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