Boxed In By LearningTechnology

Boxed in By Technology?

Have you ever noticed how entrenched technology…and even some methodology…are accepted as the rule or the standard and innovation around those rules and standards get kind of…locked down? Even so, being in the “locked box” of technology, some innovation does indeed take place, but often it never exceeds the limitations of the box in which it’s locked down. The LMS comes to mind as one such technology, and learning design surfaces as one such methodology.

In 2010 I fired off a blog post “Take This LMS And Shove It!”…and here we are seven years later still thumping around inside the same box. BUT…as I said back in 2010, I will repeat today.

“Cut the LMS some slack. It’s doing exactly what it was designed to do.”

The technology, even with lingering limitations of what it can/can’t do, the LMS still has a role to play, but not necessarily positioned at the center of the learning ecosystem universe; not necessarily as the primary point of interface to the world of learning. “Shove it” into the secondary role it was…and is designed to do well…and climb out of the box to consider a more holistic learning experience. Obviously I’m referencing what is likely to be the next technology rage…Learning Experience Systems.

Great news! And it’s about time!


Arrival of the LES on the scene is at best only a “YES AND…” in my mind. LES, in and of itself, is not a singular answer to stepping out of the box. Yes, the learning experience facilitated will be more holistic…more non-linear…and more mobile…and adaptive (to an extent)…and personalized…with content blended beyond recognition…media-rich…micro-ed…and I’d wager one might score a freaking merit badge or two as well. BUT…wait a second…are we not still inside the learning box?

My point is…the focus is still primarily on learning, and while that’s critical to business survivability, methinks the bigger endgame is driving business results. Don’t get me wrong here…the LES concept is exactly where we need to go with respect to learning, but we cannot let learning tradition morph the experience approach into another hammer with every performance gap being a nail.

Maybe I’m the one boxed in by technology. Maybe boxed out…Maybe it’s my bias that makes me nuts over the alternatives we consider as innovation. LES can only be part of the answer to “something bigger”…something we are still not putting in the crosshairs…something outside the “box”Sustained Workforce Capability – AND more importantly WHERE outside the box that target manifests – Point-of-Work. C’mon, you knew I had to be going here…

We are NOT looking at a single technology answer.

We DO need “something” to bridge the gap …the chasm…between Point-of-Work and the Capability of the workforce to pull off their work…consistently…effectively…efficiently at the Moment of Need. Truly, it IS that simple to describe. but the simplicity exceeds any one technology or existing methodology to rein it in.

For argument sake, let’s say I’m right. If Point-of-Work is indeed our ground zero…and Moments of Need represent diverse obstacles unique to end-users that impede the performance results we want the workforce to sustain…and what do we need to facilitate for that to happen? Of course…7 Right Things.

Are those seven right things enabled by the LES?

Not likely. Too many are outside the box. Remember the YES AND…?

Again, this is not a one-technology-solution; hence, we cannot view the LES as “the” solution. A couple years ago I would have said the technology should be a performance support system (EPSS). I can even recall saying I’d rather have an EPSS than a LMS. Am still leaning in that direction today. Blame it on my performance bias. Seriously, there is even one EPSS vendor touting the ability to train people using their platform WHILE using the actual business system. Learn while working. Talk about convergence! And there are other vendors who specialize in other ways that better suit the uniquenesses of other ecosystems. Again, not a one-technology-solution out there.

In a past life, I even bundled an EPSS with a MOOC engine to engineer a call center performance solution. It worked. It was unique at the time, and both of those tech toys still are viable components in some situations today. To be bluntly honest, the LES concept looks a lot like lipstick on a MOOC engine anyway…at least like the one I used in another life. No disrespect…it’s just not enough!

So what are we to do?

I certainly can’t recommend a technology solution in a blog post, nor should anyone take any writing seriously if the author says they can. Every Learning & Performance Ecosystem is unique…and when you break ANY ecosystem down you discover multiple micro-systems…unique micro-systems…within; as such, there are really really good chances you’re looking at a multiple technology solution at a minimum. And if not careful, micro-system owners can go rogue and buy solutions to satisfy their unique business requirements and suddenly the enterprise has multiple boxes that don’t communicate…don’t do this…don’t do that…don’t talk with one another…and we’re back in the box…with more boxes. I have that t-shirt too…

Measuring Impact in the Box?

Which brings me to another issue…how do we determine of “the solution” selected is impacting the business as we intended? It gets really muddy really quickly when multiple technologies represent multiple opportunities to measure utilization. How are you going to isolate and measure learning effectiveness…much less business impact now?

Hot damn…another piece of technology! And even a methodology to boot. Now you’re forced to birddog analytics…now you need a Learning Record Store (LRS) so every gizmo pumping out utilization data can be interfaced using xAPI. Throw in every “Learning Experience” tracked by the LES…implications of impact by every one of the “Right Things” consumed or applied or enabled at the Point-of-Work…plus every indicator of workforce productivity unit or performance metric out of every enterprise business app that pumps out user data. So…what are we really measuring? Level 3? Level 4? Am I trying to measure learning impact from inside the learning box?

Get out of the box. Consider something radical I wrote about over six years ago…like measuring Evidence of Sustained Capability [EOSC]. Is that level 6? Level 7? Level X? What we have here is an opportunity to take the power of today’s analytics, LRSs, and xAPI to bridge that same gap…chasm… between Point-of-Work and the Capability of the workforce to pull it off.

Why try measuring the effectiveness of learning when there are too many moving parts to consider in what actually facilitated the effectiveness in the first place. Remember the 7 Right Things? Which one was the secret sauce? Was it the LES? The EPSS? Maybe it was the fact that mobility addressed urgency of need. Maybe it was the micro-content approach. Maybe the 15-second video clips stashed on YouTube. Maybe…oh yeah…maybe it was learner engagement because of the stinking merit badges. Maybe a combination. Maybe…we should stop trying to herd cats and get above the pieces and parts contributing to the solution and start looking for proof as “the thing” we are really after – EVIDENCE of Sustained Workforce Capability.

What’s unique in this approach is that EOSC measurement is not a snapshot in time like a level 3, 4 or 5. EOSC is real time and dynamic just like the business. EOSC is, in effect, a Performance Barometer residing on a dashboard. It’s outside the box…outside the learning box. A snap shot measurement is in the rear view mirror almost the instant it’s acquired. If business performance is dynamic, it seems to make sense real-time is the way to go, especially if we want “predictive” projections to be outside the box with us.

Gary G. Wise
Performance Strategist
(317) 437-2555

  1. Peter Davis
    August 15, 2017 at 6:02 pm

    Hi Gary – as usual I love your insights, thoughts and passion for all things performance! I’ve been on the same path for over 30 years now and find the wisdom of Gloria Gery et al more relevant than ever. I agree there is no one solution or answer to resolve the issue of sustained workforce capability – I sometimes question what we mean by capability to be honest. I might be capable but am I performing up to and beyond required performance standards? Sometimes I don’t have the means at my disposal to perform even though I’m absolutely capable.

    I’ve been working with a company called Fuse Universal out of London now for a few years. I’m their country manager here in Australia. Yes it’s a learning experience system and not the answer to everything but the thinking behind it is first class and applied to the areas you’re addressing – measurable workplace performance. Fuse calls itself a LES probably more so because that is a label the market understands – but it actually does a lot more than learning. It is a performance support system providing access to content anywhere, anytime, any device. It is a knowledge capture system that enables SMEs in your business to quickly and easily capture what they do best (we call it “bottling greatness”) and share with colleagues in real time. It also provides structured learning, corporate communications, mobile and social learning. But above and beyond all the features and functions of Fuse is that it’s entire purpose is to measure impact on business performance. From the moment we engage with a customer, we are focused on business goals and KPIs and design is then applied to enable people to meet those KPIs via access to learning and content, sharing best practice etc. We provide workshops about new L&D roles and skills required to support and sustain the learning experience system.

    Vodafone in the UK have linked activity on Fuse to improved business outcomes – not just as a one off, but sustained improvement and better still, improvement they have replicated across their national stores because they know what is driving it through Fuse. Here’s a short case study video. Other retail customers are enjoying the same benefits and results.

    I didn’t want this to sound like a product pitch but in my 30+ years in L&D, as a champion of performance support, I haven’t seen a better solution.

    Keep the fire burning!!


    • August 15, 2017 at 6:39 pm

      Hey Peter! It’s been a while. Nice to hear from you. Agree about capability by itself…that’s why I front end it with “sustained”. I’m being inclusive in that capability is not just the performer, it’s everything coming together to enable the work. May check out the LES as there will likely be one in the future, so thanks for the heads up. Have heard of it but not investigated so far. Take good care!

  2. Peter Davis
    August 16, 2017 at 3:27 am

    Thanks for clarifying Gary. It’s interesting that more L&D people are being called Capability Managers etc when as you say (and I agree) there are more pieces to the enabling puzzle than L&D. The title speaks to a much broader role as orchestrator or director of a focused and multi-disciplined approach to support sustained performance? I think to make that a reality L&D has a challenge to “unlabel” themselves from pure learning. Imagine IT, HR and business looking to (L&D) “Capability Managers” to solve real performance issues and enable sustained performance at work? Performance consultants are probably closer to that role than most L&D functions. But as organisations are starting to realise that people are the still largely untouched source of competitive edge and business performance (more than technology, process reengineering etc), perhaps L&Ds time in the sun is closer than we think – or whatever it will be called. Just thinking out loud …

    • August 16, 2017 at 7:00 am

      …challenge to “unlabel” themselves from pure learning. BINGO! You nailed it Peter! Adding the “performance consulting skill set” is exactly what is missing. L&D is the perfect place for that to happen, especially if solutions will be created that are holistic and cover both learning and performance support. With a LES being flexible enough to address all five moments of need the only thing left to add is an “intentional design” methodology to create solution assets (inclusive of training) that are intended to close the performance gaps the PC role has identified. The challenge goes deeper though than just adding the PC skills to L&D, and I’m seeing it now. the rest of L&D needs to be on the same page…and that’s as much of a cultural shift as it is functional. This is truly an organizational change management initiative of the highest order and needs to take place first inside the halls of L&D.

  3. Peter Davis
    August 16, 2017 at 6:03 pm

    The word transformation has been overused and abused I know but that is what L&D needs to do and the hope is there are enlightened L&D leaders out there who take the initiative and do it themselves before the business or a consulting firm or even worse HR does it to them. It’s not an easy prospect as a L&D leader to go to your C-suite and say “I’d like to completely reorganise and realign my department because I know we can do this so much better – trust me!” But I believe that’s the type of conversation needed. Charles Jennings is a proven advocate of this from his Reuters days as CLO. Small proof pilots are a good way to start as well.

    On a related note, I had an L&D client bring her CEO along to a learning conference in Sydney last year. He wanted to understand the world of learning better which I thought was a fantastic attitude for a CEO. One of his comments at the end of the conference has stuck with me. There were many speakers who mentioned the need for L&D to approach C-suite leaders and the perils of doing so. The client CEO said to me “Why are these people all so afraid of speaking to us? We’re just people too who want to hear from anyone who can help us improve our business”.


    And you’re right in saying the whole of L&D needs to get on board. Some of the skill sets needed include learning experience designer/architect, storytelling/videographer, community engagement and definitely data analytics. Here’s an article from our CEO, Steve DIneen on these:

    I can also say with confidence that Fuse can and does address all five moments of need extremely well. It’s been built on 702010 principles so we understand the different support needs from new learners to problem solvers. Charles Jennings was heavily involved in the early stages of the platform design and development and it’s grown enormously since then based on experience and feedback from over 100 clients now including IHG, Spotify, Adidas, Vodafone, Dixons, Samsung, Panasonic etc. Check it out at:


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