Marty Kauchak looks at current customer requirements for learning management systems and the evolving technology baseline of these systems.

There is nothing staid or “business as usual”, in the learning management system (LMS) sector.

In some instances, LMSs or their functions are being subsumed into training management - and other broader, overarching, like systems. Miki Ringelhim, the vice president of Business Development at Britannica Knowledge Systems (Britannica), commented on this trend, pointing out, “There is growing demand for a combined and integrated solution that provides capabilities for training and learning management. Lots of airline and aviation training center to which we speak, express the desire for a combined LMS-TMS solution. The reason is that the LMS-TMS solution can deliver better management of an entire training operation with a single system, supporting learning, training, scheduling, AQP [Advanced Qualification Program]/ATQP [Alternative Training Qualification Program]/EBT [evidence-based training]and more.”

Elsewhere, the technology baseline for stand-alone LMSs is advancing to support cloud computing, seamless integration with other systems and other end user needs.

Other Supplier Snapshots

This is by extension, a dynamic time in Kiel, Germany-based MINT Software Systems’ appropriately-titled, flagship Training Resource Management System (TRMS) portfolio. Don’t let the title fool you. Frank Vieira Hugger, the company’s director of sales and marketing, pointed out TRMS includes qualifications, the planning of training and many more capabilities, as CAT learned. “The system looks into the complete cycle of what a training department’s responsibility is,” the community expert emphasized.

A third provider in this sector, prodefis, has four different modules in its overarching Training Management Solutions portfolio, each of which covers different aspects of training. While COURSE, for instance, is a system for training scheduling, qualification management and resource management, LMS is a web-based learning management system. Thomas “TJ” Doherty, an AQP/BI specialist at the company, noted the Griefenberg, Germany-based company’s components are “all basically plug-and-play, so you don’t have to buy them all, we integrate it into the customer’s existing system.”

Further, the company’s LMS is a web-based e-learning system, delivering training lessons and exams, and capturing results, electronically. “We don’t deliver content, we provide the device by which you plug your content in, in terms of CBT, training lessons or other learning material, which is managed through the LMS,” Doherty explained. The LMS data includes: when the learner stops and starts the module; the completion record; and a number of other statistics, including how the individual answered various questions – all of which ultimately can be passed into an overarching prodefis Training and Performance Monitoring System (TPMS).

In another technology effort, the prodefis LMS content player is fully compliant with the Aviation Industry CBT Committee (AICC) and Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM), enabling customers’ e-learning software to have interoperability between modules published using these standards, and other compliant LMSs.

While pilots are the primary learners supported by the suite of prodefis’ Training Management Solutions, the system can also support maintainers, cabin crews and other learners in the airline enterprise.

This January, CAE purchased 45% of the shares of Pelesys. Through this partnership, CAE is further strengthening its courseware offering and consolidating its cadet-to-captain training delivery across its global network, by bringing to bear competencies from the Pelesys product portfolio, including its popular learning and training management system (LMS).

“Our learning management system is the core of how we produce and deliver our courseware. It is fully integrated with a qualification and records management backbone that takes care of the data, so training personnel can use our system to grade their crews, track their progress – all of which gets ‘plugged into’ the QMS [qualification management system],” Gordon Andrews, a lead subject matter expert and regulatory affairs coordinator, at Pelesys, explained. Through an application programming interface, the customer can also have their own authoring instructional materials system, allowing Pelesys to track the training audiences’ qualifications and other content.

According to Captain Stephen Morrell, a second lead SME at Pelesys, his company is meeting the expectations of 2018-era course development and tracking, made more challenging by a learner’s propensity to complete a course anytime, anywhere. “We have the option of hosting that data anywhere, including the cloud. And the beauty of our courseware is that you can complete it almost anywhere in the world and then it is back into the LMS for tracking. The data isn’t and can’t be lost. When the regulator asks: did that pilot do so many hours of training and what did he or she do; we can answer that.”

Looking at a second technology underpinning, the Pelesys LMS is developed on a platform which is HTML 5-compliant. Andrews pointed out this capability allows the LMS to be multi-platform independent. “We have done a lot of work, and continue to do so, converting this to HTML 5,” Andrews emphasized.

CPaT, a fifth company in the sector, delivers LMSs and related products to a wide customer base around the globe, including airlines and other training organizations. Within the airline enterprise, the company’s products support learning for pilots and maintainers, with the latter group being supported in familiarization-level courses. Kent Morrison, the vice president of Operations and Software Development at CPaT, estimated more than 60% of his customer roster is located outside North America, and added, “we truly have a global reach, on any continent that has a functioning airport.”

LMSs are the central hub in CPaT’s portfolio of products. Indeed, when the author spoke with Morrison at this April’s WATS 2018, the company had just launched its new Approach LMS, built to scale, and take advantage of cloud technologies, such as Microsoft Azure, an open, flexible, enterprise-grade cloud computing platform. “Microsoft spends millions of dollars annually on resources for security, reliability and availability – things we could never do on our own if we managed our own hardware. We built this LMS to take advantage of that, and when our customers access their training material it is distributed worldwide.” CPAT’s strategy enables down loading of content beyond North America – indeed, from the nearest server facility to wherever the learner is located.

Apart from the LMS attributes noted above, the Spring, Texas-based industry veteran emphasized CPaT’s mobile platform can function off line. This strategy permits the pilot or other learner to use an Android device or an iPad, download the courseware, complete training even when there is no Internet connectivity, and then synchronize and resume a full-up capability when Internet connective is reestablished.

Other Training Provider Requirements

Britannica is responding to one topic resonating from US FAA offices down to the simulator bays at training departments – the quest for big data and using it in the continuum of learning, with the growing demand for training and performance data, monitoring and analysis, to improve training quality and company safety. Ringelhim noted, “As a result, the market requires simple reporting tools that allow managers with no technical background to obtain great training data insight. In addition, advanced business intelligence analysis to forecast and predict, learning and training trends and anomalies, are critical for improving training quality and maintaining compliance.”

As the number of MINT Software customers at airlines and training organizations increases, the software products provider is meeting intersecting requirements from its current and prospective end users. “Most important, for most of them, is having records in electronic form. They want to use a system to collect training performance data: how do our pilots perform; where can we improve their performance toward AQP, ATQP and more recently, EBT. That’s a big area for them,” Vieira Hugger recalled. The industry veteran further observed that efforts in the quick-paced 2018-era environment to manually collect, track and report qualifications and data, “is something that is basically impossible.”

Pelesys’ Andrews highlighted one common, adjoining expectation his company’s LMSs must deliver on – accuracy – and with good reason, as the type courses it delivers must comply with regulatory requirements. He added, “It’s very, very important for us to be accurate. It’s another thing we work on very hard, so if someone is looking at a type course they see what they want to see.”

Beyond quickly, accurately and succinctly reporting data, training department leaders are also interested in efficiently planning their learners’ tasks and other activities. Indeed, MINT’s Vieira Hugger noted that at this year’s WATS, yet another airline training representative visiting the company’s booth, noted interest in immediately informing instructors and the training audience, about changes and new situations in training assignments, without logging into a system. Vieira Hugger continued, “We have an app that in addition to email notifications that were already part of the product, adds real-time push-notifications for instructors and pilots, who want that change right now, in real time, not when logging in to their PC tomorrow.”

MINT is also hitting another “sweet spot” for training organizations – allowing them to better manage finances with new capabilities on the new “Prices” page in system v. 12.1. In part, “We have introduced a new functionality, called Price, which gives our users the ability to define price revisions per Product and Organization. They can be used to let the system automatically set the price of a training course,” according to the company’s training catalogue.

CPaT has planned new functionality for its LMS in the next 6-12 months. Morrison pointed out, “Some of the tools will support evidenced based training – that is a hot topic with everybody. And then collecting that data for analytics and evaluation. While we have tools that help with that now and are part of the LMS exam system, we’re moving to add more and more tools to support the collection of that data to permit that training department to say, ‘I have evidence that my training is effective.’”

Interoperability between a third-party system and Learning Management System is also on the requirements list of an increasing number of training enterprises. To that end, Morrison emphasized that CPaT is also collaborating with other suppliers in the aviation sector, to develop integration strategies and working relationships among their systems. “We want to ensure it becomes seamless among their systems and ours,” the industry subject matter expert said and continued, “We have more than 40 systems courses, and many differences and general subjects courses. We want to deliver those products well and be able to let the airlines take that data into whatever other systems they need to do, to track this.”

One Training Organization Perspective

FlightPath International is a major global provider of training and operational support services for the commercial airline industry worldwide. Indeed, when the author caught up with the FlightPath team at WATS 2018, one of the individuals available to provide an insight for this article was Douglas Yates, the director of Operations at the FlightPath/Coopesa Training Centre in San Jose, Costa Rica. “We provide training services for Latin America and the Caribbean from that location,” the industry veteran explained about his current corporate position.

Of special interest, Yates noted that FlightPath is a strong proponent of LMSs, and added, “We have worked closely with the Air Canada LMS over the years.” And while acknowledging there are very capable LMSs in the market space, he focused on current price points of these systems. He explained, “In order to make courseware that is interactive enough to stand on its own, you can get into some very high costs for development. The ‘Achilles heel’: the cost of producing courseware in an online learning environment.”

To accurately track, record and report its students’ course progress, FlightPath uses enhanced databases, which he added, complements some of his training organization’s customers. Noting that some customers have their own LMS, Yates pointed out, “You provide them the information and they enter it into their system, there is no requirement for a training provider’s own LMS.”

Other Current and Near-Term Trends

Beyond earlier efforts noted, Pelesys is also advancing their technology and courseware, to meet the needs of 2018-era learners by developing courses using virtual reality, gamification and also adaptive learning and training technology.

Back at MINT, more new TRMS features are expected for the upcoming v.12.2 and v.13.0 releases scheduled this year. MINT will “polish” some existing features and continue to “shine” the user’s overall experience and efficiency while using the system. Vieira Hugger emphasized these new TRMS features are the result of MINT’s significant R&D efforts.

In addition to baseline TRMS technology upgrades, and another affirmation of the growth in this space, MINT Software Systems US Inc. in Orlando is open for business. This action allows parent MINT to better manage and expand its operations in North and South America.

A number of other enhancements are on Britannica’s business plan for its Fox program. In one case, in addition to the Fox online mobile capabilities, “Britannica will release some offline capabilities on mobile devices, we also will improve Fox's responsive interface, and will deliver unique solutions for additional targeted roles,” Ringelhim concluded.

Published in CAT issue 3/2018