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Completing the Learning Management Picture

It’s fair to say that Learning Management Systems (LMSs) are great.  They can be developed to be engaging and collaborative and they hold all learning content in one place, easily accessible to everyone across the organization.  They can include a wide variety of learning techniques and tactics - forums, wikis, micro blogs and videos, to name but a few - delivered across multiple channels and devices.  In fact, most would agree that LMSs are a crucial development tool and a big part of any organization’s Learning & Development (L&D) strategy.  And rightly so.

A Learning Management System is a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting and delivery of e-learning education courses or training programs.  LMSs range from systems for managing training and educational records to software for distributing online or blended/hybrid college courses over the Internet with features for online collaboration.  Colleges and universities use LMSs to deliver online courses and augment on-campus courses.  Corporate training departments use LMSs to deliver online training, as well as automate record-keeping and employee registration.

But to have a major effect on business performance, organizations need to invest in technologies – above and beyond LMSs - that drive business performance improvements and that demonstrate, beyond a shadow of a doubt, which L&D investments are working and which aren’t. 

What's Going On?

Executives readily admit that an ability to pinpoint and replicate the specific skills and knowledge that drive positive business outcomes is their panacea: the magical formula that will overcome employee performance-related challenges.  But despite this, unnecessary investments in agent training and coaching prevail.  ‘One for all’ approaches are rife and employees habitually receive generic development as the “go to solution”.  Managers unintentionally invest in training materials and systems that aren’t aligned with the true drivers of performance. 

In summary, the L&D budget is often misguided and its ROI little understood. 

Rising to the Challenge

Although LMSs have a role to play, there are clearly problems associated with relying on them as the standalone solution.

In the first instance, we need to consider individual needs.  To make an impact on business performance, it’s important to know what development users really need and how will it positively impact their own individual performance.  But how do you know what content needs to be given to each of your employees?  Is it feasible to give everyone access to everything in the LMS and hope they will find something that interests them and that will add value to the business? 

On this last point, my view is that whilst it might seem sensible to provide employees with access to lots of content, far too often people don’t know where to start as they generally don’t know what development they require, so it’s vital to match content to individual needs.

Word Map

And whilst LMSs can group and present specific content to specific groups or functions, it is resource prohibitive to do this at an individual level.   So, if it is decreed that everyone in sales needs to complete each and every sales course, there’s a high probability that some people will know some of the content.  Not ideal, as this situation can disengage those employees and is wasteful and expensive to the organization. 
We also need to consider how to make great content available.  Do you build or buy?  How do you know what good looks like?  That it is having a genuine impact on performance?  Asking the L&D team seems like the obvious option, but in today’s competitive world, things change, there are many unknowns, budgets are limited and resources are pressured.  Therefore, the only way to get an accurate understanding of what content is going to make a difference is to analyze statistical data from all relevant data sources.

Last but not least, L&D needs to make financial sense.  What is the ROI on each and every L&D investment?  In other words, which content is working and delivering business value?  LMSs alone cannot provide this validation as they do not have inbuilt analytics that show improvements at individual, manager, team, site, country and 3rd party supplier levels.  But there are technologies available that work hand in hand with LMSs to deliver this insight.

Industry Validation: “Integrating Learning and Work”, it was identified that 87% of respondents wanted to start to tailor programmes to individual needs, but that actually only 18% of them actually felt like they had achieved that.  Interestingly though, of the top quartile performers in the report, those organizations that were performing most highly in relation to development, that number raised to 41%. 

The Towards Maturity report also identified that “those in the top quartile of the Towards Maturity Index are achieving an average over 4 times higher than those in the bottom quartile for improvement in customer satisfaction and increase in revenue.”

Eyes Wide Open

Surely a better approach would be to take a step back, use data to identify what good looks like and where skills and knowledge gaps exist before determining what the best solutions are for each individual user in line with the business’ changing needs?
If you take this approach, you will be in a position to create the ideal LMS.  It will present individually tailored development interventions at the right time, in the most effective format and over the preferred channel and device.  Users will be able to take control of their own development and will benefit from content that closes the gaps in their skill and knowledge levels.  L&D departments will be able to guide individual learning, giving each individual a programme of development that deals with their own individual needs, based on their scientifically identified gaps.  And all this will happen automatically and not as a result of a huge and unwieldy administrative process.

If the research is to be believed, organizations know there is a better way.  In the Towards Maturity report, 92% of respondents seek to increase their ability to adapt and react to business change.  However, only 25% of them achieve this.  Compared with the sample average, for top performers it is twice as likely that their strategy for technology-enabled learning allows for changing business priorities. 

When compared with those in the bottom quartile they are five times more likely to identify business metrics in partnership with senior management that they want to improve through learning, three times more likely that their learning initiatives actually support the skills the business needs and three times more likely to analyze the business problem before recommending a solution.

To Conclude

Organizations need L&D solutions that identify skills, knowledge and training investments that drive the best business outcomes.  However, LMSs are not, on their own, designed to deliver such sophisticated levels of actionable intelligence.  At a base level they are repositories for learning content - often really good looking and engaging repositories - but they remain repositories all the same.  Many have features that can serve up all sorts of media, track usage, record scores, manage classroom-based courses and even facilitate collaborative learning, but in their most basic form that’s mostly it. 

Let’s not forget that LMSs have revolutionized L&D in so many ways and ‘playing them down’ is definitely not the point of this article.  However, they can be so much better, meet so many more needs and make a considerably bigger difference in an organization if they are just given help.  Integrated with other systems and used in conjunction with robust strategies and other specialist performance optimization technologies, LMSs can deliver truly dynamic and targeted development that will overcome ever-changing performance related challenges at an individual level.