This month's column continues to take a big-picture look at the industry and LMS features, and examines some of the key issues for vendors. The findings are based on the results of the "LMS 2004 Report: Comparative Analysis of Enterprise Learning Management Systems," available at www.brandon-hall.com.
A growing area of concern is the wide divide between LMS vendors who are accommodating SCORM 2004 and those who are not. Some vendors are delaying, waiting for the standard to "settle"—to reach a point at which the standard stays the same for a period of time so that it can become more widely accepted.
SCORM 2004, formerly called SCORM 1.3, is the latest version of SCORM. It lets an LMS work with other systems and other training content. Customers want their LMS to communicate with other systems and be able to run their existing courseware and new off-the-shelf courseware. LMSs in compliance with the SCORM 2004 standard accommodate such interoperation, so vendors who design their system in keeping with SCORM 2004 have this advantage.
While some LMS vendors are feverishly supporting SCORM 2004, many others are sitting in the wings with a wait-and-see attitude. One reason for their hesitance is that the standard requires LMSs to accommodate some sophisticated features, such as simple sequencing.
Simple sequencing lets you define an adaptive guided or mandated flow through the content. It may require learners to do some activities in a specific order, and it may allow them to skip activities they don't need, based on an assessment earlier in the sequence. Sequencing may guide learners through a tutorial that covers several topics, followed by a practical exercise in which learners must apply their new knowledge. Failing an item sends the learner back to cover material on that item.
Under earlier standards, designers couldn't always sequence content. SCORM 2004, however, incorporates the IMS Simple Sequencing specification that is supported and promoted by the IMS Global Learning Consortium, a nonprofit organization that promotes the adoption of interoperable learning technology.
Our research also reveals that products from certain vendors are better matches for certain customers. LMS vendors with extensive integration experience often work best for large customer companies. Big organizations may want an LMS that can mine data from legacy financial and enterprise resource planning systems for training administrators to weave into analytical reports. Many LMSs can do this, but with some it takes a lot more effort.
The extent to which your LMS can automate certain processes may be a key consideration for you. When you hire new employees, do you want the LMS to add them automatically? Or do you prefer to have someone key in the new person? Some systems are better than others at supporting heavily regulated industries. Such firms may want an LMS with robust certification management in addition to tracking ability.
Our research shows that although it is more expensive, more customers are going with hosted solutions. In each of the last three years, our research witnessed about a 3 to 4 percent increase in hosting as opposed to buying an LMS and running it from internal servers. Still, buying an LMS and installing it remains the dominant choice, with close to 70 percent of customers installing the LMS on their own servers.
Both installed and hosted have advantages. Installed solutions may be the best idea for you if you have the IT support and up-front budget to buy and run the LMS yourself.
Look for more highlights from the "LMS 2004 Report: Comparative Analysis of Enterprise Learning Management Systems" in next month's column.
Brandon Hall is the leader of brandon-hall.com, a learning research firm in Sunnyvale, Calif. firstname.lastname@example.org