Market Update May 2015: Next Generation Learning Management Systems [PART1]

Course booking system, learning management system, virtual learning environment. Sound sexy? Thought not. We think it’s time to shake up that old IT system and replace it with something that will positively enthuse learners to engage, and in a way that suits them.

Following from my March Market Update focusing on the progress of the learning management system, let’s take a tour around some systems and features that are changing the way we think about learning management and provide early indicators of what’s to come.

Spot the LMS

Do you need an LMS at all? It’s not as strange a question as it may sound. Sure, if you have full learning plans with integrated performance development, course booking, calendars and reporting you’re going to need a neat way to manage all of this.

But if your aim is simply to give people access to content, and each other, in as quick and clean way as possible, then you won’t want to let the system get in the way.

Tin Can API is one technology that promises to do away with the LMS interface and enable direct access to content, with tracking managed through a learning record system (LRS). City & Guilds have used Tin Can to capture learner activity, progress and engagement in real time on the Skills Zone platform that supports our new Tech Bac technical qualification.

City & Guilds Tech Bac platform uses Tin Can API to capture learner activity in real time, and it doesn't hurt that it's multi-device too. 

Information Overload

C&G TechBac

In trying to deliver a wide range of content and features to appeal to diverse workforces, meet the needs of L&D and the business as a whole, LMSs can risk becoming a little unfathomable.

The temptation can be to buy a large library of content and throw it out to employees, hoping that they will find something useful in there. If learners are presented with too much choice the risk is that many won’t know where to start, and therefore might not start at all. What is needed is more structure and sense.

Consider what content is actually needed and how the learner can easily find their way to it. Some of the ways this can be achieved are through:

  • Clear learning plans, defined by job role, objectives ambitions or other aspects of a learner’s profile
  • Intelligent search and filters, much like searching the Internet
  • Recommendations based on tagging, like content against the learner’s profile
  • Popular content as recommended by other learners
  • Learning pathways that adapt based on the learner’s pathway and ability.

When it comes to the wealth of functionality that an LMS can provide we again should consider what is needed and how we keep it simple for the learners, managers and administrators. UX has come a long way and what was acceptable for users of web technology 15 years ago isn’t the same as today.

Hedex or UX

We strongly believe than any learning experience should be a good one. An interface should be clearly designed and intuitive, with a minimal number of clicks and a design that just asks to be explored. Simplicity makes for great design.

Interestingly tablets and smartphones have helped drag even the most stubborn system into the world of UX design, as smaller screens and touch interaction have meant designers have to think about the way we use size and space differently. We need interfaces to be easy to interpret, with much less screen real-estate and to be usable by touch on the move, instead of precise mouse movements over tiny buttons.

A good question to ask is whether the design is being dictated by the need of the user or the need of the system; if the answer is the latter then you better hope that system is well designed and happens to meet your specific requirements. 

Totara Responsive Themes_small
Totara LMS uses a responsive design to deliver a great user interface, regardless of screen size

LMS vs. CMS

As LMSs evolve from being administrative systems to learning environments, so organisations are finding new ways in which they want to use them to deliver or gather content from leaners. Content management systems (CMSs) have led a parallel life to LMSs, as they have evolved to provide a range of tools to enable non-technical people to build complex websites, meeting the need of ever changing content. The terms LCMS (learning content management system) has previously been used to describe systems such as Moodle, that provide the benefits of both technologies in one platform.

Typical scenarios we see include:

  • Using the internal LMS to deliver Intranet style content, i.e. web pages that multiple editors can produce
  • Providing a shop-front for a business that is selling courses or content online, sometimes meeting the need of both clients and employees of that business
  • Facilitating user generated content, such as articles, blogs, videos and discussions.

Multiple Systems; One User Experience

Another headache for users can be the need to move between multiple systems to achieve their learning workflow, with inconsistent interfaces and, in worst cases, different logins for each system. This can lead to single monolithic systems that answer multiple functional needs but then may suffer from being inflexible and costly to make changes too.

Fortunately single-sign on environments and customisable interfaces are helping system designers to create a more seamless user experience, even where multiple systems are involved. Take for instance our PIVOT platform, which combines LMS, e-portfolio and MIS into a single front-end experience, or The Football Association's LMS, which has a consistent visual design and integrates with their CRM, website and ecommerce site.

PIVOT Multi-Device Experience

CG Kineo’s PIVOT platform combines multiple system functionality to deliver vocational qualifications in a streamlined user experience

Lessons From Extended Enterprise Platforms

By extended enterprise in a learning context we are referring to businesses that offer learning content and resources outside of their organisation, typically to contractors, clients or resellers. Particularly in the services to client context this requires a simple, slick and professional front-end user experience in order to help sell the service and to reduce the number of end user queries and hence the cost of operating the service.

Such services require different methods to provide access to the content and resources within the LMS. These can include:

  • Self-registration alongside other methods of adding learners, such as bulk upload and payroll integration
  • Pay-to-access or e-commerce to provide a revenue stream and reduce administration around doing so
  • Commercial reporting for invoicing purposes
  • Integration with CRM systems to combine usage data with other account activity for analysis

When a client-facing service is developed it necessarily demands a system that presents a professional and high quality experience and helps focus system designers on simplicity. There are lessons here for the internal LMS as a simple-to-use and polished experience will positively impact the learning experience, efficiency for the learner, manager and administrator and reduce support queries.

We have seen some businesses internally charge for access to elearning per employee, much like charging to attend classroom training but at a much lower rate. This model helps construct business cases for financing the upfront investment in elearning and creates an on-going funding stream.

What Does The Future Hold?

It's clear that there are now many ways to use an LMS effectively, ways that move beyond the data capturing repository, and into fluid learning experiences that communicate with other systems and integrate to create a memorable user experience. 

In Part 2 I'll be exploring how the future LMS can be used to create more personalised LMS experiences using social learning, data, gamification and wearable tech.

 

 
 

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