Information is gold, and most organisations want to store and retrieve it quickly and efficiently. Information needs not only to be disseminated, but also tailored, updated where appropriate, and securely stored and indexed for future use and reference. The best electronic libraries are built on long-established principles, but today there are platforms that allow organisations to take knowledge management to a new level. The three platforms that I’ve found most useful in my role as a communicator are Learning Management Systems (LMS), Document Management Systems (DMS), and Dashboards.
LMS, DMS, and dashboards can all enhance organisational efficiency, but the decision to use them should be based on the specific needs of the organisation, available resources, and the features and limitations of each tool. Ultimately, successful implementation and adoption of these tools depends on careful planning, effective communication, and ongoing maintenance and support. There are dozens of each of these tools on the market, at many different price levels, from the relatively simple and straightforward to very sophisticated systems that use artificial intelligence to enhance users’ experience.
These platforms each fulfil different needs. A dashboard provides a real-time overview of data and key performance indicators (KPIs). An LMS is a virtual hub that not only hosts all of an organisation’s training and learning content, but also enables it to support onsite and remote learners and track and support their progress over time. A DMS manages documents and files (though today ‘content’ might be a more appropriate description), making it easier for organisations to store, catalogue, update, retrieve, and share them.
Learning Management System (LMS)
An LMS is a centralised hub that:
- disseminates knowledge and monitors learning;
- enables admins to track and manage learners;
- provides reporting and analytics to identify areas of improvement; and
- allows discussions between the user and their peers and teachers or trainers.
An LMS can be used to create courses that include text, documents, multimedia, and quizzes to enable self-paced learning. Many students of all ages who used remote learning during the recent covid lockdowns will have used a basic LMS to access and submit assignments, as well as join their teacher and classmates for live lessons. But an LMS can also be a much more sophisticated system, with some using artificial intelligence (AI) in different ways, for example to understand users’ behaviour and guide them through choices in content and format (much the same way streaming services suggest other programmes you might like to listen to or watch), or to run ‘chatbots’ that interface directly with users and generate natural language text. For example, PAC is working with a state department in Karnataka. The department conducts training programmes for officers from the district levels. Most of the trainees are not formally educated but have rich work experience in the community. Their work in the Panchayats (village councils) requires them to develop their skills, both practical and theoretical. When a training module on Solid Waste Management was developed it offered case studies not only via standard Powerpoint presentations, but also lively and culturally meaningful animated videos. The LMS stores all these training materials, and allows the trainee/participant to access them freely and at the most convenient time (within the course timeline).
The initial creation of an LMS hub is a big effort, but the long-term benefits include:
- Trainee’s learning journeys are managed, ensuring that they are offered and complete appropriate and required content.
- The organisation now has a training platform for new employees.
- Each trainee’s progress is tracked and visible to both trainee and trainers.
- Resources can be accessed remotely at any time of day.
- It can be very cost-effective, as much of the admin is automated and users manage their own access.
- A large number of learners can be accommodated.
- Trainees who may require additional support are identified.
- User data is analysed to improve training based on proven needs.
Most importantly, when done well an LMS provides an engaging user experience.
Although there are many benefits, there is no doubt that investing in an LMS also presents challenges, including:
- Creating and implementing a new LMS can be expensive and requires substantial technical expertise to both set up and maintain.
- Introducing an LMS requires that both trainers and trainees change their work habits and learning behaviours.
- Sensitive user data can be susceptible to hacking if not secured properly.
In short, an LMS is a centralised hub that meaningfully disseminates knowledge resources and monitors learning. It enables administrators to track and manage learners, provides reporting and analytics to identify areas that need improvement, and allows discussions with peers and teachers. LMS can also be used to create courses that include text, documents, multimedia, and quizzes, among other options, and to enable self-paced learning.
Document Management Systems
Electronic Document Management Systems (DMS) have overtaken most manual document management. A DMS enables the electronic storage, rapid retrieval, and management of documents and other content; provides secure storage and access, version control, and organisation; and enables multiple users to collaborate on the same file. A good DMS improves efficiency, reduces costs, enhances security, and provides better disaster recovery and customer service.
At an organisational level, a DMS becomes a centralised storage system for myriad documents and other types of files necessary for, for example, research, project management, financial management and reporting, and personnel. Each DMS is tailored to the organisation, and indexed by years, projects, or funders, among other categories. At PAC our documents, proposals, and outputs are housed in our DMS, ensuring that they are available to whichever staff members need them at any time. Content is protected by passwords at different levels, in order to maintain confidentiality.
A dashboard presents accurate and coherent data in a visual and interactive format. Good data visualisation makes complex information easy to understand. Key indicators are monitored in real time, and this data analysis enables better evidence-driven decision-making. Dashboards help to clearly communicate insights to stakeholders, can be customised and accessed through any compatible device, and can integrate data from multiple sources.
However, creating and implementing a meaningful and secure dashboard can be challenging and time-consuming, requires technical expertise, and options to customise may be limited or expensive. Dashboards must also comply with data privacy laws, which can be cumbersome, especially if your data is international. A dashboard has different views that can be adapted or programmed based on need, and the most common views include:
- A centralised view – all the key data in one place
- Real-time insights – monitors information so staff can make quick decisions in response to trends and changes
- Improved decision-making – data visuals identify patterns, trends, and outliers that help to identify and solve challenges
- More effective communication – with stakeholders of all types, presenting them with information that they can grasp quickly and understand easily
At PAC, for example, we created a dashboard for the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), which typically collects data on population, industry, labour force, education, and training from various sources. We developed a dashboard to collect, collate, and display this important information so it could be accessed by different NSDC stakeholders based on their needs. The insights gained from the dashboard help make decisions that improve the overall skilled labour force in India.
In summary, LMS, DMS, and dashboards are all multi-faceted tools that can enhance efficiency and effectiveness. Using any of them means investing in software, training, and content creation, but also spending considerable time up front to really consider and understand your information needs. It is very easy to pay for appealing extras that you won’t ever need or use, so plan and budget carefully.