Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A response to the supposed "Death of the LMS" question

It seems very trendy to ask this question currently, but in my view the debate is not very objective. Market pundits often link the discussion of potential demise of LMS to the growth in interest in informal and social learning, defining the LMS as a tool that's relevant only to formal. Other big advocates of the "no LMS" world are often vendors whose vested interests lie in alternative solutions. Neither of these is to my mind a convincing argument.

So what's the reality? We do a lot of research in FTSE100 companies and similar organisations. The reality is that the major business drivers for an LMS within these companies are not just intact, they are increasing. Regulatory and compliance pressure has increased not decreased. Pressure on efficient operational processes has increased not decreased. The importance of talent and capability has increased not decreased. All of these drivers reinforce the need for coherent and automated management processes for learning, and therefore the need for an LMS.

The pressure in most corporates is actually to consolidate their LMSs, as most of them have multiple solutions in different units and geographies, and to better align the processes of the LMS to a 21st century learning model. That means more than just classroom training and click-and-turn e-learning content. The majority of our clients want to adopt informal learning, but this is an add-on, not a replacement for their formal learning. Of course some existing formal courses can get replaced by more efficient and effective informal approaches, but the majority cannot and will not.

The other argument that gets raised against the LMS is that of "tracking". The view seems to be that when a course was formal we wanted to track and report it, but if its informal we don't. If we don't want to track it, we don't need an LMS. Or at least that's the argument. Personally, I think this is rubbish. The entire Internet is tracked. Doesn't matter whether its a PDF, a youtube video, a page of html or an entry in a discussion forum, its always tracked.

The question is not one of tracking at all - its really about purpose of tracking. It is right to say that the purpose of tracking is different between an informal learning resource and a formal course. But it was different anyway between a classroom event and an e-learning module. With informal learning, the purpose of tracking is to ensure relevance, to rate its value, and to sometimes to pay for it if its someone else's IP. These patterns of relevance and value help connect informal and formal learning. After all, this a continuum or ecosystem of learning, not completely separate worlds. All of these approaches have a place together, and ultimately LMS's have to adapt to this new reality, just as they had to adapt to e-learning and virtual classrooms.

Organisations will still need their LMS and the LMS vendors aren't going away - in fact despite the mergers and acquisitions, there are still probably more LMS companies now that ever. The needs of an LMS are changing though to reflect the change nature of learning. Whilst certain vendors may want you to think otherwise, the reality is different.