The Corporate eLearning Ecosystem Explained
Every industry has different layers of complexity. You might love to keep up to date with the newest releases at the movies, but do you know your gaffer from your key grip? Corporate eLearning is no different. Most people have had some interaction with an LMS or an online course at some point. But perhaps you are struggling to get your head around where an LMS fits into the wider picture.
This post is an attempt to map out the corporate LMS industry to give you a clear picture of the eLearning ecosystem. In order to do this, we’ve divided the ‘ecosystem’ into sections to reduce the complexity. At the end, we can bring them together so you understand how they are linked, for a complete understanding. The elements of the ecosystem include:
SCORM/xAPI (Tin Can)
User access routes (to the LMS portal and their courses)
Social media integration
The central element of this eLearning ecosystem is the learning management system. A learning management system (LMS) is a software application that is used to administer, deliver, track, and report training. Most modern options are cloud-based systems that can be accessed from any device. This makes it easier than ever to administer, to train and to learn. An LMS is a vehicle for your training efforts.
Why use an LMS?
An LMS takes care of the time-consuming and regularly repeated tasks for you, saving you time and effort. If you have thousands of employees that you need to train on a subject by a certain time, with records taken throughout, you could technically do this yourself with a spreadsheet. A deluge of emails back and forth, collecting answers, scheduling live sessions. Now multiply that with each new course you need to train.
Now take a breath – that doesn’t have to happen! An LMS makes the process manageable and introduces new and engaging ways to train your users.
Corporate eLearning Courses
Courses can be built within an LMS or they can be created with third-party software called an authoring tool. You probably already have course content in the form of documents or videos. You can arrange them within an LMS’s own native course builder. Simply drag and drop files or embed using embed codes (e.g. YouTube).
- Documents like Powerpoint presentations, PDFs, Word .docx files, etc. can be uploaded.
- Video files like mp4s can be uploaded in the same way you’d attach a file to an email. Video tracking features on uploaded video can prevent learners from skipping through video content while bookmarking their progress.
- Videos from sites like YouTube, Vimeo or Wistia can be embedded. For example, this is the embed code for LearnUpon’s founders video: <iframe width=”100%” src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/7hL_jSRV_i8″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>
- Exams and surveys are set up in the LMS for the learner to take. Choose from lots of different question types to add variation: multiple choice, pick one, true or false, etc.
- For blended learning courses, instructor-led training sessions can be scheduled within courses too.
Simple sample course structure:
- Module 1: PPT presentation
- Module 2: Video
- Module 3: Exam
- Module 4: Feedback Survey
If you require a slightly more advanced form of eLearning courses, you may need to use an authoring tool to produce corporate eLearning standard content. It depends on your requirements – but a good rule of thumb is that if you need a mix of multimedia types and more engaging content, then an authoring tool can achieve this.
SCORM, xAPI, and LRS
What is an Authoring Tool
An authoring tool allows non-programmers to create online course content with multimedia elements quickly and easily. These courses are exported in standardized formats that are compatible with most LMSs. The two most common standards are SCORM and xAPI.
SCORM, or to give its full name, Shareable Content Object Reference Model, is a collection of standards and specifications that ensure that course content can be used on SCORM compliant LMSs. When a SCORM course is launched the LMS tracks certain data that may be important to ensure the records meet the standards required.
xAPI, or the experience API is a relatively new corporate eLearning standard that solves some of the issues of SCORM. It’s more reliable, and it tracks more information (it wasn’t meant to be a replacement for SCORM – which is underlined by the arrival of cmi5, a protocol that fills the gap between the two).
Data generated via the xAPI is stored in the following format (called a statement): noun, verb, object. For example: Eoghan Quigley, completed, eLearning ecosystem Article.
What is an LRS?
An LRS is a learning record store that receives xAPI learning records from connected systems. The LRS can receive data from xAPI courses launched from the LMS, assuming your LMS integrates with an LRS, alongside data from other sources such as simulations and games.
Once you have data being collected you can deep dive on data analysis, feedback loops and also export to reporting tools like Tableau. This type of setup is usually used by larger scale enterprise customers or those with more advanced data analysis needs (there are comprehensive reporting options in an LMS as it is).
How will users gain access to the LMS?
We’ve spoken about the content that the learner will engage with, but what about the learner themselves? Connections exist between systems to ensure that users get easy access to their training. How exactly does each learner get access to the LMS?
- Invitation email: An email sent to a user’s inbox. The link contained in the email carries them through to the LMS where they will complete their profile and set their own password. Login Credentials: Email and password provided to the learners by the admin. Old School, but sometimes necessary.
- Single Sign-on: This allows users to login using their credentials from another system. One of the best examples of this is if your organization uses G Suite (Google’s business class), the admin can set up SSO so that you can gain access to your LearnUpon account from the app switcher on your Google profile, with the click of a button.
- Self-register: A user can create a profile on the login screen or via third-party profile like Google or Facebook. In this case, they simply click on the 3rd party login button and if they are logged into that account on the browser it will use that accounts details to create the learner profile. So if I’m logged into my Google account, clicking on the Google logo gives me access to the LMS instantly (if enabled on the portal).
- Course purchase: When a learner purchases a course from an organization’s eCommerce storefront they automatically gain access to the LMS. (See the eCommerce section for more info).
Connecting other Business Systems
There are many different systems that you can connect an LMS to. The more interesting question is: why? We would suggest there are two major drivers – convenience and accuracy. For example, a Learner’s profile information may be pushed into an LMS thereby preventing the duplication of data entry, and as part of this, you can be sure your data is accurate.
This provides a scalable way to manage large numbers of users. Regular updates of data ensures the records on your systems are synchronized. Here are the most common options:
HR systems (HRIS)
A HR system holds an organization’s employee information for easy management of employee records. Connecting your HR system with an LMS ensures that data is synchronized between the two systems and that user creation and update is automated. It helps you scale up training, save time and ensure the accuracy of your organization’s records. For example, if a new starter joins they can be automatically added to the LMS and enrolled in orientation courses on their very first day!
Customer Relationship Management software tracks business interactions and relationships that an organization holds. Salesforce, Hubspot and Zoho are examples of widely used CRMs. Connecting a CRM to an LMS may seem like a strange idea for those who are not familiar with extended enterprise training. Training for those outside of your organization is very common with companies who are building relationships with their customers or partners through product and service training.
This reduces support costs and builds your reputation. A CRM-LMS integration also has a number of clear benefits for your internal staff. A good example is the training of sales staff. Having their eLearning course records alongside sales staff performance allows you to identify where extra training is needed, or where improvements to training need to be made.
You can push data to an intranet/website that you manage too. By collecting data from a number of systems some organizations build a centralized dashboard for their users to access. This can also be the gateway to access multiple systems through Single sign-on. So how are all the systems connected?
The glue between systems
Connecting with one of these systems can be done in a number of ways:
- Productized – built by the software vendor to solve a solution for customers using their system. For example, LearnUpon has an integration with Salesforce available to its customers that can be activated through the user interface with no need for a developer to set up.
- API or Application programming interface allows the connection of two systems so that they can share data and perform certain actions. A developer can set up certain actions to take place between the two systems with the possibilities documented by the vendors.
- SSO – Single sign-on allows users to login using their credentials from another system. This is convenient for the user as they don’t need to use a second set of credentials. It can be a safer, more controlled way for an organization to allow access to their LMS. The added benefit is that it can be a way for users to be actually created. Once a new user clicks on the LMS button an account is generated using the details from the first system.
- Webhooks are real-time data messages that are very like push notifications. Instead of waiting for an API call (a periodic synchronization of data), the webhook pings a system as soon as an action takes place. For example, we could set up a webhook to ‘ping’ a HR system every time a course is completed with details included. E.g. John Doe completed the course “Introduction to real-time data” with a score of 75%.
Webinar tools (Virtual classrooms)
Instructor-led sessions are no longer confined to physical classrooms. Webinar tools allow you run live sessions in webinar formats to reduce travel costs whilst still maintaining the human elements of ILT. These tools integrate with an LMS to synchronize session setup, registration and attendance reporting.
When a course is set up in the LMS with webinar elements, the sessions are set up in the webinar tool simultaneously. As users register for the session the roster builds in the webinar tool as well. The webinar tool will track attendance data on the day of the session and relay that info back to the LMS. Tools like Gotowebinar, Webex, and Adobe connect are very popular options to integrate with.
If you sell courses online it’s important to consider how that fits into this ecosystem. There are a couple of options. You may set up a storefront that is provided by the LMS. The storefront will sit on the same domain as the LMS but will look slightly different to the LMS dashboard. When a customer purchases a course they gain access to the LMS itself. If it’s their first time, their user account is created. An LMS will integrate with gateways to handle the payment process ensuring the most secure experience. Paypal, Stripe, and authorize.net are common options for this.
What if you already have a beautiful website page that displays your purchase options? Each course should have a unique URL so that you can furnish your current storefront with courses in the LMS. The learner will then be taken to the storefront payment screen when they want to proceed.
If you use an LMS with eCommerce features, you could also benefit from using Google Analytics. By connecting your Google analytics account to your eCommerce storefront you can understand the nature of your traffic and how it fits key goals will help you to steadily improve course sales over time.
Social Media integration
Connectivity to social platforms is important to the modern learner. We are used to being able to share reactions and achievements with our networks quickly and easily. This is why LMS vendors connect social media sites to their platform. Being able to tweet about courses or share certificates on Linkedin can be done manually, but making that step easier for the learner makes it more likely and, more importantly, a more positive experience. You can even self-register as a user on an LMS portal using a social profile like Google or Facebook.
The Ecosystem View
Future changes to the Corporate eLearning ecosystem
The core elements of this ecosystem will largely remain the same in the future. A corporate LMS will sit in the heart of an organization’s training activities and link out to a number of other key business systems. There may be, however, some change as the industry continues to develop:
- It remains to be seen how much traction the LMS/xAPI/LRS relationship will gain. The number of companies using it is quite low and the level of data analysis it provides is excessive for the current set up of most organizations. We haven’t reached the tipping point as of yet, and quite frankly there are a lot of dominoes to fall for that to occur. xAPI is a more stable version of SCORM 1.2 without even considering the input of data to an LRS – so yes, you should be uploading that format to your LMS. SCORM, however, remains the top dog for now.
- More integrations. Connecting more and more business systems is of course going to occur but this has to be viewed with a pragmatic eye. Why do you need to connect them? What is the benefit? Should an LMS connect to 100 different systems or to 10 perfectly, and with a purpose? Greater refinement in this area will occur over time.
- Social connectivity is attractive but is it suitable for you? If you are training your internal staff you probably won’t want information on the training being sent out into the public domain. Self-contained social environments may be the way to go. Whether that is a fully formed forum within the LMS or indeed integration to communication tools you use every day, such as Slack, a slightly more controlled environment may be more suitable for you.
There’s a lot to consider here and you may feel a little overwhelmed. We help companies navigate their requirements every day. A 15 minute investment of your time, may save you significant time in the long run. If you have any questions let us know!