Here’s the thing about acronyms. When you use one, it instantly gives the appearance that you know what you’re talking about. It’s kind of hard to tell WHY that is, other than abbreviating something that is industry-specific makes you sound a little more in-the-know that someone who can’t throw the acronym around so confidently. So when you talk to someone about eLearning and use the term LMS, whoever you’re talking to will automatically be impressed assuming they’re unfamiliar with eLearning (much a less about airline online training) as an industry or option. It’s worth being wary of people who only use these acronyms in order to seem savvy rather than actually being savvy in the thing they’re discussing, but sometimes understanding what’s behind the acronym can go a long way in your decision making.
How does this relate to an aviation training organization? Well, let’s take a hypothetical example of a small airline. Let’s assume that you are the Director of Training, and you decided that your organization needs to use eLearning in order to maximize the benefits that distance learning can provide your organization.
In order to deliver distance learning (aka eLearning or web-based training), you will need software that can deliver the training as well as record something. This software is called a Learning Management System, or LMS. Since these programs tend to be somewhat complicated to manage, you will need to hire or appoint someone as an administrator. But, how do you judge whether a candidate is capable of performing that function? Well, there’s really only 3 choices: 1) you take a candidate’s word that they really know what they’re talking about and hire them, 2) you learn as much as you can about the whole process which will, in turn, give you the tools to decide whether a candidate is qualified or not, or 3) you pick someone, regardless of whether or not they’re equipped to handle it, and expect them to learn quickly if they aren’t fully prepared when they start the position. You would be surprised at the number of organizations that take either take the first (and easy) route, or the third route and expect miracles – and end up deeply disappointed later on.
If, however, you are interested in choice 2, then this blog is for you. Let’s get started with the first component of your eLearning program: the LMS.
The basic functionality of a Learning Management System (LMS) can be described with two simple sentences:
- The LMS is a software application that delivers online courses by exposing hyperlinks
- The LMS is a software application that records data from the course.
In order to perform these two functions, the LMS requires a database to store all the data required for the delivery as well as the results from the course. Unfortunately, there is no standard for this database, which means that every LMS on the planet uses a custom database, and therefore, this data is not portable. Some of the data itself is standardized, but the structure of the database that stores this data is not. One LMS may require data that another LMS does not need, or the same data may be stored in different formats.
Obviously, training organizations need more than the two functions above, so it’s crucial to determine ahead of time what you’d like the LMS to do. Unfortunately, a large number of training organizations ignore this must-have step and end up paying (literally and figuratively) when the system they choose comes up short. I know of one large and respected training organization that has changed their LMS three times over a decade. This is obviously a fairly expensive proposition as there are significant costs associated with each change. One of the major costs is the learning curve associated with each new system.
It is therefore imperative that a training organization establish ahead of time what they would like the LMS to do. Let’s take recurrent training as an example. This is training that must be done during a certain time frame, and for pilots, this would be set based on their due date. But how do you turn this training ‘on or off’? One way to do that is to somehow group that training and the LMS administrator manually assigns people as they enter the date range during which they can take the training. I would call this the ‘brute force’ method.
A more sophisticated way would be to associate a due date with each individual and let the LMS automatically assign people as soon as they are eligible to take the training. For example, in our custom designed LMS, each user has a profile which consists of basic information such as name, email address, etc… It also includes a single date which is used by the LMS to determine if training is available or not. And when the training is completed, the system will automatically reset the due date to the following year.
So, what kind of features should you be looking for in an LMS? Part of that answer will depend on your specific needs as an organization, but there are some features that are common to certain types of training organizations. As far as pilots are concerned, there are two types of organizations: The Approved Training Organization (ATO) and the Airline Training Department.
Avsoft has a large number of ATO customers, so we have a pretty good understanding of their needs. A typical ATO needs an LMS that simplifies the enrollment process of their customers, and they usually need some type of completion certificate when the course is done. In Avsoft’s LMS, the enrollment starts with the ATO purchasing access to the course for X number of students through our webstore, and the students then self-enroll in the course. When a student completes the training, our LMS will automatically generate a completion certificate, and if desired, the ATO can set up an automated email to let the instructor know that the training has been completed.
An airline training organization typically does not require a self-enrollment process, but they do usually need some method to quickly and easily enroll a large number of users. There are different ways to meet this objective, and we help choose the correct method for each case scenario. An airline usually does not require completion certificates, but they usually do need some system that will automatically make training available to users based on a due date. Due to the large number of users, an airline typically requires some kind of automated notification system that will alert someone via email that something needs to be done. For example, our LMS automatically notifies users when their recurrent training is available, and it also alerts someone higher up when the training is completed, or if it wasn’t. Avsoft’s LMS performs these functions, but not all LMS’ do.
The important point here is that you should establish ahead of time what exactly you would like to LMS to do. Each requested feature should be associated with a desirability factor because it’s very doubtful that you will find an LMS out there that will provide you with everything you want. If all features are equally important, then the choice would be to either develop your own LMS, or ask a vendor to modify their LMS to incorporate the features you need. By creating and prioritizing this list of features, you’re saving yourself from significant costs down the road, and setting yourself up to find the right LMS the first time – which leads to success for your training and the pilots training through you.