Selecting a Learning “Operations” System for your Training Business
My goal with this post is to provide a list of considerations when choosing a Learning Management System (LMS) for your Training Business. I’m emphasizing Training Business on purpose. The following suggestions assume that your education delivery is focused more on externally-based training – i.e. training customers, members, agents, partners, resellers, & the like – and less on employee training. Based on the business nature of this solution, it is truly a learning “operations” system.
There are unique business challenges that an education executive must solve to maximize revenue and profit for their enterprise. I take a look at these business challenges and how they should be handled by your learning management system here.
Scheduling In-person Training Courses
On the surface, scheduling your training courses seems like a straightforward LMS task. It is not until you dig into the details that you will find out there is more to scheduling courses for your training business.
Perhaps due to low cost and current basic requirements, you may decide to consider an Event Management platform (e.g. Cvent, RegOnline, EventBrite). These are very good scheduling and registration systems for discrete events and perhaps even training courses.
However, spending a little extra time and money on long-term considerations may better pay off as your needs and the resulting complexities grow. Keep in mind that it will take considerable effort and resources (people & $$) to move your current data from one system to another, so I suspect you’ll want to avoid searching for a scheduling/learning management system every year (or in the short term).
Event Management, as a category differentiated from Learning Management, does not generally look at an event like an LMS treats a classroom event. It is important to understand if capabilities like roster management, attendance, scoring, instructor & resources assignment are required – if so, you are likely a candidate for a full-blown LMS.
Virtual Classroom, eLearning or Video Courses
While some event management platforms do support virtual events delivered using tools like Webex, Adobe Connect, or Citrix GoToMeeting, they tend to fall down when the event is an actual virtual classroom. In addition, eLearning and video courses are fairly common ways to educate students and need to be managed as well. If you don’t have a LMS to manage & track these different content types, you will likely be looking for yet another LMS solution next year.
Additionally, an event management platform cannot handle AICC, SCORM, or xAPI-compliant eLearning courses. Since they are not a ‘true’ LMS, these event management tools cannot adequately handle the tracking, hosting and delivery of eLearning courses. So, if you require “blended-learning” (mix of classroom, virtual, e-learning/web-based & other course types) support in your training business, be sure you steer toward a LMS and only those that can handle this diverse content.
Pricing & Discounting
This “Training as a Business” challenge can be quite daunting to solve if you don’t have a LMS with the capability to accept different forms of payment or the ability to offer different levels of discounts per region, country, or specific customer group. And, don’t forget the complexities of multiple currencies and international/regional taxation. Depending on how you choose to “do business,” these different forms of payment could possibly include credit cards, training vouchers/credits, prepaid monies, and purchase orders. Also, you may also wish to offer time and/or user-based subscriptions.
In actuality, most LMS’s cannot solve all of these eCommerce challenges out-of-the-box. Many can handle a credit card transaction, but as discussed below, this is only the tip of the payment iceberg. If you are running a for-profit training business, the ease & flexibility of accepting payment (or pre-payment) from your customers is where the rubber meets the road. Ensure that during your LMS selection process you really understand what your vendors offer today – these are not trivial features.
Training Vouchers & Credits
To delve below the surface and look at this ‘payment iceberg’ – one business challenge includes accepting training vouchers, credits, or other forms of pre-paid monies. A LMS that can manage these types of transactions and perform automatic drawdowns against a customer’s training credit balance or prepaid balance eliminates the need to manage these business processes manually.
Providing your customers the option of vouchers gives them a convenient way to pay for training and control spending—adding value to your services and increasing potential for revenue. But managing those vouchers and keeping track of who holds them, what they are used for and how much is spent can also be time consuming, resource intensive and costly. And, it’s important to mention, these administrative hassles can be a barrier to your organization’s productivity and profitability.
They can also lower your sales potential by being a burden to your sales reps (assuming you don’t have dedicated training sales team), who often have little time or inclination to sell classes if they have to manage vouchers and training credits that go with them. The more of these burdens you can relieve through automation the better for your speed to deliver and path to profitability.
Almost by definition, the word “subscription” implies value and convenience in the minds of customers, including when it applies to your training courses. Without the hassles of having to pay for training on a course-by-course basis, customers can keep their workforces up-to-date on a more cost-effective basis. This drives them to renew their subscriptions — and enables you to capture more incremental and recurring revenue.
However, as business grows and your course offerings proliferate, the burden of keeping them current and managing subscriptions can diminish their profitability. Another important aspect of your vendor selection process should be a deep dive into how subscriptions – if an important feature to you now or in the future – are managed, tracked & renewed… as always, the more automated the better.
“Certified” not only conveys professionalism it also instills trust in those who see that your customers and partners have achieved official recognition from you. But as your success grows and greater recognition of expertise is sought from your customers, so do your overhead costs. Staying on top of learning tracks, who’s completed them and the awarding of certificates can become a costly enterprise, rather than a profitable activity.
However, companies worldwide have resolved this dilemma — with automated certification management that lowers their overheads, ensures the integrity of their programs and raises revenue. Similar to subscription management, it is important to find a vendor that provides as close to a “set-it-and-forget-it” approach to certification management. Certification management, unlike some of the payment features above, is generally a staple in most LMS’s. But, how their functionality satisfies your specific requirements is likely all over the map – yet another area to dig deep when conducting your research.
From a Social Media perspective, the ability to ‘display’ one’s certifications to sites like LinkedIn is growing in popularity. Your ability to offer this value-add could be important for both your marketing & “stickiness” – so, consider this as another important feature to inquire about with your prospective LMS vendors.
Even the best training organization can find itself under scrutiny if it doesn’t recognize its revenue on a timely and accurate basis. If your contribution isn’t recognized by your entire enterprise, valuable resources may be allocated elsewhere. Equally important, without regular reporting and business intelligence, you won’t know how to manage training programs more effectively and profitably.
But here’s the rub: managing revenue recognition can be a difficult, time-consuming task. Determining when services can be realized is based on complex rules and dates regardless of when the actual money is received. And company rules concerning delivery method, dates and international locations can further complicate matters.
All of which requires that training organizations spend days of valuable time every quarter just to gather & organize this information, then generate reports for Finance. The odds of the LMS solutions you are reviewing having this feature is pretty slim – but, definitely ask and don’t be shy about needing this functionality.
This and several of the features above is where most of your standard “Corporate LMS’s” will fall down – to kick-start your research for an Extended Enterprise, Association, and/or For-Profit training solution, check out Talented Learning’s website (www.talentedlearning.com) for good reviews of these systems. John Leh and his team have done a good job dissecting these products.
In this post, I have discussed the business challenges faced by a training business manager or learning executive in light of the LMS market. As your for-profit training continues to grow, you will eventually have to solve these business challenges. It is best to think long term – not what your business looks like today – but what your business will look like 3-to-5 years from now. Then, make your decision based on what you will need now and to support your requirements in the future. To use the well-worn Wayne Gretzky quote, “Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
In my next post I will take a look at the business challenges of taking your Training Business global.
Steve Stubbs is the Director of Sales at rapidLD and 15+ year veteran of the Learning & Talent Management industry. rapidLD (www.rapidLD.com) is a learning & talent management consulting firm that provides our clients extensive experience in professional consulting & benefits from the ‘lessons learned’ of companies that have gone before you. rapidLD leverages sixteen years of service dedicated to Learning and Talent Management technologies.
Thanks to Terry Lydon, VP, Training Operations Products at CallidusCloud, for his contributions & industry insight to this post. CallidusCloud’s ViewCentral cloud-based training operations management system has been helping businesses deliver extended enterprise training since 1999. ViewCentral was recently named a Top 10 Partner & Channel LMS vendor by Talented Learning. ViewCentral was recently acquired by Callidus Cloud.