Oregon State government flies with its own wings, instituting a
streamlined and adaptable learning management system.
Oregonians have an independent streak. Its been that way since
pioneers voted to make the state part of the union more than 150
years ago. Even the states 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 Oregons
government put in place an enterprisewide learning management
system nearly three years ago, each of its 100 agencies wanted to
run things independently.
That may sound untenable. But Theme Grenz, iLearnOregons program
manager, and his colleagues in Oregons Department of Administrative
Services, Human Resource Services Division (HRSD) have given each
of the states agencies a fair degree of autonomy to operate its own
LMS. His success stems from the fact that hes passionate about the
technology, but even-tempered and pragmatic enough to see complete
control isnt 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
Grenz says that the states 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 Oregons state workforce uses its LMS has demanded
that Grenz be equal parts technician and politician. Among other
things, Grenzs 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.
Grenzs passion for the nuances of implementing learning
technologies has served Oregon well. To enable Oregons 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 systems 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 Oregons government workforce. Below the State
of Oregons 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
Grenz and his co-workers in HRSD consider these sub-domains as
separate learning management systems. Weve capitalized on the
flexibility of the systems architecture in a way that allows our
state agencies to think of themselves as running a unique LMS,
remarks Grenz. For example, the Department of Corrections doesnt
have to tell its workers to log onto the HRSD for training; they
just point people to Corrections LMS.
Grenz says hes all for a centralized LMS, but currently, theres no
central body within Oregon government whose mission is providing
training services; I think it goes back to the decentralized way
our state agencies are structured.
According to Grenz, the Oregon Department of Administrative
Services (DAS), which HRSD is a part of, implements the policy and
financial decisions made by the governor and legislature, but the
department doesnt directly have control over what, for instance,
the Department of Corrections does within its LMS domain.
Exerting indirect influence
Instead, Grenz and DAS have learned that spurring iLearnOregons
adoption has had as much to do with sharing best practices and
being consultative as implementing the right technology. My program
team provides documentation and project materials and especially
advice to help each agency thats interested in implementing
iLearnOregon successfully, notes Grenz. Because of the way weve set
up the systems domains we can give each agency a consistent process
and, if they so desire, an easy way to share content with one
In spite of the perception that Grenz and his colleagues take a
hands-off approach, the DAS iLearnOregon administrator can see all
6,300 courses (approximately 700 of which are e-learning classes)
that reside in the system. And if the administrator spots, say, a
similar customer service class used by two agencies, the program
team will alert the respective agencies to the savings that can
come from combining the elements of both classes into one.
Its a way for us to exert indirect influence, added Grenz. From an
organizational standpoint, each agency feels it owns its LMS. But
we propose changes and encourage best practices.
In keeping with his diplomatic style, Grenz reiterates that as much
as he thinks there are benefits to a centralized model (that is, a
central LMS portal for all agencies to tap into) he is far more
interested in selling the benefits of online training and
professional skills development to each agencys leadership.
Reducing trainings carbon footprint
By a variety of measures, Grenzs work has paid off. For instance,
this year alone, Grenz and his team will tally $74,000 in savings
over the last three years from turning a mandatory domestic
violence course, required of more than 4,100 agency managers and HR
staff, into an LMS-delivered e-learning course.
iLearnOregon has streamlined our office procedures, says Randy
Simpson, Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal. Well be developing an
online test for fireworks display operators, which will increase
efficiency and save money for our office and the industries we
The iLearnOregon team has also provided strategic direction for
each agency wanting to make use of the systems functionality. Grenz
and his colleagues provide a variety of services to help agencies
make the most of their piece of iLearnOregon, such as explaining
how to set up skill-based competencies within the LMS and putting
in place measurement strategies. With consulting from the
iLearnOregon team, the Department of Corrections re-engineered its
professional development around the iLearnOregon system, using
curriculum-based and skill-based training for prison staff as well
as tracking certifications.
The state of Oregon, as with most other states, is facing
unprecedented budget shortfalls. Training is typically one of the
first things to be reduced or cut totally, states Diana Foster,
HRSD administrator. iLearnOregon offers a different medium to
deliver training to the desktop, so agencies can fulfill their
training needs, yet not incur additional costs for instructors,
materials, employee travel and per diem.
Training beyond the halls of government
iLearnOregon also benefits private-sector partners. For instance,
the state fire marshal uses iLearnOregon to deliver training to
firefighters in remote locations of Oregon, and track
certifications. Firefighters have access via the LMS to the
training needed for, say, a fireworks certification as well as a
record of the certification once theyve earned it. The system even
generates emails to remind firefighters about the need to refresh
Grenz says the state eventually hopes to have 100,000 users in the
system. Getting there is a matter of trumpeting the benefits of the
system, highlighting the successes each agency is having and
enlisting the support of agency managers to bring additional sites
In spite of its dozens of sub-domains, the Oregon Department of
Administrative Services (DAS) has done a masterful job inculcating
best practices from agency to agency.Weve impressed upon each
agency the importance of naming all training content in a uniform
way, notes Grenz. For example, any training developed by DAS would
carry the acronym DAS as a prefix to the filename of the content
residing in that domain. Everything written after that prefix is
left to each agency to decide for its users.
Taking advantage of LMS architecture
DAS has also used iLearnOregons architecture to help agency
officials keep their training organized in other ways. Since so
many state agencies are pushing training content out to
private-sector partners, DAS looked at many of the agencies
missions and constructed groupings within the LMS that mirrored how
government workers were carrying out their duties. Since fire
license safety training is designed for a select group of external
users only, DAS recommended that the state fire marshals office
create a grouping within the LMS to cater to these people.
If you understand how to take advantage of the architecture of an
LMS, you can carve out groups very easily, instead of just mapping
everything to an internal org chart that doesnt always make sense
for training purposes, says Grenz.
Grenz notes that creating different groups enables agencies to
easily select a set of learners for only a specific piece of
content. The Department of Corrections, for instance, delivers its
training to employees based on what role they have within DOC, not
their job title necessarily.
Behind the scenes and working alongside Grenz at DAS is a team. One
person has project management experience, and she creates all the
documentation for iLearnOregon. She also serves as the teams
e-learning specialist, helping various agencies turn their
classroom training into online courses. Another individual serves
as the first point of contact on all things related to the LMS
technology, and this person is a liaison to the agency LMS domain
administrators. Grenz also works with a database administrator who
manages the systems back-office functions.
In one of the few standards foisted upon the agencies, Grenz says
each must have an LMS domain administrator. But, beyond that, each
agencys managers make the call on what other types of training
professionals (for example, a reports manager or talent manager)
they want on staff.
Theres an art to managing in a decentralized way, to giving people
the freedom to create their programs without a lot of oversight.
DAS and Grenz have perfected that approach. But hes quick to say
that iLearnOregons underlying technology makes it possible to
manage from afar. We cant force any of the agency administrators
were working with to make a change; they have their own way of
doing things, adds Grenz. But they do see our expertise, and
because of that we can make an impact with our recommendations and
Grenzs attitude allows each agency to learn with its own LMS, in
typical Oregonian fashion.