The LMS “Manages Learners,” But Business Needs More

Written By

David James

August 29, 2016

Do people only ever complain about their learning management system (LMS)? It seems that the excitement and anticipation before the LMS arrives is fanfared with bold exclamations of its all-encompassing functionality: “It does everything! There is so much content! And it even integrates learning, talent, and performance metrics!” But the technology lands and reality dawns. The fanfares dull to: “No one’s using it, and now it’s become a millstone around my neck.”

Why does this happen?

I’ve identified four key reasons. Should we tackle them, we would end up looking at our function, impact, actions, and technology requirements very differently.

The LMS endgame is no one else’s endgame

The LMS manages and reports on learning, while employees want to perform better today and improve their prospects for tomorrow. And then there is the small matter of what the organization and its leaders want: business results. So, you can see that the endgame of the LMS ends too soon!

Perhaps even identifying ourselves as learning professionals is limiting our impact on business, because learning has been just one vehicle for enhancing performance and building capability. Constant connectivity and answers on-demand are showing us all an alternative—and, at the moment, Google influences everyday business performance more than L&D.

The LMS helps us to record and report on the attendance and completion of a course, assessment scores, and learner satisfaction. But what for? One of the headline measures of L&D has always been individual and aggregated time spent on “learning” when all it actually indicates is “exposure to (x).”

If we look past learning and refocus on performance and capability, we help people to do the actual jobs they are doing and the jobs they want to be doing, and we ensure that the organization is capable of delivering real results.

Prioritizing content over context

Access to hundreds of generic online courses is unlikely to help workers with the work they are doing today and efficiently improve their prospects within the company. I know, because I’ve piled LMSs full to the brim with eLearning courses before—and gained very little traction! However, when we focus on the work that must be done, the jobs that workers are actually doing, and the jobs they want to be doing, we have to look past content and see the context in which they operate. After all, this is also the context in which some people are already successfully achieving.

Google, Apple, and other companies show us all, every day, how intuitive technology can enhance our performance as functioning human beings—whether it’s by managing our diaries, staying in touch with friends and family, providing the fastest route to where we’re going, or delivering news and information that is important to us, on demand! At its best, technology helps each of us to do what we want to do, better. If your LMS is not enhancing the performance of your employees, helping them to be better today, then it is failing.

Alternatively, technology exists today that can help you rapidly create resources that capture and share knowledge, know-how, expertise, and insights across an entire organization (or designated population) in minutes, plugging real performance gaps in real time.

Over-reliance on the course

The default solution for L&D, for as long as there has been L&D, has always been the course; the opportunity to take workers away from their work to explore and experiment with a given topic over a day, two days, three days, or longer. While good courses will offer value, workers support their everyday performance with web searches, looking outside of their organization for tools, insights, and know-how to apply to their work. This appetite for on-demand support, insight, and inspiration can now easily be satisfied by L&D, with the added inclusion of context: how they can successfully do things within their organization.

Digital resources act like internal web-search results and are all about performance and capability, helping people in their moment of need to employ context-specific knowledge and know-how to their pressing challenges—while also providing inspiration, insight, and expertise to navigate future challenges. By capitalizing on the habits, preferences, and motivations of workers today, you could see much greater engagement than you would with eLearning—at a fraction of the price, too!

You can build digital resources in just a few minutes and iterate them over time to increase their value, again and again. So, their value comes in understanding what employees want to do better, providing resources to equip them (or help them remove their barriers), and improving those resources based on actual user feedback. As you speak with workers, you understand their actual work challenges and provide resources that are more appropriate than courses.

I’m seeing organizations dump their big, heavy LMSs in favor of much lighter technology tools that engage employees and deliver results.

Lack of technological know-how

With a focus on managing and measuring learning (not performance and business results) and generic content (in the form of expensive eLearning), LMS providers are profiting from limited expectations of what learning technology can actually do.

I am finding that the vast majority of my L&D colleagues know very little about the possibilities of technology to aid individual and organizational performance, and this is a significant factor in letting LMS providers sell platforms that deliver insufficient results.

You will not have to learn to code; just begin by focusing on what actually needs to be achieved in your organization and how L&D can demonstrably affect this.

Ask yourself: What if we were designing our learning technology from scratch? Surely you would look at what is already working (web search and apps), leverage that, and support everyday working while finding ways of making contextually relevant tools, insights, expertise, and know-how instantly accessible for workers when they need it.

In summary, if your LMS helps you to report on learning activity but doesn’t actually impact performance and build capability that delivers business results, it is letting you down.

Begin today by rising up from the limitations of learning. Refocus on the jobs that workers are actually doing, and help them to do the jobs they want to be doing, better. Make digital resources rather than courses your default, and put the content your workers need to do their jobs into your technology systems so that you can influence everyday performance.

Rather than learning, your new measures should be:

  • Helpfulness—your technology is helping people to do their jobs today and the jobs they want to do tomorrow
  • Engagement—your workers return to your technology (and participate) again and again
  • Efficacy—you measure the achievement of desired performance and business goals

It all goes back to what we (L&D) are trying to achieve. Are we managing learning or enhancing performance and building capability?

We need to change the conversation and then change our expectations of technology.

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