From an LMS to a Learning Technology Stack
Learning Management Systems (LMS) have been at the forefront of corporate training since as early as the 1980s when the SCORM technology was developed and began to be used. SCORM, which tracked training records from CD-ROM based training programs, became the foundation of the LMS industry. Companies wanted to track instructor-led and online learning and Learning Management Systems provided that opportunity by tracking all of that, using SCORM standards.
The LMS stayed at the center of corporate learning for the large part of two decades. The LMS industry makes up for $4billion of enterprise software products, according to a Deloitte research of the LMS market. The LMS has had its limitations though (such as high cost, low acceptance by learners) and as such, these systems are losing their popularity. LMS is now being treated as compliance management systems and doing what they do best – tracking and record-keeping. They are no more ‘be-all-end-all’ learning systems. Instead, they are becoming more of a ‘middleware’ application, with other systems underpinning them and the experiential interfaces taking the front-end. This has led to the creation of what is being called a learning technology stack. Visually and simplistically, the stack can be depicted like this:
In this context, a global panel of Scotia Bank’s Lori Niles-Hofmann, Virtusa’s Dr.Murali Padmanabhan, SIG Combibloc’s Sriram Rajan and Degreed’s Todd Tauber engaged in a spirited discussion on the emergence of the learning technology stack, the limitations of LMS which are drawing organisations to adopt a learning stack and the various challenges associated with this change. This Talent Tech Evolve panel discussion was chaired by Pam Boiros, Principal at Bridge Marketing Advisors.
LMS to Learning Stack: The reason
The main reasons why organizations started looking at a complete learning stack instead of an LMS is because of two primary reasons:
1. Stakeholders’ expectations
The business demanded a low-cost option to an LMS. The stakeholders also wanted real-time reporting and information on learner profiles to give customized solutions to them based on their learning behavior.
A learning stack would give the RoI that an LMS could not. Scotia Bank’s Lori, for instance, said that the content that sat on LMS had a less than 1% return rate. On the other hand, an experiential social learning platform (like a Facebook for the workplace) would have an extremely high engagement rate. Both have their limitations though – it would take 11 clicks to reach a piece of content on LMS and a social learning platform in isolation would not do an LMS-like record-keeping. Combine the two in a learning stack and the RoI is unmatched, making the case stronger for having a learning technology stack.
“The content that sits on LMS has a less than 1% return rate. On the other hand, an experiential social learning platform (like a Facebook for workplace) would have an extremely high engagement rate.” --Lori-Niles Hoffmann, Director, Digital Learning, Global Performance and Learning, Scotia Bank
2. Learners’ experience
The demand of learners too was of having access to anytime-anywhere learning. According to Sriram, the demand from learners from his experience in OD has been to learn from peers and remotely. This is something an LMS wouldn’t offer. Hence, the demand for LMS as the middleware, topped with experiential social platforms emerged.
“The demand from learners from his experience in OD has been to learn from peers and remotely. This is something an LMS wouldn’t offer.” --Sriram Rajan, Head OD & Talent, SIG Combibloc
LMS to Learning Stack: Challenges
Challenges in shifting from an LMS to a learning stack are two-fold. The first set of challenges emerges at the adoption stage and the second set of challenges comes at the implementation stage.
1. Adoption level challenges
As Dr. Murali pointed out, “organizations don’t build a learning tech stack from a green field”. Companies already have some kind of existing systems, and they have to build a learning stack around those systems. This brings forth a big challenge around the integration of different systems. This challenge is consistent across adoption of HR technologies.
Another challenge at the adoption level is finding a learning stack that aligns with the company DNA. Some organizations are inherently very comfortable with technology and thus can easily get used to even the most complicated of solutions. But if that isn’t the case, and the technology stack chosen requires the organization to be extremely technically adept, then it doubles the effort; then not only are you changing your existing learning management system, you are also changing your organization’s DNA. And there is nothing worse than trying to change these two things at the same time, as Lori beautifully pointed out.
“Organisations don’t build a learning tech stack from a green field. Companies already have some kind of existing systems and they have to build a learning stack around those systems. This brings forth a big challenge around integration of different systems.” --Dr. Murali Padmanabhan, Senior Vice President, India Head Talent Management Virtusa Corp
2. Implementation level challenges
The job is not done once the system is selected and put in place. Completely different challenges emerge at the implementation stage. Because what good is a system if people do not embrace it? The panel pointed out the following implementation level challenges:
Learning tech stacks are content-hungry monsters
As Sriram puts it, you need to keep feeding these systems with content. The learners consume the bite-sized content in the blink of an eye, and you have to be ready with another set of modules to provide to your consumer. One should always watch out for – ‘What are you committing to the organization?’; ‘Do you have the bandwidth to do it or do you need more resources?’; ‘How many learners are joining the platform? Can you manage them all at once or do you need to phase out the consumer adoption?’ The answers to these questions need to be ready before rolling out the stack.
Mere presence of a stack doesn’t train employees
Neither does technology magically solve the learning problem nor does it automate training and development of the employees. The people still need to embrace the tool and not just log in. It is important to market the stack, keep conversations going about its benefits and success stories. People have to use it to trust it and once results are there for people to observe, then the stack will have succeeded. It is really important to market it right to people. Lori suggests having a learning community manager to have the conversations going.
So are you moving from an LMS to a Learning Technology Stack?