Identifying a collaboration platform

This is a follow-up from yesterday’s post that the LMS is no longer the centre of the universe and Jane Hart’s post today on A Transition Path to the Future. According to Jane, Step One in this transition is:

There are, of course, a number of steps on the transition path to a post-LMS future, and one of the first inevitably involves taking a good hard look at how your LMS is performing.  It may be that you want to retain it in some cut-down form, or it may be that it is providing no real value at all, and it is a barrier to “learning” .  I’m not suggesting that in every case, you should junk your LMS completely – in fact that would probably involve throwing the baby out with the bathwater! – but you certainly need to take an honest look at whether it is delivering what you need in the workplace today.

Step Two, or a concurrent step, would be to look at how to enhance collaboration.

First of all, collaborative work tools must be simple to be effective. The real complexity should come out of the emergent work, not the software. A collaboration platform that is over-engineered would be counterproductive. The key aspect of a collaboration platform is that should make work more transparent and rewards sharing. Does your LMS do this? Does it simplify work and make it more transparent for everyone in the network? Does it enhance serendipitous learning?

The options then become:

  • Open the LMS so it can be used in the daily workflow
  • Connect the LMS to a collaborative work platform
  • Migrate learning to a collaboration platform and minimize use of the LMS

Given the nature of many LMS, the last option is the most likely. Once again, it’s about getting work done. If learning is embedded in the work tools, then there is little need to go to a separate place (LMS) to “do some learning”. Here are some examples:

  • Use blogs to replace group e-mails so that information can be updated on a given subject/topic. This makes the work transparent and encourages learning.
  • Use wikis for all documentation. This reinforces the notion of work in perpetual Beta and encourages business improvement.
  • Adopt presence tools (IM, micro-blogging) so you know who is doing what in the organization. Tools like Twitter/Yammer/Laconica also become excellent places to jot down notes in public, which encourages serendipitous learning.

The key challenge is merging work and learning, especially in the minds of workers. I’ve noted before that the main objective of the modern training department should be to enable knowledge to flow in the organization. The primary function of learning professionals within such a collaborative work model is to connect and communicate, based on three core processes:

  1. Facilitate collaborative work and learning amongst workers, especially as peers.
  2. Sense patterns and help develop emergent work and learning practices.
  3. Work with management to fund and develop better tools and processes for workers.

If your LMS is not helping you with these processes then it’s time to find a better platform.  I recently described one such platform – Elgg: it’s a community effort:

Another platform that I have used since its early days is Elgg, an open source social networking platform that attracted me because of its unique underlying model. We started using Elgg for an online medical community of practice in 2004 after going through dozens of platforms. The key differentiator of Elgg is that the individual [worker] is the centre of all the action. A course is just a node that an individual connects to [does not disrupt work flow]. You don’t “enter” a course, you just connect to it, as you would to a colleague or friend. This is real user control. We liked Elgg so much that we paid to develop a calendar function and then gave the code to the community.

In 2005 I described Elgg as a Content/Community/Collaboration Management System that allows you to develop, invent and construct knowledge [knowledge management & social learning]. That sure beats any LMS, in my opinion. Elgg is used for commercial applications like Emerald Publishing as well as the foundation for the Eduspaces community.

The Elgg platform has matured in the past six years and has a strong community and a solid product (v. 1.7). My colleague Jane Hart provides Elgg services for education & business. Soon, will launch with services for those who want a hosted community platform. One major advantage of Elgg will be the ability to take your data and have it hosted elsewhere. Avoiding vendor lock-in is a wise business decision. The Elgg community blog has more information.

* Here is Jane Hart’s follow-up post on Elgg as a collaboration platform.

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