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Why the LMS market needs to change - but not how you think

While many are ready to write off the LMS, there are good reasons to think that learning management platforms are evolving to meet new requirements in an accelerating technological climate.

There are plenty of plaintive cries across the learning technology sector, trying to sell you variations on these themes:

The LMS is dead.

Kill the LMS.

The LMS is a dinosaur nearing extinction.

X reasons why the LMS fails the modern learner.

What’s next for the LMS?

Next gen LMS to dominate market in X years

LMS? You’re fired!

All of this is true. Or false. It all depends on your perspective, your timeline and the stats you use to backup your argument.

If we step back a little, we can see what’s really going on - and that’s a far better vantage point than the usual shrill ‘look at me - we’re the next best thing’ noise of the fast-moving, yet highly fragmented, learning technology marketplace.

I think most people would agree with the following statements:

  • Supporting learning and influencing behaviour across an organisation is complex and difficult.
  • An organisation needs to consider a balance of both directed learning to ensure common practice prevails across the workforce, and informal collaboration to reveal best practice and turn it into common practice.
  • Learning and development is most effective when it is personalised, considers the context of the audience and can be deliberately practised in a realistic setting.
  • Technology offers lots of potential, but too often fails to deliver due to [a] weak usability and design, [b] poorly managed implementation and [c] scant attention paid to sustaining engagement with your target audience (which doesn’t have to be long assuming you get [a] right).
  • Technology - especially software - eats itself. New tends to replace old, irrespective of actual productive gain. First-mover advantage is not necessarily a universal truth.
  • The future is always already here, somewhere - just never evenly distributed (paraphrasing the writer William Gibson).

Let’s explore each of these in a little more detail.

Effective learning transfer and behaviour change is complex and difficult

Many learning and development efforts, together with their associated technology investment - most visibly the LMS - fail to have lasting impact because they underestimate and oversimplify the guidance and support people need to break from existing learned behaviours and sustainably adopt new ones. Launching and tracking e-learning modules, or implementing an online classroom booking system may improve process/delivery but too often has little impact on actual outcomes. Technology often shines a bright light onto existing culture and work practices - the effect of its efficiency is to polarise and accelerate that culture, good or bad. So it’s important to establish that your organisational foundations are strong and appropriately aligned.

Ensuring common practice, surfacing and sharing best practice

A more holistic approach blends together directed formal learning opportunities with informal active learning activities that shift the emphasis away from ‘preparing, just in case’ to ‘supporting, just in time’. It is true that our personal interaction with technology, now primarily through our smartphones, has outpaced the experience we have in the workplace. Expectations are for immediate answers to questions and there is a lower tolerance for guidance from ‘experts’ and increasing rejection of mandated attendance of traditionally structured ‘training’ that attempts to force-feed knowledge and skills into a highly resistant audience. They physically turn up but you can be guaranteed that their minds are elsewhere (most likely focused on the more immediately interactive experience offered by the phone in their pocket).

New trends in microlearning, video-first learning, social collaborative platforms and workflow tools are all helpful developments, but are not panaceas in their own right. The underlying learning platform needs to flexibly integrate all these elements to present a coherent method of recording and reporting on progress both for the individual and the organisation. There needs to be formal recognition of roles, competences and skills so that an organisation can knowledgeably and actively manage its people capabilities to inform recruitment and project resourcing.

This is not to say everything is top-down and centrally controlled. On the contrary, there need to be mechanisms to facilitate self-organisation and to surface talent and solutions that can be deployed positively across the wider organisation. A good open learning platform offers both strong formal reporting with robust collaborative workflow. 

Personalised learning experiences that focus on deliberate practice are more effective

The era of one-size-fits-all training is coming to an end. We finally recognise people as individuals and the technology available now supports this more readily. Indeed, it’s been around for a good while, it’s just not been adopted as broadly until now. Good learning design practice includes considering adaptive paths that take into account the prior knowledge and context of each learner so that they can optimise their journey towards actively practising new skills and knowledge. The barrier has typically been a (misplaced) time pressure for the rapid deployment of a learning solution and an available pool of suitably skilled design resources. Totara Learn, the open learning management platform, has had dynamic audience functionality for some time. This can be used to streamline the design and deployment of these types of learning experiences, allowing the LMS to more efficiently guide individuals to the learning they need, not just to a standardised catalogue.

Technology is only part of the answer

To draw the full benefits of the technology and tools available there needs to be a universal ‘levelling up’ of L&D professionals. Without a solid understanding of how to build and deploy an effective blended learning experience, a mastery of the numerous media formats (interactive or otherwise), the communication skills and internal stature to engage an often reluctant audience, there is much reduced chance of sustained success of any learning technology implementation.

Acquiring and practising these skills is challenging. Finding an appropriate community and quality resources from which to draw support is not easy. Convincing internal management to try new approaches is, for many, a big barrier.

And yet, for many, their existing LMS often has functionality that can be better utilised. It just takes an investment of time and a supportive community surrounding the learning platform. The Totara community brings together a collaborative and open group of partners, customers and learning experts to accelerate the adoption of new skills and to help build the necessary evidence and confidence to persuade internal leadership to sponsor a new approach.

The future is upon us faster than ever before

While the future is always unevenly distributed, the pace and breadth of adoption of new technology is indeed accelerating. Just take a look at these adoption curves over the past century:

 

The learning technology sector has seen many waves of adoption and abandonment. The LMS market has matured; however the ability to draw value from those platforms is arguably still in its infancy. So while there is likely to be an increase in LMS replacement to remove legacy, poorly designed solutions, there will be a growing understanding of how to truly reap the benefits that a well designed, highly flexible and open platform can offer.

Moving forward

Is the LMS dead? No.

Does the LMS need to change? Yes.

Do those procuring LMS platforms need to favour open, flexible technology? Yes.

Do L&D teams need to step up and acquire new skills to reap the benefits on offer? Absolutely.

Learning technology has huge potential to transform workplace learning for the better. The only strategically sustainable model is one that is underpinned by collaboration, openness and a willingness to share. The process has only just begun, and it’s a process that all of us at Totara are excited to help lead. So drop the shackles of the past and join us!

Our invitation, just like the future, is open.

This post is also available on LinkedIn - why not leave Lars a comment if you have something to say about this post?

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