Custom Mobile App Development: LMS Limitations And How To Overcome Them
What you are about to read is a fable about custom mobile learning technology. The company, AshCom, is fictional, but the mobile learning challenges faced by Kathryn, AshCom’s CLO, and her team are real and commonly shared by learning teams in corporations, non-profits, associations, and education. It is our hope that you will be able to connect with the characters, their challenges, and the solutions they discover. We also invite you to read the first eBook in the series.
The Afternoon Session: Option 2 – App Development – App Delivered Mobile Delivered
As Chief Learning Officer at AshCom, Kathryn typically liked to hold all-day sessions with her learning team at an off-site location. This usually allowed for more focus on the topic at hand and limited the distractions that came with being in their offices. Another benefit was that being offsite built social cohesion within her team. She often learned important things about her team in a more relaxed setting that she would never have known – their hobbies, families, and passions.
Today, it was different. The all-day session on sales learning development and mobile learning had to be in the office conference room. The need and timing of the meeting meant that there was no time to arrange for an offsite location.
In the morning session, Daniel Nichols, an adjunct faculty member at a local state university, walked Kathryn and her team through the limitations of authoring tools. They spent much of their time considering what it would be like to custom author the sales learning content to give an incredible learning experience delivered through mobile.
When they took a lunch break, Kathryn grabbed her lunch and returned to her office. She had other things on her plate and needed to check email and return some calls. She assumed everyone else had done the same.
Too Busy To Break
To her surprise, when she returned to AshCom’s conference room, she saw that she was the only one who had left. The seven members of her learning team were still at the conference table engaged in an energetic conversation with Dan. Clearly, this was a topic they wanted to discuss. She also noticed that Dan’s lunch remained untouched. It looked like he was too engaged in the conversation to think much about food.
When Kathryn sat down, the conversation slowed enough for her to say with a grin, “I think we need to let Dan eat a little.”
While Dan took some bites of his chicken salad croissant, Kathryn framed the second part of the conversation.
“This morning we covered the constraints on our Big Ideas in the authoring tools that limit our creativity, the learner experience, and mobile learning. But that is only the first impediment. As Alishia pointed out at the end of the morning session, what about the learning management system?”
Kathryn continued, “I have a simple question for each of you. Who loves our LMS?”
The response was immediate: groans. No one had the enthusiasm for their current learning management system, which was their second in the last several years.
“Amy,” said Kathryn, “you’ve consulted with dozens of learning teams around the country. Are we alone in our feelings about our LMS?”
“Not at all,” said Amy. “As a matter of fact, the LMS has been a limiting factor at every company with whom I’ve ever worked.”
Evolution Of The LMS
Dan, although not asked directly, immediately agreed with Amy. “I’ve done a lot of IT consulting for learning groups like yours. I hear the same thing pretty much everywhere I go. But I also need to point out that LMSs, in general, have come a long way from where they were only a few years ago.”
Dan continued, “I’ve had enough to eat. Kathryn, do you mind if we jump right in?”
“Of course not,” said Kathryn. “You can save your cookie for later.”
“Then,” said Dan pushing his cookie aside, “I’d like to ask the LMS question from a different perspective. If you don’t like it, why do you still use it? There have to be some positives that make it worth paying for.”
Maggie spoke first. “I want to emphasize something you mentioned. I’ve been at AshCom for 20 years and have been involved in learning for much of that time. When I think about the LMS systems we first used and compare them to what we use now, we are lightyears ahead. The technology really has advanced in some remarkable ways.”
She continued, “I’m not saying it is perfect or even exactly what we want, but there are a lot of LMS features we need. We’d be blind without them.”
Essential LMS Features
“Can you name some of those features?” asked Dan.
“Of course,” said Maggie. “We need to measure. We need the metrics. Also, we need to know what people are doing. We’ve talked about how important it is to report our Return on Learning/ROI, and we would have no way to gather the data we need to make that determination.”
“We also need push notification,” continued Maggie. “We need to be able to assign certain learning experiences to certain learners within specific time periods. Plus, we need to see reviews that tell us when something needs to be updated.”
Even though she was an instructional designer, everyone on the team knew that Adeena’s mind naturally went to project management. She was the person who kept the trains running on time. After Maggie completed her list, Adeena said, “I guess if I think about it, we do need all our learning content in one place. Imagine if learning assets were spread across all sorts of different platforms.”
“I’m guessing you would not appreciate that,” said Kathryn.
“No. I would not,” said Adeena. “The LMS is sort of like a library where everything is available all at once for as many times as you want to access it. It brings some organization to a lot of content, and we need that.”
“So,” said Dan, “in your opinion, the LMS is here to stay for at least the foreseeable future. Does everyone agree with that?
The entire team nodded. Martina and Darryl, with their strong bend toward creativity, responded with a nod that also included a shrug.
Augmenting The LMS
Dan continued, “There is an option that is worth considering. We aren’t replacing the learning management system. Think of this more as augmentation.”
Michael took this moment to jump into the conversation. “Are you thinking app development?”
At this, everyone on the learning team turned to look at Michael. Most looked something between surprised and delighted.
“I know what you are thinking,” said Michael. “I’m the oldest person here and spent most of my career in the halls of academia. But I’ve been doing my research since we first started talking about mobile learning, and app development comes up a lot in the literature.”
“Thank you, Michael,” said Dan. “As you know, I’m in and out of the academic world as an adjunct professor, so I know what you mean. But that is exactly where we need to go. An app can give us the functionality and creativity that we want on mobile learning that won’t come through an LMS. But it can connect to the LMS so that the learning material remains in one place and is accessible.
The library remains the library. It can also track all learner metrics and report them back to the LMS so all the data you want is in one place.”
“Martina and Darryl,” said Dan, “you can be as creative as you like. Kathryn and Adeena will have all of the same data and maybe more, depending on how the app is developed.”
Stronger And Better Mobile Delivery
“Oh,” Dan continued, “let’s not forget about Ronda and her role as Vice-President of Sales. As I understand it, she started this entire conversation about the need for stronger and better mobile delivery. Her idea is to find a way to include things like complete games, augmented reality, leaderboards, and even beacons and QR codes. She doesn’t want limits. What I’m recommending for your consideration is developing an app that will be able to give your salespeople the learning experience they need. No more annoying logins or time-consuming LMS searches. An app would provide built-in searching capabilities so that sales members can find just-in-time info right on the spot – tailored to each customer.”
Kathryn realized her team’s time with Dan would be ending soon. She had been quiet for most of the meeting because she wanted her team’s engagement in the thought process of designing the sales learning experience with mobile delivery. She had been scribbling in her notebook. Amy, who was sitting next to her, noticed that she flipped the pages several times. Clearly, Kathryn was formulating her thoughts.
“Can I take a shot at a summary of our conversation? I don’t want to cut us short, but I want to get the framework clarified,” said Kathryn.
“Yes,” said Dan. “Please summarize and let’s see how well I did.”
“Thanks, Dan,” said Kathryn. “We understand the challenges put before us by Ronda and the sales team. They need robust mobile learning experiences using all sorts of different learning tools.
That might even involve educating our customers during sales calls. We need to retain our ability to track metrics and push out learning opportunities.”
Kathryn continued, “I believe we are all on the same page as to the challenges. I think Dan has presented us with four options.”
Dan smiled, nodded, and said, “I’m impressed. One of the options was something we didn’t even discuss.”
“Yes,” said Kathryn. “And that is the first option to us.” With that, Kathryn stood up and wrote “Current Tools/Current LMS.”
“Although we didn’t discuss it, there is the option of staying with the authoring tools we already have, doing the best we can with its limitations, loading our courses in our LMS, and doing our best to make them mobile-friendly.”
“Option Two from Dan,” she continued, “is custom authoring our courses. But we still host them in and deliver them through our current LMS.” Kathryn wrote “Custom Authoring Learning Experiences/Current LMS” on the whiteboard.
“Option Three is using the authoring tools we already have, but we build an app through which we can deliver our learning experience through mobile devices.” Kathryn returned to the whiteboard and wrote “Current Authoring, App Development.”
“There is one more option, of course,” said Martina, her creativity on full display. “We start with Ronda’s Big Idea for sales learning, creating a learning experience so we custom author the material, and we develop an app to deliver the learning experience.” There was excitement in her voice. “I think I know what I want to vote for.”
Kathryn wrote “Custom Authored Learning Experiences/App Development” on the whiteboard.
“Let me guess where you want to go next,” said Dan.
Before he could continue his thought, Amy said, “Cost! I know for the other clients with whom I consult, that would be their first question.”
“Yes,” said Dan. “That’s the first question. The second usually follows right on its heels: How much time will this take to develop?”
Timing And Cost
“I have to admit,” said Kathryn, “I’ve taken extensive notes on today’s discussion. In several places, in the margins of my notes, I wrote ‘cost?’ The timing question is also an important consideration because there is some urgency to what we need to provide to Ronda and the sales team. I know the salespeople are operating on their past sales learning experiences, but my sense is that Ronda wants to introduce her new sales system fairly soon.”
Kathryn continued, “I’m also aware that we are 10 minutes over our allotted time today. I’m sure this conversation will continue. I encourage all of you to keep reading and thinking about our sales team and mobile learning.
“Professor Dan, I want to thank you on behalf of this team,” said Kathryn. With that, the team gave enthusiastic applause. Alishia was proud of having brought Dan to this discussion. Kathryn nodded at Alishia to acknowledge her contribution.
Each team member came to Dan to thank him. Kathryn waited around until this was finished and the conference room contained only the two of them.
“I’m wondering if I can ask for one more favor,” said Kathryn. “I’d like another hour of your time to talk. We can do this over the phone or in person, whatever is more convenient for you. I need some time to process this discussion and think about which of these four options might work best for AshCom.”
“Of course,” said Dan. “I thoroughly enjoyed today. You’ve got a very bright and engaged team. They clearly care about great learning experiences, and I’d be honored to help in any way I can.”
“Thank you, Dan,” said Kathryn. “Please give me a few days, and I’ll email you to set up a next conversation between the two of us. I have some thinking to do.”
To read the rest of the chapters in this series on Mobile Learning and to see Kathryn and her team solve their challenges, please download the eBook How L&D Leaders Are Using Mobile Learning To Increase Performance And Revenue. It can help you determine if custom mobile learning is the right approach for your organization and uncover tried-and-tested methods. Also, join the webinar to learn how custom mobile learning apps can empower sales teams.