What is the future of the Learning Management System?
Rustica Lamb's opinion
Founder and CEO of Bloom Learning Technologies
Most people love their Learning Management Systems (LMS) right? Do you?
Well it turns out nearly half of the companies surveyed are considering replacing their LMS (survey by Brandon Hall Group in 2016). 'Replacing', not removing. I guess you don't replace something you love.
What is driving companies to change? An overwhelming 87% of all surveyed indicate it is the need for an improved user experience. The second most-common reason is the need for an improved administrative experience (74%). I would believe this to be true from the people I have spoken to who have long standing, legacy LMS' in New Zealand.
Some people will even go as far as saying the LMS is dead. As a Global Head of L&D for a global financial institution said recently, 'if you think the LMS is dead, talk to a company without one and you will find it is very much alive'.
To understand the future of the LMS, we need to understand learning trends as well as why almost half of the people, we assume, don't love their LMS.
So what are the latest trends?
Every January there are plenty of blogs and LinkedIn articles on the up and coming years trends. Many are similar. I personally rate Donald H Taylor's (Chairman of the Learning and Performance Institute UK since 2010) one-minute, one-question annual L&D Sentiment survey which takes the pulse of the L&D community world-wide. We are just awaiting our New Zealand results which in 2017 were slightly different (and behind) the global trends. The question? "What will be hot in workplace L&D in 2018?" This year the top three are:
- Personalisation (same rank as 2017)
- Social learning (same rank as 2017)
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) (up from number 8 in 2017)
Both personalisation and the rapid upswing in AI requires data analysis. And I suggest that L&D teams are nowhere setup to take advantage of this trend. Employing mostly creative relationship builders, not Data Analysts. But L&D team structure for the future is another topic all together. Just know, we are heading into a data driven period and we need to get ready for it to stay relevant. So back to the topic at hand...
What is the future of the LMS?
Think about the last thing you learnt. What was it, how did you do it? Not a course or programme you went on, but something you needed to do your day to day work.
I'm always focused on learning about innovative content development. I recently saw some work from a participant in a Storyboard workshop I ran. I came back and checked the particular authoring tool's website and sure enough, it allowed flipbooks to be inserted. I learnt something. It was the 70 (on the job so to speak) part of 70:20:10 using social interaction and the web.
So what about the 10% of 70:20:10? The part we add to the LMS or a workshop.
Is the LMS dead?
I asked this same question of my three go to people in the L&D Space - Nigel Paine, Donald H Taylor and Oliver Barber at Docebo.
Nigel Paine, Leadership and Learning Technologist from the UK summarises well:
"The term LMS may disappear. It has a slightly toxic feel to it now, but the basic premise of managing the learning process will not go away. However their future is: more open, more data rich, more focussed on delivering a compelling user experience."
Donald H Taylor, master of L&D research, points out that the research is saying LMS' are still growing:
"While it is popular to talk of the demise of the LMS, the reports of its death have been vastly exaggerated. One estimate says, the market for LMS will grow by 22% this year and Fosway report that 96% of organisations plan to either maintain their LMS or increase its usage."
Oliver Barber, Global Head of Sales for Docebo agrees too, that the LMS is not dead, but will change significantly to meet the demands of its users. He sums it up nicely when he says:
''Critically, LMS' need to evolve so that how we learn will become seamlessly integrated with how we communicate and gather information in general. Tomorrow's LMS will be alive and well, but ever more hidden in plain sight"
And I do believe Docebo have all of this on their roadmap.
So the future of the LMS?
Based on my experience, the research and expert commentators opinion, I don't believe LMS' are not going to go away anytime soon. However the ones that survive will evolve to a much improved user experience. Hopefully the vision of being 'hidden in plain sight integrated with how we communicate and gather information in general' will become a reality in the next few years.
Online learning still can save organisations hundreds of thousands of dollars. Organisations still need to deliver, track and report for compliance on health and safety and certifications at the push of a button rather than through manual spreadsheets. Given the technology we currently have, let's as HR/OD/L&D professionals make sure that we are putting on the best user experience we can until the learning technology catches up. That's called innovative, unique, quality learning design.
The challenge for LMS creators to catch up to other tech giants in the world (Netflix/AirBnB, etc) is to create a better integrated user experience, Netflix style, powered by AI, personalised by big data.
Looking back to look forward
We also need to look forward, to look back. The LMS is afterall, just technology to support learning in organisations which in turn supports the organisational aims and goals. Well that's what learning should do anyway.
So back to the future. Let's look back at L&D over the past 15 years.
Josh Bersin, in his Bersin by Deloitte article titled 'Predictions for 2017' reviewed the rapid evolution of corporate learning.
Interestingly the commentary on this table is light and heavily video related. The report states:
"Only 15 years ago (2001 - the year Articulate was formed, as was Linkedin.), the concepts of "e-learning" were just beginning. In the mid 2000's, we moved to blended learning, virtual classrooms, and a myriad of technologies for simulation, gamification, and eventually social learning."
There is no mention of a lot of what has happened in the last 10 years, so that got me thinking.
The I Ching states all things are nature based and go through cycles, countries, organisations, ourselves, relationships, industries etc .The 'frequencies' are:
Summer - a time for renewal growth, vision and creativity
Spring - a time for social, sharing, team and collaboration
Autumn - a time for bedding down, service, scheduling and slowing down
Winter - a time for accuracy, detail and analytics
And there are eight profiles (Creator, Star etc) associated to each of the seasons.
I so strongly believe in this that we run our 5 year annual planning around it. I can tell you, I am a Blaze Supporter (Summer) with a business in Tempo Trader (autumn) and working in an industry coming into Winter (steel). I even have some cool cards that tell me how I should act and not act based on my profile and clients, colleagues, team, the industry and my business.
Understanding where we have been, can help us determine where we are going. So my thoughts are:
Early 2000's : we were in the spring phase, the time when creation happens, where the many new digital learning tools were created; Articulate Storyline, dominKnow, Docebo, LinkedIn to name a few.
Mid 2000's : we entered the summer, collaboration social learning phase. Wiki's, blogs, facebook, the iPhone, all let us share. Social learning emerged.
Early 2010's : interesting Bersin makes no mention of the industry at this time and jumps straight to 2016-2017 and personalised learning. Making me believe we were in an autumn, bedding down phase, synthesiing all that had gone before.
2016-2017 : and back to Donald H Taylor's survey with personalised learning being #2 in 2016 and #1 in 2017 and looking like #1 in 2018. And AIs jumpt from 8 in 2017 to 2018 I believe this is an indication we are heading into a steel phase (to be followed by another round of creative spring phase in the next 3-4 years which is where we will see the real emergence of the likes of VR and AR come mainstream into learning, and which is why I think it is #7 currently).
I believe we are heading into a 'steel' phase. To provide personalised learning we need to understand data and analytics. This requires us to understand such things as writing xAPI statements (have you tried? Eeek, as a Blaze Supporter, it turned my brain inside out!) and Learning Record Stores connected to current legacy LMS' (that turned my brain inside out too!) And Articitifla Intelligence, and machine learning and the list goes on.
Despite the predictions of global annihilation, the LMS as a software platform entity has continued to proliferate and prosper. A constantly changing regulatory and compliance-driven workplace is one of the many reasons why the LMS business is set to keep on giving. Increasingly the Learning Management System will mutate into a Learning Experience, ever-more integrated into our technology on our smartphones and at home. The rapid advancement of artificial intelligence is already shaping how support for learning in the workplace is changing. AI will continue to embed itself into our lives and of course, how we interact with technology around us. In the near future the Modern Learning Platform will "auto-configure" upon implementation - learning and configuring itself to meet the learning styles and needs of each individual person. How we learn will become seamlessly integrated with how we communicate and gather information in general. Tomorrows' LMS will still be alive and well, but ever-more hidden in plain sight.
Oliver Barber - Director of Sales EMEA
The term LMS may disappear. It has a slightly toxic feel to it now, and the new experience platforms seem to point the way forward and have a frankly sexier name. But the basic premise of managing the learning process will not go away. However their future is: more open, more data rich, more focussed on delivering a compelling user experience.
If you imagine Netflix as a LMS, with endless lists of movies, and no idea who the person accessing the service is, and without any ability to customizing the service for the user you get a glimpse how far adrift many LMSs are currently. LMSs must become much more personalised, look great and encourage their users to enjoy and explore more fully. LMS must encourage curiosity. The LMS will look at learning as sharing, and as broadly defined as possible! Forget courses, forget lists. LMS' will intelligently enable access to knowledge at a time, and in a format, that is appropriate to what is needed.
Think of a data rich environment that can scale up to give the organisation a sense of the learning needs, learning processes and learning outcomes of an entire organization as well as focus on one person's individual journey. And imagine an LMS that pushes learning to the user based on personal need and organisational development. And imagine one that is not predicated on individuals conducting a lonely vigil, but something that matches people and facilitates groups, not just working together, but sharing across their entire organisation. So it is about resources, and person to person, and making connections that enable the endless churn of insight. This is not just the future of the LMS, but the future of work itself.
While it is popular to talk of the demise of the LMS, the reports of its death have been vastly exaggerated. One estimate says, the market for LMS will grow by 22% this year and Fosway report that 96% of organisations plan to either maintain their LMS or increase its usage. A Global Head of L&D for a global financial institution said to me, 'if you think the LMS is dead, talk to a company without one and you will find it is very much alive'. None of this means that the LMS is perfect, only that a large number of institutions regard it as necessary. The future of the LMS lies in making it more useful with a better user experience and part of a larger learning eco-system.
Donald H Taylor
Chairman, Learning and Performance Institute