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TrainingZone interviews: Administrate's John Peebles

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30th Jul 2014
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We spoke to John Peebles, CEO of training management software providers Administrate, about getting the best out of elearning, the impact of mobile learning on the training department, and how to choose the right training software for the business.
If you’re new to your role in an organisation's training department, what pitfalls should you avoid?
In our experience, failing to assess how the training organisation operates as a whole can lead to a the situation where improvements ultimately, aren’t made. Any time someone comes into an organisation it can be a great opportunity to learn the context for how things are running (and why), but also to figure out if improvements can be made. We’ve seen some of the most remarkable transformations where training organisations have taken a step back and spent some time on introspection, they then look what they learned, made a few changes (whether it was adding software, process related, or even reallocating where people spend their time), and saw incredible improvement.
What should the best training management software look like and why?
Training management software needs to fit the workflow and business processes of your organisation, but it also needs to come with reasonable commercial terms and great support.
For workflow considerations, does the software help you with your entire business lifecycle?  Can it help you market your courses, take online orders, manage your sales process, notify students and instructors, provide outstanding reporting, and make sure your courses are delivered consistently and reliably? Does it work well for organisations that are both large and small? Is it used by companies in your market sector?
Software today should be cloud delivered, offer a free trial (without having to provide a credit card or talk to someone), not lock you in to long-term contracts, and be delivered with an air of transparency. Does your training administration vendor put a wall up between its software and prospective customers? Does it offer a first-hand look at documentation and resources prior to buying? Is the software constantly improving? Today’s software is tomorrow’s dinosaur if no forward progress is being made.
Perhaps the most important criteria is the support that’s offered. Do you see evidence of customers raving about the support that’s offered? What training options are available? Most companies will offer ticket-based support, which can be good if wait times are low and the help desk is responsible. For more difficult problems that might be hard to convey, look to see if the company has a policy of arranging callbacks or scheduled calls.
Elearning has been around for a while now but is still viewed with some scepticism. As a user, how do you get the most out of elearning? 
We see a lot of variation in approaches to elearning. For example, the North American market has completely embraced elearning, probably due to the larger geographic distances and larger organisations you commonly see there. Emerging markets like Africa, Asia and South America are also rapidly adopting elearning, but the drivers there seem to be the advantages of distribution and lower cost. Since we launched our highly ranked Learning Management System (LMS) last year, we’ve had a front row seat to observe the different strategies and approaches our customer base has employed.
Our main takeaway is that while many things change with elearning (learning at great distances, using rich media, being able to support much larger student groups, etc) the important things remain - there is simply no substitute for great content, great teaching, and rock-solid administration for elearning courses. It’s just as much work developing a great elearning course because the fundamentals don’t change. Customers that did a great job with their offline courses tended to do a great job with their online courses, even if they’ve never put together any elearning content before. Technical skillsets and ability aren’t nearly as important as a well-honed sense of quality.
The second takeaway is that offering elearning doesn’t need to be a daunting or 'all or nothing' exercise - you can start small, do well in a few areas, then slowly expand your elearning offerings. We’ve even seen customers who would never have considered using elearning because they have a a lot of hands-on instruction try things like running their testing on an LMS, or offering their pre-course orientation instruction via their LMS.  
Don’t pigeonhole your thinking, and make sure you keep abreast of recent developments. There’s a lot changing very quickly, and what has been true won’t necessarily remain that way.
How has mobile learning changed the role of the training department?
Mobile learning is still in its infancy. Many have worked their way through the initial challenges the Flash/HTML5 created for a lot of SCORM content, so it’s good to have that topic behind us and focus on broader issues. We've put quite a bit of effort into making sure our LMS is mobile friendly. There’s this meme that’s been circulating talking about how mobile learning is stupid and that nobody ever learned anything watching their phone on the train during rush hour, but we think that’s all a bit silly. A lot of people forget that mobile includes devices like tablets that may have relatively large screens - if your tools aren’t set up to support these kinds of devices you’ll be creating friction with your students.
We’ve been impressed with several content developers who are putting out 'bite size' learning modules, usually for internal employee training and development, that can be tackled when there are a few minutes to spare. This kind of of learning is ideally suited to the mobile environment, and ongoing reviews can really help student retention. So we’re hoping the 'mobile learning stinks' meme dies – it makes for a great sound bite, but really doesn’t apply.
In your experience, what do customers want when it comes to training management software and how have you gone about addressing these needs? 
First and foremost, customers really want excellent support. At the end of the day, our goal is to make sure that our customers are successful, no matter what. Outstanding support is something we spend a lot of money, time, and effort on, and it’s not a simple problem. For example, we’re supporting customers on five continents and dozens of timezones all around the world. How do we make sure we’re addressing issues quickly, efficiently, and how do we make sure we’re making improvements in areas that might be generating customer confusion or complaints? It’s incredibly energising to get great feedback from customers large and small who say that our support is some of the best they’ve ever had. That’s our goal.
Second, reliability is critical. Because a training management solution will become the platform that everything runs on, a track record of reliability, transparency, and high availability is essential. We’ve employed third-party monitoring systems to help provide this trust to our customers, and we also publicly report on every incident we experience with our service. In the rare cases where we make mistakes, we don’t hide from them but make sure everyone knows we’re on top of the issue.
Third, customers really need a system that can meet them on the level their organisation is currently at but also grow with their needs. Most organisations that implement our software report saving 10-20% of their staff admin time within a few weeks, and while that’s great, it means that right away they’re looking to reinvest that saved time into growing their offerings and raising their standards. The software immediately needs to be able to support these new ambitions.
Lastly, customers should look for a vendor that they can partner with long term, one that is looking beyond artificial methods of preserving a relationship (like restrictive contracts and huge upfront fees). Our goal as an organisation is to transparently engage with our customers and identify how we can work together to further our mutual success. 

Administrate is an affordable, online training administration solution built to save training providers time and money. Training departments and training companies use their products to increase course bookings, manage their operations, and deliver exceptional elearning.

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