Office Tech

What Is An LMS? And Why Would Anybody Use One in 2016?

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Written by Lenny DeFranco

The learning management system (LMS) is becoming quickly outdated technology in 2016. It doesn’t make learning as engaging as other options. It doesn’t create a dialogue around development. It doesn’t even manage learning data that well. (As if that were a goal to strive for.)

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Despite the shortcomings of this technology, many organizations still use LMSes to deploy content to their people. Some L&D departments are aware of the better options out there but are locked into contracts with their current platforms. Others simply haven’t felt enough pain with the status quo to seek more effective solutions. And that’s OK. After all, not every company left behind their dial-up modems at the same time. Eventually, though, they all did.

No matter what made sense for your company last year, in 2016, the hardship of not switching from an LMS to a 21st century learning solution will become more noticeable than ever. The LMS already fails to meet many of the learning needs of a modern workforce. It turns off users, creates learning fatigue instead of learning engagement, and forces companies to work around the limitations of old technology instead of developing their people effectively. An LMS does certain things well, but outside of those specific use cases, it’s not particularly useful. Let’s take a look at those areas in which an LMS does fine, and in which it fares poorly.

What the LMS was designed to improve on.

What is an LMS?

An LMS primarily does three things:

  1. Stores learning content (usually with format limitations) and serves as a course catalogue.
  2. Puts this content in front of users.
  3. Collects pre-defined user data. (Who’s completed what, who is behind schedule, etc.)

What an LMS handles well:

  • Administrative box-checking. Some organizations don’t develop their approach to learning beyond paying lip service to the need for learning. An LMS works if you want just enough of a learning system to feel like it’s a need that’s being taken care of.
  • Consistency. An LMS is static technology that’s not easy to update. If your people do better with the familiar than with the modern, you might get away with having an LMS.
  • Non-responsive content. An LMS is fine at just putting content in front of users’ eyes and collecting a bit of feedback. You won’t change organizational behavior or drive any kind of performance improvement, but you can ensure that your users at least have it playing in the background.

What an LMS handles poorly:

  • Learning outcomes. Anything beyond bureaucratic box-checking is unlikely to emerge from a learning experience that puts people to sleep, allows for next-to-no feedback, and doesn’t attract people to use it.
  • Continuous learning. In order for learning to be effective, it needs to happen continuously. And the only way learning can be continuous is if people choose to learn even when they don’t have a lesson assigned. No one uses an LMS of their own volition, because it doesn’t engage people in the learning experience.
  • Data-based insight. LMSes do a pretty poor job of gathering meaningful data. Sure, you can see lesson completion percentage and maybe a few test scores, but an LMS’s lack of feedback loops prohibit any kind of deep insight into your learners. That level of knowledge of your people—and their knowledge of themselves as learners—is key to driving performance improvement. How can you manage people you don’t know?

121121034453-witch-computer-restoration-uk-story-topUpgrading from an LMS to a 21st century learning solution, like many other decisions at a company, is a choice between “business as usual” and “business as optimal.” Ideally your organization has already made the sustainable, cost-effective decision to move past the LMS era. That means you care about driving better learning outcomes and developing your workforce. But if an LMS is still part of your learning program—and especially if you’re stuck with software you look forward to replacing—you might consider exploring some of the better, newer options being developed for 21st century learning.

Want to learn more?

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