There are deeper reasons than simply reaching new learner populations, which is the majority reason cited by a new survey.
BY JOE DIDONATO
Most industry analysts have been projecting some pretty big increases in market potential for LMS (learning management system) and TMS (talent management system) purchases. What piques our interest is the projection that the global market for these systems is expected to triple by 2020. And this has been less than five years after several founding fathers in the LMS space had said that “the LMS is dead in its current form” at Elearning!’s 2011 Enterprise Learning Conference and Expo.
Included in the statistics are learning content management systems (LCMSs) and human capital management systems (HCMs). There are approximately 500 vendors in this LMS/TMS/LCMS/HCM space globally.
As we looked across the industry, we suspected that the growth might be coming from a strong movement toward online offerings by universities. We speculated that pressures of escalating costs and tuitions were prime drivers to entice colleges and universities to move to the more cost-efficient online delivery modalities. But equally important, it seemed that going online was helping smaller and more aggressive university systems like Southern New Hampshire University to extend their reach to more students across the nation, without the burdensome infrastructure cost of classrooms, dorms and campus facilities.
We also speculated that the growth might reflect a similar movement in the corporate and public sectors, as they also tried to extending their reach to more employees and to their extended enterprise of customers and partners. In order to determine if those hypotheses were correct, we decided to ask our broad readership base some probing questions.
The answers we received show that there are much deeper business drivers than just simply reaching new learner populations, which is the overall reason selected by 62% of the respondents. Improving employee engagement is the second-most selected reason, given by more than 52% of the respondents, followed by improving the user experience (50%) and shortening the time to competency (49%). Toward the bottom of the list of 20-plus business drivers are reasons like improvement of compensation management, expanding global business, shortening the time to market, and helping to attract new talent. Even lower are reasons that have to do with more accurate reporting and compliance tracking.
It became apparent that the top business drivers encompass more than just getting to more learners. It is also about seeking better engagement and user experiences for diverse learner bases. That marks a major shift from organization-centric factors to more learner-centric drivers than we’ve seen in prior surveys. Previously, we saw a very strong bias on acquiring the tools that helped departments better manage the education and training process. Although those factors still come up as key “musthaves,” it now seems that as a community, we just expect those controls to be present. It’s our look to the next level of maturity, the factors that impact the learner experience that seem to be driving a lot of the renewed activity in the space.
The areas that “user experience” encompasses are still being defined by the industry, but it’s apparent that it is more than just the engagement aspects that are being lumped into this criteria. There is talk about including reinforcement training capability to improve topic retention, along with other science-based pedagogies that are still being debated by our learning community. These would include factors like the spacing of learning venues, the type of testing to be employed, and similar items that impact the learner.
TWO BIG TRENDS
One of the areas that we measure yearly is the number of respondents who plan to add, change or replace their systems. The good news is that the movement seems to be relatively fat from prior years. On the LMS side, 33% of the 355 respondents are looking to add, change or replace their systems. On the TMS side, 31% are planning on doing the same. In the past, that number has ranged from the middle 30 percents to the low 40 percents.
The other big trend we see is the rapid movement away from on-premise installations of LMSs and TMSs. Nearly 63% of our respondents now use Cloud and SaaS (software-as-a-service) solutions. And now that vendors have proven that their infrastructure can be equally — or more — secure than installations behind a company’s firewall, it frees up organizations to stay more current with releases from the vendors. In the past, upgrades were stalled because the underlying platform (such as Oracle) had to be upgraded as well. That meant coordinating with the rest of the company on that platform upgrade before new versions of an LMS, LCMS, TMS or HCM could be installed. That held up a lot of the new feature sets that companies were pushing hard on the vendors to offer. Now, however, this rapid movement toward Cloud- and SaaS-based systems has allowed both the vendors and their clients to take immediate advantage of newer releases as they become available.
Overall, 86.5% of all respondents own an LMS, LCMS, TMS or HCM system. That’s up from 82% in our last survey. And those planning to add, change or replace their systems are planning to spend an average of $1.1 million, up from $968,500 in the prior survey.
Corroborating the aforementioned business-driver trends, the single most important factor when purchasing an LMS, LCMS, TMS or HCM is “user experience.” Dropping to the bottom of the list are factors like customer testimonials and the size of the client base. So unless the vendor can point to positive learner experiences, quality and great customer service, it is likely to lose the deal to a competitor.
Topping the list of “must-have” features in the LMS portion of the survey are course tracking and completion, assessment and testing, and certificate program support. But once these administrative-type factors are assured, more than 78% of the users say that “mobile deployment” capability is a must-have feature. This capability speaks directly to getting to more learners. And we should keep in mind that “mobile” means more than just phones. There are more than 95 devices in the mobile class, including tablets and laptops.
Lowest on the list of “must-have” features are support for augmented reality (AR), ecommerce and collaborative authoring.
On the TMS side, the top “must-have” features are 360-degree evaluations (84.6%), followed by five features that are all very close to one another in the 69+% range: career management tools; integration with other HR systems; learning content; performance planning; and succession planning and management. At the bottom of the list were payroll, communications and MBO support.
When asked about a range of LMS satisfaction criteria, respondents’ highest rated criteria — reliability — achieves the top score of 2.03, where 1 is excellent and 5 is very poor. That’s a B+, while criteria like “integration with external systems (MOOCs, Lynda.com, etc.)” scores a 3.04. That translates into a C+ rating. Scalability was the second-best criteria, which is another testament to the work being done by vendors in the Cloud and SaaS arenas. Other top pain points include integration with internal systems, as well as new features being made available by vendors.
And when we asked what the most important factors were in selecting a TMS or HCM system, integration with internal systems, user experience and quality are the clear front-runners. And as we saw in the LMS section, customer testimonials and award-winning solution are way down at the bottom of the list of important factors.
FOCUS ON LEARNING?
When asked about extended enterprise versus internal learning audiences, respondents say internal audiences still dominate the use of these systems, but that the extended enterprise is also competing for attention. Almost 80% of the respondents report that they are focused on internal audiences. But adding up the customer, reseller, channel and supply-chain partners, it’s surprising to see that 72.9% of the respondents also are chartered to address these extended enterprise audiences.
So clearly, this multi-chartered focus is driving many external audience needs from system users. When you consider the nonemployee audience, that usually means functionality around e-commerce, certifications and similar customer- and partner-facing learning activities is being requested. And to satisfy those needs, it’s going to take the same types of functionality that we’re seeing with internal audiences — such as mobile functionality; tracking and recording; and managing the records for all of those constituents.
ABOUT USER EXPERIENCE
The focus that our survey respondents have on user experience is about the quality of the education being put forth — from creating compelling digital learning experiences for educational purposes, to reinforcement and micro-learning experiences that help users grasp content in other ways.
What does the term “user experience” encompass? It’s everything from the way we use graphics, sequence tasks, display information, use animation, provide controls for manipulating those animations, and a host of other aspects that determine how well users will learn a topic. This notion is further refined by how each user learns, so it necessarily includes the body of knowledge presented by Howard Gardner on multiple intelligences, as well as the user’s age, his or her level of content expertise, previous experience, and perhaps even common conceptions of learning.
Thus, user experience is made more complex by notions of how we acquire knowledge, how quickly we forget what we’ve learned, and even the spacing between the learning venues. And making matters more controversial in a world where answers can be found in a matter of seconds, the discipline of testing itself is coming under scrutiny. All of these are part of the conversation — and part of the difficulty of arriving at a standard approach.
But we already know a lot of those user experience answers for our own areas of endeavor, so we can look to this area as one that will expand for the LMS, TMS and HCM vendors in the future.
In the combined global LMS/LCMS/TMS/ HCM market, organizations are making their learning more ubiquitous. Tat’s as true for higher education as it is for corporate and government entities. In the higher education space, there seems to be a rush to market for MOOC offerings, as well as the creation of online degree or microcredentialing courses.
In the corporate space, where the industry once focused on only a subset of employees and extended enterprise partners and customers, the learning function is extending its reach to be more all-inclusive.
And lastly, in the government space, organizational agencies are trying to reach out to constituents. A good example is the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, which is making training and coaching available on its new website. Each of these extensions of the learning infrastructure requires the technology platform that helps to make this information and learning available, both when it’s needed and where it’s needed.
Contrary to the expert predictions in 2011 that the LMS was dead in its current form, the LMS market is now projected to be very robust during the next several years — and further, it will triple by 2020. Although we need to wait and see, it does seem that when organizations need to deploy education to a widely-dispersed population of students, there is still no better solution than these foundational systems.
—See the user study: Register to view the Executive Summary and purchase the full User Studay at http://information.2elearning.com/buyersstudy2016/