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Do We Still Need the LMS?

The LMS is like a back-office mainframe. It does important things, but we don’t see it often.

LMS, learning technology, learning investmentAccording to CB Insights 2017 research, venture capitalists and corporate teams invested $1.85 billion into various types of learning and training companies in 2016, and the number appears to be going up in 2017. Why all the investment?

Well, over the past 15 years we’ve witnessed a revolution in corporate training. Saba Software, one of the pioneers in enterprise learning technology, was founded less than 20 years ago, and since then the market has exploded. Our research shows there is more than $4 billion spent each year on learning management systems; that doesn’t include new platforms and tools for content development, video authoring and distribution, assessment, content integration, curation and learning marketplaces.

Employees want to learn in personalized, microlearning bursts. Over a given week our research shows that people spend about 1 percent of their time on learning. That’s less than 30 minutes a week, typically five minutes here, 10 minutes there, and occasionally a 30-minute or hour slot to sit down and go through a course. About 30 percent of corporate training is instructor facilitated or done in a classroom, and even that is complemented by prerequisites, reading assignments and online exercises that demand technology.

I’ve seen the LMS or learning technology market go through four stages. In its earliest stage (1980s and 1990s) we bought training management systems to schedule classes and classrooms. In the early 2000s these became e-learning platforms; we used them to manage courseware and course libraries. In the mid-2000s platforms became talent management systems as we tried to focus training around roles, skills and careers. Now, as we enter a world of always-on social media, video and mobile computing, these systems have become video learning systems, curation platforms and tools to integrate various digital assets.

I still believe learning technology is among the most complex and problematic areas of all HR technology. We have to deal with every possible form of content, programs as short as a minute or as long as many hours, and a wide range of learning styles and interactivities that address different content and learner types. The LMS market has never been easy, and this fourth wave is turning out to be harder than ever.

Over the past few months I’ve been diving back into this space, and after talking with many large companies about their digital learning strategies — and headaches — I’ve found the good old learning management system is starting to fade into the background.

When we first started building LMSs we had visions of people using them for learning all day. You would log in, the system would intelligently recommend learning, it would connect you to people, and you would learn all the time. But these systems’ architecture has not worn well; their focus on courses and programs cannot keep up, and now we all need a digital learning dashboard that brings every possible learning opportunity to our phone. Companies like Oracle, SuccessFactors and Workday are doing great things to extend this model, but the days of the LMS being the “place people go to learn” are more or less over.

A whole tapestry of necessary systems took their place: curation systems, content management systems, collaboration tools and social learning platforms, all of which complement the LMS and create a true learning experience for employees. Thanks to the increasingly well-adopted X-API standard, you can track employee interactions with any digital content, so there isn’t much need to load content into an LMS.

Now, I don’t believe the learning management systems market is ending by any means. Companies of all sizes need a platform to manage training activity, track compliance and store all the licensed content we purchase. But the LMS is no longer the center of learning; it has become more like the back-office mainframe we use to run payroll. It’s there, it does important things, but we don’t see it that often.

Digital learning is an exciting and emerging new world — one every company wants to take advantage of. This is a time of change, and I recommend that you think differently, so you can build a learning platform that’s current, modern and ready to deal with the digital world of work.

Bravetta Hassell is a Chief Learning Officer associate editor. Comment below, or email editor@CLOmedia.com.

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