Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

3 May 2017

To LMS or not to LMS

Clark @ 8:11 AM

A colleague recently asked (in general, not me specifically) whether there’s a role for LMS functions. Her query was about the value of having a place to see (recommended) courses, to track your development, etc. And that led me to ponder, and here’s my thinking:

My question is where to draw the line. Should you do social learning in the LMS version of that, or have a separate system? If using the LMS for social around courses (a good thing), how do you handle the handoff to the social tool used for teams and communities?  It would seem to make sense to use the regular tool in the courses as well, to make it part of the habit.

Similarly, should you host non-course resources in the LMS or out in a portal (which is employee-focused, not siloed)? Maybe the courses also make more sense in the portal, tracked with xAPI?  I think I’d like to track self-learning, via accessing videos and documents the same as I would formal learning with courses: I want to be able to correlate them with business to test the outputs of experiments in changes.

Again, how should I be handling signups for things?  I handle signups for all sorts of things via tools like Eventbrite.  Is asking to signup for a training, with a waiting list, different than other events such as a team party?

Now, for representing your learning, is that an LMS role, or an LRS dashboard, or…?  From a broader perspective, is it talent management or performance management or…?

I’m not saying an LMS doesn’t make sense, but it seems like it’s a minor tool at best, not the central organizing function.  I get that it’s not a learning management system, but a course management system, but is that the right metaphor?  Do we want a learning tracking system instead, and is that what an LMS if or could be for?

When we start making a continuum between formal and informal learning, what’s the right suite of tools? I want to find courses and other things through a federated search of *all* resources. And I want to track many things besides course completions, because those courses should have real world-related assignments, so they’re tracked as work, not learning. Or both. And I want to track things that we’re developing through coaching, or continuing development through coaching and stretch assignments. Is that an LMS, or…?

I have no agenda to put the LMS out of business, as long as it makes sense in modern workplace learning. However, we want to use the right tool for the right job, and create an ecosystem that supports us doing the right thing.  I don’t have an obvious answer, I’m just trying on a rethink (yes, thinking out loud ;), and wondering what your thoughts are.  So, what is the right way to think about this? Do you see a uniquely valuable aggregation of services that makes sense? (And I may have to dig in deeper and think about the essential components and map them out, then we can determine what the right suites of functions are to fulfill those needs.)


  1. Measure what matters, right? If systems could track the requests people make for help (accessing policies, procedures, directions, etc.) and if we could input operational metrics to correlate to the data being generated by individual then, we might create a working learning ecosystem!

    Comment by William Ryan — 5 May 2017 @ 5:06 AM

  2. We’re wrestling these same questions, and I am curious to know if you have reviewed a product called Instancy? It seems to combine many of the functions you reference here – combined LCMS, LMS, LRS – that allows you to search for learning resources both inside and outside a course and then track their use.

    Comment by Karen — 8 May 2017 @ 10:37 AM

  3. Karen, I don’t review products (at least not without a contract to do so :), so the short answer is no. The longer answer is being able to integrate resources from inside and outside sounds good, but I don’t want to just track their use, but then feed that into performance indicators. Given that you say it’s also an LRS, it might. I also want resources beyond courses: job aids, vids, etc. Then the other question is whether it federates search and creates a user-focused portal. Sounds like it at least does the former. Thanks for the input!

    Comment by Clark — 8 May 2017 @ 2:33 PM

  4. I don’t think there is an easy answer. I assume the question is asking if a company needs an LMS for their employees. A company should provide their employees with the resources needed to do their jobs. The policies, procedures, and other company specific information can be taught via a course in an LMS or via a wiki or other reference source. When it comes to doing my job, I shouldn’t have to wait until a course is available or jumping through hurdles to get permission to take a course. At the same time, I probably shouldn’t spend time taking training courses that don’t relate to my job. If the LMS is able to limit how many courses I can take in a given period of time or prevent me from taking course not related to my job without first seeking permission, then maybe the LMS is doing a helpful job.

    We use the statistics from the LMS to identify which courses people are taking. The courses with the highest enrollments should get the most attention to make sure the content is up to date and that the course works with the latest web browsers or mobile devices. If you know that only a dozen people are taking a course, it might be a lower priority to update the content when compared with a course that has 1000 people taking it each year. The enrollment numbers can be used to justify the expenses of maintaining the staffing levels in the training department.

    Comment by Mike Becvar — 15 May 2017 @ 10:04 AM

  5. Mike, thanks for the reply, and agree. However, maybe other courses aren’t being taken because they need work or the marketing wasn’t handled well (presumably you wouldn’t have them hosted in the first place if you hadn’t identified a need). And I think if you develop employee’s ability to learn, and create an empowered environment where they know what they need to do and why, you may not have to worry about limiting course access. Still, I’m not arguing against the LMS, I’m just trying to identify the real use case, instead of what is touted. Compliance may well be the core value, and it’s real. Thanks again for the input!

    Comment by Clark — 15 May 2017 @ 9:32 PM

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