Break it down! (No it’s not Hammer Time! Yet)

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During the past 14.5 years,  I have seen firsthand what works, what doesn’t and what is really going on behind the scenes.

I’ve also learned firsthand, how to make it work in any vertical and any industry. Without just jumping around.

Pitfall the Game- It’s a Jungle out there

Authoring Tools. Learning Management Systems. Web conferencing. Mobile learning platforms. Social learning platforms. What does it all mean? What do I pick?

Do I need an authoring tool if I have a LMS?


Do I need to get an authoring tool that is SCORM or can it just be proprietary?

If you want to track in a learning management system or learning platform that supports SCORM then you want it. If your goal is just to post the course on a server and let people access it, just for the sake of learning and you don’t care about tracking of any sort – then no, you do not need any compliance standard.

What is this training management thing I’ve heard about?

It’s a product whose core focus is an authoring tool (proprietary based), but offers the ability to add users, provides a few analytics and a few reports. May offer the ability to take a course via an e-mail link or twitter link or in another fashion.  For whatever reason- okay to try to set themselves apart – some vendors have created the term “training management”.

Honestly, they could call it “online authoring system with a few reports and no frills” and it would be the same thing.

The downside to training management products is the inability to upload any other 3rd party authoring tool or courses from an off the shelf vendor. Yeah, you can upload word docs, PPT, etc. – but not a course from say Articulate or any of the other tools.

The biggest name in the space is

When they say trial what does that mean? How is that different than a demo? Can I test out the product for 30 days? Why do some vendors have trials and others do not?

A trial is the ability to view the product or tool for x number of days – although some vendors will extend pass the “deadline” if you need them to. Typically it is the full blown product, which means if there are some add-ons they may already be in the trial, even if you are not going to buy them.

Some vendors require you to register before they give you access to the trial. Others have you register and then they call you. Quite a few vendors, especially in the under 15K space, enable you to have access without registering for it.

A few vendors offer the trial but request your credit card. You have X days to test it out and then if you do not cancel with that time, your credit card gets charged.  I hope this disappears quickly and here is why:

Buy it, Forget it

You sign up for a gym membership and give them your credit card. After a few months you stop going and forget that you are being auto-charged.  The average time that it takes a consumer to cancel their credit card for services/products on a monthly charge is nine months – and that is across all consumer products/services.

I’m not saying that e-learning vendors who follow the “trial” and give us your credit card mantra are following this approach nor are they doing so in a nefarious way, I’m just giving you some insight in how companies that use this approach, see value in it.

My take – no vendor should ask for your credit card during a trial.

Demo Time (I know you were thinking Hammer Time!)

You view the product either with a salesperson on the line or the presentation has been recorded and you can view it at any time. With some vendors you are grouped together with other prospects. The slime of this, is that vendors who do this – may not tell you, which I hate.

I’d rather them send me a video of their demo, pre-recorded and let me watch it, then sit in (virtually) with 10 other folks who I don’t know – and no offense here – don’t care to know.

Demo Doomsday

There are still vendors who will show you everything, rather than asking up front what you want to see OR tailor it based on a previous conversation.

Within those who show it all, some will show you things you are not buying and/or are unaware are extra costs. Then when you buy the product – you get a surprise and it’s not the one wanted from the box of crackerjack.

Why would I want a SaaS solution over hosted on my own servers product?  Do I need to buy my own assessment tool or does it come with a LMS or authoring tool or both?

SaaS eliminates the need for IT on your side, less headaches and thus the responsibility of any issues being handled by the vendor. Honestly, as a whole it is the best route to go. Security is quite strong, privacy is there and when there is a problem, they deal with it – albeit you might have to make a call and unleash the power of your voice (ok, maybe not).

I see no reason in today’s market to purchase a standalone assessment tool. Many authoring tools come with assessment tools and some can be very good. LMSs are starting to make assessment tools standard, and again some can be quite robust.

If your LMS has one, and your authoring tool has one, whichever you feel more comfortable with – is the one I would use. You don’t have to use the assessment tool in your LMS nor do you have to use the authoring tool, if you have your own authoring tool that has the same compliance standard -whether you purchased it or not.

I prefer 3rd party authoring tools that use SCORM (in whatever version) as long as it matches my LMS.  I’m not a fan of AICC – IMO in the past, but the same structure follows as the authoring tool above.

Why isn’t there a required standard for e-learning?

Each of the compliance standards have strong components and weak components. I believe that if there was one required standard it would hurt the industry.  Yeah it would be nice and convenient, but convenience isn’t always productive, it’s just easier.

Why is this more confusing than solving the mystery of Sphinx?

Good question and I wholeheartedly agree. It should be simple to explain.

After all, we are educators, training directors, training/learning professionals. We are supposed to be able to explain things in a clear and easy to understand manner. So, why can’t the people who make the products do the same thing?

Why aren’t RFPs: R.I.P.?

I would just like to shout for a few seconds, “DIE! DIE! DIE! WHY WON’T YOU DIE?”

Thank you.

I blame everyone and anyone who is breathing at this moment. No, just kidding.

Actually, I do blame:

  • Vendors who still post RFP templates on their site – which by the way tend to be geared towards themselves
  • Organizations who recommend the value of RFPs and either have a link to an RFP template or how to do a RFP
  • Associations who focus more on RFPs then they really should – uh, you do know its 2012 right?
  • Some Linkedin groups who retort to folks asking about RFPs, that they should do a RFP – stop telling them that!
  • Some trade magazines that have articles about the value of RFPs – let me guess, the writer likes using RFPs?

RFP reality – And no, Jeff Probst is not your host

I know you won’t publicly admit it, but the first page you go to when you get your RFP back, is the page that shows how much it costs.

I know I did when I used RFPs, and then I had an epiphany.

Why would I want to read a 20 page document when I have so little time, and already have asked the vendor about specifics of what I need in a product?

Why do I want to read six pages about the vendor and their history and their client list and whatever else they shove into the response to add some weight to it?

Here is the thing, I don’t care and never have (Gene Hackman from Runaway Jury)

I only care about my learners, the company I work for and whether this system will work for us, within our budget.

While I’m impressed that you have a retention rate of 98% (funny, everyone seems to have that rate) and that you had pecan pie for a snack last night, I really have more interest in me. Just being honest here.

Speaking of Honesty

RFPs just aren’t as useful as they once were. Lots of information now exists on the net regarding systems.  Web sites that can go from very robust in terms of screenshots, feature sets and ta da – trials, then ever before. 

And yes, there are plenty who believe that text and some stock photos are still in – uh, they’re not.

RFPs remind me of VCRs. They had real value about ten years ago. Many people still used them three years ago, and some people still use them today.

There is a reason that your VHS tape is worth two pennies on eBay, because nobody really wants it.

Vendors know this – uh, not the VHS angle, rather the RFPs. They (Vendors) hate filling out RFPs, because it takes a lot of time and it’s easy to tell when it is a template from another vendor.

There are vendors who today just don’t respond to RFPs. It isn’t because they are lazy, it is because the probability of winning a RFP has dropped significantly over the past years, because too many folks just blast them out there, without doing any due diligence on their part.  This is why there are plenty of options to go rather than blasting a RFP

  • Hire a third party consultant to find your system. They will handle all the issues and understand the market in detail – granted you need to select the right one
  • View directories, including the one on this site, which provides you with links to the product, some information, etc. Some directories on the net – vendors pay to be ranked higher or are listed as “sponsor”, but you can still get some details and check out the vendor themselves. Just go more than a page or two, because many vendors do not want to pay the fee for “sponsor” or a high ranking
  • Narrow down and talk to a few vendors, based on what you read on their site and saw in their demo.  Ask questions. From there, you can create a one pager to send to the final list

I had one client who sent me a 46 page RFP they were going to send out to prospective vendors. I turned that into a one page spreadsheet. Guess what? The product that was selected met their needs, and they didn’t need 46 pages to do so.

It can be done and the trees will love you for it (after all, you eventually have to print that out at some point).

Bottom Line

So, when is it Hammer Time for e-learning? It’s when you know just as much as the next person.

When you know that you can ask the right questions, understand what is taking place and be able to respond back to someone at your site, what it all means and why you need it.

Again, when is it?


E-Learning 24/7

One comment

  1. Interesting article! Written with humor, but there are some really helpful tips. Some time ago, we were in search of an LMS to installe on our Joomla-based elearning site, and faced many problems described in the article: as failure to obtain easy access to the trial, incompetence of the staff, confusing pricing policy… All in all, it took a while to find an effective solution meeting our needs. But now we are 100% satisfied with our LMS! 🙂

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