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Disruption Debate with John Leh: An exclusive LMS market insight

Welcome to the next instalment of our Disruption Debate. This time, Lars Hyland spoke to Talented Learning’s John Leh. John is an independent learning technology analyst who has personally reviewed more than 100 learning management systems, helping organisations choose and use the best e-learning tools for their needs.

The L&D industry today

“The jobs of senior HR and L&D professionals certainly hasn’t got any easier over the years,” said John, “but I’m optimistic about the opportunities presenting themselves with regards to new technology and new capabilities.”

2017 marks John’s 22nd year at the heart of the L&D industry, and so he knows more than a thing or two about the technology trends over the years. “Traditionally, the transition to an LMS has always been so expensive and deliberate and learners were always secondary to cost savings. Also, learners have now adapted to using their phones for everything in their daily life, creating a whole new set of opportunities for L&D to switch from courses to resources. This move away from ‘preparing for everything’ gives us an opportunity to think broader than just getting courses out there - we can start to think about making a difference real-time.”

So what key industry changes has John identified over the years? “Among the best L&D leaders, it’s about making a real business impact and being able to measure that. Yes, we need to sort compliance and the training basics, but where do you spend your money and efforts next? The best leaders are now looking to provide these resources holistically throughout the value chain by leveraging technology.”

Today's knowledge is crowdsourced

The way people accumulate information today is also changing, according to John. “Look at social media,” he said, “People go online and say ‘Does anyone know about this? What’s this bug I found in my garden? How do I fix this?’, and answers are crowdsourced instantly. We can go to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and reach out to our peers and experts, even if we don’t know who they are.”

”Even people who don’t know what e-learning is are doing it every day”

L&D needs to harness this use of just-in-time resources, John believes, in order to tie them in with formal courses. He says that while everyone wants better skills, the time and incentive to learn new things is decreasing. If we are to encourage lifelong active learning, we need to look at how people are learning outside formal courses and reward them for this. Recognising, incentivising and rewarding people for their efforts is the best way to encourage employees to voluntarily close the skills gap, says John.

L&D in an uncertain age

We’re living in an age of economic and political uncertainty. Ideally, John says, organisations will have had things like positions and job roles figured out and defined for decades, but naturally, this isn’t always the case. The main problem is that the market is too fast, and the pace of change is only increasing over the years. John said that in the US, the current big trend is moving from having formal employees to contractors, with more of the workforce than ever before working for themselves. So how do we ensure we are reaching our entire workforce with the learning they need to improve? The answer, according to John, lies in technology.

“One way to deliver content to these changing workforces is to bring aggregated content into your own training systems rather than expending energy on doing it yourself. Bringing content from Lynda.com or Harvard Business School into your LMS using APIs is a great, fast way to bring relevant content to a wide range of learners.”

A common theme throughout the Disruption Debate series so far has been the importance of using flexible, extensible software to facilitate easy integration between systems, and John feels the same way, especially at a time when it’s hard to predict what will happen in the future. “At Talented Learning, we use Slack, with everything we’re working on in different Slack topics. We use Zapier APIs to snap various systems together, and organisations can do this to bring everything into a centralised learning ecosystem, from HR systems to marketing software, email tools, reporting, ecommerce… it’s about taking the best of these systems and bringing them together in one place.”

Where is the LMS heading?

The LMS market is evolving all the time, and now more than ever before, it’s critical that organisations have all the information they need to make the right choice the next time it comes to selecting an LMS. So where is the LMS heading, and how do we ensure we’re equipped to deal with the future changes both in the market and in the wider business world?

“I sold learning management systems for 13 years, from high-end, enterprise, on-premise solutions to more cost-effective cloud options,” said John. “I kept hearing about all these different systems, and wondered how the world could support all the different learning management systems out there. Then four years ago, I founded Talented Learning to give customers an independent insight into what’s available. I’ve now reviewed over 130 systems, and I’ve noticed some trends emerging.”

“Today’s LMS marketplace has hundreds of vendors, and I’m seeing more and more specialist systems designed to solve specific problems. These new systems are not Swiss army knives - they’re strategic tools aimed at specific types of customer with specific problems. The biggest trend I’ve seen is LMS vendors aimed at particular sectors and markets, where they develop industry expertise and can apply learning very strategically. As well as this, you have SaaS platforms heading in a different direction - these are low-cost, simple solutions which solve a few problems well and cheaply, and these solutions can be built out over time. There’s a definite shift away from on-premise solutions now, and towards systems with a common core which can be extended and joined up with other systems - that’s why you guys are dangerous!”

“I don’t know who is going to win the battle of the LMS market, but on-premise is going to lose”

Tips for LMS customers

As someone with so much experience in the learning technologies industry, and specifically the LMS market, we wanted to hear John’s tips for anyone looking for a new LMS.

“The common trend in the LMS market has been that historically, just about every buyer has hated their vendor, mostly because they experience poor customer service. The new wave of cloud-based LMS vendors with ongoing subscription fees and not upfront payments means that these vendors are very incentivised to keep customers happy. However, because these platforms require very few professional services to set up, organisations tend not to hire professionals to help manage the LMS, and lack the in-house expertise to do the platform justice.”

John also believes that Totara’s partner network works well when it comes to giving organisations the expertise they need without the expense of a large proprietary LMS. The fact that there are already 88 partners around the world for Totara provides a core set of services missing in a lot of the new cloud-based vendors. These wraparound services, such as content, setup, project management and learning design, can prove very valuable for customers worldwide.”

“What I’m often struck by is that first-time LMS buyers just don’t know exactly what level of help they need. Many businesses try to do all the heavy lifting themselves, not realising they need help. I help organisations define their requirements and buy learning platforms. If they don’t find someone like me who offers these services, they can spend a lot of time going down the wrong path. But there’s also a misconception that you can’t believe a vendor - that everything they say will be biased. However, the commentary coming out of this industry is really educational, so my advice is to keep up with the key blogs from independents and key vendors, such as Totara. 10 minutes of blog reading a day, 6 days a week, gives you 52 hours of education a year! We probably spend more time than that on Facebook, so instead get 52 hours smarter for just 10 minutes a day.”

What do you think of John Leh’s insight into the LMS market? We’d love to hear your thoughts on social media using #DisruptionDebate. You can follow John on Twitter at @JohnLeh.

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