Dave Wilkins, who I admire, has taken up the argument for the LMS in a long post, after a suite of posts (including mine). I know Dave ‘gets’ the value of social learning, but also wants folks to recognize the current state of the LMS, where major players have augmented the core LMS functions with social tools, tool repositories, and more. Without doing a point-by-point argument, since Dan Pontefract has eloquently done so, and also I agree with many of the points Dave makes. I want, however, to point to a whole perspective shift that characterizes where I come from.
I earlier made two points: one is that the LMS can be valuable if it has all the features. And if you want an integrated suite. Or if you need the LMS features as part of a larger federated suite. I made the analogy to the tradeoffs between a Swiss Army knife and a toolbox. Here, you either have a tool that has all the features you need, or you pull together a suite of separate tools with some digital ‘glue’. It may be that the glue is custom code from your IT department, or one tool that integrates one or more of the functions and can integrate other tools (e.g. SharePoint, as Harold Jarche points out on a comment to a subsequent Dave post).
The argument for the former is one tool, one payment, one support location, one integrated environment. I think that may make sense for a lot of companies, particularly small ones. Realize that there are tradeoffs, however. The main one, to me, is that you’re tied to the tools provided by the vendor. They may be great, or they may not. They may have only adequate, or truly superb capabilities. And as new things are developed, you either have to integrate into their tool, or wait for them to develop that capability on their priority.
Which, again, may still be an acceptable solution if the price is right and the functionality is there. However, only if it’s organized around tasks. If it’s organized around courses, all bets are off. Courses aren’t the answer any more!
However, if it’s not organized around courses, (and Dave has suggested that a modern LMS can be a portal-organized function around performance needs), then why the #$%^&* are you calling it an LMS? Call it something else (Dan calls it a Learning, Content, & Collaboration system or LCC)!
Which raises the question of whether you can actually manage learning. I think not. You can manage courses, but not learning. And this is an important distinction, not semantics. Part of my problem is the label. It leads people to make the mistake of thinking that their function is about ‘learning’ with a small ‘l’, the formal learning. Let me elaborate.
- FSL – Formal Structured Learning
- IOL – Intra-Organizational Learning
- GDL – Group Directed Learning
- PDL – Personal Directed Learning
- ASL – Accidental & Serendipitous Learning
The point I want to make here is that FSL is the compliance and certification stuff that LMS’ handle well. And if that’s all you see as the role of the learning unit, you’ll see that an LMS meets your needs. If you, instead, see the full picture, you’ll likely want to look at a richer suite of capabilities. You’ll want to support performance support, and you’ll absolutely want to support communication, collaboration, and more.
The misnomer that you can manage learning becomes far more clear when you look at the broader picture!
So, my initial response to Dave is that you might want the core LMS capabilities as part of a federated solution, and you might even be willing to use what’s termed LMS software if it really is LCC or a performance ecosystem solution, and are happy with the tradeoffs. However, you might also want to look at creating a more flexible environment with ‘glue’ (still with single sign-on, security, integration, etc, if your IT group or integration tool is less than half-braindead).
But I worry that unless people are clued in, selling them (particularly with LMS label) lulls them into a false confidence. I don’t accuse Dave of that, by the way, as he has demonstrably been carrying the ‘social’ banner, but it’s a concern for the industry. And I haven’t even talked about how, if you’re still talking about ‘managing’ learning, you might not have addressed the issues of trust, value, and culture in the community you purport to support.