Google the term “LMS” and the hits return 400 or more commercial providers. Does this limitless Vegas-style buffet of options mean certain death for the built-from-scratch LMS? Ask the team at Learning.net, and you’ll hear a resounding and emphatic “NO WAY!”
In 2000, CEO Terry Heiney identified an unmet need for custom LMS development to address unique business requirements, and Learning.net was born. Since then Learning.net has firmly ensconced itself in a cozy little niche of providing couture LMS solutions that fit customers like a glove. The team boasts seasoned LMS gurus, most of whom have 10+ years of tenure. But don’t assume they are old dogs dawdling in the dust of legacy technology…these techies keep it sharp!
James Carlos, Technical Manager, explains,
“We are well involved in the open source community. Team members are involved in contributing to other projects in their down-time, so this means we know what’s current, we’re exposed to it. We use those technologies in what we develop – it gives us an advantage over what is out-of-box. We can use that technology and don’t restrict [our customers].”
Custom Tailored for Unique Requirements
The pesky question lingers…why would a business need a custom LMS? Learning.net has the answer, and they’ve got stories from super-satisfied customers to share, like Duke Integrative Medicine (DIM), who partnered with Learning.net for a meticulously-tailored LMS to meet their needs. More on that later…but first back to that pesky question. Situations when an artisan-style LMS may be the perfect solution include:
- Complement to existing LMS for pre-hire programs
- Specialized Business Units
- Learning as a revenue stream
- Customer training
- Migrating off existing systems
Let’s face it, there are some things an off-the-shelf LMS just won’t do. Not to mention that commercial legacy systems have constraints and can’t easily adopt cutting edge technologies for the most modern UX. This frustrating degree of inflexibility is expected in an OTS product, but the result is companies spending time, energy, and money on workarounds, or worse – sadly remaining unsatisfied. Terry Heiney says it doesn’t have to be that way, “Our development is driven by the client.”
One Size Fits All LMS? Never!
Learning.net isn’t touting a custom LMS as the magic pill for every ailment. When asked how often they recommend an OTS LMS to potential customers, Terry indicates,
“Fifty percent of the time. If they have 500 users and 4 courses, they should be using WordPress with an LMS plugin… A small percentage of the time, they just have some very simple implementation, they may have a lot of users and a lot of courses, and OTS will work. Once we receive an inquiry, we try to drill-down a little deeper to make sure we’re the right fit.”
Embarking on a mission to create a custom-crafted LMS may seem daunting. Relax. Learning.net’s got you covered. Learning Systems Manager, Cathleen Brown, explains their consultative approach,
“A custom LMS is not developed in a vacuum. We work directly with the people who will be using it. Often there are multiple functions and stakeholders in a complex integrated solution. We gain a deep understanding of the client’s business and an understanding of their day-to-day operations.”
Project Management with the Personal Touch
Learning.net’s proven process includes all the essential elements of project management, but Cathleen says the secret sauce is communication, “Communication is key. Keep the lines of communication open.” When asked how they handle inevitable last-minute change requests from customers, Cathleen explains,
“It’s human nature to want things as perfect as possible, but we have to manage expectations and hopefully lead them to the best possible solution.” Adds Terry, “It’s like a marriage!”
And any married person will tell you that once you put a ring on it, flexibility is key to maintaining matrimonial bliss. After an LMS is implemented, how does Learning.net address customers’ ongoing requests for enhancements and updates? Terry cheekily boasts, “We do whatever they want!”
OK, so that’s stretching it a bit, but Learning.net does consider every request an opportunity to stretch the boundaries of possibility. As Cathleen explains, they are flexible to a fault, “James doesn’t ever say no. He thinks about it and comes back with a solution. Every time.” Sounds pretty blissful, right?
Just What the Doctor Ordered
When Duke Integrative Medicine (DIM) needed a custom LMS to deploy ongoing medical education, they partnered with Learning.net to pursue the perfect fit. DIM was using Moodle in combination with a Macgyver-ed hotel reservation system to schedule and track learning. They needed a more encompassing, fully functional, ecommerce-enabled system that not only managed continuing education but walk-in classes, user management, course delivery and accounting. Tall order.
Enter Learning.net. The team dove in deep to understand how DIM’s business functioned – not just the technical aspect – but the day-to-day, along with familiarizing themselves with the inner workings of a hodge-podge system they knew nothing about. Throughout the engagement, the Learning.net team effectively interfaced with folks from IT, Accounting, Operations and various other stakeholders, and in some cases this included working with third parties. Cathleen explains,
“This is important. Outside the technical scope, gathering enough information so we don’t increase our technical debt. The more information we can collect up front, the more we can reduce the amount time spent in the long-run.”
A Ready-for-Anything Technology Mindset
James explains that DIM was a challenge worthy of his tenacious team,
“Duke presented several unique things we’d never dealt with before. Accounting is one of the more complex things we’ve had to deal with…we had to understand what their current process was like initially, even outside of the technical bit; had to understand how their corporate financial group worked and how each item is purchased and sold and needs to function. That in itself was quite challenging. In addition, there were always exceptions to the rules, so they needed a lot of flexibility and system overrides.”
Adds Cathleen, “We had to think beyond what’s technically capable and really understand what the personnel would bring to the table and the work they’d be doing.”
Development driven by the people, for the people.
Almost 16 years after launching, Learning.net is still supporting their very first customer. And after 14 years at Learning.net, Cathleen’s passionate endorsement reinforces why they are the partner of choice for those seeking LMS utopia,
“The developers do such a great a job to customize our systems to work for our customers. We have a great team of really creative, and amazing developers. They do the impossible. Personally, that’s what’s so great about working here.”