Things To Consider in a New Learning Management System

When transitioning to new a learning platform or even getting ready for a complete transformation of your learning program and embracing learning technology for the first time; there are a few different perspectives that should be considered to ensure the goals of your organisation are met and you’re getting real value out of this effort.

A learning system touches so many different facets of your business and understanding these areas and how they are interconnected will help guide you on not only selecting the best platform for your business, but also how to best implement it for your employees, contractors or learners. There are many areas that we could discuss, but there are three areas that I’m going to touch on:

  • The goals of the business – why change, why now?
  • How do we work within the existing ecosystem?
  • How do I know if the new platform will work for me?

The goals of the business – why change, why now?

You need to have a good understanding of why you are looking to make a change. It may sound obvious, but I’ve talked with many clients over the years and in many cases they were looking to make a change just for the sake of it or simply because they were frustrated with what they had and just wanted to try something different. The problem here is, unless you take the time to review and understand your current situation and what a change will actually accomplish, you could end up going through the entire process of change only to end up wasting money, wasting time, and having the same problems you started with – but with a new system to blame them on.

It’s important to talk with different business areas using the current system or process to learn about what they actually need and what will truly make their lives easier. Only after this can you be sure that when looking at a new platform, you are on the lookout for solutions that have the features the business actually needs and will be useful to them and not just something that ends up being a replacement with a list of features that can be found on the “Top Features in Learning” list.

How do we work within the existing ecosystem

Next ensure you have a good understanding of your business’ technological ecosystem. An ecosystem is made up of multiple platforms or systems that have some sort of relationship with each other and how they operate or connect. An example of this could be how a learning platform is typically connected to an HRIS system for the synchronisation of people or user data.

Learning platforms are no longer an island unto themselves and must be able to work within an existing ecosystem. Knowing what systems will need to communicate or interact with the new learning platform will help guide your evaluation to ensure you aren’t disrupting key technology that has already been invested in and relied upon by the business already. Be sure you’re on the lookout for a platform that will thrive in and even enhance the already existing business and technical ecosystem.

Take a look at this diagram of Birch Learning Platform that can help you look at our platform and help understand how you could align it with your business objectives and how it may fit within your ecosystem.

How do I know if the new platform will work for me?

Now that you have identified the goals of the business and have the knowledge of how the new platform is going to connect into your ecosystem, it’s time to evaluate your options and select the right platform for you and your business. Be sure you are looking for something that meets the needs of today but can also grow along with you as your business and learning programs grow.

Do yourself a favour and don’t just look at feature sheets or sales presentations.  Talk with the vendors to be sure their goals and values align with the goals and objectives you uncovered earlier in this process. You’ve put all this work into finding a solution to a real business goal or problem, be sure you’re working with a vendor who can partner with you along this learning journey and not just sell you some software and services.

I encourage anyone reading this to reach out to talk through things together. I firmly believe in working with someone who you can align your goals and ambitions with and I am here to have that conversation and see if B Online Learning and Birch Learning Platform can be that for you. Please contact me directly and we can talk through your situation and see how we can help!

Components of xAPI Statements

xAPI statements need to conform to an “I did this” structure. Since each leaning event being tracked means that the learner has done something. When a learner does something a “statement” is sent to the Learning Record System (LRS) that contains these three components:

  • The Actor is an individual or group being tracked in the Statements. (The I in “I did this”)
  • The Verb is the action being done by the Actor within a Statement. (The did in “I did this”)
  • The Activity is the something with which an Actor interacted. It can be a unit of instruction, experience, or performance that is to be tracked. (The this in “I did this”)

In summary, xAPI tracks a person, performing an action within a specified activity.

How can we translate that into an idea of the practical application of xAPI in a learning context?

To make it easier to review and understand the statement structure I have put the example statements into a table format that shows the delivery method, the statement components and any notes on that statement.

Delivery Actor Verb Activity
eLearning from LMS Learner X (Identified from the LMS database) Passed (By achieving greater than 80%) The EEO online course.

This would be the equivalent to a standard SCORM based course completion call from the eLearning content to the LMS.

Delivery Actor Verb Activity
Face to Face Learner X (Identified by completing an attendance sheet) Attended (By showing up) The new employee induction workshop.

This would be the equivalent to an instructor updating the course attendance register in the LMS following a face to face training session.

Existing training, managed from an LMS, can fit neatly into the structure of xAPI statements and by simply varying the verb statement we can achieve different outcomes for the learner.

Delivery Actor Verb Activity
eLearning from LMS Learner X (Identified from the LMS database) Passed (By achieving greater than 80%)

Failed (By achieving less than 80%)

Is yet to finish (By not posting a quiz result)

Has not started (By not opening the course)

The EEO online course.


This is only just the tip of what xAPI has been designed to do. Lets look at some other potential xAPI statements that could flow from learning experiences beyond the LMS.

Delivery Actor Verbs Activity
Watching a video online Learner X (Identified from the xAPI coding) Played, Paused,  Stopped,
Resumed, Skipped, Finished watching.All of the above Verbs would have time and date stamps, so you could track all of the interactions the learner had with the video over time.
The work health and safety YouTube video.

To achieve this kind of tracking you need to able to update the YouTube iFrame code that launches the video to be able to code in your own xAPI statements. This can be done through the YouTube iFrame API and Javascript for example.

Here is an example of possible xAPI statement structure in a more physical exercise.

Delivery Actor Verbs Activity
Instructor watching an apprentice perform a repair on an engine. Learner X (Identified by the instructor on a tablet device) Inspected

Failed to inspect


Failed to Diagnose


Did not fix

The broken engine.

In an example the Instructor could have an xAPI quiz or survey on their tablet and as the apprentice completes the task or tasks, the instructor can enter details on the table that create multiple statements about the task and pass all this back to the LRS.

xAPI statements have the capability to both report on training completion in the same way that an eLearning SCORM course or LMS based instructor led course can but these same statements can be attached to be included in training components that LMS’s by themselves have a great deal of trouble coping with such as direct media tracking and skills demonstration exercises.

Take a look at Birch Learning Platform, that has an LRS built in, we ensure you have everything you need when you’re ready to start embracing the power of xAPI.

xAPI for Beginners

The definition of learning in Google dictionary is “the acquisition of knowledge or skills through study, experience, or being taught.”.  Even under the three basic headings of study, experience and being taught we can group most events in any given hour, on any given day, week, month or year and call them learning events.

Humans are learning machines, everything we experience is a learning event that either confirms and re-enforces previous learning or provides us with new knowledge, perspectives, skills, experiences and expectations.

Learning is something we do naturally, and we do it all the time.

So, what is learning is in the sphere of L&D or Training departments?

In this context, learning is an event that can be reported on! Which means that the learning event must be one which the Department has control over. This means controlling the access, delivery media, timeframe and the success criteria for that event. Just look at the standard training delivery formats of eLearning or face to face training. Both formats are all about control of the training delivery down to the time and location and they also look at learning at a more macro/broad topic level.

Outside of eLearning and face to face training, people are still learning and acquiring skills and knowledge all the time. But there is a gap in our ability to acknowledge and report on these uncontrolled micro learning activities.

It’s this gap between defined learning courses and more learner driven learning experiences that xAPI has been developed to fill.  xAPI is a method we can use to report on learning experiences that happen within our existing delivery structures and also through any other networked device, application, media or object.

So xAPI is really about learning related data. Getting more data, getting better data, getting constant data and being able to report on this data.

To make this happen xAPI needs 3 things:

  1. A standard data statement being generated by the experience of the learner – this statement structure effectively states “I did this” for any learning experience
  2. A method to transfer the data from the experience to a database – this is coding that is either already embedded within the experience or needs to be added by you (or a company who can create this code or who provides a connection to experiences that pre-coded)
  3. A place to store the data being generated by the learners – this is called a Learning Record Store or LRS

But before we get to those concepts one quick home truth. We are dealing with electronic data here, so as some point the details of the learning training experience needs to travel to the LRS, so connectivity will be required at some point in this process, but it does not need to be constant. For instance data captured on a tablet device whilst the device is off-line can be downloaded to the LRS once the connection is re-established, but a connection will be required at some point.

Let’s touch on each of the 3 xAPI components in a little more detail.

Standard data statements

In order for the learning records to all make sense a standardised structure has been created around the “I did this” concept, since each leaning event being tracked means that the learner has done something. When a learner does something a “statement” is sent to the LRS that contains three components:

  • The Actor is an individual or group being tracked in the Statements. (The I in “I did this”)he Actor
  • The Verb is the action being done by the Actor within a Statement. (The did in “I did this”)
  • The Activity is the something with which an Actor interacted. It can be a unit of instruction, experience, or performance that is to be tracked. (The this in “I did this”). Interpretation of Activity is broad, meaning that Activities can even be tangible objects such as a pump or motor. Other examples of Activities include a book, an e-learning course, a calendar event (such as a meeting) and a physical event (like walking to specified destination).

The method of transfer

Depending on your technical know-how this part of the xAPI story may lead you to work more closely with a content vendor, such as B Online Learning, that understands coding. To get your xAPI statement (I did this) to your LRS you will need to have computer coding, embedded in the device or program or object that the Actor is working on or with, that will pick up the details of the learning event and transfer those details via a web link to the LRS.

There are several different coding languages that xAPI can work on such as Java, PHP, Python or .NET to name only a few, but this is really the critical aspect of XAPI as it is a properly formatted code that mean the difference between being able to track and report on learning events and getting no tracking and reporting at all.

We will cover some different examples of where this coding can be applied to get a practical outcome in an upcoming blog.

Learning Record Store (LRS)

This is basically a computer server that is responsible for receiving, storing, and providing access to Learning Records. The LRS differs from a Learning Management System (LMS) in that the LRS is all about accumulating data records and LMS authenticates learners, registers them in courses and assessments then completes those courses and assessments. An LRS can part of a larger Learning Platform like Birch or it can stand alone.

You may be interested in our recorded webinar about xAPI here.

Contact us to find out more about Birch Learning Platform.

Easily Publish eLearning to Birch Learning Platform

The process to load content into an Learning Management System is to “Publish” or “Package” the training, wrapping it in programming standards (such as SCORM or xAPI) that allows it to interact with the reporting capabilities of the system.

Through our long experience in the world of eLearning, we are still amazed to find people and organisations struggling with this basic eLearning function and the issues usually boil down to three key areas:

  1. The LMS does not actually comply with SCORM or xApi standards.
  2. The LMS only accepts or can report on content built within the LMS or by the LMS vendor, effectively locking people into using that LMS only.
  3. The LMS vendor does not allow clients to load their own content because the process is too technical. 

B Online Learning is an organisation that embraces technologies that will work for all clients and provide unquestionable flexibility and reliability.

To this end our research and personal experiences, led us to choose Articulate as our preferred content development tool and to build Birch  Learning Platform.  

Our choices are based on the fact that these applications are easy to use, have extensive and comprehensive functionality and most importantly they make it very easy for our clients to publish and load their own eLearning content whenever they want.

First watch how to publish SCORM content from Articulate Rise.

Now see how to publish SCORM from Articulate Storyline.

Watch how easy it is to load these files to Birch Learning Platform. 

We have used Articulate content as the example however Birch Learning Platform is compatible with any SCORM or xAPI compliant content.

It is really that simple and takes a few minutes from content being published to content being available in the learning platform.

If your LMS or content provider charges you to upload content or if this process is anything other than simple and reliable then contact us to find out more about Birch Learning Platform.

On a final note, if your LMS provider says that your content is not sending the correct information to the LMS , then test it in the SCORM cloud – if it works correctly there, then its the LMS not the content!

eLearning Tools Empower Your L&D Experts

One of the biggest concerns for organisations adopting an eLearning approach is that it will devalue the learning experience and overwhelm learners with poor quality programs. But we believe the exact opposite is true.

Instead, eLearning tools get your subject experts back on the front foot and delivering their expertise directly to those who need it. It removes complex, overly technical and long winded development from the equation. It allows your specialists to easily develop programs which are tailored specifically to their learners’ needs. Being directly engaged in the course development and design is great motivation and leads to a better quality course and better results.

Here are some benefits of having your L&D team take the in-house eLearning approach:

  • They know your audience and they know what works. On aggregate this leads to better outcomes.
  • Ease of use for those who don’t have a sound knowledge of IT. (although they still need to know how to structure a good learning experience!)
  • By making minor updates themselves, their courses can stay current whilst keeping costs down.
  • Speed of development means fewer resources are required both in terms of time and expertise.

Training courses like our Certified Articulate Training allow teams to trial and evaluate authoring tools. Here, teams can play around with these tools without paying for them first, and learn how to structure a course so that it’s both meaningful and engaging. Additionally, course participants will:

  • See more clearly and from the learner’s perspective having attended a course themselves, they will get a much better feel for what works.
  • Be exposed to a wide variety of approaches. Methods and techniques are changing so fast.

What are your views on eLearning tools? What benefits have you seen? What concerns do you have?

How ERPs Are Compromising Learning Innovation

An organisation’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.  Jack Welch

The world we live in is in a state of constant flux in so many ways and one of the primary candidates for this constant change is the seemingly perpetual momentum of technological advancement.  By the time we come to understand and appreciate the application of current technologies, those same technologies are out of date and have been replaced by something new and less understood.

One of the trends we’ve seen lately in the digital learning world is the increasing prevalence of LMS providers merging with large software providers, generally Accounts or HR software to create ERP solutions for business that include a learning delivery component.

SAP merging with SuccessFactors LMS is an excellent example of this trend. The idea is that by combining multiple business relevant products under one banner, the client is able to purchase a one-off product that solves their every need. That might seem logical on the outside looking in, until real world economics, flexibilities of scale and business priorities take over.

For the vast majority of these systems, the leading application within the ERP suite is not the LMS. Most of these systems are put in to manage the company accounts or the HR function within the company and the learning management features are viewed by the people making the purchasing decision as a nice to have or “Value Add” in the deal, rather than a business critical component.

More often than not, its the professionals in L&D not being consulted about their requirements for the LMS before the new ERP system is signed off and installed, much less letting them have an active say in the appropriateness of the solution for themselves and the learners. This lack of consultation with L&D, much less an understanding of the growing importance of continual knowledge and skills improvement, often driven directly by learning, in peoples professional and personal lives, results in an LMS that at best detracts from the personalised provisioning of information and at worst just simply don’t work.

The other factor is the learning functionality is being compromised for the feature set of an ERP.  They simply are not capable of performing at the same level as an enterprise digital learning platform.

Recently I was talking to some contacts about how they moved from their own bespoke LMS solution to an LMS that was part of a larger ERP package and their feedback was unequivocally negative.  For instance:

  • The new system couldn’t link to their payroll system in order to create and manage user accounts
  • The new system cant deal with both internal and our external contractors
  • The new system uses old technology, they are not nimble enough to adapt to the way learning will be delivered in the future
  • The new system couldn’t manage competency management
  • To access courses the learners had to move through up to 6 screens before they could launch the course they wanted to complete
  • The reporting in the new system was inadequate and customisations were expensive (not to mention that they will probably need to pay for the customisations to be updated should an upgrade to the LMS come about)
  • The user and course structures in the new system are cumbersome and rigid
  • The performance of existing digital learning modules is compromised as the new system doesn’t fully support HTML5 or the latest browsers.

What these solutions fail to take into account is that the world is changing at a ridiculously rapid rate.  A 2016 World Economics Forum report state that 65% of kids starting school today will leave school to work in jobs that do not exist today. There have also been studies done that state, with current technologies, around 51% of the work-related tasks we perform on a daily basis, its technically feasible to replace these tasks with automation.

These figures alone suggest a very large section of the workforce, their current skills and knowledge will shortly be obsolete or no longer required. If that is the case then the only way for those same people to stay relevant is to be able to continuously re-educate themselves. But if the systems we use to manage the delivery of skills on knowledge on a large scale are there not because of their own merit and only because they come as an optional extra on the latest corporate abacus, then the future may be starting to look bleak. This is where specialisation in learning delivery, using a Bespoke Digital Learning Platform, should be viewed as more than just a compliance generator, but rather as an investment in the future.

Certainly, the view of B Online Learning is that learning development and delivery will need to grow to service these new needs and more importantly that the tools used to support these needs should emulate the general direction of technology. They should be:

  • Flexible
  • Modular
  • Easily Integrated
  • Fluid
  • Learner Focused
  • Mean more than just compliance

A truly bespoke digital learning platform is born from a partnership of trust between the client and the provider, one in which the specific and often dynamic needs of the client are understood, acknowledged and support by the provider. B Online Learning is one of the industry leaders in providing such partnerships, in fact it is our preferred business model for all our client relationships. In combination, this partnership of trust coupled with the best technological solutions, produces a unique innovative, flexible and eventually a business-critical differentiator.

After all your people are your most valuable assets and as the world around us changes and accelerates, supporting and nurturing their intellectual growth will be far more important to them than the accountants getting a value add on their system.

eLearning development

How To Design, Develop and Deliver eLearning

Perhaps the mystery and hyperbole that surrounds so many new technology based solutions is inevitable. Perhaps people are intimidated by the “newness” and fear investing on the “bleeding” edge.  Perhaps they have had their fingers burned in the past. A cynic might even argue that there are vested interests in the form of specialist consultants who like to inflate the complexity and risk of developing technology heavy solutions and make a buck or three on the way through!

eLearning has suffered from its fair share of bluff and bluster in its formative years and maybe in those times when the market was in its “early adopter” phase some of those labels were true. However there have been tremendous strides in recent years in the eLearning space and the market is accelerating fast as organisations realise how practical it has become to deploy eLearning content rapidly and affordably within organisations, both messages that resonate in today’s marketplace, still rattled by the GFC.

Conventional wisdom dictates that eLearning is time consuming to deliver, that it’s technically complex and above all expensive to develop. It argues you need to find tried and trusted and expensive consultants to create your content and deliver and host your online courses. Maybe in the past but this is no longer true.

Witness the development and success of B Online Learning’s eLearning Design Essentials course (EDE). The course has been designed to bring together the technical aspects of eLearning with the principles of adult learning. Let’s take a closer look at why the EDE is proving so hot for not just Australians but global clients as well.

Why everyone is choosing professional development?

  1. Provides a holistic view of designing, developing and delivering an eLearning project
  2. Shows current and best practices and utilises a wide range of both formal and informal eLearning approaches which you can choose to apply back in the workplace
  3. Is learner centred which provides important insights into how your future learners may feel completing training online
  4. Build a fully functional eLearning course for use in your workplace, utilising our expert advice
  5. Takeaway latest templates, tools and tips and knowledge for successfully implementing eLearning projects in any size organisation

Why an eLearning Course?

Our aim is to dispel the myth of eLearning and place it in the hands of subject matter experts and workplace teams. Almost any program currently being delivered as face to face programs can easily be converted to eLearning. In fact the need for “bells and whistles” and complicated, expensive eLearning extravaganzas is what was stifling the uptake of eLearning.

There is however a need for this type of eLearning, but we believe that in the majority of cases of eLearning being delivered in organisations today, such as induction and compliance programs, can be easily developed in house with a rapid approach to eLearning and some assistance and advice up front from eLearning experts such as B Online Learning.

However the difference with the EDE is it is not just about designing and developing an eLearning course. Many people do not understand how the different technologies combine to create an eLearning environment and what is actually necessary to deliver a successful eLearning program. We get questions all the time like; what does a Learning Management System or LMS do? Do I need an LMS? So we explore, in the course, the different eLearning technologies such as LMS, authoring tools, social networking and collaboration, and webinars and also give advice on what to look for when purchasing this technology.

But having invested all time, energy and money into developing the eLearning program, delivering it successfully is the final step and one that is often overlooked. Establishing a change management program, evaluating what worked and what didnt for continuous improvement and building a network that will support and drive the program are just some factors that need to be considered.

Individuals and organisations want flexibility with their eLearning. They don’t want to be locked into providers that have access to their intellectual property, don’t allow their courses to be used with other systems, and not be able to take their courses to other providers in the future. So developing eLearning in house or with a provider who gives clients all the source material, is an attractive option.

Organisations are realising they can reduce their energy use and carbon footprint by providing an eco-friendly alternative to traditional classroom-based training. Green eLearning can bring training to organisations’ desktops without the trainer cost, travel time and facility hire associated with traditional learning and classroom based training.

What are the success factors of the course?

For an eLearning program to be successful it must be collaborative, engaging and interactive. Our courses focus on motivating learners to engage with others in an online collaborative model using latest technologies. Because people learn from one another, our programs aim to connect learners with experts, colleagues and professional peers, both in and outside their organisation.

By adapting activities from the traditional classroom and adding imaginative ideas that take advantage of the unique online technologies, you can create eLearning courses that will excite and engage students. And, by including a variety of interactive eLearning experiences, you should be able to improve retention rates, increase learner participation, achieve your learning objectives, develop online learning communities, and ensure that your online courses engage learners, regardless of the course topic.

To effectively meet the needs of diverse learners, the eLearning environment that you create needs to be:

  • Engaging – engagement is more important than content
  • Learner Focused – let the students guide their learning
  • Collaborative – the students learn from their peers.

eLearning is a different way of learning from the traditional workshop approach. Many people, including training and learning managers, express concerns about how eLearning will meet the needs of their learners. The most effective program, for both traditional and eLearning, is one designed to take all learning styles into account. Our eLearning Design Essentials course shows you how to use various eLearning techniques to accommodate multiple learning styles.

Who can take the course, and how might it be applied in the workplace?

The course is designed for training program developers, HR professionals, training co-ordinators, instructional designers, workplace trainers, IT professionals and teachers who wish to develop, design and deliver courses via eLearning.

This course does not teach you how to be trainers or teachers. It already assumes that you have some experience and skills in a face-to-face situation. This course helps you to evaluate and transfer your existing skills to the online environment, and to develop new strategies for facilitating online learning. During the course learners will be taken through the benefits and merits of eLearning so they can see how this applies to their workplace and how it would enhance their business processes. Some organisations are putting a few of their team members through the course so they get to design and develop an eLearning course that is currently being delivered in the workplace in a face to face capacity, such as the organisation’s Induction Program. Students can then go back to the workplace and subsequently design and develop new and existing programs in an eLearning format.

For further information or to enrol in the eLearning Design Essentials workshop please visit our webpage.

Using an LMS to Support Blended Learning

As the continuation for this series of blogs on the how’s and why’s of developing and delivering a good blended learning experience for the learner, we will now delve into the platforms that support the delivery.

So far we have discussed what is blended learning, how to identify your audience and how to analyse and break down your course content across delivery modes. This leaves us in a position where we know who we are training, we know what we are training them in and how that training is to be delivered as an experience, but we do not have a platform in place that can manage this delivery for us. This is an important yet seemingly obvious point to make, automation in the delivery of training is not compulsory however it does provide a number of advantages:

  1. If configured correctly it is effectively infallible
  2. It removes a significant time constraint from the course administrator/instructor
    1. They don’t have to worry about manually managing learners
    2. They don’t have to track and monitor learners continuously in order to ensure that the elements of the blend are delivered in the correct sequence at the correct time
    3. A large amount of the assessment requirements can be managed automatically
    4. Course resources such as training rooms, don’t have to be managed across multiple systems
  3. The need for constant emails to be sent to learners as they enrol and progress can be removed
  4. Comprehensive and instantaneous reporting not only saves time but allows the focus to move from purely monitoring progress to actually improving the course.

The simple fact is that systems have been designed and built to specifically manage the delivery, tracking and reporting of training across a group or groups of people. These are called Learning Management Systems or LMS. Most people are aware of the existence and purpose of LMS’s however they tend to view them as compliance platforms and not much else, in fact some vendors in the learning space use this narrow focus and mix it with fear to create their sales dogma “Are you compliant? Can the government come and shut you down tomorrow? Only our LMS and Content can save you!!!”

But an LMS can be so much more. At B Online Learning we use and recommend our own learning platform that I will discuss LMS functionality as it exists in our platform, however there are other LMS’s on the market and most good ones should have the same features as standard.

What functions can an LMS give us to support our blended program?

To help answer this lets go back and see what we have covered so far in building our program.

First we looked at our audience, who they are, where they are and what they are. Through those investigations we revealed that our audience can come from any number of backgrounds, locations, socio-economic brackets and have a wide array of physical and/or knowledge based advantages and disadvantages.

What we can glean from this is that, in order for the LMS to support our people, it needs to be flexible in how our people can access and interact with the system. For a start there should be multiple ways in which the LMS can acquire user records because all of our users may not be captured in a single external database (like a Payroll or HR system). For our learning platform, user records can come from any or all of the following:

  • Real time feed from an external system or systems
  • Self-registration by the learners through filing in a registration form
  • Manual entry by an administrator

Beyond this, the information captured around the learner can be varied so that the profile derived from this information will help us to deliver and manage the training program as well as providing the basis for individual and program reporting.

To do this the LMS fields and functions need to be configurable, so that the information being captured is less generic and more specific and aligned to the learner’s requirements as outlined in our blended program research.

Part of this configurability must also extend to the frameworks created within the LMS dthat will manage and interpose learner and program information. Once again flexibility is required within these frameworks to cater to the whole audiences requirements. For instance using an existing Org chart structure to represent working relationships and reporting lines for an internal audience is a great method to easily replicate a useful framework against the learners. However our investigation demonstrated that the learner audience may well exist outside the organisational framework, or their roles could be such that they straddle multiple organisational branches in a practical sense but they are only allocated to one branch from an HR reporting or Payroll sense.

This type of complexity in the learner audience is very common and the LMS needs to have the capability to use both static (Org Chart) and dynamic frameworks (User role) to accurately capture the learners requirements. Our learning platform does this through allowing several static frameworks, such as Org Chart and User Streaming to be added to the user record directly whilst also being able to overlay the user record with one or many dynamic frameworks like Job Roles, Communities Geographic locations and Business units. In combination these static and dynamic elements provide the flexibility required to support the different learner profiles that we identified in our blended learning research.

So we have a platform that can accommodate the different user profiles that we have identified, next we looked at the actual training in the program itself and this we have separated into delivery modes as well as considering our learners profiles.

In an LMS this breaks down into two areas of concern:

  1. Training delivery options
  2. Training delivery structures

The training delivery options are easy, in so far as you need the LMS to be capable of managing the different training interventions in your blended program(s). The two primary interventions are generally face to face training and eLearning content, but blended programs can easily go beyond these two modes to include downloadable content (documents, media, files) as well as collaboration tools (online chat and social tools).

The delivery structures are a little more complex, as they need to be able to assign the right training to the right people at the right time. This is simple if everyone gets the same X number of courses all in one big dump when they first start, but part of the beauty of a great blended course is the discovery aspect, the way the overall course unfolds as the learner progresses through. Our learning platform can manage the distribution of program elements and it does this by allowing the elements to be grouped together and structured in the order of delivery and also allowing each element to describe a number of criteria that need to have been met in order that the specified element becomes active.

Here is an example:

Course Element Course type Completion Criteria Activation Criteria Display Criteria
Pharmaceuticals Overview Downloadable PDF NA Activated at the commencement of the learning Displayed permanently
Pharmaceuticals Online Course eLearning View all screens Activated at the commencement of the learning Displayed permanently
Pharmaceuticals Face to Face workshop Face to Face Instructor sign off Activated only after the Overview eLearning is complete Displayed permanently
Pharmaceuticals Online assessment eLearning 90% pass mark Activate 30 days after the Pharmaceuticals Face to Face workshop Displayed after completion of previous element
Pharmaceuticals onsite assessment Face to Face Observational Assessment Activate after passing the Pharmaceuticals Online assessment Displayed after completion of previous element

From this we can see that both multiple modes of delivery can be delivered and the delivery of those course elements can be varied by one or a number of criteria.

What’s more is that the LMS should be able to use both the course structures and the dynamic user structures to deliver a user specific set of learning elements as reflected in the blended program plan.

Given that the above learning outline contains both date based and learner driven criteria, the LMS should also encompass a comprehensive notification system to allow learners, managers and administrators to keep up with requirements as they arise and require attention.

The final big piece of the blended learning puzzle from an LMS perspective is reporting.  Reporting at a high level obviously allows both administrators, instructors and management to obtain an overview of the program. Who is enrolled, how far they have progressed, what has been completed and what needs to be completed. Taking the reporting a step further however allows us to start to review and improve the content and the delivery of the overall blended program. Reports can be run that encompass such things as:

  • Post face to face survey results
    • How is the instructor performing
    • Is the content relevant
    • Were the elements that led up to the face to face comprehensive enough (Or too comprehensive)
  • Online assessment question level tracking
    • Why does everyone get question 10 wrong, has it been worded poorly
    • Are the questions to easy or too hard
    • Do they test the right knowledge
  • Time taken to complete the program
    • Is the program too long
    • Are people failing to finish
  • Learner based comparison
    • People in Group A are doing better at the case studies than the people in Group B, why is that so what are the differences between the groups are the case studies not generic enough

Opening up the world of reporting beyond just pass and fail statistics provides a wonderful window into how and why our programs are poor, average or great. A great program is one that can be adjusted based on ongoing observation.

Our learning platform enables this level of reporting by going beyond the standard reports provided in most LMS’s and adding to that the ability for designated users to build and save their own custom reports within the LMS.

Blended learning is a wonderful and powerful method to educate our audience and the proper planning of our program is of the utmost importance but we can also see now that the actual delivery of the program can also make or break the user experience.

In the next blog we will look more closely at the eLearning component of our blended course and how to get the most out of the training.

Planning Your Blended Learning Program

This is the third blog in a series that looks at the learning principles behind blended learning, the needs of the audience and how these are determined, the technologies available and combining all these aspects together.

Now that we have profile to work from,  we can proceed to the planning of our blended course. And we will start this process by comparing our learner profile with the requirements for the intended training to see where we need to focus to achieve the maximum benefit for our learners.

blended learning

In the image above, from the last blog post, we have determined who our learner is and what their preferences for training might be. Across a normal learner population you will need to develop multiple versions of the above profile since your use group will envelop a wide variety of roles and user backgrounds. We are using one profile for the sake of easy explanation, however multiple profiles can be accommodated in any blended program by simply overlaying the profiles, identifying the commonalties and using these as focusses for the program.

Once you have your user profile, or profiles, ready to go these can be set aside while the focus shifts over to the actual training that is the requirement for the blended program.

Let me state at this point that one of keys for developing great training, whether a single intervention or an entire program, is the application of Occam’s razor. Which basically states that if the simplest option works, there is no need to look any further and build superfluous complexity.

This holds true for training delivery. If the requirement of the training is that the learner needs to memorise a 4 digit passcode to get access to the build, then the “training” material need be no more than an email containing the passcode and the instructions on when to use it. To send the learner, in this instance, an online course on why the passcode is required, have them attend a face to face training session on how to use the passcode entry panel, make them complete an online quiz and perform and observed and graded assessment of passcode entry, would only waste the learners and the instructors and the companies time.

In light of this we are going to look at some training for our regional nurse that is a little more complex than passcode entry so that we can explore some of the possibilities for a blended program.

For our program we will use the relatively broad topic of Pharmacology (ie the use and effects of drugs on patients).

As we did with our audience we need to break down the topic being training into its components however this time the result will be the required training outcomes for the specific learner groups undertaking the program. And to get to those outcomes we will need to pull apart the whole subject area and determine the topics and subtopics that make up the entire program.

Depending on the subject this can be a relatively simple task or it can be dauntingly complex and large, either way, the best approach I have found is to start with broad topic headings and then delve down through those headings to determine sub topics, sub topic sections and so on. This can be done with any method you prefer to use such as mind mapping, building a spreadsheet, white boarding, flip charts or even post it notes.

blended learning

So if we take this approach with our topic of the use and effects of drugs on patients, we might see the following breakdown of part of the topic. I have chosen to represent this breakdown within a hierarchy diagram, however there are multiple methods for documenting the requirements from bullet lists to mind maps to spreadsheets. You just need to choose the method that serves you best.

blended learning

With the full picture of the program now outlined for all learners, we can start to overlay the specific requirements for our identified learner profile, since different learner profiles may need varying levels of detail across the full program.

blended learning

Finally then, once the topic and all of its requirements are outlined and the audience has been overlayed onto this, we can return to our specific audience profiles so that we can make some informed decisions as to what elements the blended program requires based on the audience profiles.


Remember that some elements of your program may transcend the above process, for instance one aspect of the program may require the learner to demonstrate a physical task to an instructor or examiner. In the absence of a suitable video link capability this type of demonstration may only happen at a specific onsite location, hence ruling out online or written assessment options from your blended tools.

So we have now broken down our audience and our topic and we understand how those two fundamental elements are linked. Now we have the task of actually pulling together the elements of the blended program into a structured delivery point. In the next blog in this series I will look at how a Learning Management System (LMS) is perfect delivery point for this type of program, how it can be configured to support the multiple facets of the topics and user needs and what some of the pitfalls are when selecting an LMS to handle the job.

Making Your LMS Earn Its Keep

Does your organisation have any or all of the following characteristics?

  • Distinct learning groups such as different divisions within an organisation which have their own unique identity and very distinct learning activities and business rules.
  • The need to provide training to external contractors for compliance requirements.
  • Clients that you provide training to as a ‘value add’ or even sell training to.
  • Pre-employment on-boarding activities.

Some organisations may have these characteristics but their LMS is ‘one size fits all’. You could be restricted in how you can expand the services of your LMS to other parts of your organisation or outside your organisation, as it will affect how you facilitate the learning of your internal employees. Besides you cannot have those training reports ‘polluted’ with other data.

During many implementations of LMS’s, I have come across situations where an organisation has several distinct groups of learners, (for example internal employees, external contractors, external clients) and they have recently acquired another organisation.  In this scenario, they wish to retain their current identity or they may even have a Registered Training Organisation as well.

All these scenarios have the following traits:

  • Different business rules are required; for example approval is required for training internal employees but is not needed for external contractors.
  • Different branding may be required for different divisions within the organisation.
  • Different learning activities may be targeted to different groups of learners.
  • Training is managed by different departments within the organisation.

In Birch we call these groups of learners ‘communities’. A community is the top-level category for grouping users. Birch supports multiple communities. Each community can have different banners, colours, navigation, course catalogues, learning paths, language libraries and business rules.

By using Birch’s communities, we can configure within one instance of the LMS a very different look and feel, as well as different business rules for these distinct learning groups. So let’s explore this by looking at three different scenarios.

Scenario 1 – Internal Employees

This is traditionally what your LMS has been implemented for. This implementation may involve employees having their own learning paths based on their job roles, a skill/capability framework, and a self service facility that allows learners to register into courses with or without approval workflow. It may also allow employees to request external training and add their own personal achievements such as licenses or other qualifications. Participation in a collaboration platform supports that invaluable exchange of knowledge. Employees have single sign on from their intranet.

So within our LMS we could create a community for internal employees that would contain the following:

  • Branding based on the organisation’s intranet
  • A learner portal with menus renamed to reflect the learning development processes of the organisation.
  • The enabling of manager approval

Scenario 2 – External Contractors

The external contractor scenario is common in a number of organisations. For an external contractor to commence work, they usually have to complete some form of induction such as Workplace Health and Safety training or other information that may be pertinent to the organisation and site. This may be required from a compliance point of view.

So within the LMS we could create a community for external contractors that would contain the following:

  • Branding based on the website.
  • A learner portal with menus renamed to reflect what an external contractor is doing versus what an internal employee would be doing.
  • The inclusion of a self-account creation form with a defined URL and defined rules
  • A feature to make the account automatically inactive after a certain period of time.

An external contractor can create their own account within the LMS via the URL provided,  log into your LMS, complete their induction and if successful, print off a completion certificate to hand to the site representative upon commencement. Optionally you may have them upload their various licenses if required.

All this could be done prior to commencement, saving work time and improving the efficiency of the on-boarding process.

Scenario 3 – Your Clients

Your organisation may have some great eLearning resources you have developed.  Why not make these available for your clients?  This could be a great ‘value-add’ for your clients, or you may even wish to turn this into another revenue stream with your clients.

For example where you have product knowledge eLearning modules for your sales force, why not make them available for your clients? Not only would you be providing online content to upskill their staff, you would also be providing them with a portal that allows them to report and track those learning activities. In addition you are building a stronger relationship with your client.

So within our LMS we could create a community for clients, that would contain the following;

  • Branding based on your client’s website
  • A learner portal in your client’s context
  • No automatic deactivation of accounts
  • Possible restriction of 200 accounts at one time

By providing  this to your clients, you are turning your LMS into a multi-tenanted LMS.  So taking this a little further, if you are already providing training to your client, why not get the clients to manage their own training requests in their community?

Traditionally these groups of learners may have been excluded from a LMS implementation, so by including them, you really are making your LMS earn its keep.

Getting your LMS to earn its keep can not only be rewarding to a Learning and Development group, it can also generate potential revenue for your organisation.

Explore B Online Learning’s LMS, LXP and LRS solution here.

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