Why The LMS is a Threat to Corporate Learning

Illumeo Blog's Profile

Ask almost anyone about what their company has done to make learning happen and they will likely say, “We’ve got an LMS.” Really? Well my car has spark plugs, but that doesn’t make it a car. Yet most people refer to their company’s LMS as if buying and implementing it actually did something useful, and I’m here to tell you that every big company has an LMS, and, having spoken to hundreds of big company leaders, none of them are thrilled with the learning that happens there.

So why is the LMS a threat? Because the people buying them are typically those charged with learning across the enterprise, and once they’ve bought their LMS it appears, speaking to those folks and their internal clients, like they think they’re done - or if not done that you, the systems users, need to just “get on board” from there. Well, not only is an LMS not a “learning system”, it’s not even the most important cog in the “learning machine” for companies. Yet due to the habit we all (those of us old enough) picked up in the 80’s and 90’s of buying expensive platforms with the hopes of running our companies more effectively, the LMS has been the perceived key element of learning at companies ever since.

News flash - it’s not. And not only is it not the key piece, its existence has delayed real innovation in enterprise learning and crowded out spending and creativity that would otherwise have gone to other, more effective platforms.

Despite all the marketing fluff you might read, LMS’s are just a database with bells and whistles. Yes, you can list courses and track who accessed them. If you think that’s what drives effective learning in the enterprise, please raise your hand. Anyone?

As it turns out, LMS’s, being such simple things, have proven good at only very simple tasks. If you need to track who did and didn’t take the sexual harassment course required of managers, an LMS is fine. That task utilizes the LMS’s core capabilities well: list content, track who took it. Not who needed what, not who learned - just who took it.

However, if you want to make a marketing manager better at their job, listing a few generic courses (gotta love those uselessly generic LMS course libraries) is not going to do it. If you want that financial analyst to be a better analyst, giving them a corporate learning “portal” and leaving it at that is not going to get you anywhere. Same goes with your sales execs, hr generalists, and everyone else for that matter.

To effectively develop skills, you need to understand what someone does currently, understand where they, their manager, and the company all want their skills to go in the near and longer-term future, have a massive course library of job specific courses taught by senior practitioners, delivered via the cloud on any device, anywhere, have a way to assign, track and report on their now personalized learning plan, and back up that learning with real-world job assignments with ongoing assessments and learning cycles. Now this will lead to useful professional development! The LMS is lucky if it’s 10% of that list, and the easiest 10% at that!

To move your company forward, look into personalized learning, or test out some personalized assessment capabilities on which to base each employee’s education, or work on job benchmarking and a system to automatically recommend courses based on someone’s benchmarked skills gap analysis, or look into truly deep, job-title-based learning content that’s useful for increasing specific job expertise. In other words, go deeper, and strive to move beyond the knee-jerk LMS response.

Remember, once the hype over ERP systems calmed down, everyone realized that they were just glorified accounting systems, the likes of which had been around since literally the dawn of the computer age (two words: punch cards), and that they solved precisely zero of a company’s real business challenges beyond bookkeeping. Don’t fall for the LMS hype because that’s not the answer.