Managing Learning in More Than One Way: Oregon State Government Flies with Its Own Wings, Instituting a Streamlined and Adaptable Learning Management System

Article excerpt

Oregonians have an independent streak. It's been that way since pioneers voted to make the state part of the union more than 150 years ago. Even the state's motto, "She flies with her own wings," gives outsiders a hint that Oregonians like to do things their way. It comes as no surprise, then, to learn that when Oregon's government put in place an enterprisewide learning management system nearly three years ago, each of its 100 agencies wanted to run things independently.

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That may sound untenable. But Theme Grenz, iLearnOregon's program manager, and his colleagues in Oregon's Department of Administrative Services, Human Resource Services Division (HRSD) have given each of the state's agencies a fair degree of autonomy to operate its own LMS. His success stems from the fact that he's passionate about the technology, but even-tempered and pragmatic enough to see complete control isn't always worth pushing for.

"We have approximately 82 agencies across the state that are using the LMS, which we call iLearnOregon, for various things such as course registration, accessing e-learning, or tapping into performance management tools," says Grenz. "Each agency is using the LMS to drive its respective mission. We have approximately 100 domains that reside under our core, State of Oregon domain. So in essence, we can have 100 separate companies all integrated into the system within the database, and executing differently."

The iLearnOregon platform is a learning management system made by Meridian Knowledge Solutions. According to Grenz, the system integrates general learning management functions (for example, course catalogs, class registrations, enrollments, transcripts, and administration tools) with collaboration software and performance management features such as employee development plans and skill assessments. As of last year, iLearnOregon had more than 55,000 users, plus thousands of people not directly employed by the state, such as fire district personnel, city and county employees, and the general public.

Grenz says that the state's vision for iLearnOregon is twofold. First, government managers look to the LMS to reduce the cost of learning and development while providing just-in-time training and certifications for the workforce and its private-sector partners. Second, Oregon hopes to change the way it builds its workforce by using the LMS to provide workers with individual development plans that will chart their skills and map what they need to learn to tackle more complex roles.

An LMS for one and all

The nature of how Oregon's state workforce uses its LMS has demanded that Grenz be equal parts technician and politician. Among other things, Grenz's background includes learning and performance initiatives, including helping organizations leverage and integrate learning technologies into its strategic planning. iLearnOregon is his third learning technologies implementation; in 2001, he implemented both an LMS and a virtual classroom platform.

Grenz's passion for the nuances of implementing learning technologies has served Oregon well. To enable Oregon's many state agencies to have their own LMS, Grenz and his colleagues have exploited the architecture on which iLearnOregon is built. For example, one level below the system's base architecture rests two domains. One domain serves the general public, such as business partners, who can access learning and track certifications. And the other domain serves Oregon's government workforce. Below the State of Oregon's LMS architecture is yet another layer packed with "sub-domains," as Grenz calls them, for each state agency that wants to deliver, manage and track training in support of its specific mission.

Grenz and his co-workers in HRSD consider these sub-domains as separate learning management systems. "We've capitalized on the flexibility of the system's architecture in a way that allows our state agencies to think of themselves as running a unique LMS," remarks Grenz. …