“The traditional LMS is no longer at the center of corporate learning, and it’s starting to go away.” This is the first point Josh Bersin makes in his March 2017 post, “The Disruption of Digital Learning: Ten Things We Have Learned.” But was the LMS ever really at the center of learning in the workplace? If you ask most employees, or anyone who subscribes to the 70:20:10 framework, the answer will likely be no.
But before going any further, note that I’m not labeling every tool that could potentially support workplace performance as an LMS. Rather, I am defining a learning management system (LMS) as a platform designed to host, track, and deliver online and instructor-led training courses.
While the LMS was one of the few tools available for L&D to deliver training in the past, times have changed. Modern technologies, combined with the way people want to learn and the increasingly fast pace of business, mean the LMS isn’t enough. L&D teams are limited unnecessarily by what their LMS can (and can’t) do when they no longer need to be. After all, when all you (L&D) have is a hammer (LMS), everything (solution) looks like a nail (course).
Figure 1: What kind of problem are you solving?
Digital transformation in the workplace
A Huffington Post article quotes Brian Solis from Altimeter, who defines digital transformation as “the realignment of, or new investment in, technology, business models, and processes to drive new value for customers and employees to effectively compete in an ever-changing digital economy.” This concept has become our everyday reality, regardless of our individual habits. For example, in-store shopping used to be the norm. Then we were able to shop via catalog. Next came online shopping. Now we can even place orders without having to click anything, through a voice-activated assistant who is ever-present on our kitchen counter.
While the outward transformation of the customer digital experience has progressed during the past decade, the internal employee experience has fallen behind. Simply stated, the way we do our work has not kept pace with the way we live. This is especially true when it comes to accessing and sharing information, which is a foundational consideration for modern learning organizations. We can solve almost any problem at home, but even the most mundane tasks keep us searching for information on the job. While L&D’s digital presence has certainly evolved over the past several decades, it still rests primarily in the formal training space due to continued reliance on LMS-like tools.
Impact on L&D
The constantly shifting knowledge and skill needs of today’s workplace are placing added pressure on L&D to evolve its practices and better leverage modern digital capabilities. In fact, 45 percent of surveyed executives cite this need for evolved employee capability as an urgent or very important catalyst for organizational change (see Schwartz, et al, in References). This makes L&D’s inability to keep pace from a tactical perspective a very dangerous proposition for both the organization and L&D. If business leaders and employees alike can now find their own online tools and content sources, why do they need an LMS or a training department? Digital transformation within L&D is necessary to both restore relevance to the function and deliver an improved, value-add experience for employees in order to achieve business goals.
This is not just a technology conversation. Technology will play a critical role in this experience, but L&D professionals must not get lost in their tools. The focus should remain on the goals of the organization and the employee experience that must be enabled to achieve those goals. For example, organizations don’t need an LMS because they are required to track compliance training information. They are expected to track compliance information and therefore must build the right experience with the right tools to meet the imposed requirements. This simple change in perspective opens the door to a myriad of potential solutions and keeps the focus where it should be—on the employee experience and organizational outcomes.
Rethinking the LMS
For better or worse, the digital persona of many L&D teams is the LMS. But L&D must rethink the purpose of the LMS based on the knowledge and skill needs of the organization. As Josh Bersin alluded to earlier, the role of the LMS must be re-evaluated to determine what value (if any) it brings in the context of modern learning. In fact, according to the Brandon Hall Group, 44 percent of surveyed organizations are already in the process of doing this right now (see References). Rather than just exchanging systems to gain a few new features, L&D must execute a process to design a right-fit continuous learning experience for the people they support. This process should include the following 10 steps.
1. Clarify organizational objectives
What is the business trying to achieve? Ultimately, this is the only question that matters when it comes to enabling performance. Therefore, this should be the starting point for identifying the best way to support the organization’s needs. You must consider both immediate and long-term priorities to ensure the ultimate experience can keep pace with the organization moving forward.
2. Identify the audience
Who will L&D be supporting? Enabling a continuous learning experience for one business unit could require a markedly different strategy than doing the same thing for an entire global enterprise. As with priorities, from the start you must consider both the current audience as well as the expansion of future responsibilities.
3. Assess how work is done
Where and how do the people L&D supports do their jobs every day? The context in which work is done will ultimately become the setting for continuous learning. After all, a primary benefit of a technology-enabled experience is that learning opportunities can come to the employee, rather than the employee having to stop working to pursue any type of development. Information flow and productivity tools are critical considerations in establishing the context for continuous learning.
4. Identify gaps in the current learning experience
Where is support falling short today? A continuous learning experience requires a balance between push and pull resources to help employees overcome immediate and long-term performance challenges. L&D must talk to the people they hope to support in order to find the gaps in their current strategies and shape their future tactical decisions. The limitations of the LMS experience are a likely consideration during this stage.
5. Clarify L&D’s role in closing existing gaps
What other teams must you engage to support continuous learning? L&D doesn’t own workplace learning, just as corporate communications doesn’t own information flow. L&D will play a critical part in enabling continuous learning, but must also foster partnerships with the right teams across the enterprise, including IT, HR, and operations.
6. Locate the data necessary to drive continuous learning
What data will L&D need, and who has it? Supporting the timely needs of an individual employee requires data. L&D must understand what people know and don’t know, as well as what they are doing well or not so well in real life, in order to provide optimal support. While some of this data is likely accessible via existing L&D tools, additional sources of performance and outcome data from a tool like an employee knowledge platform will also be necessary to paint the full performance picture.
7. Assess existing technology
Can the LMS enable continuous learning? This is the point in the process at which L&D must take a long, hard look at the existing LMS and determine where it fits in the overall continuous-learning-experience puzzle. Depending on the factors discussed so far, including audience and context, the LMS may continue to play a role with formal and compliance training. In some cases, it may not be the right tool at all for the experience L&D needs to build.
8. Select new technology
What additional tools will enable continuous learning? With a new continuous learning experience in mind, L&D must identify the technology needed to drive improved capability. This may include a social network, an employee knowledge platform, or any mix of right-fit digital tools. Rather than approaching the RFP process with a generic list of feature requirements, L&D can provide potential technology partners with a much more informative learning-experience design.
9. Integrate new technology into the continuous learning experience
How can L&D introduce new tools into the existing experience? At no point in this process is L&D expected to throw away everything it’s already doing. Rather, the focus is on rethinking the current state in order to build the future. L&D must be purposeful when adding new tools to the learning experience so it all makes sense for employees who may have become used to the old ways. This will likely require L&D to engage the audience with messaging around their overarching strategy so employees better understand how they will be supported moving forward.
10. Iterate, integrate, and evolve
How can L&D keep up? The business will constantly change. Therefore, L&D must remain flexible in its strategy and tactics in order to keep pace and remain relevant. Rather than making broad, sweeping changes that can take considerable time and effort, L&D should focus on iterative solutions and prove value organically by solving small but meaningful problems. This will help L&D stay close to the needs of the business and remain capable of pivoting as needed.
What does a modern learning organization want?
Theodore Levitt is quoted as saying, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill; they want a quarter-inch hole.” The same is true for learning technology. We want employees to become more capable so that customers are satisfied and the organization achieves its goals. A modern learning organization recognizes that it needs to look at other technologies, besides an LMS, when it comes to bringing these desires to life. L&D must catch up with the ongoing digital transformation of the workplace and provide a continuous learning experience that is simple, engaging, and personalized—just like the technology experience each of us has outside of work every day.
From the editor: Want more?
The upcoming sessions at FocusOn Learning 2017 Conference & Expo, June 20 – 22 in San Diego, California, will add to your repertoire of techniques! Register soon—several discounts are still available, including membership, organizational, and group rates.
At the conference, JD Dillon will lead the sessions Deconstructing Games: Spaceteam with Matt Smith (June 21 at 2:30 PM) and From Research to Reality: Building a Holistic Gamification Strategy (June 21 at 4:00 PM). In addition, readers may be interested in Andrew Hughes’ session Immersive Learning and the Future of Workplace Learning (June 20 at 1:00 PM).
Afshar, Vala. “6 Stages of Digital Transformation [Research].” Huffington Post. 3 May 2016.
Bersin, Josh. “The Disruption of Digital Learning: Ten Things We Have Learned.” JoshBersin.com. 27 March 2017.
Brandon Hall Group. Learning Technology 2016: Embracing Innovation for a Better Learner Experience.
Schwartz, Jeff, Laurence Collins, Heather Stockton, Darryl Wagner, and Brett Walsh. 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends: Rewriting the rules for the digital age. Deloitte University Press.