How to use your LMS for good, not evil


LMSs are only good for compliance tracking

I keep on hearing L&D people say that an LMS is only good for tracking compliance. At the same time there are vendors selling non-LMS solutions who say that you need more than just an LMS. In this blog post I'll explore how we end up in a spot where the LMS is focused only on compliance and how to move beyond compliance training to digitally transform your learning.

The first generation of LMSs, that still dominate the market today, are often really just SCORM players and face-to-face event booking systems. They don't offer a full range of learning tools, e.g. for social or collaborative learning. At a conference recently the facilitator asked an L&D group exactly what a SCORM tracks, and the group came back saying SCORM tracks only completion data. Actually that's wrong. SCORM can be used for tracking way more than completion data. It can be used to track all the interactions a learner does BUT most of the large common LMSs don't implement these detailed tracking features.

The easiest business case for an LMS is compliance

At the same conference I heard someone talking about the business case for the first corporate LMS in Australia. They decided that the best way to sell the cost of the LMS to the organisation was by focusing on the cost saving around compliance training. The focus on compliance training wasn't because of learner or business needs, it was based on what is the easiest to sell. Hopefully that organisation got a costing saving. Are there people in your organisation who question the usefulness of your LMS? Perhaps this is because it's mainly used to manage what employees have to do, and instead of helping employees do their jobs better.

LMSs in other sectors

Workplaces are not the only place where an LMS is used. They are used in schools, in vocational training and universities. In these sectors they are not used for compliance training. These sectors use LMS technologies in really different ways to how we typically use them in a workplace. The focus is more on improving the learning experience, e.g. giving learners easy access to resources and making the assessment easier for students and teachers. That said, how these organisations are using their LMS is still not perfect – students often complain that they are not engaging. But this is not because of the technology, it's because of the standard traditional un-engaging model of learning that is being used.

LMS in other sectors are not all about compliance, either. In fact, the real reason that compliance focus has crept into workplace learning at all is because it's an easy way to sell eLearning.

Education LMSs are moving into corporate learning

There is a lot of hype and interest around social learning, and a whole ecosystem of tools have been developed to support social learning. In an LMS, systems that are more education focused, with features such as forums and wikis, have been around for a while. There are a number of education-focused LMSs that now have versions designed for corporate learning. Instructure (the company behind Canvas LMS) has Bridge, and Blackboard is now also targeting the corporate LMS market. In the open source community there is Totara LMS, which is a corporated-focused version of Moodle, the mostly widely used LMS in the world.

It's all about how your use your LMS

These new LMSs that come from the education sector have a different range of tools, many of which are not being used. In the past I've put up a map about how Totara LMS's tools and features can be used to enable the 70:20:10 learning model.

A few different approaches to traditional "thou shalt do your compliance training" are:

Give your learner choices about how they learn

An easy way to provide your learner with choices is to give them access to a collection of resources such as Lynda.com and Good Practice. If you can't afford one of those systems use a content curation approach to build collections of resources from places such as TED talks.

Make your learning a social experience

The features that are most often not used in LMSs are forums and wikis, because they mean a change in learning design. There is also often a myth that you a need new 'social learning' tool to be able to use a social learning approach. One way to introduce social learning to your facilitators and learners is to run what I call a 'content-free course'. This approach is based around simply running a series of online text-based discussions.

Focus on what your employees need beyond compliance

A big reason your employees might not be engaged with your LMS is because it's focused on compliance training that the organisation requires them to do. It's not focused on helping them to do their jobs better. Using a design thinking approach means that you figure out exactly what your employees need and how they want to learn, and then build effective and engaging approaches that actually transform performance.

The LMS as a spoke, not the hub

In the past, the LMS has been regarded as the hub for learning. But learning has evolved, and it's now much more useful to view the LMS as one element in a broader ecosystem of learning technology.



Learning portal

At the centre might be a learning portal that looks and feels more like a website than a web application. This becomes a hub for communication with your employees and can be used to host learning experiences that don't need to be tracked in an LMS. It might be built with a tool that is more focused on content management e.g. Wordpress, SharePoint or Glasshouse.

Learning Record Store

Instead of the LMS being your centralised store for data, your Learning Record Store can play that role because it can collect data from multiple places.


Your LMS becomes just one spoke in the system.

Social networking

If your LMS doesn't support social learning then your social networking system can be used for social learning and informal knowledge sharing. Depending on the system you're using this also sends activity data back to your Learning Record Store.

Working with xAPI data and the Learning Record Store means that data from other sources such as mobile apps and your intranet can be included.

Your LMS doesn't just have to be about compliance training that your employees must do. It can be used to transform employee performance and become a useful tool for everyone.

If you want to review and rethink how you're using your LMS, Sprout Labs can help you. We can look at how you currently use your LMS, your approaches to learning, and what your learner and business needs are. Then we will work with you to develop a roadmap to transform your digital learning. If you're interested in starting a conversation please get in touch.

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