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The LMS (or Learning Management System) has been around for a while now. They are usually deployed into large organisations who need to be able to deploy lots of learning materials to lots of people, whilst controlling access, and recording use.
The typical corporate learning management system (see note below) contains a catalogue of learning materials, sometimes tailored to specific roles. These materials are in the form of SCORM content packages (see SCORM Warning for more information on SCORM).
So, what does the LMS offer to businesses?
- A single repository for learning materials
- A place where learning materials are mapped to roles
- Automation of training interventions, eg. you must pass by a certain date
- A means of tracking which materials have been used and "passed", by whom
And what does it offer to learners?
- A single place to go to for learning materials
- All the learning materials for my role
- Automated reminders of what I need to do for my job
- A consolidated record of the learning interventions I have undertaken
At least, that's the theory.
Seeing how people really use the internet to support their learning, let's look at it another way.
You could analyse learning needs like this:
|The organisation knows the answers||The organisation doesn't know the answers|
|The learner knows the answers||No need for learning||The learner should share the answers with the organisation - eg. blogs, enterprise micro-blogging, wikis, internal Youtube etc|
|The learner knows they don't know the answers||Use an internal search engine to find the organisation's view on things||Ask questions on an internal forum / social networking site to see which colleagues know the answers|
|The learner doesn't know they don't know the answers||The learner needs to be directed towards the answers. There is a case here for the LMS (eg. compliance, induction, process changes etc), but supported by effective internal communication, and searchable reference material.||The organisation needs to hope that someone near the learner will be able to help!|
There is only one space in this analysis (highlighted) where an LMS might be vaguely applicable. Yet that accounts for most of the investment in learning within our organisations.
Most people, when they know they need to learn something, start with a search engine. Usually that search engine already knows quite a bit about the individual, and can immediately make recommendations about what they should be looking at. So, how about a system that knows your role, makes recommendations on current induction and compliance materials, and then lets you find the rest of the stuff you need?
The trouble with that approach, is that anything that is locked inside a SCORM wrapper is stuck inside a SCORM wrapper. No search engine will ever be able to find it. And, even if it could, wouldn't be able to link to a specific page inside it. (That's one of the warnings I missed out on my SCORM Warnings post!)
This means that, however good the content is, your learners will be unlikely ever to a) find it again, or b) use it to refer to. They are reliant on the LMS provoking them to revisit the materials, rather than their own need or curiosity. So, it turns out, that it's the LMS (+SCORM) that is blocking learning.
As an example, I know at least one government agency where employees learn about internal processes through Google searches that lead to client-facing materials, rather than through their internal learning materials which are inside the LMS!
All the time we have LMS's, organisations will feel bound to continue to put content inside it that should, instead be sitting elsewhere, in a searchable (and thus findable) state.
So, my call is for organisations to think more strategically about their learning materials. Consider where they should be best placed for most effective long term gain, and perhaps even closing the LMS to new materials...
Corporate learning management systems differ hugely from academic learning management systems (aka virtual learning environment: VLE). Generally, the academic system is based around courses, tutors and discussion, and less around content. However, too many tutors simply use their system as a means of distributing content... but that's another post...
Great post, Mark.
I too don’t think that the LMS is the optimal place to store and distribute content, except for assessments.
Instead, I advocate the development of an informal learning environment for that, and let the LMS do what it does best: record results (where necessary).
It’s funny that you used the phrase “must die” in your title, because I did too - although we feel that different things must die: http://ryan2point0.wordpress.com/2010/07/07/online-courses-must-die/ - I soon backed that up with: http://ryan2point0.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/the-ile-and-the-fle-in-harmony/
I’d be keen to get your feedback…
Ryan, your posts resonate with me. I love the idea of just using the LMS for assessments. It keeps everyone happy.
Mark, while I agree that content embedded within a SCORM wrapper doesn’t faciliate search engines to index, but I would caution against asking LMS’ to die.
Global Corporations need to track learning from a regulatory/compliance perspective, and indeed as Ryan stated above track certification, and assessments. Your call should be to rally an LMS provider to enable key elements inside the course to be viewed outside of the scorm wrapper using keywords and tags, that can enable the content to be searched.
Informal Learning and On Demand learning based on need, is core to next generation learning, critical learning paths, must be an item in the past, however we can’t ignore regulatory need
I’m moving to a position where I would say that the only purpose for an LMS is to hold and manage assessments.
That ought to satisfy compliance and regulatory requirements. We all know that tracking access or page views proves nothing, whereas a well-written assessment can prove a lot.
There are some grey areas here, when the assessment is embedded in a simulation. Even so, any content used by the simulation should sit outside it. This works alongside the action mapping approach that Cathy Moore promotes: http://blog.cathy-moore.com/2008/05/be-an-elearning-action-hero/. In this, only the minimum information the learner needs is provided as part of the elearning course.
I have argued for a while that content that may be used afterwards, for reference or review, should sit outside the LMS. Users have great expectations of search; being able to search inside content is essential, not just searching keywords and tags.
I’m with you. Put the content in a searchable repository. Building things modularly is still a good strategy, as modules can be aggregated to suit different roles. But letting users find what they need is essential, for those who have some idea what they need and just need the freedom to search for it. LMSes make some sense when you’re still thinking of online education in terms of face-to-face education. But, for job support and for disseminating knowledge, they stand in the way.
Interesting post. I don’t disagree with you, but would like to point out that a well-authored SCORM package would include metadata about the course. This metadata allows the LMS to cull information about the course and therefore make the course (or at least the course outline) somewhat searchable.
Few LMSs actually do anything with SCORM metadata, which means developers rarely bother to supply the metadata. This creates a cycle where the LMS vendor justifies the lack of a specific feature because of low customer demand. I find this to be the typical “do as little as possible while charging as much as possible” behavior from LMS vendors.
I don’t wish LMSs would die, I wish their creators would be bolder and truly try to be innovative and forward-thinking instead of being so reactionary. Put the focus on education, not money.
I think you hit the nail on the head in your comment. Most LMS’s don’t handle metadata particularly well, and most authors don’t include metadata particularly well.
For this reason, the whole concept of metadata is itself fatally flawed.
Google itself appears to make little use of it. Instead it focusses on the content inside the pages it crawls.
The other problem with SCORM metadata is that it can only describe the package as a whole. It cannot go down to page level.
Yet, too often, I come across SCORM courses that have useful information buried inside them that can only be found by trawling through page by page. Generally, I would say, SCORM packages need to be as short as possible, and with as little “reference” content as possible, to get the maximum benefit from them.
For my team, we have come to the conclusion that “LMS=tracking", and by tracking, it’s HARD tracking. Roughly the equivalent of a high-stakes proctored test.
Exactly for all the reasons mentioned above. Trapping performance enhancing information into courses locked behind an LMS doesn’t work to support organizational needs. However, working extensively in highly regulated environments and understanding the demand for accountability, there is a bit of negotiation here.
But, at its core, reference materials should not be trapped in an LMS. There are ways to develop courseware that is tracked and reported and embedding referenceware that is used (most frequently) outside of the system. We have developed strategies to do this to offer information and practice experiences for the tracked training (the 20%) and everyday use (80%).
I recently demonstrated this with one specific assessment tool in a conference and via webinar. Happy to share anything that may help others.
Very cool idea! Thanks for posting about LMS
Really it is very helpful.
Awesome job !!! keep it up.
[Editor’s note: I half considered rejecting this as spam. But if you really want to look the comment came from: www.eleapsoftware.com]
The above discussion is helping me to understand the needs for LMS and what is trending nowadays in learning industry…..thanks…