So much, in fact, that eLearning in general and corporate online training, also known as “enterprise online training”, in particular, have become a hundred billion dollar market.
The phenomenon is only going to grow from here as, online learning’s proven flexibility, effectiveness and lower TCO have businesses increasingly adopting corporate eLearning solutions or expanding their already existing LMS-based corporate learning and development programs.
The only problem is that not all corporate training systems are made alike — which makes choosing the right corporate training LMS a real challenge when a business attempts to make its first steps into online employee training.
In this post we’re going to discuss 8 requirements that your corporate training software (LMS) should cover — and the ways in which eFront supports them.
Of course, as corporate environments vary, you might not need some of the items in the list, or your businesses needs might dictate that your LMS offers some additional functionality. Based on our extensive experience dealing with business customers though, we believe that this list is a great starting point for the average enterprise or organization looking into online learning solutions.
1) Single Sign On
A prerequisite for any kind of enterprise software and not just eLearning, Single Sign On (or SSO for short) is the ability to re-use the same passwords and authentication mechanism for all your enterprise services.
Having an additional authentication system just for your LMS is not just a hassle (employees having to remember and enter yet another password, etc) but also an administration time-sink, as your IT department now has to do double the work to secure all your online assets. It also introduces serious security issues, as things like password expiration policies won’t be in sync between your enterprise authentication system and your LMS.
Thankfully, eFront natively supports the two most popular enterprise Single Sign On protocols, namely LDAP, an Open Source standard that’s popular in the Linux world; and Active Directory, Microsoft’s variation on LDAP, popular with Windows-based installations.
If LDAP and Active Directory are not your thing, then eFront can also integrate with any identity provider that supports the industry standard SAML 2.0 authentication protocol, as well as federated authentication through its Facebook login integration, although we mostly recommend the latter for public facing eLearning portals.
What’s the use of having a corporate training program if you can’t evaluate its results?
Waiting until employees try to put their new skills to use in their work would be too late — and it won’t give the chance to fix any issues in your training material until the next training period.
That’s where an LMS’ reporting functionality comes into play.
Corporate eLearning, with a capable LMS, can give you real-time, micro (focused) and macro (big picture) actionable insight into your employee’s training progress, and eFront’s reporting capabilities were built for just that.
In fact, unlike with some competitive products, where reporting is optional or needs convoluted configuration, eFront comes with a variety of ready-made reports built-in to help you get started immediately.
Not that getting deeper into eFront reporting is difficult.
The LMS intuitively splits reports based on the subject matter, giving you different reports for the System (an overview of events such as registrations, logins, etc. that occurred in a given time period); Users (information about your instructors and learners); Courses (information about particular courses or groups of courses) and Tests (test score, participation, etc).
There’s also an additional “Timeline” view, that gives you a time-based list of any action occurring in your LMS (employees completing a course, a webinar session starting, etc).
All report types have filtering options so you can narrow down the results by date, user type, job, skills, groups, categories and many other dimensions, and only see the items that you are interested in. This allows you yo create your own reports by filtering eFront’s database for the information you need, going from a general overview to information about a single specific user, course or test with ease.
3) Import and Export
Interoperability with different data formats and good importing and exporting capabilities are essential features of any kind of enterprise software, as half (or more) of the job of an IT worker is to get data out of one program and into another.
Obviously, you’ll want your corporate eLearning software to be able to participate in that chain.
eFront, for one, does.
First, there are the extensive content import options. eFront allows you to import and integrate into your courses all kinds of content files, from the industry standard MS Office formats (Word documents, Powerpoint presentations, Excel files) and PDF documents, to numerous image, audio and video formats — and even Flash files if you got them.
And the best thing is that importing just works — you don’t need to convert or “massage” the documents to fit into eFront, the system does that automatically thanks to our proprietary EncodeMagic data conversion engine.
This allows you to easily incorporate all of your existing enterprise files and training material into your new eLearning based courses, saving you tons of time in the process.
But that’s just part of the story. eFront also support the (de-facto) industry standard SCORM/TinCan protocols, allowing you to import eLearning content created in any compatible system and have it converted into eFront’s native lesson units. In fact, it’s by leveraging this capability that eFront was able to provide native integration with OpenSesame, the leading SCORM compatible eLearning content marketplace, giving you access to thousands of professionally-built high quality courses in all kinds of business related subjects.
Of course data exchange is not just for eLearning content — it can also be used for administration purposes.
eFront, for example, allows you to export your LMS configuration (including all of your users, courses, branches etc.) as Excel or CSV files, which you can then use to setup another identical installation, or to feed into another program altogether.
This can even be automated, as eFront has the option (called an “import task”) to periodically check for CSV files in specific folders, and import any data (user account info, etc.) contained in them, for easy making integration and syncing with external sources (such as your ERP platform).
Last but not least, eFront can also export reporting results in Excel format, and even produce richly formatted Excel files for test and survey results and other statistics, with nice headings and appropriately styled cells.
4) Integration APIs
Sometimes importing and exporting data manually just won’t do.
For those times, you want the ability to directly integrate a piece of enterprise software with another.
And while some of these integrations can be standard and provided natively, like our support for different Single Sign On protocols or payment processors, other times you really need the flexibility to built a custom integration with a non-standard piece of software or some legacy platform that your business relies upon.
For this, you need integration APIs and extensibility that your IT department or a contract programmer can leverage to build you the custom integration solution that your business needs dictate.
eFront, once again, has you covered, offering not just a powerful, PHP based plugin API, but also a full blown REST API that makes connecting it to any application server and exchanging data with external services a breeze.
REST, in case you’re not familiar with the term, is an increasingly popular way to “talk” to a service using simple URL-like queries. Having got its start in the web development area, it’s now a staple in all kinds of enterprise software services too.
As for eFront’s “plugin API”, that’s tech-speak for the ability to add your own custom code into eFront to extend its functionality.
Both are very powerful ways to connect, script and make eFront interoperate with any platform and service, and both are well documented and explained in depth.
Corporate identity matters — and branding is a big part of that.
Especially for larger businesses, enterprise software should be able to adapt to their corporate-wide look and feel guidelines.
This starts from the prominent display of company logos, and goes all the way through custom themes, colors and fonts, including the ability to add standard legal and confidentiality disclaimers on any intranet page.
eFront handles all that with aplomb, allowing you to easily add logos, and change colors, fonts, and other design options through its web management interface.
And if you rather just use some ready-made theme, either as is, or to add your own customizations, eFront comes with several beautiful themes to chose from, covering all the range from casual business, to minimal and fancy.
We talked about the need to have “actionable insight” when we discussed reporting, but there’s another indispensable method of getting that for your training program: asking for it.
User feedback is one of the most powerful tools you can use to improve your courses, or any other employee-related business process for that matter, and it’s even more powerful when it’s integrated into your eLearning management platform instead of being an afterthought.
eFront allows you to conduct surveys and collect their results automatically through the web interface. Leveraging this to get feedback from your learners is the best way to understand their use and identify problematic spots in your training program (which courses offer the most value, lessons that they find particularly difficult or not comprehensive enough, etc.).
Having the feature built in allows you to handle it as an essential part of your training workflow, as opposed to having to resort to ad-hoc mail-based surveys (which you’d then have to sit through and aggregate their results) or third-party poll services.
7) Hosting flexibility
Corporate data centers have changed a lot with the rise of the Cloud.
Some companies use third party Cloud offerings like Google Apps openly, others host their own services in Cloud IaaS platforms like AWS, where others still prefer to keep everything in their own, tightly controlled, datacenter. Even more common is a mix and match of all three approaches, depending on the service.
Your corporate LMS platform should offer you the same deployment flexibility, and eFront, once again, delivers.
If you prefer total control, you can run eFront as a self-hosted application in one server in your datacenter.
Or you can install it on some IaaS platform, like Amazon Web Services, Rackspace or any other you prefer, and access it from there, taking full advantage of everything the infrastructure provider offers and having it close to your other IaaS-hosted services.
There’s even another option, our “Managed Cloud” plan, that gives you the best of both worlds, being halfway between a locally deployed server and a public cloud option.
With it you get a secure and private LMS environment that doesn’t share resources or code with other businesses, thus giving you both the ease of mind of a managed service (as we take care of installation, monitoring, backup and updates) and the best possible performance and security.
8) ILT support
Online based learning is of course, a great and proven training option, but it’s not always the best approach.
Sometimes, and for some learning subjects, you need to be able to have a real-time eye-to-eye training session, either in the physical world or online.
That’s why your LMS software should provide support for instructor-led training (ILT for short), which is the industry name for real time training sessions that are managed through an eLearning platform.
Instructor-led training can take place in the physical world (e.g. in a classroom or conference room) or be held via video conference and similar interactive real-time means (in which case it’s known as a “webinar”).
With eFront you can handle ILT with the same ease and leverage all the same features, with which you handle your online courses.
eFront allows instructors to add ILT-based “training events”, which can in turn have one or more “training sessions” (e.g. different classrooms being taught the same lesson), each taking place in its own location and/or time.
It will even handle enrolling and capacity issues for you, with automatic wait list management and automated invitations (compatible with MS Outlook, Apple Calendar and most popular calendar applications), while it also offers native support for BBB and Webex-enabled webinars.
Choosing the right corporate training system is not an easy task, as you need to ensure that it covers all kinds of disparate business needs while at the same time playing well in your datacenter.
In this post, we’ve examined 8 basic requirements that an LMS platform should cover to be fit for corporate training use, and gave some concrete examples of the ways that eFront covers them.
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