus on facilitating personal learning environment development for students.
- Sue Hixon (aka @EvilSue - thanks for IDing yourself!!!!!)

Ah yes, an issue that has dogged the instructional technology community for years.

Doug Holton, in a recent post, pointed to a 2002 Educause article on this exact topic.

I know for the LMS I am working with (which is REALLY an online course library with some reporting functions), setting this up to provide ALL of the potential tools one would need to truly develop a personal learning environment would be impossible.

First, we would want to list every tool that should be in that environment.

Then - find ways to make it easy to share stuff created using other tools outside the environment (something my LMS does not have).

It is probably too much to ask 1 tool to do everything.

I've worked with those tools (Electronic Medical Records, enterprise business systems, etc) and I find that they often do nothing particularly well.

In my case, this may be an instance of leveraging what is already there and what the tool provides (a large library of content) and finding ways to link it to other tools with more useful features (sharing capacity, better reporting, etc).

After, of course, we get the requirements from the stakeholders ;')

Monday, October 19, 2009

Question 2 - Tell me about your LMS!

If you had to do the LMS implementation all over again, what would you change?

Please leave a comment! I will give you much glory on these pages if you do!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Question 1 - Tell me about your LMS!

What problem was the LMS supposed to resolve? Did the LMS resolve the problem?

Please leave a comment. I will be bothering you on Twitter in the meantime.....

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

5 Questions on your LMS

As part of our Phase 2 project, the management asked us to come up with 5 questions to ask other universities regarding their Learning Management Systems and how they use this system for staff training and development.

Thanks to the nice folks on Twitter (you guys rock!) - 5 questions:

• What problem was the LMS supposed to resolve? Did the LMS resolve the problem?
• If you had to do the LMS implementation all over again, what would you change?
• How did you organize your groups? By department? By job description? Other criteria?
• What reports do you find most valuable?
• Do you find the LMS enhanced learning?

Let me know if you think I should replace one of these questions with something else.

Over the next couple of weeks I will be asking the community (that means YOU) each of these questions in turn.


BTW - if you are in the market for an LMS and looking at vendors, Tracy Hamilton has a fairly comprehensive list of questions to ask when visiting other sites.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Before the Trend Becomes a Problem

Disney has a huge research arm. They get information from every direction.

Most interesting is when they act on it.

How do we convince people to act when it is not a problem....yet?

Now vs. Someday

Wendy - you really should get the requirements first.
- advice from everyone

As you all noticed, I tend to get ahead of myself. I think it is because I confuse requirements that need to happen NOW vs. "I'd like to be able to do this someday."

I have misinterpreted a "now" requirement as a "someday" requirement and been burned.

I have seen the "someday" requirement quickly becomes a "now" requirement when a higher-up gets involved.

I have experienced getting to the "someday" requirement and realizing that I have to make do with already exists.

This explains why I knee-jerk try to manipulate what I already have at my disposal rather than continue to collect requirements, or grovel to the vendor (I'm not the money person so that never works particularly well), or get the money people to grovel to the vendor ("Try to make do with what you have").

I'm scared to death that I will never be able to deliver.

Definitely not in the "Now" timeframe and probably not in the "Someday" timeframe.

I really should stop taking so much ownership over things I can't control.

I frequently find myself in the situation where the tools and resources were selected and purchased well before any real requirements were put in place. And well before I came along.

Below is an example of what happens during those projects:

The management gives me some tools (5 paper clips, 3 pieces of cinnamon gum and a roll of duct tape) and asks me to get requirements for their use.

Once I have the requirements (make a robotic arm) and have done the gap analysis (erm, I'm not even close to having the right resources), I am given the final set of resources.

We are replacing your 5 paper clips with 5 safety pins, the gum will be fruit-flavored and, oh by the way, we need to take the duct tape. Good luck! (door slams and the resource-providers are only heard from when they complain that you can't get the job done with what they gave you).

This is the situation I find myself in right now. (OK, maybe not nearly that extreme).

We are trying to put a round peg in an octagonal hole.

In this case, we have a useful content library that we are trying to make into an LMS. There are LMSy features available in the content library, but it is missing lots of things that would allow it to perform the requirements I am collecting.

At this stage, I don't know what resource changes will be available once we have the full requirements list.

Will we be able to completely re-evaluate what we are doing and actually purchase the tools we need to fit those requirements?

Or will we have to make-do with what we have.

Past experience tells me to be ready to make do with what we have.

Which is why I try to get an inventory of what we have to work with at the same time as I collect requirements. I am doing this a little too early in any self-respecting project.

Because those "Someday" requirements quickly become "Now" requirements.

And I gonna haveta figure out how to make do with 5 safety pins and fruit-flavored gum.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Breaking Things Down

I learned that nothing good comes without work and a certain amount of pain.
- Henry Rollins

There are many days where I think about what I want to accomplish and become overwhelmed by the scope of it all.

In my Thoughts on Goals, I talked a little about how I break down goals into Immediate, Short-term, Medium-term and Long-term.

Jon M. in Barbells and Bacon, talks a little further about opportunity cost. Set a time goal for yourself and focusing for that period.

There is another layer of goal-setting. How do you take the big, long-term goal for yourself and break it down into manageable, focused steps?

I find myself going through this exercise each time I attempt something really big.

Right now, my Evil Plan is the attempt to create a one-stop shop for learning information.

Why am I even pursuing this?

- It's part personal: when I first started at my job I didn't know where to go to get help or the appropriate training. I'm still trying to figure it out. My managers have excellent networks, but no one has a real sense of what resources are out there.

- Others have the same problem. Every time I step in the classroom, whether it is new employees or 25 year veterans, the question is always "Where do I go for help and information?" "Where do I go for further / other training?" Half the time, I have to do research before I can answer them because I still, 18 months later, have no idea what is available.

- Other trainers have the same problem. Each time I talk to one of my colleagues in one of the multiple "training" groups (and these things are like weeds), we all have the same frustration. We have no consistent place to point them to. Half the time, we don't know where to go. Usually, we are reduced to pounding our network after the fact. And many of us hate not having immediate answers for our students.

This is big, hairy and scary.

I've been trying to break this down into manageable parts - mostly focused on the daily and short-term tasks. From cruel experience, I have found that projecting too far out is a sucker's game.

The daily - "I am going to get x done today on this tutorial / document / work."
The short-term - "I am going to finish x project / talk to y people"

Eventually, when you look at your work a year later, you can see what has been accomplished towards the larger goal and what is still left to do.

Big-scale change like this is a gradual process - no matter how much some executive thinks they can speed it up by unrealistic timelines. If it is a change that is going up against some long-standing values - the more gradual, the more buy-in, the better.

In this case, I am fighting the unspoken desire for maintaining "control" within their "silos."

The individual vs. collaborative is a very tricky nut to crack. As individuals (I know this all too well) and as groups. All I can do right now is chip away at it. Through prototyping. Through talking with others. Through practicing my own collaborative skills.

Daily, small goals and actions.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The NOW Network

You all are awesome! I am still taking advice. Please leave a comment on this post or the previous one if you have any experience in this matter.

Any and all advice welcome and encouraged.

Ur friends and compatriots are going to help you get through this. The OMG moment? That's when you level up. :)
- RT@mrch0mp3rs aka Aaron Silvers

Aaron had quickly identified the freakout in my Twitter feed and encouraged me to move the conversation to the Black Swan Society.

The original post is below.

Hi folks. Need help.

One of our really important stakeholders is making it a deal-breaker that we somehow get a system that allows us to pull data from both the LMS and the ERP so that we can actually run some real business metrics to measure the effectiveness of our training. (Shocking, I know).

Our LMS does not do this natively. Neither does our ERP.

2 questions:
- If you have a robust database of this type, what are you using / what did you do?

- How did you overcome the objections of the IT department (of which I am a member)?

Thanks for any and all advice.


Aaron did a good job of talking me down from the ledge by reminding me to break the problem into parts.

- Find an example of a report they may want run. Get a feel for need-to-have vs. nice-to-have.
- Prototype
- Record the level of effort

At this stage - I was still looking for one tool to rule them all. A solution with my existing tools that wouldn't require fancy middleware.

I'm assuming your ERP system is either SAP or PeopleSoft, right?

Your LMS? Probably doesn't matter. If it's not SAP or some integrated Oracle solution, customization is unavoidable if you want to actually get this stuff to talk to each other - Aaron

Umm...not using SAP or an integrated Oracle solution.


At bowling, I asked the same question to my bowling team. The Captain is an IBM Global Services project manager who has done a significant amount of integration work. Miller is an all-around computer guru who has worked in the eLearning industry (WHERE he worked escapes me right now).

Miller: So what are you trying to do?

Me: I'm trying to pull information out of Banner (Sungard product with an Oracle back end) and SkillPort to create reports where I can actually measure whether our training works.

Miller: And your ERP won't let you do that?

Me: Have no idea. And since we are in the middle of an upgrade for that product, I have a feeling even broaching it will fall on deaf ears.

Miller: There are a number of products out there that allow you to create reports from various databases. You can go for simple and homegrown or really complicated middleware systems.

The Patent Officer: Or you could just program it in PERL!

(the team tells the Patent Officer to shut up and bowl)

The Captain: I know we use Cognos for most of our database reporting. Not sure why, but we do. I think it's because IBM owns it or something. It works OK.



- On Facebook, Bryan, the WoW Guru, is asking me what resources I have at my disposal.

- On Black Swan - John Schulz sent this advice:

I think the problem with such a direction becomes identifying the 'owner' of a particular piece of data - i.e. which system is the master, which are the slaves. This is definitely an issue IT fights around.

To alleviate some of these types of concerns, we were moving toward the data warehouse idea. In the warehouse, each system owns their particular pieces of data - they all just get centralized for mass reporting and analysis.

So in a simple example, the relevant data from Banner would be ported to a database server at specific times (nightly, weekly, real time) depending on the needs for particular data elements. The same is true for the data from the LMS. These data ports are usually a fairly simple arrangement from an IT perspective so no new expense required with the exception of having a DB server capable of meeting your query needs.

On top of that you implement some type of reporting solution - Business Objects, Cognos, Crystal Reports, home grown, whatever. Give people access to the data warehouse and watch them create their own reports. Most of these tools allow you to design a report and have the query executed at specific times. Copies of datasets or reports and usually be emailed or shared across the organization.

As Aaron mentioned the trick is really in understanding the type of analysis you intend to perform. This has huge implications on how you collect data, how long you store data, and how rapidly that data must be refreshed in the warehouse.
- John Schulz, Black Swan Society

- On yesterday's blog post, Michael Hanley sent these words of encouragement:

The reality is that this is the outcome of learning professionals letting LMS vendors away with their clunky, siloed solutions for the past decade or so. If they can't even implement specifications like SCORM correctly - and if I hear one more LMS sales droid assuring me that that their product is "SCORM Compliant" I'll probably do them a grievous injury - never mind having data connectors for HRMSs and ERP solutions.

I'd suggest going back to your LMS vendors to help you out (get them to do a gap analysis re: their system >> your needs).

Finally, if I may suggest, it sounds like your guru is trying to make their problem your problem, as as they're the one with the PHD, they should be suggesting approaches to solving your common challenges, and not dropping them in your lap.

The situation may not be fair. And I am probably trying to take way too much responsibility.

Still - we talk about this. A lot.

Time to put the talk into action.

My next step - talking to our DataMarts guru....

Monday, October 05, 2009

Getting Requirements and My Mind Blown

I had a chance to talk to one of our high-level training gurus yesterday.

She is new to the organization (less than 1 year) and is one of the primary stakeholders in our phase 2 LMS project.

She also has a PhD in Distance Learning.

Yup - I was more than a little nervous.

During our conversation, she laid out a series of requirements / issues. I hadn't heard them put quite this way, but her concerns are universal to our university.

I'm still trying to process this, so bear with me....


When she is designing training for any distance learning session (synchronous AND asynchronous), she asks herself some of the following questions:
+ Is my training having the appropriate emotional impact?
+ Is my training having the appropriate behavioral impact?
+ How does the training impact the bottom line? In this case - the money coming into the university.
+ How do I design this so that a community is built rather than just a one time training event?
+ How do I make the material as accessible as possible while still tracking progress and completions?

Ideally, the LMS would then allow the following:
- Integration with the ERP so that she wouldn't have to try to crib reports out of both the LMS and the ERP and hand-manipulate the resulting data.
- Easy input of all instructional materials - including smile sheets, surveys, online tutorials, web materials.
- Easy input for the students of all assignments - any format.

The questions and the requirements are utterly sensible and common throughout our university.

My thinly-veiled freak-out occurred when I realized that:

a) The "LMS" (which is a content manager right now rather than any useful LMS) may not be able to do half ANY of the requirements without some serious jury-rigging.

b) There may not be an easy way to integrate the business results in the ERP (which I am assuming exist....a possible mistake on my part) with the educational results in the LMS.

We need this individual's support.

We may be f***ed.

Relationships and Communities

Relationships and Communities

Building a community is one of the most important things you do in a distance learning class.

This pearl of wisdom has been repeated throughout my studies as an instructional technologist.

I'm certain any one of these scholarly documents will provide research-driven evidence and appropriate models for identifying, using and building communities in a distance learning environment.

The following comments are not backed by any research. Just observation.

Give me a couple of seconds while I put on my flak jacket....

In my social media participation, I am seeing the following models:

- Fully online communities built around common interests / experiences. I see this in Twitter (#lrnchat), subject-specific message boards, World of Warcraft and other MMORPGs, etc. Later in-person contact may or may not result from the relationships built within these communities. Actually meeting a member of your network isn’t the point. I have personally found that the more well-established the community, the harder it usually is to break into and the more subtle the cultural norms.

- Online communities based on personal history. Facebook, for me, is a great example of this. I am talking to people I haven’t seen in 20+ years. We may be geographically distributed and I may never be in the same physical space with some of these folks ever again, but we can keep in touch and maintain community through these tools. Ultimately, you wind up creating a personal community revolving around “you”.

- Online communities supporting personal interests / shared activities with a central in-person element. Many of the classes at my university have a chat and/or blog component to supplement the lecture and facilitate further discussion. A very good, non-academic example is how Potomac CrossFit encourages all of their members to comment on the message board and create their own workout blogs. We may not get a chance to talk to each other during the workouts, but we can chat through the comments. (Warning, some of the comments may not be safe for work). The online reinforces the physical community norms. I also find this type of community more comfortably inclusive, particularly for those of us who feel a bit awkward in group settings.

- Fully in-person communities. Often this is a result of proximity. The folks I work with (even though a few of them lurk on this blog) is a primary example. The closest thing to an online element is minimal participation in Facebook or the regular IMs and emails sent.

What has made the advent of robust social media tools so valuable is the broader range of relationships I can develop.

Most of my childhood friends have moved on to develop interesting careers. I can get professional feedback from them as well as say “hi”.

There is the “network of spies” that has developed through this blog and Twitter.

There is the support system and consistent reinforcement team I now have through PCF as I attempt long-term behavior change (exercise and eating better).

The most comfortable communities and relationships, for me, are the ones that eventually hold the promise of an in-person element.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The importance of support

Disney does training. Lots of it. Even more importantly, they reinforce. In daily meetings, with instantaneous feedback in the field, through modeling, with supportive processes.

It is the support and reinforcement that does more to make change stick than the actual training.

This got me thinking – our models focus so much on the training event and regular re-evaluation of that training event. We need to think beyond that. Our “instructional” design needs to also include the support structures behind and beyond the training event. How are we going to support them when they walk out of the classroom. What resources do we have?

As part of this design, we also need to suss out more carefully how serious the management is about the change. Are they just training to check the “training” box? Demonstrate to the underlings that “they offer training” (nevermind in what)? Or do they really need something substantive to happen?

This will not be a comfortable conversation. Especially since, in my experience, organizations would rather blame failures on “training” than on the systemic issues surrounding the change (no ongoing support, the change not actually solving a problem, communication issues surrounding the change, no one taking responsibility for the success or failure of the change….etc).