Friday, 16 May 2014

The Human Side of Learning Technology

Budgets are a limiting factor for all of us one way or another.  For an organisation looking to get into elearning where they've previously feared to tread, it's easy to think we want to spend all we have on the system itself and rush in to tender or purchase the best they can afford.  Or alternatively organisations say we've got 100k to spend so I'm going to spend 60k on the system and save 40k for an elearning package or two.  So you buy a system that costs 59.99k and it's good to go right?

The problem is that selecting a system is kind of live going for a job.  If all you're doing is looking for the best salary in the job sector of your choice chances are you may well end up with a job you hate.  For an LMS the cost is sure important, but much as with a job there's so much more to consider.  One of the most important things to realise is that total renumeration and salary are not the same thing and that's before you even get into looking into the other benefits that may not have a financial attachment.  Same goes for an LMS, there's the cost, the real cost and then there's the benefits that you can't immediately put your finger on.

For example, a hidden cost is the amount it takes to customise things.  Not the things you've explicitly stated in your tender or agreed with vendors, but things that might come up down the road.  If you need to change a process or enrol in a different way or even change reporting data sources or something more complex like linking to other systems there's a cost and often a customisation - do you know what the costs look like for the system?  We work with open source solutions because we know exactly where the cost goes and the rates to make code changes - it's an almost hidden benefit beyond the obvious that with open source you (and anyone) can make changes.

But there's an even bigger point I haven't yet mentioned - it's really down to your internal capabilities but I do this a fair bit (LMS implementations rather than blogging) and I regularly see organisations that rush into the implementation and yet don't want to invest beyond the system.  What I mean is that you have a budget and you spend it on the system, the customisations, the links, the data storage but actually you miss out the one most vital area if you want to succeed; the human side of technology.

We build configuration and consultancy into every implementation, yet regularly when it comes to budgetary squeezes those are the areas that suffer.  A recent example was a client who was using about 10% of Totara functionality with a sudden budgetary allowance of about $20k that would enable them to invest in a new version of the system and get an enhanced theme and a few minor tweaks.  I get this I do.  But the problem for me lies that they probably won't use more than 10% of the new features and probably that now makes 9% overall (my maths can be dodgy so don't look too closely please).  My point here is that for $20k we could have gone in and reviewed how they were using the LMS and made some real recommendations and changes for them that would have unlocked far more for them than the upgrade will.

As a rough guide if you're using a complex system and paying $50k for the system then you want at least 20% of that budget going on the configuration and consultancy.  Why?  Because without it you have a much lower chance of successfully introducing your new system.  Sure, get trained and do it yourself - of course we do capability building too - but that initial help and outside eyes can make a tremendous difference to your implementation and indeed the whole life span.

As a last thought and pulling this back to the equivalent of a job, think about the consultancy and configuration a bit like the new boss you're going to have in your new job.  The job could be perfect, the money could be more than you're currently getting but if the boss is the sort of person that is going to make your life hell that job is always going to suck.  Same goes with the LMS; you put in the best possible system with all the features and swishness that your heart desires, but if you don't truly know how to get the most from it or at least find out all the pitfalls and ways to achieve best results you're really in for a very tough year or two and that system won't feel so great.

The system won't do everything for you; with an LMS it's just the same as with a job, it's the people and what they can add - so make sure you budget for the human side of technology if you want to be successful.