What’s the Difference Between an LMS and an LCMS? Hint: It’s Not Just the Letter “C”

It can be difficult to understand eLearning terms when they’re used interchangeably. Which is which and how do you know when to use them? Learning Management Systems and Learning Content Management SystemsFor example, you’ve likely seen Learning Management Systems (LMS) and Learning Content Management Systems (LCMS) discussed on various websites and company pages. It sounds like they’re the same thing, right? Wrong. Are they similar? Sure. But there are differences, and those differences matter like the differences between siblings caught in a rivalry to be the favorite child. “Oh sure, the LMS will manage your learners, but will it help you create content?”

What’s an LMS?

An LMS manages people’s interactions with learning content. In other words, it allows learners to take courses and attend online events, instructors to track learners’ progress and scores, administrators to check reports, and more. It gives your association one software package that delivers, assesses, and reports on online training programs. In many cases, the learner can receive his or her LMS-generated certificate at the end of a course. In short, it’s the learning delivery platform. Sounds great, right?

How is an LCMS Different from an LMS?

An LCMS goes one step farther. In addition to everything an LMS does, an LCMS also lets you create learning content (courses, lessons, modules, etc.). As a result, your association can create, store, reuse, and manage courses and training materials all in the same program.  In short, with an LCMS you get all the features of an LMS plus the added benefits of a Content Management System (CMS).

How Do I Choose?  

“If an LCMS does everything an LMS can, plus more, why would I want an LMS?”

Suppose your members need training to introduce them to a new product that affects your field. Your association pays a vendor to create an interactive course that goes over the features of this new product. Now you need a way to deliver that training to your members across the country and you want to track who has taken the course, their scores, and their competency with this new product. In this case, you probably want an LMS because the content already exists and you just need to deliver and manage it. Paying more for an LCMS would get your content creation features that you may not use.

“Why would I want an LCMS if I already have an LMS?”

Now suppose the association wants to save money by making the course themselves and decides not to hire a vendor. Maybe there’s an existing PowerPoint presentation, or other resource, that can be updated and repurposed. Or maybe they want to make something completely new but don’t have the tools they need. Can they make that revised PowerPoint presentation interactive? Can they build a new course without buying an authoring tool? If they’re using an LMS, probably not. On the other hand, an LCMS could allow the association to add interactions and questions to the PowerPoint or build a course from scratch without needing to buy another program. In this instance, an LCMS is probably a better fit because the association can create its own learning content and deliver it to its members using one product.

Please note that an LCMS is not the only way to create your own learning content. You could invest in a rapid content authoring tool, build the Associations favorite LMS or LCMScourses in the tool, and then deliver them using an LMS. The distinction is that if you have an LCMS you can build courses inside the LCMS and you don’t need a separate tool. Every LMS and LCMS is different and every provider uses their own judgment when deciding what to call their product. Their judgment might be different from yours. So, always check with your provider, or prospective provider, and ask them about their system’s specific features to see if they fit your association’s needs.

Choosing Your Favorite: “I have the best features, pick me!”

The fact that providers often use “LMS” and “LCMS” interchangeably is what causes confusion. Math time: LMS + C (for content creation) = LCMS. Remember, if a system offers content creation it’s an LCMS, even if the provider calls it an LMS. Whichever you pick, both are great ways to address an organization’s educational and training needs and can provide associations with new and exciting sources of non-dues revenue from members and non-members alike.

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Game Based Learning: Is It Appropriate For My Association?

Game Based Learning

According to BigFish games, 58% of Americans play video games, with 68% of that population older than 18. In fact, the average age of a video gamer is 35 – a key demographic we’d all like to include in our association’s ranks, right? Why are games so popular, and how can we leverage gamification for association learning?

Like any effective learning project, it’s critical to define your audience and determine if gamification is a good fit. Game developers like Ubisoft, Activision, Blizzard spend millions of dollars on research to learn what game play elements engage which demographic. This research can also be invaluable in helping decide what game styles would be most likely to attract and engage your target demographic.Chances are if you’re part of the 58%, you know how powerful games are. Games create a sense of “flow” – a concept coined by theorist Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “Chick sent me high”). This flow state gives us a high degree of focus and engagement. Csikszentmihalyi believed that this flow state makes our minds more receptive to learning new ideas and concepts. So, it’s no surprise that so many associations are exploring game-based learning experiences for their members.

This post is derived from The Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell, who teaches at the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University. If you’re interested in how to create extremely effective games – for learning or otherwise, I highly recommend it.

Here is some research around which game elements are more attractive to men and women, along with some tips on how to include these features within your learning. You may be able to use this list to better target your demographic and create more game-like engagement, without the time and expense of producing a full game-based learning experience.

Demographics – Men are from Mars…

Here are the top 3 game features more tailored to male players:

  1. Mastery – while women want to achieve mastery of relevant tasks, men seem to be driven to master any challenge, regardless of the context. Badging works well here, allowing male players to achieve the highest levels. If there’s a way to promote this player’s achievement publicly, even better.
  2. Competition – men want to compete, and leaderboards are a great way for players to see how they’re ranked against others. We’ve created “faux leaderboards” where players compete against computer generated scores that aren’t even real players! It doesn’t matter. Male players want a challenge, so motivating them with “scores to beat” is very effective.
  3. Trial and Error – As Schell mentions, men hate reading directions and would rather just drive! So offer game approaches that allow skipping instruction, so male players can learn by doing (and failing, then doing again). And it’s unnecessary to include buttons in the interface labeled “maps,” because you just know that men would never click on those!

Women are from Venus

If your association is composed of more women, here are game styles that appeal to that demographic:

  1. Emotion – generally speaking, women seem to be more motivated by emotion. Consider weaving stories or scenarios throughout your game, where female player can emotionally connect with the players and situations.
  2. Real world – Schell reminds us that when we were kids, boys played cowboys while girls played house. Women tend to want to connect with relevant, relatable, real-world experiences. Consider grounding your learning game in the real-world, with realistic situations that connect the gameplay back to relevant content and learning objectives.
  3. Nurturing – yes, this is a stereotype. But often stereotypes exist because there is some evidence to support the generalization. In general, women are more nurturing, so consider game types that enable players to connect with other players, perhaps allowing them to provide advice or help a non-playing character solve a problem. Teaching others is one of best ways learners can master content, themselves.
  4. Learning by example – unlike men, who tend to want to start driving to some destination without asking direction, women tend to be stronger planners and will turn to tutorials and case studies for assistance in solving a problem. This “pull-based” learning approach might enable players to access external resources outside of the learning experience, then solve problems once they feel ready.

While there are many factors to consider when designing a gamification experience, a very important first step is to target your membership. Will the audience for this gamification experience be primarily male or female? How can I leverage these game styles to create an effective learning experience, based on the learning objectives?

One important note: these descriptions are generalizations. The age of the player is as important as the gender. In future posts, we’ll discuss some of the game types most attractive, based on player’s ages. When you map these considerations, along with gender, you would have an even more precise analysis.  However, you may want to consider creating an early prototype – perhaps even just in PowerPoint. Then, do some informal feedback testing from a sample of your own demographic.  Players will definitely let you know what they like, so even informal focus groups can be very helpful in deciding on your association’s gaming strategy.

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PowerPoint or Prezi: Which is Best for eLearning?

Powerpoint or Prezi Association EducationThe question is becoming more and more common — “Should I use PowerPoint (PPT) or Prezi?” The two presentation programs share many of the same features, such as the ability to include text, images, audio, and video. But whereas PowerPoint tends to progress linearly from one slide to the next in a fixed sequence, Prezi uses “paths” to move between content by zooming out to reveal a big-picture overview, or zooming in to show details.

Here are a few points to consider before making a choice for your association:

“Is the eLearning well-designed?”

Regardless of whether you use PPT or Prezi, content and design are key. These programs are tools; what you do with them determines whether or not they’re effective. Either one can have too much on screen at once, too many transitions, unengaging information, etc. Sometimes a change of approach is called for, rather than a change in technology.

“What do we want to use the program for?”

Giving a presentation in front of a live audience at a workshop requires a different set of features and considerations than, say, building a self-paced course. Both programs are designed as presentation tools, so either one should be able to fill that role. I’ve already written about how to create eLearning using PPT, so I won’t re-visit that here. As for Prezi, I personally do not recommend trying to use it on its own to create self-paced eLearning. With that said, it could still be useful in other learning contexts. Read on to see why.

“Why don’t we use both?”

Prezi does have a free account level available, so even if you already have PPT it’s possible to access both programs without paying any more than you are now. Perhaps surprisingly, these rival programs are somewhat compatible with one another. You can import PPT slides into Prezi to use them as a foundation. It’s also possible to turn a Prezi file into a video, using third party software like a screen cast program, and include that file in a PPT.

There are already many general comparisons online that have done a pretty thorough job of discussing the pricing, storage space, and other technical aspects of these programs. So this comparison is going to look at PPT and Prezi specifically through an eLearning lens.

• Interactivity. There are many ways to create on-click, timed, and some on-hover interactions in PPT. Prezi is not interactive beyond selecting which part of the screen you want to zoom to, or hyperlinking out to a URL. There is no way to include questions, click-to-reveals, or anything else that requires a learner to interact with the content.

• Compatibility with other eLearning programs. I was not able to find any eLearning authoring programs that listed compatibility with Prezi as a feature. PPT files can be directly imported into various other programs including Captivate, Articulate Storyline, and Prezi itself.

• Collaborative authoring. Even Prezi’s free account includes real time collaborative presentation editing. By itself, collaboration in PPT can be done by sharing a file and leaving and responding to comments. But if you’re using Office 365, or have a Microsoft account, the newest version of PPT also offers real time collaboration.

• Progression. Although PPT is considered “linear” and Prezi is generally “non-linear,” it is possible to build non-linear PPTs and linear Prezis. You just need to know how.

• Reusability. PPT lets you build Master Slides so you don’t have to format every slide from scratch. In Prezi, reusing your existing “Frames” can accomplish the same task. Both programs let you save custom themes.

• Branding. PPT gives you access to a large font library that you can add to. You can also customize the color scheme of each object individually. By default, Prezi has about fifteen font styles. If the font(s) your association uses aren’t there, you’re out of luck if you’re using a free account. You can customize color schemes, but all objects of the same type must be the same color.

• Medical considerations. Presentations created in Prezi have been reported to cause dizziness, headaches, and motion sickness. I was skeptical, but I have experienced it firsthand. PPT is not known to cause any significant problems.

• Accessibility. PPT allows alternative text to be built into presentations. This lets screen readers access the information. Prezi is not ADA/ 508 compliant and has been deemed an “inaccessible service” by Web2Access.

So when could Prezi shine as an eLearning tool? Personally, I think it would be a great tool for brainstorming, or “mind mapping.” . This makes sense given the “white board” metaphor it works off of. It could also be useful for group projects and getting your learners to try a new approach, especially if they’re used to PPT. Its zooming navigation also lends itself to demonstrations of concepts that are, literally, inside one another. Zooming into a human body to examine organs, or looking at the parts of an atom, for example.

Ultimately, the decision of which program to use is a matter of preference for the type of content being presented. Your association may even experiment with using both. As long as a presentation is well-crafted it can be effective no matter what tool is used to create it. Both are designed to be presentation aids, but PPT has more components that make it useful for authoring self-paced eLearning materials. Prezi, however, has built-in social learning components and could be a fabulous tool for activities. What do you think?






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Achieving Learning Flow with Your Online Member Education

Learning Flow

Earlier this year, Associations Now wrote an article asking whether “binge learning” will become the new “binge watching.” This references the growing trend among Netflix subscribers who use the on-demand television and movie steaming service to watch entire television series in one sitting. The piece brought up a good point. Technology could easily create similar changes in how learners interact with and consume online learning.

Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow model describes the concept of being so engaged in an activity, such as an online course, that you remain engaged for an extended period of time, completing modules, activities, and assessments without taking breaks. You begin to lose yourself in the activity and experience feelings of devotion, energy, and delight. Whether you know it or not, you’ve experienced learning flow. Maybe you were working on your favorite hobby and lost track of time, or perhaps you found yourself link surfing to learn more after you found something interesting online. Jane Hart refers to learning flow as “a continuous steady stream of social micro-learning activities – accessible from the web and mobile devices.” We’ve talked a lot about self-paced learners and how important it is to let them absorb information on their own time. But, have you considered how important it is for them to achieve learning flow?

Use these three conditions provided by Csíkszentmihályi Mihály, the “father of flow,” in your online education to help your members achieve learning flow:

1) Goals. Our recent blog post on learning objectives reinforces the importance of giving learners clear, action-oriented goals. Seeing the end goal and having something tangible to work towards is key to achieving learning flow and motivating your learners. This can often be achieved by utilizing a progress tracker in your LMS or by allowing learners on-demand access to their dynamically updated eTranscript.

Csikszentmihalyi's Flow Model2) Balance. Take a look at the image Csíkszentmihályi illustrated to demonstrate flow. You will see that it is all about attaining a balance between challenge and skill level. While you cannot control the skill set of a learner, you can design a learning experience that progresses and demands more and more of them over time.

3) Feedback. You can help create balance in regard to skill level by offering feedback so members can learn from their mistakes and enhance their understanding. The easiest way to do this is through “knowledge checks” and learning assessments which contain remediation.  Feedback also helps the learner know how they are progressing toward their goals.

Ultimately, achieving learning flow requires the right conditions – where the learner becomes fully immersed in what he is doing. Getting to know your members is necessary for establishing the balance between challenge and skill and creating the necessary conditions to encourage flow. Most importantly, personalize the learning experience for your members or enable options for the learner to create their own learning path. Follow these tips and pretty soon Netflix won’t have anything on your association’s eLearning.

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Challenge Your Learners By…

In this hectic world of on-the-spot access to information, conversations held in 140 characters or less, and instant picture uploads, Instructional Challenge learners byDesigners are faced with the challenge of designing effective learning that won’t overload learners. The heart of this challenge is finding the learners’ motivational sweet spot. To the Instructional Designer, this means figuring out how to get them to care. There are lots of ways to instill motivation, but even our best laid plans and efforts can fall short. How do we mix it up, remembering that we live in a world where sensory overload and external distractions lurk around every corner? Let’s consider a few ways we can challenge our learners to engage and translate that engagement into learning.

Create a paradigm shift
Let learners be a little selfish about their learning. Ask them to answer the question, “What’s in it for me (WIIFM)?” Incorporating WIIFM creates an emotional connection to the learners’ desired outcome. This ultimately helps them see learning as an asset, rather than a chore or a checkbox. After all, isn’t it easier to adopt something that’s personally relevant, rather than something mandatory that doesn’t actually apply to you?

Try this: Weave honest, conversational feedback and stories from real people who have been impacted (by both having knowledge as well as by lacking knowledge) into the course.

Get them outside their comfort zone
Let’s be honest – change is hard. On the other hand, habits make us feel comfortable, safe, and confident. But situations that create discomfort and conflict force learners to stretch their capabilities by making inferences and assumptions, testing best guesses, and exploring their creativity. This anxiety and stress helps learners develop resourcefulness and resiliency while adding new knowledge and skills. After learners develop strategies for overcoming that discomfort within the safe confines of eLearning, they can return to daily life with their newfound knowledge and confidence.

Try this: Take a cue from the television show CSI (Miami, New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans – you pick!). Shock the learner with the solution or outcome first. Allow the learners to “retrace” the steps from end to beginning. This will prompt them to think in a non-linear fashion and consider all possibilities and outcomes. This replicates the complexity of reality and situations they are likely to experience in their roles.

Create a black hole
Curiosity is one of the most treasured assets in an Instructional Designer’s toolkit. When learners discover a gap in their knowledge, especially one which prevents them from getting to the aforementioned “WIIFM?” the natural pang of curiosity kicks in. The search for answers intensifies, the content gains value, and the desire to conquer that black hole turns into a driving force. Another advantage of this approach is that you avoid insulting the learners’ intelligence. Although you expose knowledge gaps, you also give the learner the opportunity to fill those gaps by letting them find the answers for themselves through activities, scenarios, and embedded aids. That way they build confidence from the inside out.

Try this: Activate your learners’ curiosity by exposing them to their knowledge gaps at the beginning of your course. Integrate a series of questions which learners are likely to get wrong, or a phased reveal of resolutions to simulated scenarios. Include a guide or mentor to provide feedback and direct them to the resources they can use to fill their knowledge void.

Remove distractions
Following in the spirit of natural curiosity, some of you may remember the days when you could play all day with a stick, a tire, and a cardboard box. And for those who don’t remember, let me tell you, an appliance box is the jackpot! Often, training is comprised of so many bells and whistles, lists of “do this/don’t do this,” and extraneous content that the whole experience just becomes overwhelming, and the learner just shuts down. Giving learners too much direction, too much audio, too many visuals can have the unintended effect of suppressing creativity. Remember – they’re not likely to have all the answers handed to them in real life. Manage distractions and increase creative problem solving by offering only the essentials learners need to achieve WIIFM. So, remove anything that inhibits creative exploration and problem solving processes, but don’t sacrifice usability.

Try this: Give learners the proverbial stick, tire, and cardboard box and let them figure out how to build a car. Translation: strip away all the fancy frills and provide simple tools that allow learners to build their own conclusions. Incorporate feedback mechanisms along the way that encourage or redirect the learner down a path to the desired outcome.

Bury a hidden treasure
Learning is an iterative process, with connections made through cycles of trial and error, reflection, and feedback. There are many ways to help learners build knowledge which may not be overtly obvious during a course, or may even seem counterintuitive. But these hidden “treasures” allow learners to master layers through exploration, discovery, and even hitting the occasional “dead end,” which ultimately helps the learner re-calibrate and get back on course.

Try this: Practice means improvement! Allow learners to “bank” bits of knowledge from each module that will be relevant to success in subsequent modules. Plant cues and thought-provoking tidbits throughout the course to encourage the learner to build a mental foundation. Creatively reveal the next layer of information when a learner successful completes a section. Make successive modules layer, build, and apply the initial concepts. This way, the learning process allows learners to revisit ideas and reflect on the implications.

Remember there is no one-size-fits-all solution that applies to every learner and every learning style. People are motivated by different factors. While this may pose a challenge to the Instructional Designer, it is not an impossible problem! By tapping into innate human inclinations like WIIFM, natural curiosity, and the drive for meaning, Instructional Designers have access to invaluable tools that require just a bit of “creative treatment.” Before you begin challenging your learners, take the first challenge yourself. Ask: “Who is my learner, what makes them tick, and why should they care about this?”




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Using PDF Job Aids for Just-in-Time Training

PDFs for eLearning

When someone is on the job and needs an answer fast they don’t have time to go through a whole eLearning course. They need an answer they can get to just-in-time. This is where job aids come in, especially PDFs since they can be printed out or accessed on a device without giving the viewer the ability to edit the file. They don’t replace in-depth learning, but the support they provide helps boost knowledge retention and self-sufficiency.

Examples of Job Aids

We actually use aids a lot in daily life. The contacts list in your phone is a great example. You have all the numbers available but you don’t have to commit them to memory. GPS systems help you get from one place to another by providing step-by-step instructions and grocery lists let you keep track of what you need to buy. The types of aids a learner will find helpful are going to have different content but they follow the same principles. Useful aids include:

• Reference Sources (collections of data, such as price sheets or phone numbers)
• Step-by-Step Instructions
• Checklists
• Decision Tables (use “if” and “then” criteria to guide decision making)
• Flowcharts

When to Use Them

Albert Einstein allegedly said, “Never memorize what you can look up.” I’m going to qualify that by saying, “Look up what isn’t worth memorizing.” If a learner is going to be using a process or piece of information frequently, it might be good to have it memorized. But if it isn’t needed often or takes more brain power to remember it than it does to use it, it’s time for an aid. It’s also a good idea to provide aids for new learners. Once they know the material they’re likely to stop using the aids, but having help available as they learn the ropes is crucial. The American Society for Training & Development has a handy PDF resource for matching up needs (consistency, decision making, process order, etc.) with the best format.

How to Design Them Effectively

• Ensure that all content is current.

• Give brief context. Learners retain and process information better if they have context for what they’re doing. This can be incredibly short, possibly just a clear title such as, “How to Log in to Track Your Hours.”

• Keep it concise. Only include critical information that’s directly related to the task at hand. The PDF should be short so it’s easy for the learner to find the information they need. A page or two is often a good maximum. Individual points should also be bite-sized so they can be absorbed quickly. When possible, start directions with action verbs and use simple wording. Do not add images purely for decoration, only include visuals that aid the learning process.

• Use good visual design principles. This is a topic unto itself, but basics include using consistent fonts, colors, and alignment. Related elements should be placed near one another on the PDF.

PDFs are a great tool for providing learner support. They can be formatted a number of ways to help with different tasks, are easy to access when they are needed, and they are easier to create than a full blown course on the same subject. To conclude, here is one of my favorite learning aids, a checklist:

Read “Using PDF Job Aids for Just-in-Time Training”
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The Four Stages of Learning

I recently had an interesting conversation about life and how life lessons occur in stages. We compared it to learning to ride a bike. It was so difficult to learn, yet now you find it so easy you’ve forgotten how you learned it in the first place. It got me thinking about what those stages actually are. It turns out I’m not the first one to theorize about this.  Technically, the term is “Four Stages of Competence” and was originally established by Gordon Training International in the 70s.Four Stages of Competence for eLearning

The idea is that learners are not aware of how little or much they know. They go through the four (or five) stages listed below, depending on how much they know about a given topic or skill. In the end, the learner will be able to use the knowledge or skill without having to think about what they’re doing. It is important to keep these stages in mind when developing eLearning because different learners will be at different stages.

1)      Unconscious Incompetence

In this stage, the learner does not have a skill or knowledge set yet. They do not see any reason to learn it because they don’t consider it a need. You don’t know what you don’t know. For example, as a very young child you do not yet realize the usefulness of riding a bike. As an educator, it is important to work with the marketing department on how to best market learning offerings to those in this stage. (Check out this blog post on how education and marketing must work together in eLearning). They may or may not realize the benefits of your education yet, but the objective is to reveal that there ARE benefits.  If you introduce potential learners to your offerings, they may realize that they CAN gain value from those skills and knowledge sets and reach stage two, conscious incompetence.

2)      Conscious Incompetence

By the second stage the learner is aware of the skill that they lack and can understand that there is a deficit. Ignorance is no longer bliss. Ideally, this is who should be signing up for the majority of your online courses.  In this stage, the learner wants to learn because they are aware of their lack of knowledge and it makes them uneasy. Selling courses to this demographic should be easiest.

3)      Conscious Competence

The conscious competence stage takes place when a learner has acquired a skill but has not yet mastered it to the point where it comes naturally. Imagine you are have learned the steps to riding the bike, but you still need to go through the steps when getting on the bike, or you need training wheels. This is when the learner usually needs testing, instructors, or other tools to hold their hand through it, or even talking themselves through the steps. At this point the learner uses your online courses to gain fluency in the skills and become an engaged learner who wants to reach the fourth stage. Think of this learner as a student studying for a test. They feel prepared but sometimes still rely on flash cards.

4)      Unconscious Competence

You know the phrase, “It’s like riding a bike. You never forget how to do it.” The fourth stage of learning encompasses just that: you know it so well you don’t even realize you are doing it. The skill is so embedded that the learner doesn’t even need to process what they are doing. Issues can arise when you combine unconscious competence learners with unconscious incompetence learners because neither of them can articulate the skill.

5)      Fifth stage

Some theorists believe there is a fifth stage as well — “conscious competence of unconscious competence.” In this stage the learner is able to relate to learners in stages 1-4 enough to teach them. A stage five learner has reached a point where they can reflect on how they reached their level of mastery. This means that they can empathize with learners in other stages. In your organization, your super volunteers or SMEs are the most likely to be “fifth stagers.” They can be useful in mentoring new members or providing guidance.

Remember, knowledge is power. Understanding the stages of learning can help you become a better educator. Learning makes the world go around, so be sure to help your members reach their full potential by making them conscious of their level of competence. Did you just move from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence by reading this? Add your thoughts to the comments section.



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