The ABC of LMS

by 04 Sep 2007

Learning management systems represent a significant investment for many organisations. Teresa Russell talks with two early adopters that have achieved the cultural shift needed to embrace e-learning

Many organisations today still just tinker around the edges of e-learning and haven’t taken the financial plunge into a full learning management system. Allianz Australia Insurance and Qantas are early adopters of learning management systems (LMS). In fact, in the decade that Qantas has been running a learning management system, it has changed from employing a purpose-built solution, to using the LMS in an off-the-shelf system that has been deployed company-wide.

In the beginning

In the first week she started at Allianz in 2001, Arndria Seymour, learning and development manager, had a discussion with a regulator. This discussion put her on the path to investing in a complete learning management system. “The legislative environment was a key driver to bringing in a learning management system. Following its introduction, there was a soft evolution to a corporate university,” says Seymour.

Allianz is the fifth-largest general insurance provider in Australia and one of our leading private workers compensation insurers. It employs around 3,000 staff in Australia and New Zealand, supported by about 40 learning and development professionals who are deployed throughout the business. Up to 90 per cent of its training development and delivery is done in-house.

As an operator in the financial services industry, Allianz must comply with the financial services reform legislation, privacy legislation, the Trade Practices Act, as well as equal employment opportunity, sexual harassment and diversity legislation. It now delivers all its product and compliance training online, as well as business and professional development training both online and via the classroom at a corporate level.

“Our training had to be consistent in content and experience, scaleable (to national, regional and global audiences), flexible, just-in-time (JIT), cost-effective in both solutions and outcomes and achieve our stated ROI [return on investment]. We had to be compliant [with legislation] within 12 months,” recalls Seymour.

Peter Calopedos, manager of business development and technology at QantasCollege clearly recalls the introduction of his organisation’s first learning management system. “Although we are a compliance- and regulatory-driven organisation, the introduction of our LMS was more about our distributing the ability to access personal development programs. The first courses were around communication, conflict and handling customers. About two years later, compliance got involved,” he says.

Anne Rutter, manager learning and development at QantasCollege (one of five training hubs across the business), says that the organisation is always looking for better ways of doing things. “We have been undergoing a training review over the last nine months in order to develop a company-wide, sustainable future [training] model,” she says.

Qantas has 38,000 direct employees as well as additional contractors. Its five training hubs are all linked, and then overseen by a steering committee run by its corporate organisational effectiveness group. It has 400–500 training personnel, including facilitators and administration staff, with 34 employed in QantasCollege. As an RTO [registered training organisation], QantasCollege outsources a number of requirements such as facilitation or some design. “Our learning is always business-driven,” stresses Rutter.

Large scale learning needs

Allianz has 180 online courses that it delivers to over 12,000 learners. These include employees, as well as its external authorised representatives and brokers. In the 2006 calendar year, the company delivered 80,000 incidents of learning, excluding on-the-job coaching, mentoring and business line classroom training. Its learning management system is web-based (with an annual licence fee) and is internally branded “eCampus”.

Of Qantas’ 38,000 employees, 80 per cent are Australian-based, with the rest spread across 130 ports around the world. “Access and equity of training to all employees underpins our LMS,” says Calopedos. Qantas changed to another system in 2004. “The hardest part of the changeover to the new system was to move people out of their comfort zones. Regardless of the system, nothing replaces sound instructional design,”says Rutter.

Both Allianz and Qantas provide learning for external partners, as well as a large number of direct employees. As an RTO, Qantas runs a Certificate IV in Business for one of its travel partners.

Seymour says that the introduction of the LMS at Allianz was seen as an opportunity to offer business partners a ‘value proposition’. It was advantageous to the partner’s employees to do business with Allianz.

Benefits and challenges

The biggest challenge Allianz faced at the time of implementation of the LMS was the need to change the culture of the organisation. It was seen as a critical element in the success of implementation. “You must focus on organisational readiness, not IT readiness. If your culture is not ready to embrace the change, then your initiative will not be a success,”says Seymour. They employed a fun online quiz, as well as a poster campaign, before deploying the compulsory compliance training.

“Most people like the flexibility of the system, so they can learn at their own pace and at a convenient time. It has now become an accepted part of the way we learn and do business,” she says.

According to Seymour, there are four things that make an e-learning agenda successful. “You must have executive sponsorship and advocacy; engagement and buy-in of key stakeholders; a well-planned process to bring the whole organisation on the journey; and a broad understanding of how the LMS fits into the overall business strategy,” she says.

The only disadvantage of Allianz’s LMS is the shelf-life of custom built content. Seymour says that high-end, developed content should last 12–18 months. If this is not possible or the audience is too small, then they build an internal, lower cost solution using rapid authoring tools.

The future

At Qantas, the short-term future will be to instil efficiencies in training across the business. As part of its sales development program, it is introducing a social networking site for its sales people, who will be able to work within cohorts, within regions and across regions.

In another program for an external travel group, a Certificate IV in Business utilises chat rooms, blogs, face-to-face and e-learning.

“Businesses have to grapple with firewall issues. You can come up with the best training design and implementation, but hit the IT wall [when it comes to delivery],” says Rutter.

“The L&D role will evolve with new technology. There will always be a role for classroom training. The difference will be how and where it is delivered. We have been considering the use of a virtual classroom to extend internal and external learning. But we’re not yet organisationally ready for the shift in thinking this needs – but it is coming,” says Seymour, who is looking forward to realising massive savings in airfares and travel time.

LMS tips

“Be clear on what you want from an LMS. It needs to be based on a sound [learning and development]strategy. Don’t let the technology drive your strategy. Learning doesn’t need technology in a lot of cases,” says Rutter.

“Make sure you are ‘fit for purpose’,” adds Seymour. “When we began back in 2002, we needed a one-size-fits-all approach in order to deliver compliance within 18 months. Our compliance needs remain, but our focus today is on individual and organisational capability development. The eCampus has evolved to allow us to deliver training on a role by role basis.”