Take This LMS and Shove It

If we consider the title of this piece as a title to a Country and Western song, I wonder what lyrics might fit best. Quite possibly many Learning Management System (LMS) owners could easily sing a whining lament on betrayal, heartache, left standing at the altar, or living hard times at the hands of their technology investment. Regardless of the lyrics we choose to sing, the LMS plays a starring role in a love-hate relationship with technology worthy of song, ten-gallon hats, boots, and a little slide guitar. Similar to C&W music, boots, hat, and guitar are not always enough – neither is the LMS if strategic learning objectives include creating and sustaining a dynamic learning ecosystem.

Wow…now there is some new jargon to chew on – dynamic learning ecosystem. What in the world does that mean? Should you care? I think yes, you should care very much. Consider the following context about why we should not only care; we should do something about it as quickly as we can.

Do not get me wrong; I am not ragging on the poor LMS as much as you may think. I have survived five LMS implementations – from homegrown to stand-alone to modular components in HCM suites. In every circumstance, the LMS was essential to the business I was in, and I suspect they always will. My disappointment consistently surfaces when the LMS serves as the only source for learning assets. If we lived in a world where all learning were formal – either trained in the classroom or taken as e-learning courses online – then I could sing “love it, not shove it.” Unfortunately, that world no longer exists; or it is rapidly evaporating before our eyes. I say this because the world we live and learn in is rapidly moving away from formal learning to informal. In short, the need to learn and actual workflows are converging.

Permit me to re-use a graphic from an earlier post titled: “Work Context: The New Classroom” that illustrates findings shared by Josh Bersin of Bersin & Associates, a respected research firm, from a July 2009 webinar, the Future of the Business of Learning. (See Figure 1.0)

Learning Opportunity Imbalance
Figure 1.0

The core competency of the LMS is to manage the minutia related to formal learning [training] – registration, launching e-learning, and tracking completions. Using the diagram above, we can easily see our technology investment supports the 5% slice of the learning environment pie. The remaining 95% of the pie is the primary reason I say shove it [the LMS]. Shove it to the side a bit, not toss it. The LMS, or at least the functionality of the LMS as we know it, is essential and will continue to be so as long as there are compliance and certification requirements to validate.

Josh also made the statement that we are spending upwards of 80% of our training resources on the 5% slice of the pie. The LMS is, for the most part, very effective in that domain. The argument I make in most of my rants is that we need to have a learning environment that is inclusive of the remaining 95%. This requires a holistic approach of the sub elements of learning assets that fall outside of the core 5% considered formal. There we find informal learning – just-in-time components of performer support, and we find opportunities for social learning to blossom, knowledge sharing, mentoring, coaching, self-directed…and the list goes on. These components are…or at a minimum…need to align with the nature of the work performed – in the work context. This is where convergence is taking place. These components require a new [or expanded] approach, integration of human resources, interaction, collaboration, and technology to make it possible to do all of the above. That aggregate environment is what I am referring to when I tag it with some new jargon – learning ecosystem.

Virtually none of the component parts are a one-size-fits all solution; hence I front end the ecosystem with another powerful word – dynamic.

Sorry folks! The LMS does not play well in that game. As we dissect the 95% slice, we find the velocity and volume of business increasing. We see a coincident increase in the need to learn effectively converging with our actual work – in the work context. This reality often forces us to confront a paradoxical trade-off – “Do we continue working with incomplete knowledge, or can we afford to stop working and go off-task long enough to go to training?” Even if we do, learning retention has proven to be a limiting factor in how sticky new skill and knowledge can be. The real question any institution must face is simple – “Is lost productivity worth the business risk associated with failure to perform effectively?” In a hospital, with patient care at risk, we cannot sacrifice either one – effective performance or the need to learn. We have no choice but to converge learning with work. The alternative only drives up the cost of patient care with additional FTE to cover for those away from the bedside while they attend training.

The ultimate solution to this paradox is introducing technology that facilitates the ability to learn while remaining in the work context. Electronic Performer Support Systems (EPSS) represent a key underlying technology that completes the loop in building a dynamic learning ecosystem. EPSS technology enables immediate access to informal [just-in-time or just enough] learning assets by knowledge workers while they are in their respective workflows. Implementing EPSS technology represents a paradigm shift that is often introduced first with systems-based training (I.E. SAP, Oracle/PeopleSoft, and the list easily scales as new systems are introduced).

The kind of learning assets EPSS platforms make available range from simple context-sensitive, “step-by-step” instructions [job aids] that readily support the “just-in-time” concept, to more complex detailed learning assets that can include targeted downloadable/printable content, access to simulations, or links to an array of content formats and media for untethered mobile devices from virtually unlimited, remote repositories. The better EPSS platforms can also link to social media venues like chat to link learners to subject matter experts or communities of practice for more passive support. In the event formal learning is required, the EPSS can peacefully co-exist with that same LMS we shoved over to make room – each handling its own core competency.

Our vision can now expand to embrace a truly holistic learning environment – a dynamic learning ecosystem – where seamless, frictionless, and ubiquitous access to the right learning is accessible by the right learner – at their moment(s) of learning need – in a work context friendly amount – in a readily consumable format – to/from the right device(s) – with ground zero identified as the learner in their work context.

Sure, that last statement is a mouthful, but the day I can pull that off, I have reached my Nirvana.

While EPSS is an obvious fit for supporting learning of complex on-line applications, “systems” are not limited to those based on hardware/software technology. I envision a robust EPSS implementation serving as a portal of sorts, easily incorporating “human systems” that include work and learning processes that are sans technology interfaces. Imagine new hire employees logging into the EPSS and seeing a graphic representation of their first 90 days of activity. A visual map illustrates tasks they must complete [with support built in] – a list of downloadable assets – activities linked to the LMS [with support built in] – feedback loops to supervisors – HR benefits selection [with support built in] – think about all the new learning they must face – the list of what can be supported is endless.

Implementation of EPSS technology places the organization in a position to:
• Reduce classroom training time significantly
• Improve productivity by eliminating the need to search for answers external from the workflow
• Improve accuracy and currency of learning content via a single point of update
• Promote broader re-use of content through format agnostic linking ability to different end-user devices, including mobile smart phones/pads
• Support moments of learning need invoked by the learner

This list is by no means inclusive of the new learning paradigm EPSS technology unlocks. I am in hot pursuit of this technology now, and after thirty years in this business, I finally feel excitement over a technology platform. There is much more to learn, and I am chomping at the bit to dig deeper. This technology has validated and enabled a way to translate some different thinking into a new learning reality. It is essential to break the traditional paradigm of learning – and it is high time to get out of the 5% mentality where so many of us are held hostage by a limiting technology. I could almost sing about EPSS, but I have neither hat nor boots and never could play the guitar…and we are all better off for that.

Gary Wise
Learning & Performance Solutions Strategist
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Twitter: Gdogwise