Market Update March 2015: Progress of the Learning Management System

It’s no surprise that many businesses have a Learning Management Systems (LMS) at the heart of their learning and development to help manage training and develop their employees. LMSs can be brilliant and offer extensive benefits, but can also be a real headache when designed badly, or utilised ineffectively.

Recently, the software research and review site, Software Advice, conducted a survey of more than 150 HR professionals who use a LMS. They wanted to understand how the LMS is being used, whilst highlighting the benefits perceived from LMSs, as well as the challenges organisations are encountering. The result was the 2015 LMS Report.

The State of LMSs in 2015

This report got us thinking, what’s the state of LMSs in 2015, and how are we evolving their use, if at all?

LMS Positively Impacting Training Efficiency

One of the key findings from the report was that 99% of those asked said their LMS software positively impacts the organisation of their content and training efficiency – so all good there! It’s logical to deduce that a LMS will help you be more organised in the way you display and provide content to learners, but it’s also interesting to see that those surveyed also feel that their LMS has helped their training be more efficient.

An LMS can improve efficiency in a number of ways, traditionally including automating classroom booking and compiling course completion reports. Systems have now evolved to ease and monitor the creation of role specific learning plans and performance through talent development, for example by moving the PDR/PDP process online.

It’s old news that moving from face-to-face to elearning offers significant cost benefits for mass delivery, but it’s also great to see positive business impact resonating through other areas of learning technology. From virtual classrooms to social learning and gamification, LMSs are able to support a wide range of activities. By doing so further efficiencies can be recognised in their delivery and combined use into blended programmes, which can more easily be tracked by learners and managers.

Administration Still High On The Priority List

Most Used LMS Software Functionality - Source: 2015 LMS ReportWithin the report, training administration was named as the second most used software functionality after trainee testing, which is to be expected as training delivery and measurement have always been at the heart of an LMS. More of a surprise is just how important virtual classrooms are becoming to the workplace, with nearly 50% of those surveyed now using their LMS for this purpose.

Other learning technology trends have begun to register on the LMS radar, including mobile and social learning, with 30% of those questioned using these in the LMS context.  With the proliferation of mobile devices and social media, this may be lower than some expect, which could be a reflection of the limitations of incumbent LMSs, rather a lack of appetite around adopting this functionality.

Is the evolution of learning within organisations being constrained by the capabilities of the LMS itself?

When it comes to game-based learning and ecommerce we see much less use. At City & Guilds Kineo we’ve explored game-based learning in the LMS context using performance incentives such as open badges and competitive leader boards. Whilst supported by some LMSs, ecommerce systems are more relevant to extended enterprise situations than the internal audience, which would proportionally explain their lower ranking.

It seems we still have a way to go before more than a few organisations embrace the full functionality modern LMSs can offer. Adoption is one element, but it’s important to remember that the LMS solution itself could be a limiting factor too.

Customisation Is A Key Challenge

The proprietary nature of many LMSs usually means that customisation is either not an option or is an expensive one. As such it is no surprise to see that 50% of those surveyed said a lack of customisation was a challenge with their LMS.

It’s a common story, you build a LMS that fits your needs, and then a few years later it’s no longer fully fit for purpose. There really is nothing worse than an LMS not being able to adapt or meet the needs of your ever evolving business.

The debate between proprietary and open source software continues, but one thing is for certain, open source offers choice; whether that’s to extend, customise, integrate, or even change LMS partner.

Systems Integration Is Proving Problematic

A LMS is by no means a one-size-fits-all solution. Chances are it will need to communicate with other systems and tools. And if you’re using more than a couple of these, you may be finding systems integration a real problem.

The top challenge with LMS users (over 64%) was cited as systems integration. Clearly, organisations are still having difficulty getting systems to talk to one another, and are getting frustrated with the lack of options. But the good news is it doesn’t have to be that way. See how The Football Association used a customised Totara LMS to create a single sign-on experience for their learners with great impact.

We’ve seen some highly sophisticated systems that go beyond HR integration and single sign-on to integrate LMSs with websites, intranets, CRMs and data warehouses. Where done well, it is possible to create a seamless user experience whilst ensuring the organisation is efficiently getting the data it needs at the same time.

If systems integrations are important then consider the capability of your LMS and the systems it needs to communicate with, as well as the capability of your suppliers and support teams. Integrations are, by definition, a collaboration, and all parties need to play well together.

So whilst they can be a challenge, system integrations are absolutely possible, but require dedicated time and planning, skilled suppliers and an LMS that will allow it to happen.  

Multi-Device Adoption Is Happening, But Desktop Is Still On Top

We can’t talk enough about the huge benefits of evolving your learning to multi-device delivery. This report provides us with some exciting information to support the world of the multi-device LMS.

Multi-device LMS adoption is on the rise, with nearly 50% of those surveyed saying they access their LMS using a smartphone or tablet. And although multi-device LMSs certainly can have their place, it’s clear that most people are still accessing their LMS using a desktop (89%).

In the survey, users weren’t asked for preference, but rather how the LMS is currently being accessed. As such, the result is likely reflective of the fact that the PC is still the main business machine, however it may also indicate the lack of readiness of incumbent LMSs to deliver across tablets and smartphones.

Emerging new technologies such as Tin Can API offer the potential for environments where learners could access content on their devices without ever seeing the LMS. The learning is still tracked, but the LMS becomes invisible. By removing barriers to content such as multiple logins, clicks and interfaces, so ease of accessibility of content improves, which should see a corresponding rise in usage.

Learning isn’t restricted to taking place in a single location, so don’t let your LMS be a limiting factor.

Organisations Continue to Invest in LMS

More and more organisations are seeing the value of an LMS, and either investing in their first one, spending more to get their LMS to where it needs to be, or replacing it altogether. Over 90% of those surveyed said they would be spending the same or more on their LMS in 2015.

A recent report from MarketsandMarkets suggests that the LMS market will grow to $7.83 billion by 2018, and a study cited in Forbes states that the market for LMSs is one of the fastest growing areas of HR software, estimated at over $2 billion. The Forbes study also highlights that LMSs are in a ‘replacement cycle’, with “61% of companies planning on replacing their learning platforms in the next 18 months, the most frequently cited product to be replaced.”

Whilst the cost of entry to the LMS world has been reduced through open source and some SaaS solutions, replacing an existing system (sometimes multiple systems) can be both time consuming and costly, particularly for larger enterprise. This highlights the need to make the right choices. Think about choosing a system that is flexible and can grow as your needs do, even if you don’t know what they are yet, and an expert supplier that understands your needs and is able to proactively support you. The need for in-house resource to support the LMS and make sure the organisation is getting the most out of it is also not to be underestimated.

Conclusions

LMSs clearly have an important, even critical role in businesses. It’s great to see that their use is evolving from delivering and tracking training to modern approaches to learning, such as virtual classrooms, social learning and multi-device access. We suspect this will continue to grow to embrace user generated content, aspects of gamification, digital certificates and more. We may even see the LMS begin to ‘disappear’ as technology enables content to be accessed without passing through the LMS front-end.

Whilst a LMS can hugely benefit a business, ultimately it’s what you make of it. For some organisations it’s merely a tool that facilitates learning. For others it’s a solution that extends way beyond that. Whatever your need, make sure your LMS can evolve and grow with your organisation to avoid costly issues in the future.

We hope to see organisations experimenting to get the most from their systems, and to see how they can adapt to support the way their workforces need to learn. And if systems integration or customisations are key problems for you and your LMS, it might be time to think about a new one that suits your needs, empowers you and your learning and is capable of growing as your business grows.

In 2013 we talked about the pervasive nature of learning in business.  Maybe 2015 will be the year of the pervasive LMS?

LMS Live Event

We're talking all about Learning Management Systems at our live Totara User Group event on July 15th. Come and share with fellow LMS users to see what they're doing to make the most of their LMS. There will be drinks and food to ensure the conversation is flowing, so why not join us? 

>> Find out more and register

 
 

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