From the Perspective of Learners/Users, Here Are Some Suggestions.
Companies that write learning management systems (LMSs) and learning content management systems (LCMSs) have provided us with some excellent tools over the past few years. But the journey has just begun.
This article is not intended as a preview of what’s coming in the way of LMSs and LCMSs in the near future. It’s intended more as a wish list for the learning industry from the standpoint of the learners/users. That is, it’s a list of the improvements yet needed — and it’s our hope that the vendors will eventually comply, the faster the better.
Here, then, are 12 “wishes” for the LMSs and LCMSs of the future:
1. Focus on the learner. Most LMSs are focused on the organization’s perspectives on learning and training. They know how to track attendance, participation and certification. These are important, but not sufficient. We need to have our learning systems focus on the learner. They should know more about the learner, from background to style to context, and aggressively make learning easier, more efficient and continuous for the learner. While reports of learning consumed are interesting, we really want our learners to turn to these systems for real support in learning.
2. Content, content and content. When the first LMSs were launched, they were primarily “vending machines” to dispense and track the consumption of e-learning (then called CBT) courses, mostly from third-party providers. As the creation of internally-created content increased, many organizations purchased LCMSs to add content creation/management capabilities. Our learning systems now need to hone in on the vast amount of user content (from podcasts to FAQs to performance guides) that will be created by workers in the workplace.
3. Ratings, please. Learners want to know how other employees who are similar to them have rated and valued a program’s content before they start that program. Why not provide ratings, sorted by demographics and roles, to help a learner select the content and activities that were most highly valued? This can be a simple thumbs-up/thumbs-down, a five-point scale or more in-depth rating system. Great content should rapidly float to the surface and be visible to the workforce. Poor content should also be labeled and either improved or avoided.
4. More context. Every classroom experience blends formal content with informal context. This may be in the form of a sidebar story from the instructor, comments/questions from fellow students, or conversations at the coffee pot on breaks. Yet, as we moved toward online learning, less attention was paid to the role that context plays. We need to address how learners will get that context — from collaborative tools like discussion boards/wikis and blogs to more fundamental design changes — to incorporate the voice of the field more actively into the learning experiences. I have yet to see a context management system, even though in many situations the quality of the context is more impactful than the quality of the content.
5. Performance support tools. Our learning systems are mostly geared for learning in anticipation of need or requirement. I want my systems to also have a healthy dose of performance support resources to allow for “learning at the moment of need.” Ideally, I should be able to pose a question, requirement or topic to my learning systems and be provided with both an immediate performance support tool that will walk me through my need, as well as a module to learn about it in greater depth for future requirements. Our learners need more performance support and our learning systems have to step up to the plate to provide this.
6. Social knowledge. Learning systems will need to include and be integrated with social networking systems. Some of the best and most important knowledge will be shared person-to-person in an organization. The learner wants to know, “Who in this organization has any experience that could help me as a learner/worker?” In addition to the LMS pointing to a module or course, we need to be able to link to a colleague who may have the perfect, relevant experience based on their work from two jobs ago. The social dimension of learning needs to be harvested and accelerated by a new vision of our learning systems.
7. Learning systems as components. Most of our workers do not want to go to your “learning portal page.” Instead, they want to have components along the lines of “gadgets” or “wizards” that will live on their screens or pop up based on tasks/situations. Those will feed content, requirements and reminders from the learning systems. For example, if I am reading a document and I come upon a term that I don’t know, is there a way to launch a component that would offer me definitions, social networking and even registration into an online or in-person class on that topic? Can I have a graphic on my screen that changes color based on my current continuing education requirements?
8. Focus on the role. Our workplace is increasingly role-based. Most of our learning systems are more focused on jobs or positions. If I am assigned a new project, it may shift my role, and the learning systems should help me prepare for and perform in that role. My history in previous assignments should inform the set of learning activities that are offered to me in the new role.
9. User content authoring. YouTube is coming to the office. Our learners are already creating simple and short half-life content, using simple video, audio and text tools. Many learning systems are in shock at the thought of this new wave of content. How will we author, approve, edit, tag and make discoverable this content? Should we even try to track the usage of user content? How do we blend authored learning content with user content? What is the lifecycle of content: when do we expire a module?
10. Learning systems as service. Each business unit may want or need a very different front end experience for its learning systems. Do we allow our enterprise LMS to evolve into a cluster of learning services that are tailored for our business units, but that share a common set of data profiles? In other words, are our learning systems ready to be part of a learning “cloud,” where the functionalities are delivered as a software service rather than from a single enterprise system? This is Web 3.0; Are our systems ready?
11. The lifecycle of learning systems. Many of our Learning Consortium members are in the midst of re-evaluating their LMS and LCMS. Some are shocked that this point of re-evaluation has arrived only 36 to 42 months after the original purchase point. What are realistic lifecycle expectations for our learning systems? We need to take an industry perspective on those systems that will serve valiantly, but for a two- to three-year period. How do we have the lifecycle conversation with our IT department and even learning suppliers?
12. Learning systems as human capital/talent systems. Ultimately, there is also a lifecycle of the knowledge/skill sets of an employee. From the moment we start the recruitment/interview process, through hiring/training to succession, promotion and eventually retirement, we have a need to integrate learning resources and information into the larger human capital/talent systems. If your organization were about to be purchased by another company, what information lives in your learning systems that would assist the valuation or merger process? Learning systems must become more friendly and integrated with their cousins.
—Elliott Masie is an internationally recognized futurist, analyst, researcher and organizer on the critical topics of workforce learning, business collaboration and emerging technologies. He is the chair of The Learning CONSORTIUM, founder of the ReSkilling Initiative. For more information, visit www.masie.com.