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Saturday, May 30, 2015

E-Learning: Choosing the Right Learning Management System

Photo: Freddie Batista
Freddie Batista writes, "As a fire and emergency medical services instructor for more than 20 years and a pioneer in e-learning, I understand the financial challenges your department may be facing."

You need 24-hour access to training material, or you want access to additional training from experienced fire service instructors and subject matter experts from your living room/firehouse. I will show you how to make your training both accessible and affordable though your very own online e-learning portal.

Fire department training has evolved. With shortages in staffing and the inability to send personnel to conferences or to out-of-state training, departments need to look at another avenue to facilitate their training. Several learning management systems (LMSs) exist, but which one is right for your department?

We've all been to trade shows and have seen what many companies have to offer, but is the training they are providing useful for your department? All of the platforms out there will make it easy to deliver and track the course material your training bureau puts out there. More than 500 LMSs are now available to the fire service industry by subscription ($50 to $120 per member). However, the content these LMSs provide may not meet your department's standards.

Figure. LMS Infrastructure

In the end, all LMSs pretty much do the same thing: deliver, track, and report the delivery of your online content. An LMS is basically an electronic tracking system for managing your employees' training. Running reports is an important requirement, and it's the primary reason people change their LMSs and their vendors. With all of these choices, it's hard to know where to start and the differences among them.

An LMS can solve the most common problem of tracking your employee training by running reports. If your training is still "old school," the data are still tracked by hand. An LMS allows you to quickly run reports showing who took the training; it automatically deploys the courses. In many LMSs, you can run reports sorting departments, shifts, or rankings with just a few clicks of the mouse. If you are not on an LMS, it is very tedious to gather this information. As you start to look for your LMS, you must think about the training and the content you will house within the platform. Who will be your authors? Who will be your subject matter experts (SMEs)? Does your department have online content you can transfer into the system, or does the system come with a content library? Remember, this training happens 24/7/365 from the comfort of your home or firehouse. So if you need to deliver training fast, choose an LMS with the eLearning content that is right for you!

As you start to look at vendors, costs might seem high, but consider the balance online training has to offer. When you look at the price, consider what you spend for your current training. An LMS will give your current training uniformity and will dramatically reduce your training costs since you don't have to send your employees to out-of-state or out-of-city training. It can eliminate the need to bring in outside trainers to facilitate your programs and free your instructors to build an eLearning library. This will keep the information fresh and updated for your department. Incorporating an LMS will enable you to better monitor your training and to measure specific competencies. As an administrative user, you will be able to see when members have logged into your training system and how many times they have taken a course. You can also monitor the grades the learners receive and the learners' activity and progress.

First, establish a committee or team and develop a list of training needs. Make sure that each team member plays an essential part in choosing the right LMS. Next, meet with your information technology department and see if your fire stations' computers can handle the training the LMS will deliver. Do you have good Internet speed, a sound card, adequate memory, speakers, and graphic cards? Below are the areas to consider in choosing an LMS.