By Joy Church Millard, Sr. Editor, Expertus
Editor’s Note: Welcome to the fifth interview in our “Learning Luminaries” series — where we showcase conversations with the brightest and most innovative minds in the world of enterprise training and development.
Q1: Katrina, what sparked your interest in learning administration?
KB: My career path has been pretty eclectic. Corporate training is the culmination of everything I loved in previous jobs. Prior to corporate training, I worked in design, music and video production, coding and technical editing. I’ve also owned and operated two businesses. I’m always learning new skills and getting my hands into weird and wonderful projects.
When I was in training management with a Fortune 500 retailer, one of my “projects” was to learn how to support our new learning management system. Did I have a clue what that meant? Nope! Like many corporate trainers, I had never worked hands-on with an LMS. Thankfully, the person leading our company’s LMS implementation was an incredible mentor and trainer. With her guidance, I quickly understood how vital an LMS is to training programs. From the moment I started, I loved LMS administration — and eventually I became a lead.
Q2: What inspired you to write about choosing and managing LMS software?
KB: Writing kind of snuck up on me. My first book, LMS Success, started as a handbook for LMS administrators in my department. (We literally had thousands of admins, and often we were onboarding new people to the team.) LMS materials I had read previously were a little dry, and I wanted to help other people by capturing some of the practical discoveries I had made.
Halfway through the process of documenting these points, I realized I was developing something that might have broader appeal. It turns out there aren’t other general LMS guidebooks — which may have contributed to the positive response I’ve received. I knew I had (accidentally) done something right when I was offered a legitimate literary contract within a month of the book’s launch!
After that initial surprise, I wrote The LMS Selection Checklist — which helps companies compare key elements across learning management systems. It represents insights from many LMS implementations I’ve supported.
Q3: When researching this topic, did anything surprise you?
KB: While writing both books, I asked many other LMS admins for advice. It’s surprising how much knowledge overlap there is — how similar administrators are across industries, and how cool they all are. Every LMS administrator I know has a great sense of humor. That’s handy when your server crashes, or another administrator accidentally changes a bunch of user passwords!
Q4: What’s the biggest mistake companies make when selecting an LMS?
KB: It’s tempting to rush into an LMS implementation, and choose a system before evaluating organizational needs. Lots of LMS vendors offer excellent systems. But just because an LMS has great features doesn’t mean it has the right features for your organization. Before evaluating an LMS, you need to have thoughtful conversations about what that system needs to accomplish for your organization.
It’s also tempting to look at a vendor’s wonderful sales department and assume that the company must have happy clients and great customer service. It’s always better to verify your assumptions before you sign a contract.
Q5: If you could share one piece of advice with someone looking for a new LMS, what would it be?
KB: Knowledge is power. Be relentlessly curious. Ask the stakeholders in your company what matters to them. Ask today’s users what works (and what doesn’t). Ask other companies in your industry what they’re doing with their LMS. Ask vendors questions until you feel you really know their system’s strengths and weaknesses.
Q6: How do you see the learning administration role evolving?
KB: The role of trainers, overall, is evolving. We’re all becoming so multifaceted. If you’re a training manager, you’re also an instructor, an e-learning designer, an LMS administrator, and more. As e-learning evolves, trainers have to become experts in gamification, mobile, social learning and other technologies. Knowing about tech trends isn’t enough — we really need to love and embrace innovation to be effective trainers. In that respect, we’re change agents.
Q7: What do you wish LMS vendors understood about learning admins and the challenges you face?
KB: LMS administrators often wear many hats. We have e-learning courses to create, training teams to support, and maybe even departments to manage. Some of us aren’t yet up-to-speed on all of the technical details we need to know to select an LMS. I think we appreciate patience — and “plain English” explanations are always helpful.
As administrators, we also have lots of internal customers to satisfy within our organizations. To get a new LMS, we essentially have to sell the vendor’s product to our colleagues. This can be hard — especially when stakeholders are afraid of anything tech related. (I call these colleagues “techn-ostriches.” They prefer burying their heads in the sand to avoid facing new technology.)
When a vendor helps an LMS administrator explain the system’s business benefits, that is half the battle in getting a sale.
Q8: What excites you most about recent advances in learning technology?
KB: Access to learning is becoming absolutely phenomenal! There are so many options to deliver e-learning content and make it engaging. I love that gamification is such a popular topic. I also love that mobile technology and responsive design are allowing learners to engage with content wherever they are. And I’m excited to see how xAPI improves the way learning is tracked and measured.
Q9: As a self-proclaimed LMS “nerd,” what features do you hope to see in the future?
KB: We’re headed toward an LMS that lets people learn without realizing it. In the past, LMS-supported learning experiences had many roadblocks. The technology wasn’t robust enough, the course content wasn’t designed well, or the LMS interface wasn’t engaging. Those roadblocks are vanishing. As LMS capabilities improve, it is great to offer environments where learners are engaged as soon as they sign-in, and they’re able to enjoy an experience that effectively blends instructor-led training, online courses and ongoing performance support.
Q10: Have you thought about what topic you’ll write about next?
KB: Yes! I’m working on a new guidebook for training managers. It’s a bit of an expansion, because it includes practical tips not only for e-learning, but also for creating instructor-led courses, and how to effectively manage a training team. I hope it will give people a whole new appreciation for what works in modern learning organizations!
Editor’s Note: For more information about Katrina Baker’s books, see LMS Success and The LMS Selection Checklist at Amazon.com. To discuss LMS selection and administration with other corporate training professionals, join Katrina’s LinkedIn Group, Learning Management System Administrators. Or to contact Katrina directly, connect with her on LinkedIn and on Twitter.
Note from Expertus: To find out more about how your organization can transform learning with a next-gen LMS, visit ExpertusONE online. Or contact us anytime to discuss your needs and see a personalized demo.