Friday ReFlects #2 – LMS Edition


Happy Friday!

In my last post, I noted how there was a conversation occurring in the learning blogosphere regarding the ongoing future of learning management systems.  Well, it turns out that conversation grew into quite the healthy – and timely – dialogue.  As it happens we just kicked off our process for creating the next version of our LMS industry study.  So in honor of LMS 2011, we will have an LMS-theme this week.  I've provided you with some play-by-play below.  Enjoy.

The links below are not all of the conversations, but they are representative.  You should be able to branch out from here.
First, the links, then my 2 cents.  Be sure to check out the comments for each post as well, or you will miss much of the best têteà-tête.

ReFlect #1:  Harold Jarche: LMS is no longer the centre of the universe
Harold argument is simple and profound.  In today’s world, learning and work are one and the same.  So, as he puts it, “why is organizational learning controlled by a learning management systems (LMS) that isn’t connected to the work being done in the enterprise?”
His solution, along with Jane Hart and Jay Cross, is to call for a Learning Reformation.

Speaking of Jane Hart…

ReFlect #2Jane Hart: What is the future of the LMS?
Jane notes that tracking and reporting for leaning is a primary purchase driver for LMSs, but questions if these systems – as delivered – are overkill given the relative need and importance of formal, tracked learning.  Other, purpose built tracking technologies, such as Google Analytics could be more targeted and cost effective.  As for learning, here’s Jane:

when we talk about "learning" we need to think much wider than formal learning, that individuals and groups "learn" in many different ways, and that in many cases they are already using (public) social and collaboration tools to build their own personal and group spaces to support their own "learning" and working.”

She quotes Dan Pontefract regarding the need for learning departments to start with a collaboration system first. 

We will hear from Dan in a bit.  But first…

ReFlect #3Clark Quinn: A case for the LMS?
Clark notes the utility of LMSs for connecting learners to formal learning and then tracking completion.  However, like Jane – he concludes that, in world where the actual need for that kind of learning is properly understood, such relative importance for such functionality is minimized.  He also agrees that a collaboration platform is a more important infrastructure investment for learning.

Which brings us to Dave Wilkins…

ReFlect #4: Dave Wilkins: A Defense of the LMS (and a case for the future of Social Learning)

So, be prepared before you click-through. Dave’s post is, in a word, prodigious.  Not sure where he gets the time, honestly.  🙂
As counterpoint, Dave begins by summarizing the various arguments for lms obsolesce, attempting to refute them not by arguing against the relative decrease in importance given to formal learning in organizations – but instead by arguing that the critics need to allow for a wider view of the lms.
Dave makes his case for the LMS in 4 parts, paraphrased:

  1. Formal learning is core to many business processes and the system that manages it is a core business application.
  2. Today’s LMSs do a lot more than formal learning.
  3. Today’s LMSs match what learning departments are good at and ready to do, but they are ready to evolve when L&D is.
  4. Don’t forget integrated talent management.

Dave ends with his vision for the holistic people work/learning environment.
And, finally, Dan Pontefract respectfully disagrees…

ReFlect #5: Dan Pontefract: Standalone LMS is Still Dead (rebutting & agreeing w/ Dave Wilkins)
First, as long as we are moving somewhat chronologically here, Dan should get some credit for his eulogy for the LMS last year.  

Dan’s view of the LMS:

The LMS should no longer be thought of as a destination for the learner. This is the nuclear fault of the LMS itself and of antiquated thinking from our learning leaders; it encourages standalone learning by driving people to register for an event … be it an ILT class or an eLearning module.”

The core to Dan’s argument is the need to abandon the learning environment as destination system (something I’ve talked about before).  Learning (and the systems that enable or deliver it) should be holistic and integrated.

Dan’s responses to Dave’s points, again paraphrased:

  1. Whether the business processes are essential or not does not justify isolation in a destination environment.  Federation is the key.
  2. Maybe, but the name ‘lms’ is old and tired.  If these systems are now more, let’s come up with a better name.  Dan offers: learning, content and collaboration ecosystem or LCC.
  3. Lots of extant enterprise systems are evolving.  Companies need a coherent, overall technology architecture.  Oh – and don’t bet on the LMS horse winning this race.
  4. Most TM Suites are really what he means by LCC – and so they are too wide ranging, too strategically important to be owned by the learning function anyway.

Ok, so hopefully you’ve read all of that and come back here.  

Before I give my thoughts on this subject, I should say that we (Bersin & Associates) are one of the main sources of shopping guidance on these systems available in the industry today.  We have a responsibility to both buyers and providers to remain objective and open minded.  In that light, here is my personal opinion:

  1. Dave is right that there are business processes today for which the core functionalities of an LMS are critical.  Whether this fact fits with our desired future state for enterprise learning or not, in such cases as new hire onboarding, compliance training, etc., companies need to deliver and track completion of formal learning.  This state of affairs is unlikely to change any time soon. These needs remain the primary purchase drivers of these systems.  And we do most of the hard working learning professions out there a disservice if we do not both help them make the best of today and help them identify where to go tomorrow.  Oddly enough, there is still tremendous room for improvement in the core lms functionalities of just about every major providers’ system today – a primary reason why buyers often struggle with selection. 
  2. That said, Dave also is right that these systems are so much more today than – I think – most give them credit for, especially when you throw the notion of integrated talent management into the equation.  I get to be briefed by all of the major players.  And, let me tell you, there is some cool stuff going on out there.
  3. However, Dan sums up the ultimate answer here nicely in one word: federation.  The providers offer rich and powerful systems.  Those systems help organizations get certain things done, including formal and informal learning.  And – with the addition of TM – many other strategically important HR processes as well.  But, we all need to separate the extraordinary process support from the interface and user experience.  It is time to see the dream that is services oriented architectures become a reality across the spectrum of HR software.  Be it through web services, portals & widgets, APIs, what have you; any LMS provider should be prepared for the day when only admins and super users actually use their interface.  Everyone else will use the functionality provided by the system via some other interface, blissfully unaware that there is such a thing as the LMS.

Now, about that name: learning management system.  I’m not ready to completely abandon it yet, but I’m not sold on it long term either.  What do you think?  If we were to start using a different name in our studies, what would it be?  LCC?  Something else? How do we best help buyers keep a coherent picture of the market in their minds while adequately capturing the full breadth of what these platforms have to offer?

Comments welcome.

Dani Johnson

Dani Johnson, Vice President, Learning & Development Research, writes about the evolving L&D function. Specifically, she focuses on the necessary changes in how L&D approaches its responsibilities and allocates its resources (people, time, and money) to have a lasting effect on both organizations and individuals.

3 thoughts on “Friday ReFlects #2 – LMS Edition

  1. David, thank you for facilitating this discussion and sharing your summation of the various points of view. In response to your question about future names, and borrowing from usability principles, the name must readily reveal (communicate) form and function. I ran across a paper that suggests Performance Support System reflects the ultimate purpose (although the word, "system," could be confining). Here’s the article:

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