Much has been written about the demise of the learning management system (LMS) in the popular press recently. However, it turns out that finding and matching talent to the ever-changing needs of the modern, agile business is fueling new applications of the LMS. As a result, several LMS vendors are responding to the change by re-defining their whole experience and capabilities, causing a resurgence of this category.
Fundamentally, a LMS delivers structured information in multiple modalities to its users, tracks consumption of the information, optionally validates understanding via assessments, and enables reporting of such activity. While the core of the LMS is not changing, technology innovation is supporting new use cases. Since business needs and value always drive sustainable technology innovation, let us examine what is causing this renaissance of the LMS.
Steady growth of regulatory or mandated compliance
There is a simple fact we often overlook. Any successful industry of any significance is eventually regulated. Complete new industries have emerged in the last few decades, including e-commerce, cloud computing, mobile phones, and social media, among others. Many of these sectors are more successful and growing faster than traditional industries like manufacturing and transportation. With that growth, comes responsibility.
Several regulations have been passed regarding e-commerce and cloud computing; the FCC passed regulations related to mobile networks and phones, and social media regulations are pending given its perceived ability to distort public opinion. These new regulations present challenges such as conformance and employee training. Using the traditional LMS makes sense in this case. LMSs are also adapting to support diverse delivery needs. Those needs include delivering training content in bite-size videos streamed worldwide as opposed to large pre-packaged content, integrating with live conferencing systems to provide live virtual training, and providing training of mobile devices effectively. These use cases will allow the LMS to evolve in lockstep with industry.
Building a talent supply chain
A large portion of the world is increasingly becoming a service and knowledge-based economy. The IT services economy alone, which is predominantly knowledge-based, is enormous—hundreds of billions of dollars. At scale, IT services companies are constantly trying to match available qualified talent to the needs of the hundreds of RFPs they receive every day. Every project or task requires a distinct quantity, mix and location of talent. As a result, these companies face a massive challenge to constantly skill, reskill and upskill employees to meet their clients’ demands. They need to assess, report and qualify each RFP response with the attributes of the team for the project. A scalable learning management system is no longer optional – it is required.
To sufficiently address this type of application, LMSs need to do certain things they may not have supported before. For example, let’s look at diversity of content. Regulatory content is often customized and of a much lower variety compared to content needed for scalable training of an IT services company. Therefore, LMSs need to easily and quickly aggregate content from a variety of sources; support numerous modalities, such as videos, books, and audiobooks; and enable excellent search and discovery across the breadth of content. LMSs need to directly and via partners support forms of assessments that are more dynamic and interactive, including practice labs, exercises, and games. LMSs also need to support the notion of proficiencies in a topic area by job role, with accompanied credentials.
Time to productivity for flexible workforces
A flexible workforce is a pillar of an agile enterprise. A company’s contingent workforce can easily constitute around 20-30% of its employee population. Due to such a high churn rate, re-training and re-skilling at scale are needed. Contingent workforces are often not desk-based jobs. They are at construction sites, on factory floors, on oil rigs and cruise ships. Many modern LMSs are building features specifically for this type of workforce. For example, mobility is required on cruise ships, and biometric authentication is essential in security-sensitive environments.
Moreover, these types of jobs require training in performing hands-on activities. Assessments not only involve pass or fail, or a certain score, they also include ratings of a quality of an action performed such as operating a forklift or stocking a shelf. Therefore, fine grain reporting of learning progress, including learner biometrics or observation checklists, becomes important and motivates support of new standards like XAPI or immersive content like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). With various technologies, if an LMS can at scale reduce time to productivity by even 10%, that results in a big financial gain for the enterprise.
Employee engagement, retention, and growth
For years, to their detriment, LMS providers did not focus on this aspect of business value. Somewhat due to their lack of focus, a new category called learning experience platforms (LEP) emerged. This type of learning is characterized more by ‘pull’ learning than ‘push’ learning. LEPs are designed for employees interested in self-development in diverse subject areas.
Millennials operate in a market generally characterized by low unemployment and high demand for qualified talent, so they have come to expect learning as a company benefit. Some LMS vendors have seen the changing winds and are aggressively bringing to market solutions that offer a value proposition similar to the LEP vendors. Modern LMSs are offering a consumer-grade user experience; diversity of content, including access to open, free content; social features such as gamification; a much superior mobile experience; and intelligent recommendations powered by AI technologies.
In summary, don’t trust the rumors about the LMS’s demise because the evidence suggests otherwise. Progressive LMS vendors are reincarnating rapidly to address the expanding market opportunities and find newer and newer business use cases. Conversely, the LEP vendors that emerged in the last decade to focus primarily on employee engagement, retention, and growth are building more traditional LMS capabilities to expand their market share. Eventually, these categories will converge. There will be “lite” LMS platforms for specific market segments and full LMS platforms for certain other market segments. The handy toaster and the versatile oven co-exist in perfect harmony. I expect the same with the LMS and LEP.