A few years ago I led a massive enterprise-wide project in which our team upgraded to SCORM 2004 and converted thousands of hours of instructor-led learning to Web-based training. We were highly dependent on the LMS to achieve our objectives. The company to this day continues to rely on the LMS to provide basic functions of supporting compliance and safety training, scheduling, and initial training. But, as Josh Bersin likes to explain, the LMS has gone the way of the mainframe. It has not disappeared but it’s now in the basement doing the things it does well.
This was almost literal in our case. Starting in 2010 we began designing and implementing an internal personal learning platform which evolved into a streamlined and intuitive user-interface behind which is the majority of the company’s learning content. Employees no longer directly access the LMS but are now able to access formal and informal content from a personalized portal as well as rate content, create learning goals, and connect with other learners and subject matter experts.
Unless you’ve lived a very sheltered life in the L&D world, you have heard much about microlearning, small-byte learning, informal learning, social learning, and more. If you’re an Instructional Designer you’ve likely created a good deal of these types of learning activities. You also know, then, that the traditional LMS is ill-equipped to manage this type of learning – most LMSs are macro-learning systems. LMSs were never designed to place the learner at the center of the process. Instead, they focus on managing course catalogs, business rules, course completions, etc. Think of the traditional LMS like a library. There is a lot of content much of which is formal, what you need is not always easy to locate, and once you find it, it might take a while to dig through the pages to find what you need.
A recent CLO article by my friend, Kimo Kippen highlights the needs of GenZ: “They are not only technically savvy, but also expect technology to be a natural and frequent — part of learning and work. This means that companies need to ensure learning is both mobile and social as well as offered in the flow of work. By making learning social, companies can deliver a more personalized, relevant and continuous learning experience to this generation. Savvy executives would be well served to post helpful articles and content through social channels and other online platforms.”
A key component and much needed functionality in any learning architecture is the ability to learn in the flow of work. Since 1991, Gloria Gery has pointed us to the criticality of this. Performance Support (PS) approaches often have higher returns for skill development and performance improvement. In his ATD book, Revolutionize Learning & Development, Performance and Innovation Strategy for the Information Age, Clark Quinn states, “The point is to deliver solutions at the moment of need, instead of having to break away from the workflow to find them. When we recognize how we really perform, the possibility of putting more information in the world is not only viable, but imperative. A performance support focus is a better start for organizations than courses!” He goes on to point out that performance support can take on many dimensions including microlearning, social learning, and user-generated content.
The New Learning Tech Segments
To address the needs of our newest learners and the shortcomings of the LMS, we’ve seen relatively new learning platforms arise to close the gap. Large companies with significant formal learning requirements (compliance, lengthy new hire training) often have a tightly integrated but aged LMS which makes wholesale transition very difficult. Still, the desire for a far-better learner experience is driving creative solutions.
Some companies attempt to do this internally, like AT&T as I mentioned above, which developed an in-house personal learning environment behind which are tucked other new and legacy platforms including their long-time LMS, effectively developing a veneer to improve content access and learner experience. Other companies such as Bank of America have seamlessly integrated an external LXP within their learning architecture which is integrated with the LMS. Still others, like French Railways with over 150,000 employees, are making the leap and skipping the LMS altogether.
There is extensive overlap in functionality in the latest learning technologies entering the market, including micro-learning platforms, content libraries, workflow learning tools, learning record stores, and more. Let’s look at the top two.
LXP and LEP
A few years back Josh Bersin coined the phrase “Learning Experience Platform” (LXP) and included in the category companies like Degreed, EdCast and others. Late last year Bersin issued an update where he states that “every learning platform is now an LXP, so the market is becoming a set of capabilities, not just products.” Just recently, Bersin published another article on this topic indicating that this market is has grown so fast and so big that the LXP market is too big to ignore.
However, not everyone is satisfied that the LXP term is one-size-fits-all. Learning system expert Craig Weiss, in his article published in late 2017, Learning Experience Platform – WRONG, makes no bones about disliking the term. He makes valid points and prefers the term “learning engagement platform.” To limit confusion, let’s narrow the new categories to the Learning Experience Platforms (LXP) and Learning Engagement Platforms (LEP), the latter coined by 360Learning back in 2015. I’ll explain both.
Both are great platforms that have a user-friendly interface, offer a wide selection of content which can be rated, and will recommend content based on past activity. Both are generally (but not necessarily) bolt-on platforms to the existing LMS.
The difference between learning experience and learning engagement platforms is not unlike the difference between Netflix and Instagram.
Evolving Technology, Evolving L&D Strategy
As learners gain the ability to source, create, modify, and share learning content without the involvement of the L&D team, L&S former role of sole content creator and distributor is becoming increasingly indefensible. Effective L&D professionals must make a significant paradigm shift in how they think about roles and responsibilities. They must become trusted curators who find and filter valuable information for employees; advocates of self-directed learning; enablers of employee-created content; and evaluators of appropriate learning technology.
While the market expands with enhanced LMSs along with the newer learning platforms, selecting the right solution(s) can be tricky. In addition to the Bersin updates above, excellent resources are available to break it down for those in the market to replace, expand or integrate their learning ecosystem. Here are five:
- 2019 Fosway 9-Grid for Learning Systems
- Market Guide for Corporate Learning Suites
- HR Technology Market 2019: Disruption Ahead
- Types of Learning Systems – Craig Weiss Group
- Learning Technologies in the Workplace: How to successfully implement learning technologies in organizations by Donald H Taylor
You may not be ready to ditch the library, but you most certainly want to incorporate the “Instagrams” of modern learning platforms into your ecosystem.
Selecting the best fitting learning platform(s) depends on many factors including your learner demographic, company size and technology budget, business objectives, existing HR and learning ecosystem, key learning initiatives and many other factors. There are resources and experts to help guide the process and great products to meet the needs!
In the next two installments we’ll look at the decline of SCORM and the morphing of the LMS and how L&D teams are evolving to meet business and learner needs. Stay tuned!