Hacking the learner experience: tips for configuring user engagement and adoption

NetDimensions’ 2017 North American user conference, NextSteps, took place in NOLA in May. While there, executives and L&D professionals had the opportunity to discuss new trends and best practices, expand their knowledge in technical and industry-focused sessions and gain new perspectives on meeting talent management challenges.

One of the most popular breakout sessions at the conference was titled, ‘Elevate your brand with HTML homepage widgets and skins: explore what is possible in exercising configurability to create a more engaging user experience’. Its presenters, Ali Zaheer and Garfield Bolt, are both Solutions Consultants for NetDimensions Talent Suite.

Their talk on ways to make the learning experience more engaging was a hot topic. Here are some of their best ‘course hacks’, tips and tricks to do this more effectively.

NetDimensions Talent Suite allows users to add widgets, gadgets and skins to customize their learning

It’s all about configurability

‘Hacking’ your NetDimensions user interface to engage the learner has never been easier. NetDimensions Talent Suite allows you to configure your LMS through skins, widgets and gadgets that give you the flexibility and versatility you need to present a different look and feel to learning content, holding the users’ attention and allowing them to quickly find the information they’re looking for.

What are skins and how can they help you engage users?

In computing, a skin is a custom graphical appearance package. In other words, it’s how the site looks.

Skins are achieved by the use of a graphical user interface (GUI) that can be applied to specific computer software, operating systems, and websites to suit the purpose, topic, or tastes of different users. As such, a skin can completely change the look, feel and navigation interface of a piece of application software or operating system.

Here’s an example of different skins in NetDimensions’ Talent Suite. Changing skins can customize learning for specific user groups.

NetDimensions Talent Suite LMS allows for customization through skins

Some skins make the program more aesthetically pleasing to the learner, but others can rearrange elements of the interface, potentially making the program easier to use. Some platforms support changing the standard interface, while others can add functionality.

How does skinning work?

The architecture of skinning allows for a flexible structure. In its structure, the GUI is independent from – and only indirectly linked to – the application’s functionality, so it can be easily configured for customization. Users can select a different skin whenever they wish, as well as change the position and function of the interface elements.

Skinning is facilitated by the underlying technology of the website. NetDimensions Talent Suite uses HTML, for instance, to facilitate changes of layout, and CSS to produce different visual styles.

“Skinning can distinguish among different verticals,” says Zaheer. It’s possible to customize:

  • The size and colors of images and text
  • The look of background images
  • Logos and branding signatures
  • Images of a manufacturer’s products

Through the NetDimensions Talent Suite solution it’s possible, Zaheer continues, for an organization to support more difficult language platforms – even the right-to-left written language of Arabic, one of the 43 languages that the Talent Suite supports.

NetDimensions Talent Suite supports over 40 different languages, including right-to-left languages like Arabic

What about widgets? What are they and how can they help configure compelling content?

The textbook definition of a widget is: “A stand-alone application that can be embedded into third-party sites by any user on a page where they have rights of authorship (e.g. a webpage, blog, or profile on a social media site).”

In other words, widgets are the little tools often seen in a site’s sidebar that perform one simple function, without taking up much room while doing it.

Some common examples of widgets you’ll recognize include the Twitter widget, which displays three to five of your most recent tweets and provides a link to your profile. The widget pulls information from your Twitter account and updates the feed to the widget in real time, as in the below image.

NetDimensions Talent Suite includes several widgets to amplify learner engagement like the Twitter widget
Calendar widgets do the same – they pull information to let people know about your upcoming learning programmes and events.

HTML/Code snippets are widgets in which you add your own code, allowing you to display images, add links and embedded videos and other content-enhancing activities. Widgets also improve the user experience by being omnipresent on your website, so that users don’t have to search around to find links they need.

Widgets are easy to set up. If you are an administrator, all you need do is drag, drop and add your text and images. From there you can rearrange, customize, add and delete. Widgets within the NetDimensions Talent Suite offering include both standard and customized options. Administrators can add links to catalog searches, personal calendars, embedded content from external sites, tweets, moving banners and customized reports, and even add personalized email text. This capability helps to make your LMS site optimally useful and compelling.

This is especially important for your mobile app. With NetDimensions Talent Suite’s mobile functionality, iPad and Android tablets can perform any function available to non-mobile devices, including links to external sites.

Gadgets are the building blocks of content creation

Another way NetDimensions Talent Suite helps you configure your course site is the use of a gadget – a small utility application that sits directly on your desktop and, like a widget, performs a single, simple function. There are gadgets that display current weather conditions, and gadgets that monitor computer performance, wireless connection, or let you play games or listen to music. They all work in a similar fashion to add functionality. They are easy to find, easy to install, and easy to use in a variety of ways to create attention-grabbing, interactive learning.

When you want to add text or video to a course, you use the text gadget. Gadgets are designed to put content, information and functions at your fingertips. It’s handier to have content modules floating on the desktop than to dig through layers of menus to open each application individually.

If you’d like to find out more about how NetDimensions award-winning solutions have helped hundreds of organizations with their elearning needs, get in touch today!

Should you choose a cloud-based LMS or on-premise LMS?

With today’s learners tending to upskill on the go, a mobile LMS is all the rage in the consumer marketplace. Different kinds of Learning Management Systems offer different features and flexibility, and the pros and cons of in-house and cloud-based systems depend on the unique requirements of your organization, such as its security needs. Picking the best solution is a case of considering a wide range of factors, so here are a few questions to ask.

NetDimensions Talent Suite is a secure, cloud-based LMSWhat are the costs involved?

While an in-house LMS will usually involve one-off purchases and maintenance, cloud-based services tend to operate on a subscription basis. This means that the total cost of ownership needs to be weighed up over a long period of time.

Cloud-based LMS services can offer an opportunity to utilize world-class learning solutions on a tight budget and to scale. Few organizations want the cost and hassle of building an in-house service which could offer as much as a web-based eLearning service for the same price.

SaaS (Software as a Service) applications also mean you don’t have to buy and install new hardware or software, but you could find that the cost of internal implementation is less than payments to a cloud-based service over time.

What are your existing resources?

Your current capabilities, such as the size of your technical team and understanding of effective LMS implementation, naturally play a part in guiding your decision between a cloud-based LMS and an on-premise LMS.

A high-quality cloud-based LMS should offer you a range of storage options and features according to your resource requirements, and the cost of each option should be clearly laid out. Factors such as your existing servers, bandwidth and IT burden need to be carefully considered in any comparison with cloud-based alternatives.

What are your security considerations?

With the increase in data security breaches and ransomware attacks, organizations, understandably, consider security a critical aspect of their learning programs. Using a cloud-based system can feel like ceding at least some control over security.

Highly-regulated industries and organizations have tended to be more wary of using cloud-based applications because of the perceived security risks of keeping data in the cloud.

There are a number of data security concerns to be mindful of when choosing between a cloud-based LMS and an on-premise LMSAn ideal solution, such as NetDimensions Talent Suite, gives you a market-leading architecture with a range of security features. NetDimensions is ISO 27001 certified and offers trusted security features, including:

  • Multiple data centers in key locations worldwide
  • Client data compartmentalization to address data privacy controls
  • Transactional security
  • Encryption of data at rest
  • Regular penetration testing
  • A variety of other advanced security features

For more on these advanced security features, click here.

Equally, cloud service providers can leverage economies of scale to provide security beyond anything organizations might be able to practically ensure on their own, including maintenance and updates, which might prove costly with an in-house system.
An ideal solution, such as NetDimensions’ Talent Suite, gives you a market-leading SaaS architecture with a range of security features. You can be sure your data is safe and stays in the region you choose.

What are your compliance requirements?

Ensuring compliance with all the laws and regulations that apply to your business is often a complex challenge.

Some regulatory requirements have strict guidelines on system updates that most SaaS providers cannot meet, and only a small number of on-premise and cloud-based solutions, such as NetDimensions, are rigorous enough to meet compliance demands.

Can you customize your content and make updates quickly enough?

If you want thousands of different types of buttons, visual assets or audio files, some cloud-based eLearning solutions may struggle to offer your L&D designers flexibility.

Ideally, whether your LMS is in-house or remote, you should be able to make real-time updates to content, which are then immediately accessible to your learners.

There are lots of factors to bear in mind when choosing between a cloud-based and on-premise LMS, and the two solutions aren’t mutually exclusive. With NetDimensions, you can enjoy the best of both worlds.

If you’d like to speak to a NetDimensions LMS expert about your organization’s needs, contact us today.

If you’d like to know more about the advantages of a mobile LMS, download our free Insight today.

Questions to ask before switching to a new LMS

Pushing to change your LMS? Look before you leap. Here’s an easy guide.

Today, organizations frequently manage their corporate training and compliance programs through a learning management system (LMS). But as LMS technology grows, many early adopters are growing unhappy with the challenges their legacy systems present.

A cloud-based LMS allows workers to access elearning on the device of their choice, like desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone

Older systems are often difficult to use and offer a poor user experience, inability to integrate with multiple systems, inadequate compliance tracking and reporting, few mobile features and little customer support. If you’re thinking of changing your LMS, carry out some due diligence – take time to review the best way to meet your learning strategy and drive business impact before comparing options. For companies in highly regulated industries, the right LMS can also be the difference between compliance and audit failure.

Implementing a new LMS can be a major challenge, but good planning will keep your project focused, on time, and within budget – and you’ll improve your corporate training program substantially.

Here are some questions you may encounter as you shop around for a new LMS:

How do I start to plan a new LMS?

Loose timelines lead to missed milestones. Write down realistic expectations of your new system, budget, timelines and checkpoints. A lack of written plans can lead to frustration and cost you time and money.

For more on LMS implementation, don’t miss our blog ‘8 best practices for a successful LMS implementation’.

Develop a business case for investing in a learning management system

An LMS implementation is most successful when it is aligned with the organization’s strategy. Your chosen LMS should contribute to the long-term success of the organization, not just address short-term needs. To ensure strategic alignment you should develop a business case for investing in a learning management system:

  • Why are we buying an LMS at this time?
  • How will the chosen LMS deliver ROI?
  • What are the potential human and/or financial consequences of not acquiring an LMS at this time?

If you can’t answer these questions then you need to revisit your business case.

Have we defined the business requirements?

Focus on your organization’s needs. The main reason that organizations upgrade to a new LMS is to gain a more modern user interface (UI), so this will likely be first on your list. If your interface is easy to use and attractive, your learners will be much more likely to engage with your learning. Research by Brandon Hall Group has found that 88% of organizations looking to switch their LMS were doing so to improve the user experience (UX).

What features should my new LMS include?

1. Mobile
With research showing that the vast majority of Americans own cellphones, mobile learning will have a huge impact on the success of your learning program. A third of the global workforce is already mobile, so highly effective solutions, such as the ones NetDimensions offers, should come with comprehensive mobile learning.

Mobile also gives learners the ability to take courses offline or conduct on-the-job assessments with a mobile device of their choice, another huge advantage of platforms with mobile options.

A commuter accessing an elearning course on her mobile phone

2. Social learning and informal learning
Social features such as forums are important for an LMS. It’s a place where managers and employees can share ideas and contribute to the development of best practices. Make sure you can easily embed Widgets (for example internal forums, Twitter feeds and YouTube videos) into your homepage so they are easily accessible for all users.

3. Compliance/auditing
Research by Brandon Hall Group has found that 27.7% of organizations are still managing compliance manually and 37.3% say the current technology systems are inadequate for compliance tracking. A robust LMS will help you manage compliance training effectively.

4. Reporting
Internal and external reporting is an essential part of the learning and compliance function. Proactive reporting with dashboard and analytics can help you mitigate risks. Your LMS should provide real-time reporting on regulated training and competencies and certifications.

5. Blended learning
Blended learning, traditionally seen as a mix of face-to-face training and online learning, is a widely used and successful way of delivering engaging elearning. But a blend can be so much more than that – adding a variety of media types to learning programs (like video, interactive PDFs, audio, infographics, podcasts etc) is also considered blended learning. If your LMS doesn’t support blended programs, you might be missing out on a variety of technology-enabled ways to engage learners.

6. Learning paths
When designing learning programs, it’s easy to forget that learners don’t have the bigger picture at their fingertips; only L&D does. Do you learners know what courses needed to be completed in what order? And when they need to be done by? Your LMS should clearly lay out what employees need to accomplish. This makes it easy for L&D to identify gaps in learning and make the recommendations.

Should I consider switching to an on-premise or cloud-based system?

While traditional systems can be expensive, complicated to use or provide learners with outdated information, a cloud-based system can eliminate those issues. Being cloud-based provides a safe and secure learning environment.

How do I avoid an LMS system that exists in a silo?

The long-term success of any LMS implementation isn’t just about delivering great learning material; it’s also about integrating technology into the LMS.

Buyers should insist on a new LMS that is able to support integrations, such as your CRM, HRIS system and an analytics platform. A system that allows for multiple out-of-the-box integrations can eliminate the need for manual administrative work and provide better data insights. It should also enable easy and effective scalability: for example, the NetDimensions Talent Suite currently serves 100,000 users in a single setting.

In terms of scalability, it’s a good idea to choose an LMS that ‘grows with you’. For example, a lot of NetDimensions Talent Suite clients start out using just a fraction of the functions and then go on to enable additional functionality as users become more comfortable with the system and managers want more options.

Does your LMS support multiple deployment and licence models?

Is your LMS vendor flexible enough to consider the ever-evolving needs of your business? This is a question worth asking anyone who provides LMS services. It’s no secret that the pace of business is moving at a faster rate, which means today’s learning needs will be vastly different from what’s happening in two or three years’ time. Future-proofing your training early on can potentially save millions but how can this be achieved? A flexible vendor should support all commercial models. NetDimensions supports various license models like extended enterprise, On Premise, Secure SaaS, full licenses and other models.

If you enjoyed this blog, you might also be interested in our “8 Best Practices for a Successful LMS Implementation” brief. Download it now.

If you’d like to speak to a NetDimensions LMS expert about the challenges your organization is facing, get in touch here.

 

 

LMS best practice: enhanced user experience and analytics capabilities

This post is the second in a 2-part blog series that looks at some of the ways that L&D managers can improve the learning technology in their organizations, with a specific focus on user experience and analytics. To read part 1, click here.
 

Learning Management Systems create poor user experience

According to a study conducted by the Brandon Hall Group, 50.6% of organizations say poor user experience is a significant barrier to satisfaction with learning technology. It’s important for a company to have an easy-to-use, modern-looking system.

Employees today are both oversaturated with information and short on time. They need to be able to quickly access the right learning tools and information.

According to learning analyst, Talented Learning, it is easier for LMS users to tolerate weaker user experience when training is mandatory, such as regulatory compliance training, but when the LMS is used for extended enterprise, such as dealership network training, the users must be persuaded to complete training regularly. In this case the user experience is key.

Key best practices for improved user experience

  • The User Interface (UI) has to be intuitive to reduce the number of clicks required to complete a task.
  • Applications have to be user-friendly and not built for experienced users only.
  • Make sure administrators, as well as selected users, can modify the layout of their homepage, edit menus and shortcuts and easily create new skins. This is a matter of configuration and not customization.
  • Social features such as forums are important for an LMS. It’s a place where managers and employees can share ideas and contribute to the development of best practices. Make sure you can easily embed Widgets (for example internal forums, Twitter feeds and YouTube videos) into your homepage so they are easily accessible for users.
  • Understand your vendor experience with learning portals and how well they integrate with the LMS.
  • Just-in-time learning is vital to the success of a learning program. Learning should be accessed on mobile device whenever users need it. That is why the ability to download content to a mobile device for playback even when offline is important.
  • Upgrade your LMS frequently – LMS vendors invest significant development resources into making sure that each successive version provides even better usability. This should also take into account user feedback, to give the best learning and performance management experience on any type of device.

 

Analytics capabilities

Measuring the business impact of learning using analytics tool is becoming increasingly important for the L&D function. 39.7% of organizations say poor analytics capabilities is a significant barrier to satisfaction with learning technology.

 

Key best practices for enhanced learning analytics

  • Focus on data that matters to your organization. Big data expert and author Bernard Marr points out in an article on Forbes: “Why go to all the time and trouble collecting data that you won’t or can’t use to deliver business insights? You must focus on things that matter the most otherwise you’ll drown in data… This is why it’s so important to start with the right questions.”
  • Start your journey with analytics now. It might take years to gather enough data before it will actually be relevant for the organization.
  • If you have already started your journey, make sure your analytics engine integrates multiple data sources. Your engine should correlate learning to other data coming from the rest of the business.
  • Most organizations don’t yet have a data analyst dedicated to learning. Make sure you have flexibility to create your own reports and easily create dashboards and charts without the need to learn complex tools.

 

Did you enjoy this blog? Then you might also be interested in our “8 Best Practices for a Successful LMS Implementation” brief. Download it now. If you’d like to speak to a NetDimensions LMS consultant about the challenges your organization is facing, get in touch here.
 

Why choose a learning portal?

This blog is based on a learning portal seminar hosted by Peter Dobinson, Solutions Architect at NetDimensions’ partner company LEO, at the NextSteps 2017 conference in London.

Learning portals can be customized to deliver tailored e-learning solutions on all devices, including smartphones and tablets

While a Learning Management System (LMS) provides a wealth of diverse information for your learners, portals act as a neat destination on more focused areas. As well as being gateways to further learning, portals are popular with NetDimensions’ clients because of their capacity to provide everything from guidance about new working processes to insights into user engagement.

Why do organizations like learning portals?

There are a lot of reasons why companies find learning portals highly effective. You can target a specific audience – potentially employees, customers or anyone who wants to access your learning programmes – and focus on a precise business impact area or goal, such as sales learning, with a holistic solution.

This is primarily what makes a portal different from an LMS: rather than providing a single solution to people across departments, languages and countries, a portal offers excellent learning opportunities to a subset of people with particular business requirements.

You can still utilize all of the features of your existing LMS, but you can tailor the learner experience for the content you’re presenting. You can offer a highly customized and relevant experience through the knowledge and activities you choose to present to your users. This makes a portal ideal if any of your users have ever had difficulty finding the information they want within your LMS, or if they only need to complete a small portion of your learning library in a short period of time.

How does a learning portal work?

A custom portal has functionality which allows you to build and update the specific journey and information being provided. The portal also receives and launches content from your LMS, and it can link to your social tools, allowing your audiences to further their learning through tools such as discussion forums, real-time chat and collaborative learning experiences.

There are two other important elements to portals: application programming interfaces (APIs) which can be used to link your systems and allow them to communicate with each other, and normally some form of Single Sign On (SSO), allowing your learners to log into the portal and access all of the content from your systems with a seamless login experience from a customer portal, or some other tool they already log into.

This can be achieved on a large scale. A great example of this is LEO’s work with one of the largest food and beverage manufacturers in the world. With over 80,000 employees globally, some of whom are external, the organization operates various portals for colleges of excellence covering topics like sales, marketing and supply chain fundamentals. The organization opted for a learner portal rather than an LMS because they wanted a small subset of learning material within a customized learner experience (LX).

These portals offer bespoke learner experiences and content to different groups within the business – they each have a customized user interface, learner experiences and content. They use gamification to drive people to the platform, they are localized for the different markets around the world, and are built to be fully responsive to allow access from a 3G connection. Thousands of users can access knowledge specific to their role through these custom portals, and learning leaders can also track their progress, helping to measure the business impact of learning.

Another learning portal example is NetDimensions work with Digicel, who were looking for a customized learning solution. About 1,000 young millennials work for Digicel, a mobile phone manufacturer in the Caribbean. NetDimensions’ success with this group was down to an attractive, easy-to-use learning portal accessed through an automatic enrolment after they were given a code. Dynamic videos and other training ploys were made accessible only to users who visited the portal.

A group of L&D leaders discussing the implementation of learning portals

How should your learning portal evolve?

Whether you want to change your portal’s resources or update its information, provided that you portal has a content management system (CMS) behind the scenes, moving elements around and adding new content won’t take too much of your time and doesn’t require any coding. Reporting and analytics allow you to take an agile approach and respond to the needs of your learners.

When NetDimensions worked with dental innovation company 3Shape, for example, the organization’s portal leaders tailored aspects of their content after discovering that dental assistants, rather than just dentists, were among the portal users carrying out scanning.

With a learning portal, you can be confident that a solution which meets your needs now can be easily adapted in the years ahead to enhance the user journey and maximize the business impact of learning. This versatility is another key benefit of using a portal.

If you enjoyed this blog, then you might also be interested in reading about transforming the learner’s experience through learning portals. To speak to a NetDimensions consultant about our learning portals and LMS solutions, get in touch here.

Contributor
Peter Dobinson is a Solutions Architect at LEO
Peter Dobinson has had over 10 years’ experience in designing, building and managing online products. He previously worked for Philips, Specsavers, Electronic Arts and the NHS. At NetDimensions’ partner company LEO, he is responsible for some of our largest learning architectures, working as both Solutions Architect and Technical Lead. He is an expert in learning management systems, data-driven design, product management, data analytics and system integrations.