LMS is no longer the centre of the universe

OK, so here’s the deal – if learning is work and work is learning, why is organizational learning controlled by a learning management systems (LMS) that isn’t connected to the work being done in the enterprise? Learning is no longer what you do before you go to work, never having to learn anything else in order to do your job. In the 21st century networked economy, learning and working are becoming one.

As Robert Kelley showed over a 20 year study of knowledge workers, we need to keep learning in order to get our jobs done – “What percentage of the knowledge you need to do your job is stored in your own mind?”

1986 ~ 75%.
1997 ~ 20%
2006 ~ 10%

In a networked economy, social learning is how we get things done. Training, based on solid documentation of processes and procedures, works well at lower levels of complexity and we can develop best practices. As complexity increases, we need more tacit knowledge, which cannot be documented. Conversation is a prime medium for the sharing of tacit knowledge and is the foundation for collaborative work. We need to communicate in order to collaborate. This is why organizations need to manage what matters – collaboration.

The LMS framework is being challenged for its supremacy over organizational learning much as heliocentricity showed European civilization that we were not the centre of the galaxy. Jane Hart says that, “what is needed is an organisational system that SUPPORTS and ENABLES this informal approach to learning.” That system is one where the LMS is nothing more than a node in the network, which means that the LMS has to play nice with others (which most do not). The centre of the universe has shifted for training & development professionals and they can ignore this shift, as the Catholic church did, or they can become part of the Learning Reformation.

22 thoughts on “LMS is no longer the centre of the universe”

  1. I concur, de-centering learning is a good thing. A good role for the LMS node is to help develop capacities in people for conversation and collaboration. In this day and age these competencies seem to have atrophied.

    Love the analogies to “heliocentricity and a “learning reformation.”

  2. Great post, and given my personal interests and work I’m particularly interested in one particular remark:

    “the LMS has to play nice with others”

    I would love more ellaboration on this point at some stage, and I’m very keen to discuss it.

  3. It’s essential.

    Most on-the-job while-working learning about

    – current events,
    – what-to-do in such-and-such a situation,
    – effective and clear communication (both off and online)
    – who to talk to about an issue or problem,
    – feedback from customers,
    – and so on

    increasingly takes place in socially-connected networks, via social tools such as in-house “twitter” (microstreaming), wikis, Skype if you’re allowed to talk to outsiders whilst at work (weird that you can use the phone for that but often not Skype, huh ?) and other internal fora for conversation and exchange.

    I am assuming here that there’s near-ubiquity in the provision of registration, tracking, measurement, aggregation of data for performance analysis purposes.

    Isn’t a stand-alone (somewhat or much-detached & centralized) LMS looking like a moated fortress ? Shouldn’t the central focus of any future “LMS” be executing its excellence as a warehouse for the delivery of bits on-demand ( courses and learning objects etc.). to the network. Shouldn’t increasingly the LMS serve the network both through the individual and increasingly, informal and / or impromptu groups (see services such as Zorap.com). Shouldn’t any LMS be seeking to open itself to the ecosystem and just become one specific part of it, instead of defining a closed domain of mostly-structured formal learning ?

    Isn’t the network the future of learning ?

  4. Because the premise “learning is work and work is learning” is aspirational, not descriptive. And the statement that as “complexity increases, we need more tacit knowledge, which cannot be documented” is an assertion without evidence. (Nuclear power plant workers, for example, have one of the most complex jobs imaginable, but their training is highly-formalized and documented.)

  5. I couldn’t agree more, my company is currently in teh process of purchasing a new LMS and i am bringing things to the table that everyone is uncomfortable with. Yes, Ben there is value in SOP training, i work in the medical device industry, i don’t think what they are trying to say in this discussion is there is no need for formalized training, but the delivery could be changed. To ensure retention, the retention during the formalized training process is below the estimated average of 8%. Learning is doing, seeing, talking and discussing.

  6. There has never been an argument that we don’t “learn by doing” and ~80% of what we ‘learn’ we learn on-the-job… formally or informally.

    We’re in our 3rd year with an LMS. Some days I wish we didn’t have one at all! All the user management, content management, reporting, analyzing data, etc. seems to override the purpose of the system in the first place – to manage learning. Then again, all those added tasks are in fact managing learning 😉

    Although our training isn’t very complex in terms of what is necessary to do one’s job, it is necessary. In our industry the idea of “social” or “informal” means decision-makers have to let go of control. Unfortunately, they are not ready to let go just yet.

  7. There must have been something in the air…I wrote a similarly themed post in my blog recently: http://sparkyourinterest.wordpress.com/2010/05/03/am-i-peddling-frustration/. I’d be curious to know what you think.

    I think that the situation is that you know and I know these things, but those making decisions in orgs want to a: solve problems or b: make it look like they are solving problems or c: have something to spin to show that they are solving problems, regardless of whether they are or not.

    So, they become victims to good sales people who can not only sell them a solution, but also show them that their competitors are also using the LMS, so they should too. Nothing lights a fire under the C-suite like a competitor getting a one-up. Maybe that’s your angle?

    As a pragmatist, I just accept that the LMS will be there and try and figure out how to help the organization do the rest of the stuff (and I minimize the role the LMS plays). Is it right? Probably not, but at least I no longer grind my teeth all night long over the fact that they just don’t get it!

  8. I liked the way that the assumption tripped lightly off John’s tongue:
    “I am assuming here that there’s near-ubiquity in the provision of registration, tracking, measurement, aggregation of data for performance analysis purposes”.
    Of course all companies want to promote useful informal learning (if it’s not at the cost of productive work), but the real Holy Grail is finding a demonstrable link between what has beeen learnt by an employee and performance improvement. Or should we also promote performance evaluation (which means salary increases) based on data from social networks?


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