LMS Envy: The Love-Hate Relationship with Technology

In a recent dialog on the CLO-Network, we discussed why so many LMS owners were not happy with their systems – that there seemed to be a “disconnect” between what they envisioned they would own after GoLive and what they actually wound up owning. Why is there such a love-hate relationship with LMS (and other) technology? Why does it seem that someone else always has the better system? Truth is, “better” is a relative term.

The answer to that question would make a good book, because the “disconnects” can happen for so many reasons. I’m in my fifth LMS implementation currently and am convinced of only one thing – LMS technology does exactly what LMS technology was designed to do. From early LMS systems like Registrar (vintage 1991) to today’s “Talent Mgmt” suites that have LMS modular components, they all work exactly as designed. The disconnect is often caused by organizations responding to the lure of bright, shiny technology solutions…not to mention plentiful encouragement by really really good sales pitches from the vendors…and they (the vendors) are all guilty of delivering the slickest of slick presentations. But hey…they have to eat too.

In the last five (or so) short years the learning landscape has begun to build critical mass in a shift toward informal learning. The role of the LMS is becoming less and less central when you consider the increasing roles innovative informal and collaborative learning venues are playing within the organization. Then we have the role of the LMS. The poor little guy has morphed from a registrar function to a registrar function on steroids – and that still would be too little too late. True, LMSs do many new things and not all of them behave the same way, but at their core, LMSs schedule, launch and track formal learning. And that’s okay, but emphasis is rapidly shifting from “training” and tracking it (the core competency of the LMS) to getting the right learning assets to the right learner at the right time in the right amount in the right format and to/from the right device. The LMS plays only a small part in that deliverable.

Frankly, the LMS community has been slow to respond. My question is…should the LMS be the focal point of handling this learning shift? Methinks the solution is a learning portal that interfaces with numerous learning platforms…not the least of which would be our friend the LMS. Add in SharePoint, Blackboard, Streaming Media Repositories, etc.

Elliott Masie of the Masie Consortium made a comment that confirms this direction at his LMS/LCMS Conference in early 2008. He predicted that the face of the LMS is changing in the sense that it will soon sport APIs to interface with best-of-breed applications that do things the LMS cannot…and never was intended to do…at least not as a core competency. Learning content management systems (LCMS) are becoming more LMS-like…and newer LMSs are hustling to provide greater access to informal learning. Not sure that’s going to be enough.

What does this mean? What about Web & Learning 2.0…wikis, blogs, collaboration, etc. How does one avoid being the proud owner of the “wrong” LMS? I question just how capable will the LMS be unless it becomes more portal-like and seamlessly provides access to non-traditional informal learning assets and interactive social venues. I honestly would not want to be in the position of purchasing a LMS at this point in its life cycle. What can an organization do given this pivotal moment in the life of a technology so long in the tooth?

It means the organization has to assess their learning environment from a “holistic” point of view – not just focusing on their technology needs…not yet. My recommendation is to resist the bright, shiny object syndrome and take the time to assess the organization’s “readiness” in order to identify the gaps in their learning environment from cultural commitment – to their unique continuous learning needs – to the diversity of learner work context – to how are you going to measure impact. Never fear that this holistic environment will most likely include a LMS; though, it may not be the cornerstone it once represented. In reality, the technology (LMS included) has to come last in this design effort. The biggest mistake many organizations make is pursuing the purchase of a LMS when they are merely “ready” to do so. “Ready” as in funded, executive buy-in, and a willing IS organization, etc.

Unfortunately, “ready” and “readiness” are two very different things. If a holistic learning strategy and roadmap are not in place that embrace the continuous nature of learning, a potentially “bad” vendor selection could easily happen despite best intentions. Honestly, this is not grounds to blame the vendors. It’s our own fault for taking a myopic scan of LMS choices without realizing how the formal aspects of learning (training) are linked to a continuum that drives the six “right” things I mentioned earlier – most of which are informal in nature and consumed downstream from the classroom…out of reach of the LMS.

So…is this exclusively about the LMS? Not likely. This “holistic” approach I described is valid regardless of the technology platform(s) considered. The focal point is the learner – more importantly, it is the learner in their work context for it is within the work context where the lion’s share of learning is (or soon will be) taking place. So whether it is an LMS or a social Media solution, the learner and their work context need to be key drivers for making functional technology design decisions and platform choices lest we try to customize our way into a blissful relationship with our technology.

Gary G. Wise
Workforce Performance Advocate, Coach, Speaker
(317) 437-2555
Web: Living In Learning