We’ve been conducting some research at Saffron, intended to investigate the current state of satisfaction for learning management systems (LMS). We’ve surveyed people from various industries, from retail through to financial services – and one solitary but effluent waste management professional. We’ve gleaned fascinating titbits like ’44.5% use an open source LMS’, ‘50% are unsatisfied by the level of gamification/incentivisation in their LMS’ and ‘18% think LMS stands for ‘Lubricated Manure Shovel’’… OK, I might have made that last one up.
One particular piece of information that stood out (and I didn’t make up) was the NPS score, a value algorithmically worked out from respondents scoring (out of 10) the likelihood of them recommending their LMS to a friend (with 1 being ‘very unlikely’, and 10 being ‘very likely’). This ‘Net Promoter Score’ is a statistic with the sole purpose of benchmarking customer loyalty and satisfaction. The score can vary from -100 to +100, and a decent score is above zero (with a good score being above 25). It’s like the temperature of your product, below zero and you’re freezing everyone out, above 25 you’re hot news and being recommended willy-nilly.
The result of our survey wasn’t so hot. It wasn’t even average. The LMS being discussed were roundly deemed unworthy of our respondents’ chums. Their overall score came to an abject -43, indicating a significant lack of friend-recommendation and a complete lack of loyalty and satisfaction. These are people taking an online survey about learning management systems, they have loads of friends! But nobody they’d wish to bore with a cheeky discussion about the relative merits of open source over proprietary systems.
What has caused this antipathy? Is it the case that the LMS used by the subjects of this survey are actively bad or dysfunctional? Or is it (as is likely the case) that people don’t see any merit or distinction in their LMS compared to anything else on the market? Another result of our survey asked people if they were thinking of replacing their current LMS, to which a whopping 49% of people gave a resounding ‘no’. So despite a conspicuous lack of enthusiasm for their current LMS, people generally haven’t seen anything elsewhere that would make them want to ditch it for a shiny, sleek, younger model.
How can we reach these people? What can make an LMS exciting, distinctive and above-all effective? What can make people scream ‘I RECOMMEND MY LMS!’, as they dance wildly on the roof-tops of their offices? Let me break down some innovations we’ve been developing at Saffron based on our research:
‘Flat’ user interface design
Research by the Brandon Hall Group recently identified that the number one cause of user dissatisfaction with common learning management systems is ease of use, to which our survey heartily concurred, with 38% of respondents claiming they were either unsatisfied or very unsatisfied with the ease of use of their LMS. At Saffron we believe this is due to the proliferation of sophisticated user interface design that has become a trend over the last five years, with the phasing in of HTML5 and a tendency towards ‘flat’ user interfaces, entirely missed by the usually clunky and dated LMS user experience.
‘Flat’ user interface design can be best described as a continuous scroll of content, where the user does not need to click through unnecessary buttons – they are presented with the content in a natural sequence as they travel down the page. The content appears seamless and desired features are not hidden away but delightfully and persistently presented in arm’s reach. We’ve been incorporating this into our own LMS products, with dashboards and profile screens that provide information in a highly intuitive and sophisticated fashion. You can search, see your recent activity, start a course, create a learning playlist, see what your colleagues have posted, share some content, and much more… all on the same page. This emulates the sort of user experiences that people are accustomed to within social media and other online services, making them feel connected – with content at their fingertips.
Related to my last point, people are now so accustomed to social media that anything which is ‘closed off’, or ‘single-player’, without the peer reference of seeing other profiles or communicating with others, feels completely isolated and archaic. Users benefit so much from being able to compare themselves to peers, competing with each other naturally and sharing information amongst themselves, it seems like a no-brainer. This achieves many goals that an LMS should set out to achieve, including knowledge sharing, incentivisation, personalisation and competition. It makes a user feel connected, and reflects the sort of content they are used to engaging within their spare time.
We have integrated this into our LMS products by emulating the common social media tropes like notifications, sharing posts, a sophisticated search function, profiles and comments sections for all content (including courses!). This makes it feel like an extension of their own personal online lifestyle (on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter).
Customising learning to fit the user, making sure that they are using their time on the LMS as constructively as possible, is a way to take an LMS from ‘good’ to ‘great’. Not only does it provide a valuable tool for the business (in ensuring employees don’t spend superfluous time on courses they don’t need to complete) but it’s also a way of streamlining the experience for the end-user.
I have briefly touched upon them already, but ‘learning playlists’ are a new innovation that can fulfil this purpose, by creating personalised playlists of different content which the user can work through at their own pace. They can also add to the social dimension of an LMS, with users sharing their own playlists and creating them for colleagues. This is another successful innovation lifted from popular social media channels like YouTube that we have incorporated into the development of our LMS products.
Another example of this in action is Filtered, a company who operate personalised online training by using a diagnostic feature with a complicated back-end algorithm but a user-friendly interface. By asking simple questions they’re able to hone in on a learner’s weaknesses and tailor the content they enrol into automatically. It’s a fascinating innovation that can feed into many different types of online training, and is certainly something worth considering if you are interested in a highly personalised LMS experience.
Everyone and their mother has heard about gamification in elearning. Particularly if their mother happens to work in this industry, in which ‘gamification’ has become the vogue to end all vogues, with arbitrary trophies and badges fictionally littering our digital vestibules. Despite this swaddling of gamification clutter, the LMS world has remained largely untainted – with the majority of our respondents reporting dissatisfaction at the level of gamification in their system.
Don’t confuse my distaste for arbitrary gamification with a general distaste for incentivisation, it can certainly be done well, if done correctly. Like a miffed hipster clad in ill-fitting jeans, Saffron has long claimed that ‘we did it before it was cool’. Our bespoke LMS products can include effective gamification tropes like leaderboards, where learners are (as already mentioned) using their peers as a reference and incentive for their learning. The gamification we like to include in an LMS is seamless and not prohibitive of the content, it must reflect real achievement by the learner with valuable prizes (for example, real life awards or online customisable profiles and themes). This is all dependent on your learner, but can certainly become something to shout about, when done effectively.
These are just a few of the features that we have been developing to – not just push – but shove the LMS envelope. We want to make people proud of their LMS and what it has achieved for their business and their learners.