The Learning Management System, or LMS, is the front face of eLearning to the learners. It is what you log into to gain access to the learning, it is where you do the eLearning and it is where your performance is recorded.
Originating in the late 1990s, an LMS is a software platform for the organisation, administration, presentation, record-keeping and reporting of learning, whether it be small workplace training or large university degree programs. For some organisations the LMS is the entirety of their digital support for learning, for others it is only part of a small ecosystem of software platforms.
While there are huge similarities between LMS platforms, in practice there are two different types of LMS: corporate and academic. The corporate LMS will often have simple assessment tools and courses are commonly limited to a single learning object, such as a SCORM packaged presentation. An academic LMS will generally have far richer assessment and grading tools, as well as support for complex courses made up of many individual learning resources. There are also differences in the ecosystems that sit around the LMS. A corporate LMS will often sit within a wider HR system that may, if fairly modern, include systems of peer learning, coaching, mentoring, performance appraisal, goal setting, succession planning, staff record keeping and more. The academic LMS will usually be connected to a student management system, the Library online platform, ePortfolio system and more.
There are other differences. A corporate LMS will often have catalogues of available courses in addition to ‘forced courses’ that an employee has been enrolled into either automatically by the HR system or by their manager to address a development need. In an academic LMS the courses visible to a student will usually be fixed and limited to the ones they are enrolled in through the student management system. This will normally be limited to four to six courses, and these will change every term or semester, as they progress through their degree or diploma course.
An LXP is a more recent phenomenon. Key characteristics may include:
- Available course offerings may be tailored through AI analytics and, rather than presented in a catalogue form, way use a more contemporary presentation, which leads to the next difference;
- A contemporary Web-2.0 interface that is mobile first;
- A more personalised learning experience;
- They commonly aggregate content from a number of sources, not just the user organisation’s own courses, and provide ways to curate this expanded content;
- Content types broaden from the traditional ‘course’, whether this be a SCORM packaged learning presentation in a corporate LMS or an academic course comprising lessons, readings, etc, to a wider range of material. A big difference from the LMS can be the inclusion of much greater variety in the time commitment to do the material, from micro-learning of 5 minutes up to major time investments;
- A social focus as a core design parameter, whereas an LMS will have social aspects but not as a core organisational principle of the platform;
- Learning paths connect together individual ‘courses’ to represent development pathways;
- Integration of some of the features that, with the LMS model, sat outside of the LMS and, if they existed at all, were in a HR system, such as career planning, longer term development, planning skill development for promotion requirements and such.
To date, LXP’s have sat more in the corporate space than in academia.
While the LMS has had a major and usually positive impact on learning, and the newer LXP extends beyond this, there are issues with the learning platforms we have seen to date. Some of these are:
- Hard to author interesting content
- No personalisation of learning
- One size fits everyone learning
- Poor integration of social with learning
- Limited implementation of latest learning from neuroscience research
And there are other specific issues outlined below.
Quality of Learning Experiences is broadly quite poor across all forms of education
While education theory has developed, most education is still locked into the 19th Century Industrial Revolution model of education. It assumes that everyone can learn at the same pace and that a set curriculum is appropriate. Very little learning is really learner centred, especially with the substantial demise of the traditional apprenticeship model, which could accommodate a more learner centric approach.
While high schools are perhaps the worse example of this production line approach, universities and corporate training all too frequently do no better.
Latest discoveries of best practice are very slow to be implemented
Educational institutions are hugely bureaucratic and have so much invested in the current form of practice that there is little incentive and ability to change. Plus, so many of the people doing the teaching are, in fact, not trained in teaching at all, such as almost all University academics and corporate training specialists.
Discovery of courses by learners is a major issue
As online courses proliferate, finding the right course becomes harder and harder. Even in traditional education, it is difficult for prospective students to compare university courses, for example, leading many students to enrol in the wrong course, at significant personal and financial cost.
Catering for Cognitive Diversity in learners is basically considered too hard
The reality is that really no one caters for the diversity of the way learners’ think and learn. Dyslexic students, for example, are poorly catered for even today, leading to high rates of dropping out unless their parents can afford to put in place special support themselves, basically replacing the factory line education with a really learner-centred one. ADHD students are considered difficult to manage and their intelligence is often underestimated and thus their boredom exaggerates the situation. Students on the Autism Spectrum are either integrated with inadequate support or moved to special schools where often their abilities are not developed well and it is often about babysitting rather than development.
Producing engaging online content is resource hungry
Current ways of producing engaging and interactive learning are expensive, difficult to learn and very resource hungry to use. This is why universities ignore them totally and take a very minimal design approach to their courses. Most corporate compliance training is boring, repetitive and badly designed.
There are many factors that contribute to this. Tools are either simple but shallow or have everything but ‘the kitchen sink’ and have a very high learning curve. Most people using the tools are inadequately trained and, due to extreme time and budget pressures, rarely get the opportunity to properly learn the tools they must use.
People are learning from YouTube… But the content is not verified, nor tracked to a learner profile
People are seeking other ways to learn, yet because there is no way to record and capture the learning that does take place, learners who do this are disadvantaged.
Many people are self-starters when it comes to learning and will go and seek out appropriate material from books, YouTube and elsewhere. But the record of this learning is never captured, and so both the learner is disadvantaged in the future because they can’t produce ‘the certificate’ and their very considerable expertise may be completely overlooked.
Learning is not based on personality type or learning style
The educational processes generally forget that everybody is different. We all have different ways we like to learn, different times of day that we learn best, different requirements in terms of interaction and personal support.
By focusing on creating engaging experiences, learning can happen without the pushback and resistance that happens too often with more traditional approaches. Experiences also benefit from a diversity of approaches, so building collaborative experiences actually encourages and embraces diversity and everyone achieves a better result as a consequence.
Other platforms are not strong on interactivity and flexibility
Most online learning platforms are dull and boring. This is why so many people resist doing the compliance training their workplace may expect them to do or just skim through it with the minimum of attention required to ‘get it over with’. This means that many companies are claiming they’ve met compliance requirements and that their staff are trained properly without any real evidence that this is the case.
Difficulty of teaching some subject areas online
It is hard to teach many subject areas online, such as the practical arts, physical skills and many more. Platforms are not designed to handle anything beyond text files and simple videos.
Online learning is often focused on knowledge share
With no focus on skill and behavioural change, we know that 90% of learning is lost if the learning is not put into practice.
Universities have historically done well in the degree space but have failed to gain real traction in the workshop/short training space. They face huge internal cultural issues, from attitudes to ownership of IP to major staff and funding conflicts over time allocation between teaching and research.
There are fundamental structural flaws in the University sector that are becoming more and more obvious under pressure.
The worst is the conflict between teaching and research. Universities receive money for education from government and from the students themselves. They also receive money for research from government and industry. Academic careers are still fundamentally built on research, despite token gestures to excellence in teaching as a career pathway. Smart academics, and one would hope a university has no other type, are quite capable of decided that it is in their interest to put more effort into research when they are faced with competing time demands. This is why the lecture has persisted despite huge evidence of its ineffectiveness. While academics often love the centre of attention feeling that giving a lecture bestows, it is also true that a good academic can walk in and present a ‘good’ lecture with very little prior preparation. This makes it a very time efficient way of meeting their teaching obligations.
A number of factors converge and mean that Universities spend little effort on building engaging online material and really just use their LMS’ as file repositories for PowerPoints and PDFs. Staff will not spend the time to learn how to use the features of the LMS and especially not the tools of 3rd party learning creation packages. Plus, many of these 3rd party learning content creation tools are really designed for corporate styles of education rather than those of higher education. In many discipline areas it is argued that the material is changing so quickly that it is pointless to do so. Most Universities’ reliance on international student income means that they want and encourage these students but rarely invest to really support their learning needs, which can be exaggerated with some of the newer learning technologies if appropriate resources are not deployed.
Another and perhaps major factor in the lack of development of advanced online learning in Universities is the conflict between the University and its academics over IP. Since academics often change employer frequently and also because of the growing tendency of Universities to only employ staff sessionally, academics usually view their learning materials as their own. They are thus reluctant to embed that IP into a learning resource that the University then owns and the academic loses control over. There are additional fears that the academic will do this and then be given new courses to teach while their online content is managed by a more junior and thus cheaper to the University academic, while they lose more research time by developing material for new courses. There is also no willingness by the Universities to consider an additional remuneration model for the academics who do develop online content that covers the academic while they are still at that employer and after they move on, while the content continues to be used.
All of the above, plus the impact of academic unions, make it unlikely that many Universities will be able to quickly adapt.
Corporate Learning and Development
Like in universities, there is no shortage of talented, motivated people in the corporate L&D space. But the limitations imposed on them all too often stop anything amazing from being built.
Tight learning budgets, aggressive and unreasonable deadlines, intense bureaucracy, uninformed managers and a short-sighted focus on using L&D to patch holes rather than strategically build. All this is complicated by warring managers, a general societal focus on reactive compliance training, old equipment, limited time for proper staff training in the used software and a tendency to seriously underpay for staff with the necessary experience in learning. The end result of all of the above tends too often to suicidally dull and boring training that learners click through in a stupor. There is no transfer of learning records as the learner moves from employer to employer, forcing them to do effectively the same training over again.
For many people, the experience of corporate training tends only to discourage them from ever wanting to do more in their own time.
So, what comes next? Please stay tuned as over the next few years TMRW releases an integrated set of products that will move eLearning forward to a bright future.
By Dr. Wayne J. Cosshall
Chief Learning Officer, TMRW Group