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4 questions your potential online learning provider must be able to answer

Police administrators are often unfamiliar with learning management systems, so there is a risk of partnering with an LMS vendor that is not suited to them, or is inferior to other options

This feature is part of our special guide on how to choose and successfully implement the right learning management system for your police department. For more tips and best practices included in the eBook, click here.

When police agencies face a budget crunch, officer training is frequently the first line item to be adversely affected. Training not only has its own costs, it also has the opportunity cost of taking police officers off the street. However, failure to train becomes a liability issue, so police departments are looking for alternative avenues to get their officers trained, but at lower costs.

One of the options trainers and administrators are turning to is online learning management systems. But because they are unfamiliar with this emerging technology, there is a risk of partnering with a vendor that is not suited to their department's personnel and needs or selecting a training system with an inferior set of features.

Here are four questions police departments should be asking as they evaluate a learning management system partner.

Just like in the offline world, individual officers and departments need to show proof that training has been completed.
Just like in the offline world, individual officers and departments need to show proof that training has been completed. (Photo/iStock)

1. Do you have certificates of completion?

Just like in the offline world, individual officers and departments need to show proof that training has been completed. Many officers keep a binder of their training certificates, and many agencies have an administrator who maintains file cabinets full of such documents. In the online world, most providers have some option of certification — either an actual document in PDF form that can be printed out or an electronic record of course completion.

A top issue for your end users, police officers and administrators, is accessibility and availability of those training certificates. It must be easy to find and share proof that training has been completed with a host of possible stakeholders — everyone from the compliance manager at a risk pool to members of the court system.

Another issue with certificates of completion is portability of that documentation. Can an individual officer easily access their certificates and use those not only for their day job, but also to verify their training and credentials for any second job they may have which requires the same training?

2. Is your training approved for state credit?

State-approved training can vary from state to state, as well as between public safety disciplines. Some learning management system providers do have content that has been reviewed by the state oversight authority and has been approved or accredited, but some do not.

In fact, in some cases, states have simply indicated that they do not approve training courses — online or offline. Instead the state sets criteria for training and empowers a department chief or medical director, in the case of EMS training, to approve training.

As a potential purchaser, the training officer should know what the requirements are for their state and their discipline, and that can help inform them on which learning management system is right for their department. Because many departments can approve their own internally developed and locally instructed training programs it is critical to know if the training department can upload its own trainings records to the LMS.

3. Who are you working with in our state?

Just as you would seek to get the opinion of a neighboring agency when purchasing any other sort of equipment — everything from ECDs to squad cars to sidearms — administrators should ask for contacts at other departments who can testify about the learning management system solution. Here are some questions to ask those references:

  • How easy was it to implement the system?
  • What is the support like when you have a problem?
  • What do you think of the training content?
  • How easy is it to access your certification records?
  • Were the any unseen or unplanned fees after initial setup?

4. What is the fee structure and are there any hidden charges after setup?

Pricing structures can vary for LMS solutions. Some vendors offer multiple options to choose from. There could be an offering which is a one-time flat fee for an unlimited number of users or there could be a per-user/per-year subscription option. Some offerings have a tiered pricing structure for different levels of support after purchase (silver, gold, platinum, for example) which impact the total cost.

The key is to ensure that the vendor is completely transparent about the absolute total cost. No chief wants to get approval from the city council for the purchase of a solution, only to have to go back to those same council members in six months to say, “Well, it turns out I need some more money for the training system.”

Ultimately, the learning management system your police department selects will need the features and functionality you deem the most important. But using these questions as a guide at the start of your planning will be key to the overall success of the program.

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