Whispers about the impending extinction of Learning Management Systems (LMSs) can be found online since 2014. “Over the last few years, we have seen the rapid consolidation of the talent management market and the rise of informal and social learning within organisations around the world. These changes have prompted discussions about the relevance of Learning Management Systems (LMSs) in today’s corporate learning, performance, and workforce support programmes,” (NetDimensions, 2015).

So, is the LMS headed for extinction? Far from it, argues Michelle Sullivan* from NetDimensions, a provider of secure, flexible and practical learning management, performance management and talent analytics solutions. But in order to avoid extinction, the role of LMS within organisations needs to evolve across eight important aspects, says Sullivan.

Gavin Olivier, partner and managing executive at LRMG, a NetDimensions partner, heads up LRMG’s Talent Management Technology Division. He gives us his input into the eight areas that LMSs must meet.

LMS: Evolution or extinction – 8 Trends that change everything

  1. Informal and social learning:
    It is estimated that at least 75 percent of learning is informal (collaboration, communities of practice, user-generated content and learning at the point of need).
    The four points to consider for your LMS in light of this are, therefore, ease of integration with corporate social networks, syndicated search and expertise locator, gamification options and capabilities, and performance support (NetDimensions)**.
    “Informal learning with the 70:20:10 principle is very topical at the moment,” argues LRMG’s Olivier. “Clients are conscious that the LMS affords end-users a space where they can exercise the opportunity to learn from others.” Companies, therefore, need to ensure that their LMS has a social learning capability, says Olivier: “Is there a platform to collaborate, learn from others and where I as an end-user can post content that I want to share or curate? Is the application driving user adoption – is this a place people want to go to and learn in?”
  2. Mobility:
    According to the IDC, more than 1/3 of the world’s workforce will be mobile by the end of 2015, and the demand for mobile learning is mainstream. “Mobile learning is not eLearning on smartphones,” (NetDimensions).
    It is personalised access, context and location-aware content, and performance support.
    Points to consider for your LMS: “Clear strategy with objectives: evolution or revolution? Responsive design across choice of devices, native apps optimized for real-world use cases, connectivity – what happens if a user is offline?” (NetDimensions).
    The device and platform choice, and the weighing up of the pros and cons of each is also important. The key question, according to NetDimensions, is “Should you leverage your existing learning content investment or start fresh with new mobile-specific content?”
    Olivier posits that “we are not just talking about accessing content on your mobile device, but the ability to get access to content wherever you are, whenever you need it.” The offline capability of LMS solutions is also being tested, he argues, as many users are conscious of the cost of bandwidth.
  3. Compliance:
    While compliance is a high priority for most organisations, and most companies rely on their LMS to demonstrate compliance, very few are ready for a compliance audit (Brandon Hall Group).
    Your LMS should, therefore, take into consideration e-signatures in audit tracking, competencies and certifications, proactive reporting, dashboards and analytics, and easy access to compliance content (NetDimensions). The key question: “Are compliance checklists & reactive reporting enough from a risk perspective vs. true workforce readiness & proactive compliance dashboards?” (NetDimensions).
    “Compliance is a key issue in the local market with the ability to report on this in the South African context essential,” says Olivier. “How many people from which demographic have completed which learning is a crucial metric that informs workplace skills plans and reports.”
    In addition, argues Olivier, the LMS needs to be able to manage the crucial learning that affords an employee a ‘licence to operate’, whether that be a driver’s licence, machine operator’s competence or the completion of the company ethics course: “Making sure people have done the learning they require to avoid costly litigation or cessation of operations is a key impact which LMS solutions need to manage.”
  4. The extended enterprise:
    These include your company’s direct clients, resellers and distributors, suppliers, franchise networks, supply chains, distribution networks and end clients (B2B and B2C).
    Your LMS needs to consider this contingency workforce through: “Portals, branding & personalization, e-commerce capabilities and a new role of the LMS (revenue generation, quality management, documentation distribution and partner certifications” (NetDimensions). The key question: “Can you leverage the same LMS investment for both internal & external audiences?” (NetDimensions).
    According to Olivier, “The concept of the extended enterprise is becoming very relevant to many clients. Many realise that using their existing platforms to train their suppliers, vendors, and even customers on business critical elements of their value proposition or product, is either helping them retain clients, boost sales or improve service delivery. In addition, temporary and flexi staff are key to many businesses, particularly in the retail space, and using your enterprise LMS to act as a knowledge repository for your temps is crucial to the successful onboarding and orientation of staff.”
  5. The cloud:
    Moving your LMS over to the cloud or getting your cloud-based storage up to scratch is a disruption in every business. You need to consider the following for your LMS: “Data hosting location for data privacy, control over software updates – is it important? Security of application infrastructure & standards (ISOIEC 27001), support for industry-specific regulatory and legal requirements, and the ability to tailor your system to your specific business needs,” (NetDimensions). The key question: “Are you looking for a ‘socialized’ LMS application or for an LMS as the social platform of choice?” (NetDimensions).
    “The cloud significantly reduces the need for costly infrastructure, ease of access is significantly enhanced and the management of the total cost of ownership is aided,” Olivier points out. “The world of on-demand self-service is becoming the norm and many vendors have transitioned to cloud LMS offerings as their primary source of hosting.”
  6. Integrated Talent Management:
    “Integrated systems are on the rise and the LMS is moving to the enterprise level to respond to the changing needs of agile companies. The LMS is the heart of talent management” (NetDimensions).
    The following needs to be considered for your LMS: Organic integration or collection of technologies? “Seamless user experience, market consolidation (has your LMS provider been acquired or re-acquired)? Level of attention and knowledgeable client support that you are receiving, and hidden costs along the life of your LMS contract,” (NetDimensions). And the key question: “How much of best-of-breed functionality & user experience is sacrificed in an integrated suite?” (NetDimensions).
    “Learning without talent is not optimal,” argues Olivier. “Many clients have LMS solutions that have been functioning in isolation from the talent processes. This makes managing Human Resources (HR) processes in isolation to different applications a challenge. The need for a unified end-user experience is driving the move to a seamless integration of the talent suites. The LMS is essentially at the heart of the talent process and needs to be the base from where talent is developed.”
  7. Security and privacy:
    In order to ensure the security and privacy of your LMS, the following needs to be considered: “Authenticity (validated identity authentication), integrity (secure infrastructure), confidentiality (data privacy and control), availability (system architecture), auditability (tracking & reporting) and regulations,” (NetDimensions). Key question: “What people data or information do you think might be at risk in your L&D or HR department?” (NetDimensions).
    “With privacy always being a crucial element, and now with the POPI Act in the South African context, many clients start the conversation with ‘Is the data secure and is the platform compliant with the provisions of The Act?’” says Olivier. “Access into the systems via secure platforms with authentication and ISO standards is becoming the norm against which LMS vendors are being measured.”
  8. Analytics:
    It is estimated that nine out of 10 organisations are still in operational maturity level in relation to analytics, and have yet to move onto strategic analytics or transformational analytics (Elearnity). The key question is “Are you able to get started with analytics by focusing on small data that are already available to you before tackling big data?” (NetDimensions).

The following are points to consider for your LMS: “Level of confidence in the accuracy & integrity of currently available data; self-service reporting capabilities, time & effort required for a new report; graph charting & visualization options; ability to integrate data from multiple sources; OLAP technology & predictive modeling; and user experience at all levels (administrators, business line managers, HR directors, executive team),” (NetDimensions).

“‘Can we get reports that go beyond simple completion stats of courses?’ is what many clients are asking,” says Olivier. “‘Can we integrate with data from other sources that will give meaning to our learning and talent data?’ is also a question that we are being asked. The visualisation of talent data using metrics is becoming a key skill and capability for talent suite providers,” argues Olivier.

In closing, Olivier does not believe the LMS is on the extinction list: “Far from it. Learning is at the centre of all talent management processes and ensuring that staff have immediate access to learning opportunities to manage their careers not only ensures improved engagement but assists the business in streamlining HR processes. The digitisation of the workplace is driving organisations to adopt a more agile approach to delivering learning to staff and for that an LMS is going to be a requirement.”

* Source: LMS: Evolution Or Extinction: 8 Trends That Change Everything

** Source: LMS: Evolution Or Extinction: 8 Trends That Change Everything