No Business Should Want a Learning Management System

by | May 3, 2017

As the leader of a tech startup company I am constantly challenged by pseudo-academic bloggers, tech journalists and smart-asses, “what problem does your business solve?

It’s really annoying.

And it’s really annoying because I can’t always answer it very well. So, for quite a long time my answer to that question was ‘whatever problem you have’. Afterall, if I didn’t solve some problem for some company, I wouldn’t exist for very long.

Knowing exactly what problem your business can consistently solve is difficult. But I’m getting used to being a bit more articulate (and a little less defensive) as I grow up. And so I work hard to try and understand the basic problems that HT2 Labs helps to solve, time and time again.

One of the real challenges of getting to this answer is that not many of my prospective clients actually recognise the problems they face. Increasingly, I’m of the opinion that businesses have lost sight of the actual problems trying to be solved with L&D.

Never is that more apparent than when I am tasked to solve needs around procuring a new LMS. This is always a major ‘problem’. But, hang on, who in all honesty *WANTS* an LMS? If you could do it all without an LMS, would you?

In a recent article on the Disruption of Digital Learning, respected industry analyst Josh Bersin highlighted that more and more companies are choosing to turn their Learning Management Systems off.

When the inevitable 5-7 year cycle of replacing the LMS is turning up on the L&D teams calendar, increasing numbers of companies are simply not bothering to replace the old with new. Big companies like IBM and Sears are just skipping this step entirely.

It left me wondering if the LMS is actually necessary, or we’re just paying deference to the investments we have all already made? Is it time to rip the plaster off?

Is There A Business Problem That An LMS Solves?

Ask an L&D professional, ‘what are the business problems that L&D can solve?’ They might come up with answers like ‘onboarding’, ‘sales training’, ‘compliance’. But these aren’t the actual problems. These are just names we’ve given to the solutions.

Take onboarding or new hire induction as an example. What we actually want is people to be competent in their jobs from day one. This is a real pain point for organisations. It takes time to realise that a new recruit is needed, it takes even longer to fill the position and then you are left with a huge period of time where the new member of staff is not anywhere near as effective as you want them to be.

Time to competence is an enormous problem. What I want, as a business person hiring new staff, is for me to snap my fingers and my new hire know everything there is to know about the job. I want them to be great. The tool I get to do this? A Learning Management System. Really?

What about leadership development? What about cultural and organisational change?  Well, I’d suggest the problem we are seeking to solve here is that of ‘transition’; guiding people from their previous reality into a new one. Transitions are difficult times for business; staff leave, others revolt, new ways of working fail to stick. Risk is high during a period of transition. So how can I reduce the risk that a transition will fail? The tool I got? Learning Management System.

With the above problems readily acknowledged as a potential shortcoming of the ‘LMS’ solution, there is one area that LMS vendors can always fall back on. Compliance.

Compliance is the cornerstone of the LMS market – you gotta do it, you gotta ‘tick the boxes’. But again, we’ve lost the plot here. What I actually want is my employees to be safe. I want them to work within the confines of the laws that regulate my business.

A hard hat is a tool of safety. What does that make a Learning Management System? Do I wear this or what? Josh Bersin thinks that much of this sort of functionality will be taken over by the Learning Record Store in the years to come.

So Why Doesn’t An LMS Help?

An LMS cannot solve these problems because it is a generic tool built to try and facilitate the solution to every problem. In trying to do everything, they succeed in doing nothing.

If the LMS was a tool to solve these problems, it would give me the answers to the basic outcomes questions any business owner would ask.

Why can’t I run a ‘Time to Competence’ report on my LMS and see how that number has improved since I implemented it? Why can’t I see how many accidents there have been? Or breaches in code?

How the heck I am supposed to know that L&D did anything if we aren’t measuring for improvements in the problem?

These systems are not measuring for the very outcomes we set out to reach. To do so would be a mammoth overreach on an already complicated feature set. We hoped to create efficiencies by putting all of our ‘learning’ in one box. And in doing-so we totally lost sight of the reasons we do learning within a business context.

In an increasingly interconnected world it would seem much more appropriate to address the problems directly as they occurred. To measure results in the workplace. To listen to the actual problems the business faces and work with them to find a real solution to their problem.

Having problems with an LMS is an enormous symptom of trying to solve a problem the business doesn’t even have. No business should even want an LMS.

So what should they want, and just what does life look like after the LMS?

About the Author

Dr Ben Betts

Dr Ben Betts

Chief Executive Officer

Ben leads the passionate team at HT2 Labs and is a globally-recognised thought-leader in Learning Technology with more than 15 years industry experience. His doctorate research broke new ground studying the impact of gamification on adult social learning. He has authored and contributed chapters for four books in the last two years, published peer-reviewed academic papers and presented at TEDx. His research today focusses on creating credible metrics for learning activities that are traditionally difficult to measure, like social interaction and sentiment analysis. When he's not in the office he can be found watching, and occasionally participating in, all forms of sport.

Read all posts by Ben

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