Our recent whitepaper on the key trends affecting professional services government contracting in 2014 highlighted training services as an area to watch in the government procurement space for the year ahead. We wanted to take a deeper look into the training industry to see if the public sector is adopting the shift to online learning and eLearning products that the private sector and student-focused education sector has increasingly experimented with and adopted in recent years.

Download the “Government Contracting Hotspots for Professional Services in 2014” White Paper

We started our public sector eLearning research by looking for keyword mentions of the top 20 learning management systems (LMSs) based on online research using Onvia’s database of nearly 9,000 training bids, RFPs and awards in 2013.  The LMS industry has been volatile in recent years with a wave of acquisitions causing consolidation of platforms, so we included LMS platform names that were recently acquired as well to ensure we captured those in our research. 

What we found in our research of the training bid, RFP and award documents in the Onvia platform was that references to LMS-related terms as well as the top 20 LMS platforms were very low, with LMS vendor/platform specific names only mentioned in approximately one percent of documents.  More general terms “LMS”, “Learning Management System”, and “Learning Management Systems” were mentioned in just 1.5% of documents.  In both cases, the searches were carried out specifically against opportunities tagged as Training, Workshops, or Facilitation in the Onvia database.  The Training, Workshops, and Facilitation category in Onvia’s platform includes bid opportunities in the Driver Education, Employment Training, Facilitation Services, Personnel Training, and Safety and Emergency Preparedness training sub-categories.  The Personnel Training, Employment Training, and Safety and Emergency Preparedness categories had the highest number of mentions among the five sub-categories of LMS related terms.

Learning Management System Adoption in Government Agencies

Top LMS vendors and platforms mentioned by name in agency training bids, RFPs, and awards in 2013 were, in no particular order, Saba Software, Blackboard Learning, Moodle, Instructure, My Big Campus, Sakai, WeBWorK, Edmodo, and Latitude Learning.

To learn about government agency LMS adoption from a government vendor perspective, we spoke with Jeffrey Roth, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Topyx, a Software as a Service (SaaS) LMS platform provider with experience selling LMS platforms into government agencies.  Mr. Roth shared his experience with eLearning and LMS adoption in the public sector, stating “eLearning and LMS systems are a key way for agencies to reduce costs associated with traditional instructor-led training programs.” Mr. Roth went on to say, “Government agencies have been hesitant to adopt eLearning solutions due to concerns around privacy, security and control of the training experience but, for many agencies, an LMS system hosted on a SaaS model offers more security and increased control while adding delivery formats and reducing per-student training costs significantly over a more traditional instructor led training program.” 

Why eLearning and LMS adoption are important for government vendors

Public sector workforce retirements and attrition create a sense of urgency around training solutions in the near term

As key employees leave agencies due to natural attrition or planned retirement departures, agencies need a mechanism to capture each employee’s knowledge in a format that can be reused after the employee leaves.  Roth added, “Today’s LMS systems allow anyone in the organization to access and collaborate around a given course of study.  Topyx provides the platform to connect students with learning materials.  Sometimes those materials are created by exiting employees, existing employees, or even outside training vendors.”

Increased job complexity will create workforce “capability gaps” for the foreseeable future

Similar to the private sector, public sector jobs are getting more complex and complexity creates additional opportunity for training vendors.  Josh Bersin, a columnist for Forbes and Founder/Principal at research firm Bersin by Deloitte, recently completed a survey of corporate learning budgets and found corporate training spend increased by 15% in 2013 after two prior years of 10%+ growth.  Bersin’s research goes on to explain the reason for the growth, stating, “Organizations today suffer from a ‘skills supply chain’ challenge…70% of organizations cite ‘capability gaps’ as one of their key challenges, but many companies also tell us that it takes 3-5 years to take a seasoned professional and make them fully productive.”  Increased job complexity is creating a larger need for training and will continue to do so for years to come.  While government agencies may not be experiencing the same headcount growth dynamics as the private sector, the looming “Silver Tsunami” of public sector retirements creates the same sense of urgency and need for efficient and cost-effective training solutions within government agencies that Bersin by Deloitte cited in their report on the private sector.

The new era of LMS adoption in government agencies creates market opportunities for qualified vendors

With just one percent of government training bids, RFPs, and awards referencing LMS platforms by name and only 1.5% referencing more general LMS terms, LMS implementation and curriculum-building opportunities appear to be abundant in the public sector for those vendors positioned to win.  While it can be hard for new vendors to enter the public sector contracting market for the first time, those training vendors who have a track record of success with agencies in more general training services relationships may find the eLearning market holds significant promise in the public sector.

Takeaways for Training Vendors Selling to the Government in 2014

If you are a training vendor who is involved in eLearning or LMS implementation, integration or content-creation, there are a few key tactics that may help you grow your sales in the public sector in 2014 and beyond.

Build relationships early with long-term agency prospects

Search agency budget documents and reach out to government agencies that are planning significant training budgets over the next one to three years. Learn about their needs for employee training or student learning, their cost constraints, and their willingness to consider an eLearning approach for their next training engagement.  Many training engagements may be under-threshold for the agency, meaning individual training opportunities may never be put up for public bid.  Forming relationships with agencies directly will give you greater chances to earn under-threshold training opportunities from that agency the next time they are looking for training or education services.  Onvia offers a product called Spending Forecast Center for vendors seeking a simple, unified interface to search and scan agency budget documents from federal, state and local government agencies across the country. 

Seek out agencies that have already invested in eLearning for near term wins

Seek out agencies that have recently submitted bids or have recently awarded contracts mentioning specific LMS systems by name.  Knowing an agency’s existing LMS platform means you can cater your next bid to them directly and highlight your proficiency with their specific LMS platform.  Agencies who mention specific LMS systems by name or reference the term “LMS” in their bid or RFPs show that they have already overcome at least some of the hurdles associated with adopting eLearning. This may result in a shorter sales cycle as you try to pitch a new curriculum creation proposal or an offline-to-online migration of legacy training materials either as an unsolicited proposal or as part of a more general training engagement.  Onvia’s Project Center helps vendors set up saved searches for key terms in agency procurement documents and have those opportunities automatically emailed to them within 24-48 hours of the opportunity being publically posted by the agency. 

Present eLearning and LMS adoption as way to decrease recurring training expenses and increase training accessibility

Training is often mandatory for public sector employees and agencies struggle to maintain training budgets under increased budget pressures.  eLearning, or a blend of eLearning and instructor-led training programs, can offer budgetary relief while increasing accessibility to training by enabling delivery in new formats such as mobile or web-based training for those working remotely.  Key benefits of eLearning are well documented, but the cost-savings and ROI of ILT vs. eLearning is less clear.  Some eLearning vendors have online calculators to help guide potential clients in understanding the costs of various training alternatives after accounting for student travel, instructor travel, instructor hourly fees and curriculum creation costs.  eLearning programs often have a higher upfront cost per student for the first few occurrences of the course, but much lower ongoing costs as curriculum can be created once and used many times without ongoing expenditures related to instructor fees or travel expenses. For example,  Interactyx’s online ROI calculator estimates airfare, hotel, transportation and meals cost an average of $661 per student per training session for offsite training, making it relatively easy to see how the cost per student per session can decline significantly in an eLearning format for courses that frequently reoccur. 

If you are a training vendor in the government market, we would like to hear your feedback in the comments section below on traditional ILT vs. eLearning adoption in the government market as well as the top LMS platforms you are seeing rolled out to government agencies across the nation.  Based on the references to LMS related terms and specific LMS vendor and platform names in Onvia’s Online Database, it appears that LMS adoption in government agencies is still relatively low. This presents a great opportunity for vendors who present compelling case studies of other public sector agencies moving from traditional ILT to eLearning solutions; an opportunity to showcase how adapting eLearning solutions can  reduce agencies costs, offer agencies more security and increased control, as well as increase training effectiveness and efficiency for government employees.