How Learning Management System (LMS) legacy prevents innovation
Times has changed. In most developed countries quality of life and advances in healthcare help people to live longer and have longer careers – people can work up to 60-70 years. Some professionals like programmers, marketers, engineers, auditors and lawyers have to continuously learn, update and upgrade their knowledge and skills every 12-18 months in order not to become obsolete. This ground-breaking shift challenged centuries-old theories, methods and approaches in education and training. Previously, human life was divided into predictable consecutive periods: learning – working life – pension. Now, for many professionals, this sequence is squeezed into crazy "here and now" pressure – work and training happen during a day and in some situations, it is hard to tell one from another.
Companies around the world try to find solutions to new challenges and offer employees new tools for professional development. In the last 10 years they tried to adapt new ways to change something in corporate training – microlearning, adaptive learning (tailoring training process to unique needs of each learner), mobile learning (access to learning content on any device) and practical approach.
However, established approaches that are not in sync with changed needs of most employees still prevail in corporate training. Most companies use Learning Management System (LMS) as the main technology for learning and development of employees. LMS however, have three global constrains:
- Academical constrain: historically, all learning and training methods have roots in academia and often learning process is too theoretical and has no links to practical application.
- Technological constrain: this constrain also has historical roots in academia. Learning is main activity of a university student, and no learning material is redundant. There is too much content in most learning management systems, it is often duplicated, not categorized and ranked. It also can"t be used as a reference.
- Ideological constrain: learning material often has no links to competency model of a company and leadership potential evaluation.
Academical constrain of LMS
Historically, access to information was considered as crucial part of learning process. Often, first association one would have with the word "learning" is a picture of a university professor behind the culprit, explaining something he has learned from books that are not available for his students. Therefore, before the Internet era, any learning experience and learning material had to have:
- compulsory theoretical course: this course would often start with no prerequisites – as if a learner has no previous knowledge on the subject and present main definitions, concepts and principles that could be very indirectly and not always effortlessly transferred to practical tools and methods,
- access to informational resources: more books in library of a university meant higher quality of education as students could find more useful information in one place.
Academic approach to learning process is often theoretical: one need to work through many sources and have access to many references – books, articles in academic journals. All these sources of information are often written in "scientific" (of should we say "pseudoscientific"?) language, which sounds "sciencey". All too often, academic sources have limited practical value and are written to demonstrate author's expertise and credibility.
After learning technology made its first steps, all these attributes of off-line educational experiences were transferred online, without second thought on how humans interact with machines.
Today, most of us don’t have a problem to get access to information. Opposite is true: there are too much information around us, it is redundant, even toxic. Earlier the skill of finding information was valued, today, one of the most important skills to is quickly evaluate information and credibility of its source, find the most important parts and see connections. In a well-connected and open world, it is more important to quickly make a judgement by small amount of information whether or not to spent time on it, than to have access multiple sources of information.
Technological constrain of LMS
Technological and academic constrains of LMS are interlinked. eLearning courses in almost every Learning Management System have following negative points:
- too much learning material: the user often needs additional instructions to understand which course(s) and in which sequence should be learned,
- learning material is duplicated: as an HR-professional from of Fortune 500 company shared, "we have more than 1000 courses in our LMS and they overlap 70%". Our experience show that this is a typical problem,
- learning material is not structured: e.g. in leadership training, users often get set of courses and tests of various quality and length. HR managers often have no specific guidelines which skills and knowledge learners should get – mainly because on every level of management requirements are different,
- learning material is presented in large portions: often learning content is divided into large "chapters". Each of these chapters can take hours or even days to learn,
- learning material can’t be used for reference: often, learning management systems have limited features of searching and users can’t use them to solve urgent problems. Today’s users can more quickly find the solution they need in Internet – it is more convenient, than to gain knowledge "in advance",
- learning material is not adaptive: learning happens "just once" and LMS have no tools to check knowledge and skills retained in the learner’s memory after the period of time or to help support memorization process offering various activities on what is learned regularly,
- learning material is too theoretical: in corporate learning environment people often have no time to reflect on theory. They’d prefer clear and easy to follow step by step guides for every challenging situation they meet in practice,
- structure of learning material and learning management systems have no options to check how acquired knowledge, skills and attitudes are applied in practice: at the very best, learners are offered some tests and occasionally even practical situations – cases they should solve. But the main goal of every training activity in enterprise is to transfer gained knowledge and skills into practice to solve real word challenges. Learning management systems just don’t have proper tools for monitoring how effectively is used what was learned,
- eLearning is designed to work in a "blended" solution: often, companies prefer to offer eLearning in simple text format, presuming that later theoretical part will be followed by a workshop, training or another traditional form of classroom experience.
Some LMS have "competency-linking" features, but they are useless. The link is designed the following way: each course is linked to one competency, e.g. if there is a course on "Effective Delegating" it is linked to a competency called "Delegation". The problem with this approach is that each competence consists of several groups of skills, that can be used in different situations. To delegate successfully, an employee should be able to set goals, analyze and evaluate performance, have skills in meeting management.
With this form of competence-skill "mapping" we can’t track all situations, in which new knowledge and skills should be used and how gained from learning was used in real world.
Ideological constrain of LMS
LMS and traditional eLearning content are not suited to develop competencies in corporate environment as learning management systems don’t provide link between organizational competency model, leadership potential evaluation and leaning content. Standard and widely used learning management systems are basically tools to deliver content to users. They track basic things – how many users took how many courses and test results for each eLearning course. More advanced LMS offer entry tests for users and offer them individualized learning paths, choosing specific modules. Super advanced LMS provide opportunity to develop corporate competency model and can compare user’s profile with target profile a company needs. But even the most advanced systems (not many companies use them) don’t have internal tools to evaluate leadership potential of users.
How to Change Situation and Overcome Through LMS Constrains?
To remove LMS limitations, we should totally rethink and reconstruct the learning experience. Ideally, a new improved learning content management system should be able to evaluate leadership potential with both human and machine input and focus on developing individual managerial competencies. To achieve this goal, we should do the following:
- reduce amount of learning material: only training programmes that directly contribute to acquiring key managerial skills and knowledge should be offered to managers and high-potential employees,
- remove duplicated topics/content: there is no need to start with basics every time,
- structure material: structure learning material according to managerial levels (e.g. team leader, first time manager, middle manager, top-manager) and competencies zones (e.g. managing self and personal effectiveness, achieving results, using resources, managing people, facilitating change),
- divide structured learning material into microelements: small pieces of information, which contain only what a learner should know. It makes the process of learning manageable and easy for employees,
- categorize and rank: all learning material should be categorized and ranked – it will help users apply filters and use content base as a reference,
- make adaptive: prepare learning material to be used with technology that fully supports how human cognitive processes. This technology should also check how successful the learning was,
- offer practical recommendations: re-work learning material again to present it in the form of easy-to-follow step-by-step guides with detailed explanations for each stage of managerial practice,
- link learning experience to behaviors: corporate management system should have ways to track how what was learned is applied on the job,
- simplify text: readable and easy-to-understand text help users grasp new concepts and knowledge more quickly,
- visualise learning materials: prepare infographics, that will reinforce learning experience and trigger visual cognitive process. Visuals also work as starting points in learning reinforcement process,
- prepare templates: learning management system in corporate environment should have downloadable tools and templates that help to use learning material in practice.
We at SNAPSIM™ have developed our management training system with all the mentioned principles in mind.