Thursday, 15 November 2012

Dressed for Success?

Stuck with another song in my head I thought it was an appropriate time to raise it in the forum of Learning Technologies.  Using my speciality of putting things in simple terms (hey, I'm a simple guy) does the way your Learning System or LMS look really matter?  I mean sure, we all want good looks but it's the performance that matters right?
Is this a substance over style argument though?  (Yes, I'm aware of the number of questions exceeding the answers right now).  Isn't this actually a question about usability and how the system meshes with everything you do and where you expect to find things?  Some of it undoubtedly comes down to how you use your systems; if you're wanting everything to work kind of seamlessly behind the scenes and have that portal style of approach where the user doesn't really know that they're not in the intranet any more then you really want your LMS to emulate and have the same feel as the site itself.  This isn't just about getting your collars and cuffs matching, it's about immersion in a system or series of systems so that it flows and feels straight forward for learners.
At the same time a tart's handbag (sorry, if you're unfamiliar with the phrase think Ferrari on the outside and a Citroen Dolly under the hood) won't cut it for anyone. The World is full it seems of all-in-one systems that include a poor LMS that only a sap (!) would truly be interested in if it wasn't for the fact that it looks like the rest of the suite. Often the LMS is an afterthought of a CMS or an HRIS or some other tool. Unfortunately for many organisations this is reflective of their investment in learning and development; fortunately these organisations are normally limited by their own lack of investment in their people, but it doesn't stop these nasty bolt on LMSs being out there and looking okay with no real functionality. No, I'm not trying to claim that a good looking LMS without the engine is any good, just the converse that a good LMS must look the part too.
Lotus is dark and moody.. of course!

Branding is such an important tool in the modern market place. Can you imagine big brands not having their identity obvious through their learning systems as well as their advertising and marketing material? Take it further still and try and place a different brand alongside theirs and see how quickly you find yourself in court. For me dressing your LMS to make it yours should be an absolute, not just a bit of lippy and an icon on the front, but a full build up that says this is us. The other no-no is to have the name or company name of the LMS provider somewhere on the system. I can understand it for Cloud offerings whereby you're buying some space on essentially shared infrastructure, but not for a big corporate offering. If you're choosing your LMS right now, demand that it looks like you want and loses any identity it previously had.
Would you expect Sony Learning to look less Sony?
That brings me nicely to naming your LMS. Just because someone named the dog I bought for the SPCA doesn't mean I have to stick by it.. Pauly (yikes) became Milo and the rest is history. Name your LMS something that means something to your organisation and stands for what it is. Totara LMS as my regular reader(s) will know is my favourite LMS and I install more of these than any other offering, but not one instance is known as Totara (shame, 'cos it's actually a very cool kiwi name - big strong tree). Personally, I'd love to see more not less going in to picking the name and look for a system; does it change the functionality? Maybe not, but it sure changes the way people look at it and think of it. People who call their children ridiculous names take heed, if you label your LMS something very sad or with an acronym like the puss from a tree people will ridicule it. If you leave it with the name that the dog pound put on it you might just as well call your dog 'dog'. It's all about vision and inspiring people and yes, the name contributes to that.
This is Milo... Not Pauly
As if that wasn't enough for taking out your proud new offering there's the issue of language. It's a bit of a killer if your organisation has taken a huge amount of time and effort (and a bit of spare change too) to build its identity around the appropriate terminology to have your LMS come in and heavy-handedly ignore everything you've worked for and say 'no, this is a module not a unit or activity or whatever you said'. When I configure a system for end users I like to take the time to learn a bit of their language and make sure the system ends up speaking that language too. If you don't use the word course in your organisation I want to make sure that your LMS doesn't either. This idea alone will make some systems defunct if you take the look and feel seriously, but don't underestimate the damage that can be done by having your systems talking in a different language to your people. I haven't even touched on foreign languages yet...
To conclude, remember that when you install a new or virgin system in your organisation it involves change and selling the benefits to your organisation. It may not be wise to judge a book by its cover, but it surely makes it harder to sell if the cover doesn't fit and this will ultimately put the acceptance, use and success of the system at risk. But what do I know? Just do something without the investment or effort, you might just get something that works out anyway... what could possibly go wrong?   ;)