The LMS – Will It Survive?


It seemed the LMS was under fire recently from many corners and questions were being raised about its very future – Jane Hart recently posted what is the future of the lms reviewing the useful of an LMS, followed up by a similar post by Harold Jarche suggesting the LMS is no longer the centre of the universe.

Clark Quinn brought in a little balance by highlighting what the LMS could be used for and to what extent in his post – a case for the LMS. Reading these posts and the comments on these posts made me think if the LMS is looking at its own end or does it still add enough value to a company's training/learning function. What possible future does it hold for itself? Will the LMS survive and if so what will help it survive and sustain and grow? And there are those questions which keep coming back – if the LMS is no longer needed why is its market heating up more than ever before? What is it about the LMS that keeps making it less valuable and less needed, yet paradoxically, more used and more bought?

To start with, lets figure out why a company needs to buy an LMS and can it do without one? Some kind of training need - either short term or long term, ad hoc or regular, triggers this. This training need could be either for new hires, up-skilling for preparing the next generation of leaders or simply for moving up the corporate ladder for managing higher responsibilities, transition-skilling in case of a situation like the one we’ve had in the last two years, where due to recession companies went through a number of transition scenarios trying to do more with less and training would definitely be required to ready the people for the same, it could even be a M&A activity leading to a training need, plain old compliance training needs, or just regular training for the job in hand.

The key is to recognize that in almost all of these cases the responsibility to 'provide' the training lies with the organization and this responsibility inherently includes a 'formal' element in the entire process. If the companies were to leave this to a collaborative environment it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that it would be counter-productive and also may pose risks to business. A capable LMS with the ability to offer the right tools to manage courses (which may come from various vendors), manage users and the trainings and their reports would fit here and be productive. If the LMS offers a myriad of features like eLearning as well as classroom training management, content authoring, exhaustive reporting, typical course management it adds a significant value in terms of savings in time, cost and also in bringing in some amount of predictability in the process which is required by companies.

The concerns raised against the LMS being something out of 90's or being outdated and no longer required in today’s learning environment cannot be universally applied to the varied situations and systems out there. The strongest premise behind these concerns is that informal learning doesn’t need management and hence doesn’t need LMS -completely true. But facilitation of informal learning needs tools and the right infrastructure to ‘manage’ that. In a world where companies do either informal learning only or formal learning only it is appropriate to choose separate tools for each purpose and possibly an LMS is not required for only informal learning facilitation. However, there was no way companies, for a long time, choose either of the methods only. In that context it makes perfect sense for the LMS systems to up the ante and extend themselves to become more of a learning portal / system.

The idea is not to reduce importance of managed and formal learning but to be able to offer the right environment for people to share, collaborate and learn in addition to the training which the companies would still like to be responsible for.

I believe LMS systems, in general, recognize that needs are constantly evolving - now to embrace social networking, social learning tools and approach that from within the LMS framework. However these are early days and as with systems that evolve, it will be some time yet for LMS systems to reach the balance where they are known more for 'learning' and less for 'management'. It depends not only on the LMS vendors and providers but a whole lot more onus is on the overall approach to learning adopted by the companies. Even with a number of collaboration tools around and being used by some companies it is still the LMS that gets the primary attention when companies need to add more electronic media for learning delivery.

As LMS systems continue to grow and offer the right set of tools both for formal and informal learning there is no doubt that the LMS would continue to remain the centre of the learning. Only when all learning is informal is there a case for the LMS to be dead. Such a situation is ideal but doesn't seem plausible in the context of workplace learning. Until such a time, the LMS lives on and continues to thrive. LMS providers need to move along with the times, and let the LMS evolve into a more active system from being a passive one.

So the LMS will definitely survive. As with any successful organism it needs to continue to evolve and adapt itself as the learning ecosystem changes. It's not going to be easy to replace the LMS with 'something else'.