Learning industry leaders are all aflutter about the learning management system (LMS). Again. Chief Learning Officer, for example, posted a series of articles this year, alternately asserting that the time for LMS has come and gone; that LMSs are alive and well; and that “The LMS Isn’t Dead…Yet.” What’s all the fuss about? And who’s right?
It’s an inevitable debate, as corporate learning technologies evolve to meet marketplace demands. It’s also a conversation driven by perspective. Disparate perceptions about, utilization of, and integrations with the LMS are shaping the debate. Who’s right? It all comes down to a classic car, spreadsheets, and smartphones.
Perceptions: A Corvette and the First LMS
In his CLO opinion piece (linked above), Mike Rustici referred to the LMS as “the granddaddy of learning technology systems.” The LMS was “born” in the early 1990s. Corporate training professionals wanted to create a university-like environment in the workplace.
The LMS enabled employees to find, enroll in, and document completion of approved training. As e-Learning emerged, the LMS stepped up to deliver standards-compliant online training as an alternative, or supplement, to classroom training. At the time, the LMS was a disruptive technology.
So, too, was the first Corvette. Originally developed as a show car, there was enough interest in the 1953 New York Auto Show model that General Motors produced a version for the public later that year.
After a slow start, the sporty convertible grew into one of the most popular sports cars in America. It has been updated continuously to enhance performance, comply with regulations, and wow its customers. Now in its seventh generation, the Corvette is still going strong.
Like the Corvette, LMSs of the 1990s have come a long way, with upgrades and enhancements over the years to keep up with the times. LMSs routinely track e-Learning, instructor-led courses, and on-the-job training, for example. Most deliver structured live and asynchronous e-Learning and videos, as well as some user-created or user-curated content. Some are edging toward virtual reality and augmented reality content.
At their core, though, LMSs still do three things: 1) manage enrollment and deliver learning experiences, 2) manage instructor-led training and classroom resources, 3) track learner activity.
If you’re entering the LMS debate with an outdated perception of what today’s LMS can do, you owe it to yourself (and your organization) to test drive the newer models.
Utilization: It’s All in How You Use It (Excel and LMS)
Finance professionals are well-versed in using spreadsheet programs such as Microsoft Excel to calculate figures, link worksheets, and create pivot tables to track, analyze and report on financial data. Because of its grid-like workspace, many non-financial professionals also use Excel.
Marketers rely on spreadsheets to manage contact data as lists are created, imported, and exported across sales and marketing applications. With easy-to-use chart creation tools, professionals across disciplines use spreadsheets to transform data into charts that quickly convey their points.
Like spreadsheets, LMSs are used by a wide range of professionals to achieve a wide variety of objectives. For learning professionals, whose day-to-day work life is immersed in learning, LMS is the “go to” system for tracking and managing corporate learning. This group uses the most LMS features at the highest level. They manage content catalogs, learning metrics, and reporting. They may also enable social features, such as course ratings and recommendations, or enhance access with virtual meetings or classes in the cloud.
Others who sporadically add new content or those simply consuming training will only tap a small subset of LMS features. The LMS works well for all, meeting the varied needs of each user group.
Both spreadsheets and the LMS are powerful and versatile tools. If you are only using a fraction of the functionality available in today’s LMSs, take a moment to find out what else is in there. You may discover that your LMS can already do more of what you’re looking for next.
Integration: iPhones and LMSs
As a stand-alone platform, the LMS remains a robust tool to administer, manage, and report on corporate training – as it has for 20-plus years. What’s changed are the learning requirements and technologies surrounding the LMS, as organizations adapt to the realities of a multi-generational workforce and future workplace.
Mobile learning. Microlearning. Social learning. Blended learning. Personalized content. Personalized learning plans. These developments – and many more – are driving the evolution of learning technology. LMSs now support mobile learning, unstructured learning, and advanced analytics.
Complementary technologies, such as learning experience platforms, are emerging to deliver TV-like interfaces with “channels” or “pathways” that group content by categories such as “Continue Learning,” “Recommended for You,” and “What Your Peers are Learning.” The preponderance of features and technologies have blurred the lines, as newer platforms do some of what the LMS has always done.
Mobile phones experienced a similar identity crisis. Remember when a mobile phone was just a mobile phone? You used it to call people. But you used a cameras to take photos. You used a music player to listen to songs.
Then wi-fi and convergence arrived. Smartphones like the Apple iPhone emerged and evolved into the all-in-one handheld phone, camera, music player, email client, document storage, social media, exercise-tracking, bill-paying, news, and entertainment devices of today. Still, the best smartphones reliably connect you, voice-to-voice, to others across the globe.
Ultimately, smartphones and LMSs are evolving yet remaining true to their core. Both support user access to new content created by others. Both are excellent integrators, serving to enhance the user/learner experience to meet the demands of the day with new technology.
So…is the LMS dying or is it here to stay? After updating old perceptions, exploring untapped functionality, and celebrating integration with other learning technologies, we believe the LMS still has a long life ahead. Do you agree? Let us know!