E-Learning 24/7 Superhero Reader Edition: LRS Pros/Cons, Course design – what works

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Welcome, to another installment of Q&A where readers of the E-Learning 24/7 send me questions via e-mail and I respond (okay, I select a few and respond, but you probably figured that out).


Couple of quick housekeeping notes – starting in March, the blog will be posted on Saturdays.  The recent change is due to an increase in travel around this wonderful world of ours.

Second, I’m still building the off-blog page site for buyers of the 2016 Top 50 LMS Report.

This section will contain the latest data on the Top 50 including Y2Y (year to year) percentage growth in sales, Y2Y for clients, their rating of the state of the industry today, customer service,  2015 total sales – via range and so much more.

The page will provide direct access to a wealth of information from many of the vendors (all were offered the opportunity to do so).   My goal is to get it up and running by next Saturday.  If you are a buyer, you will receive the info – user/password, prior to the site going live (which to repeat is not yet live).

If you are looking for an LMS or considering an LMS, my 2016 Top 50 LMSs report will give you the insight you will need to make an informed decision.

The report is in an easy to read format and is over 500 pages in length.  Looks amazing in any mobile device, desktop or laptop.  Click a rank and zoom… you go right to the vendor’s profile page and data.

Click their name and zoom, back to the rankings.   It’s as fun as riding your favorite roller coaster without the after effects of why you no longer ride your favorite roller coaster.

And now the super edition of Q&A Boom

Q:  I’ve been reading a lot about learning record stores. We are looking at several LMSs and a few have an LRS, while others don’t.  Should we get a system that has one?

A:  First and foremost, be aware that an LRS (learning record store) is a work in progress. And I would underline work in progress for emphasis.  While I have (continue to have) real concerns about privacy and security issues, if a person leaves your company/business/school/university and so forth and goes some other place that doesn’t have an LRS – where does their data record sit –  an LRS has potential.

When I mean potential, I mean that the possibilities of what can be extracted for analytics and thus reporting really could be a big plus in the LMS industry.  Take that Big Data! Actually, you would be able to drill down the metrics for Big Data.  So, hello Big Data!

Thus, at this point, it is a nice to have, but if you like a system that currently doesn’t have one, but has it on their roadmap by the end of 2016, that’s okay too.  But remember it is a work in progress.ZAP


For folks unaware of what an LRS is, I highly recommend you read the Q&A blog post with Aaron Silvers, who is the premier expert for xAPI, LRS and future spec tech (Is that a phrase? Well, it is now).

The challenge though is what fields – and how many – are created in the LRS by the LMS vendor.  Thus while one LRS might have 20 fields (hypothetically) another might not.

That is why I think you will see some vendors go the route of selecting an already existing LRS, built by vendor X and integrate that into their LMS.  I should add that you can get an LRS without buying an LMS or any of the sub-sets of an LMS.

The two biggest names out there are Watershed and Saltbox – Wax LRS.  IMO, Saltbox is better.

The Premise though is changing – CONCERN ALERT!

Earlier I mentioned that I had concerns with where a learner’s data record would sit, if that learner left your LMS and company, etc., and went to another place that didn’t have an LMS with an LRS.  Right now, if you ask LRS vendors or even LMS vendors the answer is all over the place and yes, that includes sometimes vagueness.

I’ve heard everything from using learning locker to creating your own. 

This is probably a good time to note that all those activity statements that go into the LRS for that learner creates a learner data record and that the big item for creating an LRS (as repeatedly told early on) was the ability to capture all that data (for metrics), and of equal importance, when the learner leaves and goes somewhere else, that has an LMS with an LRS, their data record could integrate into the new LMS (regardless if it is the same brand or not) without issue (interoperability).

In other words, your employee, customer, student has a data record.

When they walk and go elsewhere, their data record goes with them.  It doesn’t stay in the LMS.  When the person (let’s say student) who is in HS (and her HS has an LMS with an LRS) goes to college, and that college has an LMS with an LRS, their data record goes into that new LMS.

What if though, the HS student leaving to go to college and that college either doesn’t have an LMS or has one but doesn’t have an LRS.  Which gets back to my big CONCERN – where is that data record stored?

Well, there are vendors who have solved the whole dilemma.  How you might ask? They delete that data record when that student, employee, customer leaves.  Yep, they have taken a key part of the premise of an LRS and tossed it out of the proverbial window.




Q.  We continue to have problems with our employees completing our courses.  When they do complete them, they never go back into any of the courses.  Our courses are primarily compliance courses, but we do offer some soft skills too.  Is there something we can do to rectify the situation?

A. YES.  What you are facing is not that unusual. In fact, I hear it a lot.  It is one of the reasons – I’d argue a big reason – that folks do not like online learning – it is the courses. I heard this in Germany, in England, in various parts of the United States, in Australia and in Saudi Arabia (in other words, every place I spoke).  On top of that, I have heard the “our leaners never go back into our courses argument” from training directors/L&D executives on the trade show floor to other folks including vendors.  The retort?  Yeah, that is why e-learning doesn’t work.

I wrote way back when at one show, a person said that whole “our learners never go back into the courses…” and I said it is the way the content is created in the course.  He seemed as though I was talking gibberish. Personally, he was, but that is another story.

Anyway, here are the ways to change course structure/content approaches to have your employees go back into the course(s), when they need to acquire specific areas of knowledge.

  • Create non-linear, self-paced learning – remember the A to C to J to E angle?  This is that asynchronous approach, I mentioned this past week.  That is the power of WBT – the learner goes to where they need to know and acquire new information. 

Thus the content becomes relevant to me.  And if I see it as relevant and of use..what do you think happens?  I’ll return. 

Maybe I need a refresher for that section/chapter. Maybe I want to learn another section/chapter or a page or two within that chapter.   

I get the linear – A to B to C thing and yes you can still do that, but in reality, it is an awful way to create a course because it ends up either as a dud (where people never go back into the course) or it forces, and I repeat forces the learner to follow your path (or whomever created the course), rather than their path of learning – which is a big difference.

  • In the course builds, either go mini module, where each module if someone was to go from A to B and so forth, could complete it in say 10 minutes.  You still create it for the power of jumping around – i.e. in each module or better yet, the learner can jump not only within the module to different chapters/pages, but also to another modules within the course.  
  • Make sure any course you create has a TOC (table of contents).  I see a lot of courses that do not – it already sounds the alarm – A TO B, A TO B.. Warning Will Robinson here comes boresville!
  • If you create micro-learning no more than five minutes per learning chunk/course. And you focus only on ONE TOPIC per course/chunk.    I know some of you are thinking, it can’t be done – but, here is a super secret for you – yes, yes it can.
  • Develop courses that use real world scenarios, rather than always assessments.  An assessment tells me nothing – you could have got lucky guessing. A real world scenario tells me everything – what are you doing well at, where are your weaknesses and of major importance – it tells the learner where are their strengths and where are the areas of improvement. 

Then, here comes the kicker – they can go back to that section where they need improvement and re-learn it. 

It may take them 10 times, but hey that is fine. I mean we all learn differently, and some of us are like speedsters that acquire quickly, others are not – don’t penalize the ones who take and need the time. 

I’d rather have an employee, customer, student that acquires, comprehends and synthesizes info (regardless of the number of times or length of time to do so), than someone who is has to complete by next week and realistically not retain all that information.

Oh, you could have as your mini module – a module that contains only a scenario or maybe your course is five mini mods, with two mods being scenarios.   Lots of options here.

  • Try game based learning.  Yes, you can create/include points to make the course into gamification, but I’m talking about actually creating a game based course.

You may start off with a learning journey approach, and hey that’s okay. But I’ve seen a course that a company built that looked like Gran Turismo in graphics (it was awesome) and the content that was placed into it – was the client’s (i.e. the buyer) – thus it was relevant to their learners. 

Yes, it was a course shop, but they built the course with Storyline 1.  And recently, I’ve seen other game based learning courses using racing. 

Whether it is you buying game based course templates or buying an authoring tool that comes with game based templates or pre-built games that you enter your content into (which is different IMO than game based templates) – I should note I saw an LMS that comes with pre-built games as part of their built-in authoring tool –  the whole thing is that you are trying something new.

  • On top of all that, any topic could be turned into a course that is either gamified (with gamification points as the incentive, not as the penalty – in other words, every time I go into the course I get X points, and not only when I complete the course) or as game based. 
  • Change the approach of compliance training.  Take a look at compliance courses. They are rigid, serious and usually dull.  It would explain why you never see people re-enter to gain more information.  It also explains why you will know or see folks wait until the last minute to take the course (it has a due date).  How do you change that?  Scenario based learning. If you have assigned due dates – you can still have mini modules, non-linear and scenarios. 

You can have a video based course (yes the course is a video – five minutes max though).   You add points – create gamified.   But with a twist. Every time they go into a chapter/section to learn new information – they get points.   Go and take scenario #1 – more points than just going into the course.  

Setup the scenario so that those folks who just go right for the scenario – really need to attain the info from the other mini modules.  Look you are going to have people zip right to the end in any compliance course if they can pull it off, so change the method, rather than just the approach (which some people due by assigning a time clock)

In the soft skill courses – real life scenarios, and engaging content.  Oh, and make it fun.. this screams game based courses (again, not just gamification approach).  

At the end of it all, it always will come down to the content and how the content is built.  Do it poorly, make it via PowerPoint or static like an e-book and yeah, no one will come back, let alone repeatedly go into the course.

Engaging. Interactive. Real-world scenarios, fun and insightful – as in information/knowledge they need to know or want to learn to attain stronger skill sets (for job or personal growth), yeah they will go back in repeatedly.

Think of it this way.  If you had two games, one of which was all text based like Zork and the other was Zork Max on XBox One with stunning graphics, storyline and scenarios, which would you choose to play over and over again?

Bottom Line

Two questions extracted from the e-mail bag.

Hopefully they provided you with some additional insight and knowledge.

Because learning isn’t just for your employees, customers or students.

It’s for you too.

E-Learning 24/7

Next week:  Product Review of SumTotal Learn by Skillsoft