LMS - Present And Future Trends

by Milind Gokhale, VP–Technology and Learning Platforms, Tata Interactive Systems

Learning Management System (LMS), a term once alien to the corporate world is now well recognized at every level of an organization irrespective, of its size or industry. According to Mar­kets And Markets report, (LMS) market is expected to grow from USD 5.22 Billion in 2016 to USD 15.72 Billion by 2021, at a CAGR of 24.7%. Having said that, the recognition may not necessarily have a positive connotation to it. Corporates have popularized the use of LMS’ but very few have truly maximized the benefits from its capabilities. In­terestingly CLOs, Learning Heads, Instruc­tional designers, may “like” their LMS, but by and large all the learners are either neutral or hate the experience. It is also key to note that users do see a lot of value that LMS adds but it is the experience that becomes a key deterrent. This begs the ques­tion – what is going wrong with LMS experience. Unfortunately, the answer is not that simple. Let’s introspect a bit…

Selecting the LMS

Let’s start with the LMS selection process. When you buy a car, you look at your requirements - enthusi­asts will look for features, racers will look for speed, city drivers will look for fuel efficiency and size, while others may have criteria such as value for mon­ey, resale value, and so on. So require­ments are based on what the ultimate user’s goals are. While not everybody is savvy enough to make the right choice based on their needs, they still manage to identify a close match. But in LMS selection process, employees who are ultimate users of the system barely contribute to the criteria defini­tion. Over the years, the criteria, bid­ding process, requirements matrix, etc. has become exhaustive and IT, HR and L&D devised their own checklists to ensure that all items are ticked before the final selection is made. However, somewhere in this process, audi­ence analysis, requirements prior­itization based on organizational needs, cultural and behavioral aspects of the organization, etc. is often overlooked. It is important to start the process with focus on what peo­ple really want, why they need an LMS and what will make them stick to the decision for a longer duration. The experience design, features and func­tionalities, administration and management, gov­ernance and reporting has to be with the learner at the center rather than IT, HR, etc. processes influencing it. According to user-research done by Capterra (Ref #2), 69% of the buyers are new buyers, and only 31% are switching from existing LMS, hence there is a high probability that new adopters may overlook this critical aspect.

LMS Implementation

It is well understood that the implementation is the most critical phase in the journey of LMS rollout. However, the responsibility often rests on the shoulders of the LMS vendor rather than an internal team in-charge of the im­plementation. Not that LMS vendors do a bad job of it, but they simply run their well-practiced steps, demonstrate completion, and move on. There is very little focus on the motivation, communication, and sustainment of interest of end users. A better approach would be to form an im­plementation team consisting of representatives from dif­ferent streams such as HR, L&D, user groups, IT, Cor­porate Communication and business stakeholders. These teams can work with the LMS vendor to create an imple­mentation and rollout plan. The teams can play a big role as they are well aware of the needs and challenges of the end users, organizational constraints, culture and values, strategic initiatives and goals, and so on, and can create a comprehensive and all-inclusive strategy and plan that is integrated with the learner’s jobs, skill requirements, and career plans. Well begun is half done and it is so true in case of LMS selection, as most users may have a prejudice and first impressions matter, communication, market­ing campaign, onboarding programs, training sessions, focus group testing, etc. should also be an integral part of the plan.

Ongoing support and maintenance

This is the most undervalued aspect simply because once an LMS is rolled out, it is expected to function smoothly without any intervention. The only operational support ex­pected is from a team of administrators who perform rou­tine administration activities such as course upload, course assignment, user creation, etc. In reality, this requires the same amount of focus and rigor, if not more, than the selec­tion and implementation process. Apart from the adminis­tration of the LMS, periodic evaluation of usage, responses, feedback, issues reported and their resolution, etc. need to be analyzed. Based on those corrective measures in terms of activating new features, changes to configurations, updates to manuals and documentation, user training, gamification and introducing incentives etc. need to be carried out. Con­tent analysis and improvement is also a part of this exercise. The evaluation of goals and success criteria for LMS imple­mentation should be a part of periodic evaluation to ensure alignment of training delivery with overall organizational goals. Again, this should be done by a team comprising representatives from different streams.

How technology can help

With rapid and disruptive changes in technology, an LMS as a software system is going through a transition. Tradi­tional models are being molded into new ways of deliver­ing content – and delivering new types of content as well. Conventional user interfaces, look and feel, and interactions are undergoing massive changes. There is a shift in focus from content to the learner. Responsive design, the use of gamification, a recommendation engine, adaptive learning paths, competency-based learning, social networking and collaboration to integrate informal learning with the for­mal modes, are some of the examples of how technology is transforming the way training and development is done. According to user-research done by Capterra (Ref #2), Live Video Conferencing (38%), Integrated Talent Man­agement (28%), Mobile Learning (27%), Gamification (22%), Social Learning (20%), are most desired features by the learners. There are many LMS’ and, tools and plat­form providers who have joined the EduTech crusade by providing these and many other features. There are many more planning to contribute with innovative solutions. A future where Artificial Intelligence (AI) plays the role of an instructor or even a content writer is not far away. What needs to be seen is whether the AI can also play a part in selection, implementation and administration to address some of the areas of improvements mentioned above. For example, an AI could analyze the shortcomings of an exist­ing LMS and provide recommendations for the selection criteria of new LMS, or the AI could create a content and skill taxonomy based on existing data, which can be then used as a starting point for new LMS implementation. The AI could observe user behavior and provide inputs to deter­mine the engagement level, emotional attachment, identify distractors, etc. From an organization’s perspective, if an AI could predict ROI in terms of change in productivity, operational efficiency, sales numbers, etc. based on human capital development interventions, and propose remedial paths. This would completely change the way corporates look at training and development. LMS selection, imple­mentation and administration will no longer be the respon­sibility of one department but will get integrated into the organization’s DNA.