First posted on Xyleme's "Dawn of Learning" blog. Reposted with some slight changes.
It seems that, for years, people have been writing obituaries for the corporate Learning Management System (LMS). Just do a quick search for “LMS is dead” and you’ll find many blog posts, articles, webinars and conference presentations discussing its demise. Some people, myself included, have even been actively working towards this end trying to hasten its death through carefully worded argument and debate.
The trouble is that many organisations have invested heavily in their LMS. Somehow that investment needs to be recouped.
Rather than throw the whole thing out, its role needs to be adjusted so the LMS becomes a better fit for what is needed now.
Let's look at some of the typical problems encountered with most modern-day LMS implementations:
- They lock content away inside monolithic SCORM packages, often making little use of metadata, and no use of deep textual searching, to help people find content.
- They are separate from work. The model is like that of a separate training room and trainer, rather than a coach who works with you when you need it. Which do you think is the most effective?
- They are difficult to use. I have worked with an LMS bundled by a major ERP system provider which had, by far, the most unintuitive interface and user workflows I have ever had the misfortune to encounter. This is not atypical. If we have to train end-users (NB. not administrators...) to use our systems, then we've done something seriously wrong!
- They have little to do with informal learning. The title says it all: Learning Management System. The LMS is about supporting formal training, and helping organisations work out which people should undertake which training. As most of us realise, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the real learning that is taking place inside organisations. It's important, but the mismatch of investment between formal and informal learning often seems unjustifiable.
- They record data that has little meaning. Don't get me started... So many managers seem to think that if you record the fact that someone has viewed every page or can answer 10 questions straight after reading the content, that equates to them having learned something. (Perhaps, if we point them towards the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve, we might help them to change their minds.) We need to learn how to make the important measurable, rather than the measurable important. All we are doing currently is measuring inputs, but treating that as evidence. That can't be right, can it?
But what are LMS's good at:
- Administering and recording training activity. For organisations that manage their face-to-face training on spreadsheets, often with large teams just moving bits of paper around, the LMS (or a better description: Training Administration System) brings massive benefits in efficiency, in reporting, and, often, in accuracy. Let's be clear. If you have a definite need to run formal training (whether online or face-to-face) an LMS is a useful tool for administering that training (although not necessarily for delivering it).
- Delivering computer-marked assessments. I don't mean the assessments that come in SCORM packages - where the only output is a pass or fail. I mean industrial strength multiple choice exams, with randomisation from a pool of questions and deep analysis tools (including ones which help you assess the effectiveness of each question).
- Joining up competencies and performance data with learning opportunities. This is where some of the major LMS's are heading - towards talent management. It's an obvious use case. But it does depend on one key thing - the competency and performance data must be accurate, consistent and up-to-date for the system to work effectively. If you've got that, then great. If not, then your investment may be somewhat wasted.
To meet these challenges, it's not really the LMS that is changing, but the role it plays in a wider learning and corporate ecosystem.
Alongside the formal learning opportunities provided and administered by the training department, we are now seeing systems put in place that, although not marketed as learning systems, are ideal for supporting informal learning:
- Systems like social networking tools - which enable better communication across organisational silos.
- Systems that allow user-generated content, particularly video, to be shared.
- Systems (like Xyleme's Bravais) that enable content to be published to a repository outside of the LMS for use in a much larger, searchable, informal learning context.
The important thing to note is that, often, these systems are not bought in by the training or L&D department, but by Operations. They're not bought as learning tools, but as a means of getting the job done.
So, we shouldn't write off the LMS just yet. But perhaps it's time for a rethink about where it fits best, and, maybe even stop trying to do everything with it?
Over the last 12 years or so, as I've learnt to become a self-sufficient learner, a number of articles from the early years have played a seminal part in developing my thinking. So much so, that they have become my "goto" places when I need to explain why I do things the way I do:
Some principles of effective e-learning - Stephen Downes
Interaction, Usability and Relevance. That's all you need to know. Stephen goes on to provide examples from the real world (outside e-learning) where these principles have born fruit.
Where is the Learning in e-Learning (PDF) - Gary Woodill
white paper, published in 2004, provided a valuable critique of the e-learning industry and explored the unique potential opportunities offered by the new technologies. You could read it now and think it had been written yesterday!
Scaffolding by design: a model for WWW-based learner support - J.C. Winnips
The concept of "Scaffolding", along with Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development, whereby teachers provide just enough support to help learners move on to the next stage, has been key to my thinking around learning design. This is a meaty PhD thesis, but it's worth reading - even just section 2, where he sets out the model.
Wide Open - Demos
Reading this paper, from the thinktank Demos, was the first time I'd come across the concept of "open source" being recognised in a wider context than software development. Concepts that are now widely promoted - such as the Open Knowledge Initiative and many other projects, both grassroots and institutional.
New Learning Environments for the 21st Century - John Seely Brown
JSB's paper set out a challenge to anyone offering "learning" - whether institutional or work-based. Although written in pre-Facebook and Twitter days, many of the ideas transfer well across the years.
A Journey into Constructivism - Martin Dougiamas
I have been an advocate of Moodle since its very early days. This paper, written by Moodle's creator, gives a brilliant insight into the learning philosophy behind Moodle - and therefore how it can work best.
Connectivism - a learning theory for the digital age - George Siemens
Yes, there are holes in this paper if you're looking at it from a serious academic perspective, but as a way of describing what is happening with society, technology and learning, connectivism is very hard to argue with. It pulls together network theory and learning to make a compelling case for changing the way we treat education and training.
The Buntine Oration - Stephen Downes
I remember listening to the podcast version of this paper over and over again when it came out. As usual, Stephen has put in some incredibly deep thinking, and carefully critiques & weaves together learning object theory, language theory, metadata, blogs and learning networks into a description of what could be...
A Framework for the Pedagogical Evaluation of Virtual Learning Environments (Word Doc) - by Sandy Britain and Oleg Lieber
This 2006 paper sets out a way of evaluating VLE's (Learning Platforms or LMS's) that are to be used within a formal education environment. It's still valid today, even with all the developments in Constructivism, MOOCs, mobile learning etc.
Jane Hart ( @C4LPT ) is compiling the 6th annual list of Top 100 tools for learning.
Here's my current set (based on what I'm using at the moment):
- Flipboard - one of the best mobile apps I've seen for consuming and filtering content.
- Jing - a free tool, from the makers of Camtasia, for creating quick annotated images or 5 minute screen capture movies
- Evernote - I'm starting to use this as my sole note-taking and thinking tool. The way it synchronizes across all my devices is almost magical!
- Google Chrome - I haven't found a browser yet that matches it for simplicity and speed - essential for a knowledge worker
- b2evolution - one of the most powerful multi-user, multi-blog platforms out there. I don't use even 50% of that power, but it's been the basis of my blog for many years. Its spam control measures are great.
- Wordpress - the website/blogging platform of choice for new projects. It's just so simple to use and to tweak. Spam control is a bit rubbish though!
- Yammer - after considerable research, this is still the best corporate social platform available. Great multi-platform capabilities, and they really understand what drives conversation.
- Google Reader - even though the interface has now lost quite a bit of "social' functionality, it's still the place where I maintain the list of RSS feeds from people and organisations that keep me up-to-date. It's where I go for deep-thinking. The link with Flipboard is excellent.
- Twitter - Perfect for quick breaks to have a conversation with people who are around at the same time. Anything more extended than a couple of lines doesn't work on Twitter (IMO), but nice to feel you're part of a wider community. The link with Flipboard brings Twitter posts to life.
- Yed Graph Editor - I'm still playing with this, but it's becoming an extremely useful tool to me; for organising thoughts and ideas.
[Edit: See also the Wyver Solutions Top 10 Tools for Learning from a corporate perspective]
This is a book I would recommend to anyone who is involved with creating digital learning materials. Even if you’ve been around the industry for a while there will be ideas to pick up. It would be an ideal sourcebook for any training course for new designers, and could even stimulate quite a few heated discussions amongst established design teams!
Going from a job where everything is UK-centric to one where I'm now working with people from across the US, Australia and Europe, I've had to get to grips with time zones pretty quickly.
There have been a couple of embarrassing moments when I miscalculated, and ended up joining online meetings an hour late!
Half the problem comes because most people tend to use their local time-zone abbreviation. That's fine if you're all in the same country, and know what those abbreviations mean. But when you're working globally it's a recipe for confusion.
For example, how is someone to know whether Eastern Standard Time (EST) refers to EST in Australia or EST in North America? Does CST refer to China Standard Time, Central Standard Time (Australia), Central Standard Time (Central and North America), or Cuba Standard Time?
It gets even more confusing when some countries (like the UK) change their clocks in the summer (for some strange, historical reason that seems to be to do with farmers in Scotland...).
So to work out when a meeting should take place, I need to check with my colleagues which timezone they're in (checking the country to make sure) then work out the time difference between them and me. And everyone else in the meeting will need to do the same.
Wouldn't it be much easier if there was a common reference point, so all we had to do was a quick calculation without all the complex looking up of individual time zone differences?
Well, it exists. It's called UTC (Coordinated Universal Time). Every time zone is then defined as being UTC ± an integer number of hours.
So, currently, I'm at UTC +1 (although that changes in October when the UK goes back to UTC Zero time)
Boulder, Colorado, USA, (Mountain Daylight Time) is at UTC - 6
L'viv, Ukraine (Eastern European Summer Time) is at UTC + 3
So, the only information anyone needs to provide, to arrange a meeting, is their UTC time zone offset, ie. UTC+1, UTC-6 and UTC+3
There's no need for anyone to go looking for a time-zone convertor
Let's say the meeting is at 08:00 UTC-6
For me, in the UK, the difference between -6 and +1 = +7, so I know that the meeting is at 3pm my time.
For colleagues in L'viv, the meeting is at 08:00 + (difference between -6 and +3) = 08:00 + 9 = 5pm their time.
I'm a firm believer in the open source movement, whether it's for software and any other sort of creative endeavour. Through the generousity of many people working together towards a shared vision some great achievements have been made. Just look at projects such as Moodle, Wordpress, and most of the software that underpins the internet.
When starting Wyver Solutions, my aim was to build it as much as possible on open-source principles - using open-source software, and being generous in our own approach to content and ideas. As well as keeping costs down, it also fits in with our values.
But, at the same time, you have to be pragmatic. If using open-source software means that you will need to spend too much time learning new ways of working, or it means that you can't communicate with the rest of the world easily, then it's time to change. I made that decision years ago when I chose to go down the Mac OS route for operating systems, and now I'm having to make that decision for office software.
Every organisation needs to have a suite of business communication software (ie. word processor, presentations and spreadsheets). Up to now, I've been working happily in OpenOffice. That's fine if you are the only person involved, and the output is going to be a PDF.
But as soon as you need to start sharing documents and presentations, with complex formatting, with other people who use other software (ie. MS Office), then it becomes time to fall into line and adopt what has become (through weight of numbers rather than any collective decision) the de facto standard.
It came to a head when I spent hours on an OpenOffice Writer document that just wouldn't display correctly when converted to the Word .doc format. It would have been fine if I'd just been publishing a PDF, or working with someone who used a application that had adopted the OASIS Open Document Format (a worldwide standard). But, in most of the organisations I'm working with, MS Office (and the Microsoft interpretation of ODF) has become the standard way of working.
So, it's time to get out the cash. Not because the software does anything better, but because, if I want to work with other people I need to fall into line.
How easy is it for your organisation to scale its activities up (or down)?
As you add new customers, what will be the impact on you? Does each new customer come with a massive overhead, or can you add them in with little additional effort?
You need to ask yourselves these questions whatever service you provide - whether it's learning & development delivery, software, support etc.
It's very easy to say, "We're small", and not build the scaleability in at the beginning. But if you think that, then you'll either stay small, or you will find it very difficult to grow without significant, difficult changes.
Let's look at some of the things larger organisations do that help them cope with the size of their operation:
- Depersonalised workforce - You'll rarely see an individual's email address when you deal with large organisations. Instead you get generic addresses and phone numbers that then allow the organisation to flex their numbers up and down as required.
- Personalised customer service - to allow organisations to provide a personalised service, from a depersonalised workforce, you need to keep your customer information in one place, so that any customer-facing employee can get to it as needed.
- Modularise - whether it's software or organisational functions, the more tightly defined each part is, the more flexible it becomes.
- Connected - Modularisation brings disconnection, so large organisations try to ensure that information can still flow effectively. That may be through physical or virtual networking, or (with software) through well-defined APIs
- One source, many instances - standardise the way you work and then deploy that multiple times. If you're talking software, then have a single codebase to maintain, that is used by all your customers.
- Rapid iteration - Standardisation can cause stagnation, but your customers' needs are changing all the time. Build in processes which allow you to make changes quickly to the customer experience.
- Strong foundations - The underlying processes and systems that allow your organisation to work, once they're in place, will be very hard to change (eg. finance systems, server architectures, software language). That change becomes harder the more people that use them. When you're building, make sure your foundations are strong enough, not just for the first floor, but also to add an extension... Otherwise, as you grow, you will end up spending a lot money just to maintain the foundation elements.
Of course, there are compromises. Small organisations can't afford enterprise systems. At least that's the accepted wisdom. But much of the approach to scale is less about buying the big systems, it's about a mentality that is always thinking: "How will this work when we grow"?
Here are some things even the smallest organisation can do, often for very little outlay:
- Have a single phone number for customer enquiries. There are many companies offering virtual phone numbers that then allow you to redirect as required. Look for those that then allow you to add "extensions" easily.
- Avoid using spreadsheets to maintain any sorts of records about your customers. Find a CRM system that you can grow into.
- Keep modularity and mass customisation in mind whenever you are thinking about new products or services.
- Build sharing and communication in at the heart of what you do. Small organisations are best focussing on their external communications, using established consumer tools. As you grow, you may want to keep some communications in-house, but with the culture there, it's much easier to change or add-in a new tool.
- Make "Re-use" your mantra - whether you're talking about content, products, services, or waste. And avoid the sort of reuse where each customer gets a slightly different service that you then have to maintain separately. One product/service that can be used in multiple ways is the ideal.
- Keep talking to your customers about what they need, and regularly review what you're doing. Stopping should always be an option on the table.
- Build your organisation on systems and processes that have been proven in larger-scale situations, or make sure you can change horses easily when you need to.
Image credit: http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/622153
I wonder whether you have identified the source of the scientific term "Learning_Conversations"
If not let me point you towards our books - "Learning Conversations:- The Self-Organised Learning Way to Personal and Organisational Growth" Published by ROUTLEDGE 1991
"Self-Organised Learning:- Foundations of a Conversational Science for Psychology" 1985
"Learning to change" in the McGraw-Hill Training Series 1995 there are over 40 Ph.D theses in Brunel University Library which all contributed to the development of S-O-L and Learning Conversations. It seems a pity that you are unable to acknowledge this resource. Or if you do. We would welcome more explicit acknowledgement. Or find you own terminology, rather than debasing ours. Thank you!
I hadn't realised that Learning Conversations was a "scientific term", although it doesn't surprise me that someone's used it as a term to describe a process in an academic research context. Given that I don't have access to academic libraries, it's not surprising that I failed to pick this up...
I hope this post provides the explicit acknowledgment Prof. Thomas is looking for.
I also hope that my use of the term Learning Conversation as a website name, and in my ongoing discussion of the use of conversations to support learning, does not debase too much the work Prof. Thomas and his colleagues have carried out.
If anyone has a copy of the books referenced above, I'd be interested to read them. They appear to be out of print.
One of the main reasons people give to avoid using online social networking tools at work is lack of time. This post gives four ways you can play a part in your organisation's learning network, without requiring much time to do so. In fact, some of them may even save you time!
Use the tools provided to increase your speed
As you're looking things up and learning stuff, you'll find items that would be useful to your colleagues. Many social applications come with bookmarklets, or small programmes that let you quickly post a link. In my case, I use bit.ly to easily post links to Twitter. Two clicks and it's done.
You can do the same with extensions in Chrome or Firefox. It's even easier on mobile devices, which have social integration at their heart.
Feed your posts to the right people
If you're using Yammer or similar applications, they often come with a means of automatically filtering your Twitter posts, and pulling them into the organisation's internal social network. This is great if you have an organisation where people are less likely to be on Twitter, but are happy to use the internal tools.
Build connections, and exploit them (nicely)
Once you've got a network of people you follow, and people who follow you, then start using it to ask questions. You'll find that those questions will quickly fly around the organisation, and you'll get answers from people a number of network connections away from you. This is especially true if you find those people who act as the hubs on your social network. They won't have the answers, but they will have the connections to get those answer. (See: Wikipedia - properties of small world networks)
Stop answering the same question many times
If you've answered a question by email, then that knowledge only exists between you and the recipients. If you answer it on a blog, on in a video post, then that knowledge is made available to the rest of the organisation. If the same question comes back to you, then you can easily point people towards the answer.