The Learning Management System (LMS) has been an integral part of learning delivery at most organizations for decades now. It's table stakes, so why am I questioning its role as the go-to digital destination for employee learning experiences?
According to Ambient Insights, the Global LMS Market is imploding. The worldwide growth rate for LMS products is, in fact, negative, at -14.6% and it’s expected that revenues will plunge to $3.2 billion by 2021, down from $7.1 billion in 2016. This is particularly acute in the US where LMS revenues will fall by over $1.5 billion in the forecast period.
This suggests that people are choosing other learning experiences over the trusty LMS but before we explore that further, perhaps we should take a step back and start by defining an LMS. According to elearningindustry.com:
"The most common use for LMS software is to deploy and track online training initiatives."
What a conventional LMS does well is: host content, serve it to people, then report on it. In the pre-Google time in which it was conceived, the enterprise LMS fulfilled the need as a delivery and tracking system for assigning learning modules to employees or for checking a box during compliance season.
The problem is that most traditional SCORM-based LMS systems don't track "actual learning". They report on which courses people accessed, whether they completed them, and what score they received on the associated quiz. However, taking online courses is becoming a less common way for people to learn.
I’ve worked in learning for almost 20 years and built a lot of e-learning over my career. However, if I want to learn something, my first instinct isn't “I should go to the LMS for an e-learning course on that". Frankly, I just Google it. Then I read a few blog articles and watch a couple videos. If I have a question, I find an online community/forum on the topic to see if someone else has already asked it and if not, I'll ask the online collective for help. Then I jump in and try it. If I run into problems along the way, back to Google I go. Lather, rinse, and repeat.
The learning technology industry recognizes this and there are all kinds of exciting new LMS providers and e-learning authoring tools on the market today. Traditional linear, slide style, click next, e-learning courses are giving way to a more web-like, just-in-time learning experience.
For years, I’ve witnessed the common assumption that, should learners require a refresher after completing an assigned e-learning course from start to finish, they would go back and access it again in a non-linear manner, using the Table of Contents to jump to the relevant piece of information they were seeking. Let's be real for a second, how often do you think this occurs? Personally, I avoid it at all costs.
The reason is that conventional e-learning courses are not good performance support tools. You need to leave what you’re doing, go to a separate system, remember in which course you learned that thing you now can’t recall, and find what section it was in. If you can’t recall that little piece of knowledge, how likely is it that you can remember exactly where you learned it. In the unlikely event you can, it will probably take you quite a few clicks and several minutes to locate it. What about searching for it? Many legacy LMS platforms will search the course title, description and any learning object metadata or tags but, don’t index the actual course content so searching for a specific piece of knowledge is like a needle in a haystack.
As a result, the days of assigning people to sit down and do a 30-60-minute e-learning course are in decline along with the entire e-learning industry. It's time consuming to build and maintain these courses. The 2017 statistics on this from the Association for Talent Development (ATD) have a “Level 3” course with a moderate level of complex interactivity requiring on average 132 hours of development time. Thanks to modern authoring tools, this is down from 173 hours (when starting with a template) in 2009 but its still a significant time investment given that most people will forget 90% of what they learned in that course within a week. When a learner tries to recall this forgotten knowledge in their moment of need, accessing material that resides in courses on the LMS is just not a practical solution. This graph from the same Ambient Insights article referenced earlier shows the accelerating decline in self-pace e-learning consumption.
Modern LMS providers know this and are making the shift to support a multi-source, multi-modality approach. The role of an LMS today is less as a place to host learning content and more as a tool to curate multiple sources of information into tracks of sequenced learning objects. Content is plentiful these days, with available knowledge doubling every 12 months. The LMS is becoming a tool which provides a path through this diverse content landscape by referencing material that supports the defined learning objectives. In terms of tracking, its role hasn't changed that much. It tracks learner progress through these referenced resources and any assessments developed to measure comprehension and check those important compliance boxes.
So back to the question posed by title of this article, can a digital workplace replace the LMS as the go-to learning experience destination?
We've covered the LMS part, so let’s unpack the digital workplace to answer this.
According to the Igloo Digital Workplace Playbook, “a digital workplace is the place where employees start their day and where they go to communicate, collaborate, and share knowledge – as they get their work done. The digital workplace supports cross-functional collaboration, pre-defined workflows, BYOA (bring your own apps), and mobile access. Further, it’s a real part of the employee brand and company culture, enabling engaging communications and direct involvement with company matters.”
How does a digital workplace support the learning experience? Well, there’s a model in the learning industry called 70:20:10. It’s been described and observed for about 20 years and the premise of it is: 70% of how people learn is experiential from their day to day tasks, working through challenges, etc.; 20% of learning is done socially through interactions with peers, coaches, mentors; and just 10% of what people learn is through formal training and education. Combined, these make up how people actually learn.
With a robust digital workplace, your organization can provide multi-faceted support for that 70% experiential "on the job" learning. When you add in all the social learning that can take place through communicating with colleagues through blogs, forums and more, a digital workplace can really enable learning in the 20% peer/social learning category too. So, what about the 10% that's formal learning?
Formal learning courses are evolving into curated lists of resources and experiences in an LMS. Creating specific tracks that reference a knowledge base, wiki, and blog articles as well as videos, documents and other assets in your digital workplace, can form the basis of these modern learning experiences. Linking to resources that live on the web allows a digital workplace to replicate what we know as self-paced learning today. Igloo’s Onboarding Centre Solution is a perfect example of this type of approach.
A well-built, active digital workplace holds the collective wisdom of an organization. It also facilitates a culture of collaboration where it’s easy to ask questions and gather feedback. If you’re lucky enough to work somewhere that has embraced the digital workplace revolution, it’s likely the go-to learning resource for employees. With online learning becoming more like websites, which are social and mobile friendly, there’s a good possibility that a digital workplace can address learning needs historically met by e-learning content served up by an LMS.
Obviously, if you’re also licensing content from 3rd party providers and making that available through your LMS, the information available in your digital workplace isn't going to replace that. However, with so much material available online, my experience has been that 3rd party content in a corporate LMS tends to be very underused.
So, yes. We can conclude that a digital workplace can meet employee needs from an online learning and content perspective. As a performance support tool, it’s superior to making employees attempt to find answers buried somewhere in a course they once took.
Some companies also use their LMS to schedule instructor-led training sessions that either occur virtually or in-person. If your organization also has this need, you can create a training calendar and send links to that event, enabling digital workplace members to RSVP and enroll in training sessions. Alternatively, learning administrators can invite attendees for sessions that aren’t open to all staff. While a digital workplace may not be superior to an LMS in terms of scheduling functionality, it’s fair to say that you could manage scheduling directly in your digital workplace.
What about Tracking? Admittedly a digital workplace isn't going to track learner activity as well as an LMS but with Read Tracking functionality your learners can acknowledge completion of compliance or other training where completion tracking is a requirement. Notifications can provide a less formal way of seeing who is interacting with your content, Workplace Analytics can track and report on overall usage trends in your digital workplace and data feeds can be used to dig even deeper.
There are opportunities to explore xAPI integrations to enhance tracking for digital workplace learning activity and ways you can leverage your existing LMS as an administrative tool behind the scenes to work with your digital workplace, but those are topics for another day.
So, can a digital workplace replace the LMS as the go-to learning experience destination?
When it comes to supporting formal learning, a digital workplace can certainly do the job but, the LMS would likely be superior at tracking and scheduling training. However, that’s just the 10% portion of the 70:20:10 model. When we factor in how a digital workplace supports the 70% (experiential) and the 20% (social) portions of the model, it certainly appears to be a better overall solution for addressing all 3 facets of how we learn.
This comes with the caveat that digital workplace products, implementations and strategies vary as widely as they do for LMS'. However, I think we can safely conclude that a digital workplace is a great tool to support and enhance organizational learning well beyond the experience offered by a typical LMS.
Stay tuned for my next blog article that will detail strategies you can employ to get your digital workplace and your LMS working together!