May 15, 2010

Standalone LMS is Still Dead (rebutting & agreeing w/ Dave Wilkins)

Last year, I wrote a piece entitled “The Standalone LMS is Dead”.

Last week, Dave Wilkins of wrote a piece entitled “A Defense of the LMS (and a case for the future of social learning)”.

Let the fireworks begin.

But before striking my match, I must first state that Dave is a professional; both classy and clever. My in-person and virtual interactions with him have been nothing less than stimulating, social and cerebral. What I like most about Dave, however, is that he’s a devoted family man. My mantra is life-work balance, not the other way around, and I get the sense that Dave is fully immersed in this intonation as well.

Tangential to Dave’s arguments though, after reading, digesting and thinking through his 6,245 dissertation, I still believe the standalone LMS is dead. He believes the LMS is alive and kicking.

Thankfully there is free speech.

But maybe it’s just a case of mistaken semantics.

To be clear, I come from the vantage point of ‘standalone’. The LMS should not be a standalone application going into the future. Many organizations have a legacy LMS but they also may have an intranet, wiki, blog system, video portal, discussion forum, ERP, evaluation/assessment/survey application, records management, content/document management system, network shares, micro-blog service, skills inventory, employee profile system, instant messaging service, certification tracking, idea sharing application, or they are thinking about implementing these tools in the near future.

Formal learning needs to blend with any informal and social learning output in the new world. (ie. The tools and processes mentioned above, and many more that I have not mentioned)

Informal or social learning needs to blend with formal learning. Period.

The holistic big picture needs to keep in mind the workflow of the employee; we can’t send them to disparate tools, applications, technologies or sites to do their jobs. Today’s worker is already flooded with ‘do more with less’ attitudes, and has way more to think about to become more efficient. What we need to do is ensure we weave a formal, informal and social learning workflow together. As it stands today, for many organizations, that doesn’t start with a standalone LMS.

Thus, the LMS-related questions for an organization to ask are as follows:

  • Can our existing LMS provide these integrated features?
  • If not, can our existing LMS be augmented to address these feature requirements?
  • If not, how can we take the formal learning features of an/the LMS, and federate with existing corporate systems (to create a learning, content, collaboration ecosystem panacea)
  • If not, what should the organization do?

Do you see where I’m going with this?

The LMS of today, for many organizations but not all, is a relic from yesterday. If we can turn the existing LMS into a learning, content and collaboration ecosystem (we’ll call it LCC) we therefore no longer have a standalone LMS. We have an ecosystem made up of formal, informal and social learning components in addition to having a seamless, federated workflow for the employee.

If we can’t do that, then we need to take the existing LMS and piece together that learning, content and collaboration ecosystem with existing corporate systems OR invest in new ones to tie it all together. Again, what we’ve created is a seamless, federated workflow system for the employee. (the LCC)

If we can’t do that, then we should explore a brand new system altogether that provides everything we need to create the panacea experience. Maybe that is, for example,, Saba, SharePoint 2010, or mainstays like SAP and Oracle. Whatever route you take, it has to become an integrated experience that includes all necessary aspects. And if you’ve come this far, you therefore no longer have a standalone LMS; you have a learning, content and collaboration ecosystem (the LCC) that ties in with your Active Directory/LDAP, your performance review system, and any other corporate regulatory or operational system.

In my opinion, this is where the industry is heading, and the ‘learning’ vertical needs to begin leading it.

So, back to Dave’s main sectional arguments in his post. They are as follows:

  • LMS is an essential business application
  • Modern LMS solutions are way more than a pure LMS
  • Market maturity and System Maturity
  • Integration and Suites

Let us now debunk and at times agree with each argument.

Argument #1: LMS is an essential business application

The LMS was an essential business application. The LMS was originally built to serve up a rigid formal learning structure of ILT schedules, eLearning, evaluations/assessments, and at times learning paths. Great business for Kirkpatrick, and even better for companies that were serving up formal learning content.

That stated, formal learning requirements including but not limited to ILT wait-lists, compliance tracking, reporting, certification/accreditation management, etc. is still required in today’s organization. There are excellent LMS applications that offer a fantastic array of ‘formal learning’ features but the simple point is that I don’t want to isolate these requirements in a standalone LMS application. The ‘formal learning’ features need to be federated with other learning, collaboration and organizational workflow processes so there are seamless entry and exit points for the employee.

dp’s Recommended Action:

  • Evaluate your existing LMS – can the company rally around it as “the LCC”? If not, investigate federation options with existing or new technologies.

Argument #2: Modern LMS solutions are way more than a pure LMS

Here I completely agree with my colleague Dave. But, for those organizations that have taken the plunge into the ‘modern LMS’, they do not have an LMS; they in fact have a ‘Learning, Content & Collaboration’ Ecosystem.

The gold medal is awarded only if the organization utilizes the ‘modern LMS’ as the de facto place for all learning, content and collaboration to be shared. There can’t be separate or disparate blogs, wikis, content repositories, video servers, etc. If there are, the mission has failed or serious work needs to be taken to federate/integrate the other systems and technologies into the ‘modern LMS’. Put another way, the Enterprise 2.0 technologies should be found in the ‘modern LMS’ and if they are in other organizational silos, we have reverted back to a standalone LMS.

dp’s Recommended Action:

  • Evaluate your existing LMS to see if it can be upgraded to become a ‘modern LMS’ … or LCC as I call it.
  • If it can, fabulous. If it can’t, start investigating new or federation options.

Argument #3: Market maturity and System Maturity

There are actually two arguments contained within Argument #3. On one hand, Dave opines that the learning vertical is way behind in accepting, let alone adopting the formal-informal-social learning model. Bingo. I’ve written some related pieces to this line of thinking including “Learnerprise 2.0: Why Learning 2.0 & Enterprise 2.0 Should Align”, “Roles in the New Training Org” and “Chief Learning Officer Job Description: Change Needed”.

On the other hand, Dave believes the LMS vendors will even further enhance their ‘social’ features quicker than some of the ‘social collaboration’ players (Jive, SocialText, etc.) will add formal learning components. Agreed, again … with a huge ‘but’.

Organizations already have content platforms (Documentum, SharePoint, etc.), and they are already experimenting and/or implementing social collaboration platforms (Jive, Blogtronix, SocialText, etc.), and they already have an ERP (SAP, Oracle, Lawson, etc.) and they already have an LMS (pick your poison) so the real question is how to create the seamless, federated workflow system for the employee. (the LCC) It’s not a question of who is going to develop features quicker, it’s a question of ensuring your organization has a holistic, well thought through, cross-functional systems roadmap that ties it all together. In my opinion, I do not believe the learning function, and by extension your current iteration of the standalone LMS, is a good bet for organizational success.

dp’s Recommended Action:

Argument #4: Integration and Suites

Many organizations will want to centralize and standardize to an integrated Talent Management suite. I have no doubts about that. The new 2.0 Talent Management suite, in my opinion, is merely the LCC that I’ve been referring to throughout this post.

There are, however, scads of organizations that have existing investments with current technologies and systems, and will not jump to a singular integrated suite. What they most likely will do, if in true business unit partnership, is sort out how to tie these pieces together (perhaps as a grown-up mash-up) ensuring formal content, learning, evaluation, recruiting, etc. is tied with all of the informal and social layers.

dp’s Recommended Action:

In summary, I don’t believe the learning function should own the LMS. I qualify that by suggesting the standalone LMS is dead, and that a cross-functional shared ownership roadmap of formal, informal and social technologies need to be driven with all stakeholders at the table, including the ‘new and improved’ learning function.

This is where the philosophy of 2.0 (ie. working much more collaboratively and with common shared goals) meshes with the technology requirements of the organization … as it pertains specifically to the blend of a learning, content and collaboration ecosystem.

Dave is correct in many cases, but I personally have some differing opinions on other points he makes. Next time I see him in person though, I’ll buy him a beer and we’ll probably chat about being Dad’s and coaching soccer teams.

Dan’s Newest Book

Click for details about Dan’s latest book, Work-Life Bloom.

Buy Dan's Books
Listen to Dan's Podcast
Read Dan's Column On