The last decade and a half has witnessed a tectonic shift in the management style and management models that guide corporate business. The move has been from a very hierarchical, top-down, process-driven approach to a more democratic model, where problem-solving and managing happens in smaller, more agile and less structured teams. Consequently, it is of little surprise that the way companies structure and disseminate learning into their workplace has started to mirror this model.
All businesses today, both domestically and globally, are confronting the critically important challenge of dealing with a shortage of experienced and capable workers. This challenge adds significant pressure to the overall learning and development (L&D) industry to provide learning structures that respond directly to the needs of employees, but that also indirectly address the business’ need to maintain a pool of experienced and productive workers.
Analyzed within this context, the future of Learning Management Systems (LMS) looks somewhat turbulent and poised for some structural and philosophical changes to adapt and survive in this brave, new environment.
How will some of these changes resonate within the LMS community?
1. LMS is on course to transform itself in order to adapt to the new learning environment.
LMS, over the past 20 years or so, has provided powerful software for managing complex databases that, combined with digital frameworks, has provided the means to create and deliver content, monitor learner participation and asses performance. The LMS industry is a powerful player in the L&D industry. At an approximate $5 billion market value, LMS has captured and held a very significant segment of the learning sector.
LMS products and software have a wide reach because of their capacity to empower any organization to create electronic coursework, deliver with flexible options and manage its use over time. While LMS is an educational tool that has been used extensively in educational institutions, its greatest impact has been outside the education sector and inside the corporate environment. Companies have used LMS to successfully deliver training to employees and address the very important business priority that is the continuing education of its workforce.
So back to this next year. The challenge for the LMS community is not insignificant. Josh Bersin calls the changes that are coming to corporate learning “disruptive.” Why is this happening? Learning can no longer simply be about delivering programs to employees. The structure that supports learning and information should be as simple and intuitive to access as Uber makes locating a ride. The changes that Bersin alludes to are described as moving from “designing programs to designing experiences”.
This is the critical distinction. Learning experiences should be designed to inspire, excite and engage employees on their journey. Most corporate learning environments follow an older corporate LMS model that excelled in compliance and formal training. It’s popularity amongst users is quite low. Going forward, there are several immediate challenges that LMS faces: the impact of new players in this industry, like the G Suite, Microsoft Teams, Slack and Workplace by Facebook, as well as the plethora of instructional content that’s available on the internet. But its most fundamental challenge remains the need to rebrand itself from a learning system that manages all of the aspects of learning administration to a platform that enables and enriches the learning experience itself.
According to industry analysis, the further challenge for LMS is to build on the value of its administrative capacities and not restrict the scope of teaching and learning by responding with flexibility to the new models of learning. This is an opportunity for organizations to respond directly to the needs of their workforce by facilitating the construction of learning environments that are personalized, easy to use and flexible in its choice of when, where and how learning takes place.
This final point brings us to the next prediction.
2. The Digitalization of learning expands and essentially dominates the learning landscape, including the LMS space.
The term Digital Learning presents an interesting challenge in and of itself for the following reasons. From a technical perspective, digital learning is the use of digital technologies to advance any instructional practice, including the ability to provide personalized learning experiences. But from an anecdotal perspective, digital learning taps into a veritable change in the expectations of learning and how it’s achieved.
The original paradigm followed a simple course: when employees in an organization needed to acquire a new skill or new information, the learning department would provide the content and structure for that skill to be acquired. The paradigm shift that we are witnessing is the move to “self-directed” learning. This is not an imposed shift, but rather a cultural change in behavior that directs people to get answers on their own. This is what constitutes “self-directed” learning, and its primary enabler is technology. This is where the tie-in occurs with digital learning. As the number of technologies that support digital learning continues to grow, this behavioral change in learning will continue to be reinforced and normalized.
Also reinforcing this change towards a self-directed learning environment are four very notable elements already present and well established in our culture. First is our virtual ubiquitous use and availability of mobile phones. Training and learning programs that can be made available on tablets and phones will reach workers and markets beyond the office walls, and learners will have the freedom to schedule training on their own time and at their own pace.
Second is the potential near-term impact of the Internet of Everything (IoE). The projected impact of humans and devices working together foresees corporate training being able to deliver real-time information to the right employees at the right time. Third is the powerful impact of social media. The strength of this tool is its ability to foster a learning culture among employees by empowering your employees themselves to act as experts and mentors. Lastly, virtual reality is beginning to have a major role in learning within companies. The benefit of employers being able to place employees in on-the-job scenarios helps them develop those necessary skills for real-life situations.
3. The push towards Micro & Macro Learning
The distinction between micro and macro learning is an attempt to categorize all the instructional content that is available online into two broad categories – micro learning and macro-learning. Micro-learning is content that can be quickly read and consumed in 10 minutes or less. Examples include a video, a blog, or a set of instructional questions via news sites and social networks that can be consumed on an ongoing basis.
Macro learning is more of an activity that we engage in, in order to learn a new area of business or the like. This type of learning typically involves a commitment to time and effort. Examples include a MOOC (massive open online course), a series of videos or an instructor-led program. In days gone by, these were referred to as courses, but in the era of digital learning they are described as macro-learning and are designed to fit a digital learning environment.
Corporate learning has gained significant prominence due, in large part, to the pressure that companies have had to sustain with respect to recruiting and retaining well-qualified employees. A strong learning culture that permeates our workplaces is a strong endorsement of this critical social need that is exacerbated by demographic changes and global competition. In this environment, learning methodologies will continue to evolve as conditions evolve. Software programs like LMS are inevitably caught up in this wave of changes, and will face constant pressure to amend and adapt.