Sometimes stringing too many acronyms together can make things more complicated than they need to be, especially when you are just starting to learn about a new area. I'm going break down what a SaaS LMS is, the differences between the types of them, how to select the right LMS for your needs, and how to set up your first training in a learning management system.
Let's define what a SaaS LMS is
SAAS is an acronym that stands for "Software As A Service". This means that instead of buying the software outright and installing it on a computer, you are renting it. You don't pay a large fee up front, instead you might pay a monthly or yearly subscription fee to be able to use the software. Many SaaS products exist on the web, where you use a web browser to access the software. You might log in with a username and password to access the software once you have paid for it. The advantage of a SaaS is that you don't have to maintain the software, in other words, you don't have to install it, keep it up to date, keep it secure, or anything like that. You are paying both for access to the software, and the assumption that it will be managed for you.
LMS is an acronym that stands for "Learning Management System". These are educational pieces of software that help teachers and learners communicate through technology. An LMS would help the teacher put together their courses and give them a structure to work in. It might allow the teacher to assign a course or lesson to a student. It would help the student gain access to the training material. It may deliver eLearning resources like videos, downloads, resource links, and other coursework. It might allow the teacher to put together a test to see how well the student understood the material. And it will keep track of the learners progress so that the teacher can see what they have done and what they have not yet. LMS is a large term now that can incorporate even more than that, but those are the basic elements of what may be involved in this type of software.
Types of Learning Management Systems
These systems are primarily used in an institutional school related context. The roles of teacher and student would be familiar and expected here. Part of the focus here is recreating (some) of the classroom context inside of the software, including some of the teacher to student relationship, or even some of the student to student relationships. So these systems may include features such as discussion boards where students may have to post their thoughts about a topic, they may include messaging functionality so that a teachers and students can converse if needed, they will almost certainly include test and grading functionality so that the teacher can evaluate the student and assign a mark to them based on the work they have done.
Corporate training has become prominent in large companies. Here the role of instructor can vary. It may be an Human Resources professional communicating a change in policies to the whole company. It may be an IT professional communicating about a change in technology. It may be someone on the product team explaining new features to the sales team. Or it may be a manager explaining an upcoming change to a process and how it should be handled. These systems tend to focus more on one person communicating to a larger group of people, so there may be less focus on back and forth communication. Grading may be included but will most likely be automatic and not decided by a teacher. There may be a greater role in the system helping to remind learners about the training and getting them to comply.
This type of learning management system is for those who want to put together a course on a topic which they are an expert in. They may have an audience on social media or a following elsewhere, so creating a course can help them in two ways: 1. They may choose to sell this course for a profit. Or 2. Releasing a course will show that they are an expert in this topic and give them notoriety. These types of learning management systems may include e-commerce functionality so that you can charge for your course. They may include discussion boards, or messaging for communities. While not always, this type of course often revolves around videos where the instructor teaches about a subject and may give additional learning resources. Some of these courses are taken at the same time in groups, called cohorts. Or individuals may sign up for the course at any time and take the course at their own pace.
How to Select the Best SaaS Based eLearning Platform
Who is it for and what is the point?
What kind of organization do you work for and how is it structured? What is the purpose of the training you are putting together? Who will be the instructors and who will be the students? Will the training all be done at the same time, or will it be self-paced and could be started at different points throughout the year? Is there a deadline for completion? What kind of training will you be doing and how much of it is there?
What functionality do you need?
What kind of training materials will be used (like videos, quizzes, powerpoints...) Are there legal (or other) requirements that must be proven to have been completed? What is the output of the training, does a student receive something from completing it? How will the instructor put together the training, do they have the tools they need to do that? How will the students receive the training? How much communication needs to happen between the students and instructors, or students and other students? What kinds of devices will they be using the training on?
Narrow the options
Do some basic Google searches about your niche and see if there are some learning management systems that focus on it already. Start your list and take notes about what is promising about each one. Use your functionality checklist from above and see if you can go down your list with each new tool and evaluate it based on your criteria. Try to not have too many options on your list, keep to to 5 or under and before adding another one considering removing the one that seems the least relevant. In the end, narrow the list to 1 or 2 options that you are going to sign up for a trial or get a demo from a salesperson at the company.
Evaluate your choice
Once you are using your trail, or getting a demo of the LMS software, try to be as "real world" as you can about it. Its best if you already have one course you would like to have a small number of test users run through to see what kind of experience you have while taking the course.
How to Use a SaaS LMS
- Create your training
While it's easy to get lost in the technology decisions, the truth is that putting together a quality course can be one of the most challenging aspects of learning. Each instructor may have different approaches. In today's world it can be common to record parts of the lesson as a video so that students can watch to start their training. Unlike traditional classrooms though, it is highly recommended to keep these lessons in shorter bite sized chunks. Techsmith says that most viewers want instructional videos to be less than 20 minutes, with a preference towards 3-6 minutes. Are there also other resources that need to be collected and passed on to the student? Finally, do you need to make use of a comprehension tool such as a quiz or text to make sure that they understood the lesson material?
- Add your users/learners
At the very least, you should have a list of your learners names and email addresses to import into the system. You may also need them grouped according to your needs such as department, role, or experience level so that you can assign them different courses or lessons if need be. Many learning management systems allow you to add one user at a time, or import a list of them via a common format like a CSV or Excel spreadsheet.
- Send out the training
Once you have your learners in the system you can assign them the courses that are relevant to them (or possibly let them self select which are the most relevant to them). Sometimes your LMS will send out an automatic email to start the learner on the course, or sometimes it is up to you to send some kind of email or other communication to let them know that the course is available and the deadline for finishing it. In addition, you can't expect that with a single reminder that 100% of your students will finish the work immediately. Because everyone is busy it is very possible that they will need several reminders to complete the coursework before it is done, so consider an LMS that has this functionality built-in already, saving you the work of constantly following up.
- Evaluate your training After the first batch of learners has completed their course, take some time to evaluate how the process went. Consider this both from the standpoint of the instructor/trainer: Was the system easy to work in? Were we able to accomplish what we wanted? Were we happy with the completion rate that we achieved? And then consider it from the students point of view: Was the training easy to access? Was the training easy to complete? Was there anything confusing about the training materials or about the technology itself?
Why Groundwork1 could be a good SaaS LMS option for you
Groundwork is a new SaaS Learning Management System for Corporate e-learning and Non profits that simplifies the learning process for your trainees. Groundwork sends out all training materials via email, so that learners don't have to find the training and log in, they get the materials directly in their inbox and modules like videos and quizzes take them to a simple landing page that is personalized, but doesn't require them to log in to complete their coursework.
Each lesson is a single email, but multiple lessons can be scheduled into a course. You can schedule each lesson based on a number of factors such how many days after the started the training, or how many days after they complete another lesson. This gives you the flexibility to create your course with your learners needs in mind.
The instructor can log in and view everyone's progress for a certain course in a visual grid. They can also drill down to see individual users and their progress on each lesson. This allows you to be aware of how your training progress is going and what could be improved in the future about it.
Hopefully this gives you an overview of SaaS based learning management systems. Let us know if you have any general questions about these types of eLearning platforms as we have used a number of them over the years. Or if you have any specific questions about Groundwork1 and how it can help you achieve your corporate training needs.