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So you want to have an eLearning Platform…

hair-pull-sm.jpgMaybe you don’t actually WANT to! Maybe you HAVE to (really, it’s not all that bad. It can even be fun, in a root-canal kind of way)! And, if you’re in a smaller and mid-sized pharma company, you may be facing this for the first time. I feel bad putting the hair-pulling picture in, because I actually enjoy technology, but if you’re facing a technology training initiative for the first time and have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA what the issues are and how to begin, it can be…intimidating!

Here are a few introductory thoughts, brought to you in good old consultant-speak (but, hopefully understandable):

When trying to come up with a strategy for using training technology, the many options now available are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the sheer number of possible avenues (and providers) can seem overwhelming. On the other hand, however, there are so many mature platforms now, many of them far more cost-effective and scalable than in the past, that this is a great time to be making technology decisions. Trust me. I was working on these in the wild west days of 6-10 years ago. The options are so much better now.

As your training department evolves and matures its approach, and continues to support a growing field force, it is crucial that a technology solution be put in place to help administer the process. It’s either that, or drown in paper. Care must be taken, however, that the right solution for both present and future circumstances be chosen. These are the primary factors that must inform your decision:

1. The solution should ultimately bring greater simplicity, not more complexity, to the department. Your training department may be stretched thin personnel-wise. Internal resources to spec out, evaluate, implement, manage and administer a technology application may be scarce. Therefore, a solution that will subtract from, not add to, the workload is highly desirable. Do you want more work? I didn’t think so.

2. The provider and the platform must be solid, reliable, and proven. No fly-by-nights need apply. This is mission-critical data and functionality. A provider that is non-responsive, not established in the field, or out of touch with the realities on the ground of pharma field training will not be a good fit. The provider must have a track record of partnering with similar companies. And, a platform that is not already being used in a similar way to that anticipated by your department, with good success, is not an ideal candidate. A lot of these companies talk a good game. Mere words, and $2.85, will buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

3. The platform must be flexible and scalable. Your needs will evolve and grow over time – guaranteed. The platform needs to grow with it. It must be scalable, not only in sheer number of users, but also in price (that is, you are paying for what you need right now, not investing a huge amount up front for overkill), and in capabilities (new functions, compliance regs, extension to other departments, globalization, internal/external hosting, etc.). The provider of this platform needs to be viewed as a long-term partner in your overall learning approach. Let’s put it another way – this is not simply a one-time transaction. You need to be really comfortable with the platform and the company, because you’re now basically getting engaged.

4. The platform needs to adhere to relevant data security and learning technology standards. I recently heard about one LMS that apparently doesn’t conform even to basic AICC data standards. That’s like having a car with the steering wheel in the back seat.

5. Some form of “outsourcing” should be available. Since there may not be sufficient resources to manage a learning technology platform in the short and/or mid-term, there should be the possibility of outsourcing the hosting, and possibly the administration, of the platform for some period of time.

Projected Requirements

At minimum, the learning platform should have the following features and capabilities (warning – large list of bullet points, some of which may be obscure. That’s how consultants make a living):

– Ability to house, and/or launch, web-based courseware
– Ability to house, and/or launch other electronic files (.pdf files, Word documents, Powerpoints, etc.)
– AICC-compliant code to track launch and completion of courses
– Ability to house, and launch, on-line assessments (and possibly surveys)
– Ability to interface with other database systems (such as HR and internal LMS platforms)
– Ability to be hosted and/or administered by external (outsourced) resources
– Ability to be “brought inside” in the future, with no loss of data
– Ability to present to each student a customized learning plan – all assigned and required Learning Experiences (LEs) are shown in a personalized fashion upon login
– Ability to provide customized management views/reports to both field and inside managers, with view rights based on login (e.g., a DSM can only see his/her reps)
– Ability to capture electronic signatures, if needed, for 21CFR11 compliant record-keeping
– Ability to scale to multiple thousands of users, and to multiple languages, if needed
– Platform must track user and LE (Learning Experience: course, test, etc.) over time, and provide basic analytics and statistics
– Secure database schema, and login protocols, so that user data cannot be accessed by unauthorized users
– Web-based interface with no plug-ins required

The right decision will be based on which solution most closely meets both your short-term and long-term needs and requirements. Existing software applications in your enterprise may or may not actually be suitable – perhaps R&D already bought a Learning Management System. It may not be a good choice for Sales. In fact, it usually isn’t. I’m just saying.

And now, the shameless consultant plug. I’ve had my head wrapped around training technology for over a decade, and I groove on it. I enjoy working with clients who are trying to figure out what is needed (establishing requirements and specs), articulating that internally and to vendors (RFPs), and selecting solutions. So, if you need some expert help, from someone who will add value but not take you for a ride financially, give me a call. I speak your language, and I can hold my own with the geeks, vendors, executive stakeholders, and everyone else who gets involved. Except Barclay. No-one understands him.

(Image credit)

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