The other day, I went to Tombstone, the tourist trap of the Old West. Of all the amazing things you can see, and get, uh, ripped off (when did the Old West start pricing a meal like it was Vegas?), was the number of reenactors, walking around. I should note, that there is one street, that has remained the way Tombstone used to be, building wise, etc.
Anyway, I assumed that all these people wearing clothing from the 1880s were employees. What I learned though, was that half of them were residents of Tombstone and surrounding areas, who everyday/weekend, dress up in their old west best, and walk around. Each of these people paid for their own costume, including those who actually are reenactors and those in the shops and restaurants.
I wondered to myself, what if Tombstone, purchased a learning system, to provide learning and training content to their employees, reenactors and even townsfolk on everything from customer service, to communication, to dealing with groups and teams?
Would they need certain functionality in the system for the days to come, or rely on what is in existence today or in the past?
Would they as frontline workers need classroom management or would vILT suffice? Would they want content/courses assigned to say only the Wyatt Earp lookalikes or for anyone who is a gunfighter? (I learned that the locals, were using real guns). For the professional workforce (i.e. in the office, or a part-time office via a hybrid workplace or working remote – hey who is to say Virgil Earp lookalikes prefer remote?), did they require certain functionality? The old west wasn’t known for internet connectivity, and even modern-day Tombstone looks like it isn’t on the bandwidth speed of many of us. Thus, issues such as video content and the ability to view it and perhaps read the transcripts would make sense.
Restaurants in the 1880s were mainly gambling halls, where they served food and a lot of people got killed, one in fact over asking a Clayton to have a drink with them. He declined, then shot him in the head.
If they had a learning system back then, they would have been able to keep metrics and reporting around such incidents, after all, the barkeep would need certain skills to uh, clean up.
I hear all the time, features and functionality folks want in their learning system when it comes to employee training/learning. There are features who make absolutely complete sense, then there are others, who while, they have frontline workers, focus on capabilities for their in-house workforce (again, hybrid, all office or works remote).
Then there are people who seem so focused on security, they forget the basics, such as net connectivity issues (which is relevant) and support (another reason why the customer excellence pledge is so important).
Security? I know and understand why customers focus heavy on it, but be aware that the majority of vendors are on AWS, plus have 256 bit AES (minimum) and numerous fail safes. I’ve been in the e-learning industry for over 20 years (yowsa) and to date, I know of only one vendor in all those years, who has been hacked. They were not on AWS btw.
Thus, submitting to a vendor hundreds of questions around security, while understandable, isn’t necessary to that extent. I mention this, just as an fyi, and sure you can argue what does have to do with employee training and my learning system?
Well, from a security standpoint since most white-collar professionals (pre COVID) were already taking courses from home, and now they are definitely are either 100% or hybrid, and even those in the office, likely will still access the system from home, and/or courses, the security questions that must be asked include:
- Can they access via a VPN – nowadays a lot of folks use VPNs to surf the net
- If they access via a VPN – will the speed slow down or will be there any type of impact to accessing video courses or content with a lot of data? The answer by the way is yes. But you want some specifics here. If a vendor says no, there isn’t any impact, well, Morgan Earp (Sheriff) would like a word with them, because lying is an offense here in Tombstone.
- 256 AES security or higher?
- Where are your servers being hosted? (And if your country of residence or for any of your employees/customers requires the data center to be hosted in that country, find that out too)
- How will you protect credentials and data transmissions from detection while in transit to your application?
- Do you support the California Consumer Protection Act? (If you have customers or employees in CA, this is now the law – but only for companies who generate 20M USD in revenue)
- Do you support GDPR – There isn’t a certification process here, but the answer should be YES. Anyone who isn’t uh, move on.
- What is your backup process and how often do you back up the system? Is it once a day? Multiple times? Overnight, etc. I have heard of vendors who backup twice a week. Yeesh.
- If there is a security breach, what are your protocols? When will we be notified?
Reportedly, according to a source, the hacking breach that occurred with their system, the client wasn’t immediately notified.
Doc Holliday loved to gamble. But trust me on this one, he wouldn’t want to gamble here.
Employee Learning System Features you must have
This isn’t about “oh, maybe I need this, ” or “I do not need this now, maybe later” approach, because let’s remember a few items, we all tend to ignore (as the head of L&D, Training, etc.)
- People leave companies. This includes your administrator, heck could be you? So if a replacement comes in, they may want those features – you are not interested in – and thus, if the system doesn’t offer them, or has no plans to do so, they are stuck. Until the end of the contract. How would you like it, if you take another job, and that scenario happens to you?
- You may change your mind in six months or a year from now. Too late by then.
- Employees may inquire whether they system can do this or that? But you selected a system, that didn’t have it, because you didn’t see it as a benefit or need. The system has no plan to ever add it. Now your stuck.
- The industry is starting to revert back to add-ons as a method of tailoring. I prefer the tailoring approach, but everything is included. No one says, I have to turn it on right away or ever. But at least, I know it is there, in my back pocket. Like a map of Boot Hill (graveyard and yes, they have one).
Onto the functionality.
If they are specific for say frontline and/or blue-collar you will see (F, BC). Otherwise, it is for all employees. I won’t be going into all the functionality a system has. Based on my data, overall industry-wise, I find that systems tend to be in the 85% range of features to one another. Now how good it is versus someone else is completely different.
Information is presented via the following
Learning Environment – This is what the Learner sees
Administration – The Administrator (if you have like a super admin, that is this person, it can also be sub-admins, but the main admin sets the rules)
Additional Functionality – Again, these are musts, and I will include a couple (I) which means ideal. One such is a custom domain. A vendor may say yes we have a custom domain, but that does not mean custom as in widgetuniversity.com (i.e a true custom domain, like elearninfo247.com). The majority of the time, what they are referring to is your name, then their name in the domain, like widgetuniversity.lmsvendorname.com – For the record, you can purchase a custom domain for like $12 on most sites, and then a URL mask if they do the above with their name as part of the domain (the site hosting the domain, will have directions on how to do this). I had to go this route many times.
I’m sure your learners feel the same way of the Claytons. Surprised, confused and realizing that it is a no win situation, but darn it, let’s go out with a bang. I refer to this, when it comes to the learning environment, after they log into the system. Who doesn’t love “I do not know how to navigate” inquiry or the “I can’t figure this out” retort. Then you have learners, who use only partially the front-end (what they see), and thus your data is skewed because they are ignoring all that wonderful assigned learning, just as the Claytons ignored the fact that they were up against serious gunslingers, and uh, Doc had a shotgun.
The front end of the system (i.e.) Learner side is crucial for employee training/learning regardless if the employee is white-collar professional, frontline or blue-collar. It is what they see first, every time they go into the system. It is where the courses/content they are taking, regardless if assigned or not, is placed. If there are playlists – they are there. Some vendors show progress bars, others show circles of progress, and plenty do neither.
Some learning environments have announcements for the employees on various subjects. Some LEs are widget based where the learner can change the placement or turn them off (admin decides). Other systems have LEs that can change in terms of where the widgets are placed or what is added – but it appears across the board for everyone, not individual.
I am a huge fan of a system whereas it has widgets or blocks, and the learner can move them around anywhere they want and add/remove. This is true personalized experience. The OK Corral picture above, and where these folks are placed is based on the personal experience of one said, Wyatt Earp, in the 1920s.
Learning Environment as a whole
- Learner home dashboard (this means that when the learner enters the system, they see a home dashboard that contains high level information, including their current courses)
- Search functionality allowing learners to find specific courses, materials, delivery format, based on keywords, title, delivery format, and other tagged identifiers (usually appears as a search bar – like you see with a search engine)
- Learners can enroll or request enrollment in course or cancel their enrollment
- The courses/content have identifiers such as title, category (if applicable), brief description (if applicable), Tags, format
- Learner progress bar or similar (My recommendation is color-coded, whereas red means past due, green in progress and blank for not started)
- Learners can view entire catalog and select own courses – Usually they click a link or similar off the home page and it goes to the catalog for them to select from.
- Catalog (it exists in the system, again on the learner side) has filters, which include – duration, delivery format, category/subject, tags, skills. Some systems include a filter for CPD or CEUs. Many list publishers – which makes no sense. I hate to say this, but a learner doesn’t care if your leadership course came from Sammy’s or House of Cards University. There are catalogs that have ratings, based on learner ratings of the courses.
- Learners can be assigned materials, videos, etc. – If you think everyone system can do this, well, you are 85% right.
- Search by TAGS – Skills, Interests – eventually job roles (for those who want it – but for now, not a necessary need)
- Ability for development paths or curriculum/learning paths to have contents placed in a specific order/hierarchy of learning – For those who want a “lockdown”, which means the learner cannot jump to the next course/content until completed, you will want to make sure the system can do this. Never assume.
- Individualized learning plan (including required -i.e. assigned courses/content and optional courses/content)or similar appear on the same screen
- Support for the hierarchy at the enterprise, business unit or other desired levels
Playlists/Channels with “assigned” (for those who want this), “recommended”, “most popular”, “based on skills of interest or skills tied to job role”.
You also want a system that has a clean and modern crisp look. This is what your employees see every day when searching the net, watching Netflix or visually experiencing. Cluttered never looks good. And a dated look, is well, dated.
This is the view and capabilities seen by the administrator. NOT THE LEARNER. Or James Earp, the one brother who wasn’t at the OK corral or Tombstone for that matter.
- Administrator dashboard – The best ones have high level metrics for the administrator to see. I’ve seen new ones where they also list the top skills, their employees are selecting.
- Allow administrators to create, modify and cancel a course/content (very common with systems)
- Assign users to groups, can assign X number to X number of courses, Y to a different number of courses or course (Majority of systems have this capability)
- Learning plan can be assigned by job role, region, department (Common)
- Allow administrators to set multiple levels of approval (e.g., no approval needed, supervisor approval, instructor approval, etc.) (Most systems have this, but there are plenty who do not)
- Allow administrator and/or tech team to load learner learning history via batch import (excel template) (Always check, some vendors think this is the same as a batch upload of courses/content. It’s not)
- Allow administrators to track attendance status (e.g., no show, cancelled, attended) of all types of training (e.g. instructor led, online, virtual) (This is especially relevant for those who have frontline workers, and those in the “workplace”).
- Assign and enforce access based on user profile (A must, and most systems have it)
- Capture multiple user attributes (e.g. Organization, department, Manager, Job role, etc.) – Common, but always verify what are the attributes
- Create user groups through defined attributes (e.g. organization, departments, country, etc.) – Common, but again, verify what are the attributes. Never assume it is the same for every system.
- Control profile settings by field (e.g., allow learners to change email addresses but not change user name) – This will be in the learner profile, where they can update or change their password for example.
- Administrator can limit access to catalog items based on user profile (i.e. job role, location, group, etc.) – A must you want this, majority of systems offer this – ‘job role’ is always the wild card, but still most can do that.
- Provide multiple levels of administrative access and privileges – Crucial! You want this. You also want the ability to assign different rules as well.
- Allow administrators to create and assign system roles – Example – Dave, as a Manager, can access the Manager view and nothing else. Never let other employees, except those in Training or L&D or HR or whoever is running the system, get access. Some companies think “IT wants access”. ?Okay, assign one person in IT as a sub-administrator, give them access to some reports and that’s it. And yes, it is possible in the majority of systems
- Create user groups through defined attributes (e.g. organization, departments, country, etc.) – Most systems offer this – again, verify the attributes
- Batch upload courses/content and batch upload learners. I would love to tell you this is very common, but I see systems that lack the first, and thus you have to go one by one – which is a huge yuck, especially if you have like 100 videos and 75 courses you have created. Even the batch upload of learners is not a guarantee – I promise you this is a must. Just as checking out Boot Hill in Tombstone, trust me worth the $3 – cash only.
- TAGS- Administrator can create TAGS by Skills, Interest, Job Role, etc. – This will be a must by the end of 2022
- Administrator can create job roles, job titles, edit and delete
- Administrator can create skills – needed, requested and assign to learner, learners or in general in the system – A must if you are using a Talent Development Platform. Another must will be the ability to add/delete a skill/job role in the system’s skill/job role library
- Ability to assign courses based upon skills, interests, or other variables
If you have frontline workers, or blue-collar workers you must make sure to have a classroom management capability. Classroom management refers to physical ILT (Instructor Led-Training), on-site. This will be crucial for these employees. For your workplace professionals, not a need, but vILT (Virtual ILT) will be.
Classroom management features
- Resource management – Ensures that the projector is available, or those six laptops haven’t all been checked out
- Facilities management – If your facility has multiple locations on-site for example, this feature will cross-check to see which ones are available at that given time.
- Print out sheets – The instructor does this either ahead of time or via a mobile app
Regardless if you are going on-site or vILT, always make sure your system has the following (all are essential for employees)
- Allow instructors access to course enrollment information
- Instructor can push survey/assessment during active class
- Instructor can update rosters
- Allow instructors ability to print rosters, send emails to participants and update course attendance post class
Some customers want the instructor to see some metrics. Again, this is doable via your administrator creating a rule around it, and what the instructor can access. Personally, I’m not a fan of this. I mean, you as the administrator can create a report and send it to them.
Manager View – A must for employee training/learning
And as noted above earlier, you can decide what the manager(s) see – so some might see all below, others may not – your choice.
- Manager can to see their team in a manager dashboard or view
- Manager can assign content/courses to team and/or individuals
- Manager can monitor learning paths for each team member
- Manager can update on the job training, mark training complete – This refers to OJT – (F, BC)
- Manager can manage training of indirect or virtual reports
- Manager can add/reject/update/approve learners/users
- Manager can approve/disapprove of learners applying for opportunities (a must for a TDP)
- Manager can approve/disapprove of content, employee wants to take
- Manager can compare team members by skill(s)
- Manager can compare team members by self-ratings
- Manager can leave a self-rating of what they see the learner needs or has related to skills
Mobile as it relates to OJT
The internet is not the greatest when it comes to the warehouse, manufacturing site, plant, retail, restaurant, and so forth. Thus, a mobile app is crucial here. Remember when a vendor says mobile first! or Mobile Learning, it does not mean they have a mobile app. All it means is that you can access the system via a mobile web browser
- Mobile App – Native iOS and Android (Vendors who offer a native mobile app, usually support iOS and Android, but there a few who support only iOS) iOS is Apple
- On/Off synch – This means that your worker can take content/courses, surveys and some other functionality within the app, and can continue to do so offline. When a net connection is re-established, the data gets pushed into the learning system. This is a big win, if the system has a native mobile app
- Mobile responsive – People always ask for it, every vendor supports it – now to how well it looks on the screen? Different story.
- Can take content/courses, surveys in the mobile app
- Can record employee with mobile device and upload into the learning system – for the manager to verify – great for compliance, and even can be used as content too
- Digital signature within the mobile app. It is not common in the space, but for any vendor who has a native mobile app and focuses on frontline workers, blue-collar, even a combo of workers, this is a need.
I could write a long list of everything you want in a system for employees, from reporting and metrics with segmentation – including KPIs, to a coaching capability (a nice plus for onboarding and frontline), to content curation, playlists, even machine learning. Skills is now a must – a reason I created a template specifically for skill capabilities in a learning system.
Event management is related around webinars and seminars (ILT), you want this. For frontline, you will want SMS notifications beyond just e-mail. Forget password is a must, same as self-registration. Social is a must, but how much you need is totally based on your employees.
Some systems offer communities tied to groups, the system itself, a piece of content, skills and so forth. These are nice to have, and can spur engagement, if they are utilized correctly. Compliance is essential if your are a company whereas employee compliance training is a requirement or in an industry whereas compliance attributes with a system is a must. Such as FS or Life Sciences.
There are two key takeaways in this post.
- The features and functionalities employees need and are must for you, are presented
- Tombstone wasn’t a great place if you decided that Morgan Earp was overrated as a gunslinger and that there is no way the rest of his brothers and Doc Holiday will show up to protect him, in a small area known as the OK Corral.
Only $10 to see the show.