I was seated in the back of the room at BLP’s first annual eXLearn conference last month as Sharon Boller and Laura Fletcher presented on Design Thinking – a big trend in the training industry. I won’t dive deeply into Design Thinking here (see this post, our recorded webinar, or search our blog), but at a high level, it’s all about delighting learners through excellent Learner Experiences (LX). Our goal as training professionals is to take learners on a journey of learning and exploration that they are excited to participate in.

Sharon prompts the over one hundred learning professionals, “What’s the first step of your learning journey?” There is a pause as everyone thinks to themselves, “Is it an email from your Learning Management System (LMS)?”

The crowd laughs, then groans, then laughs some more. Every learning professional in the room looks around anxiously, knowingly. The LMS is not “delightful”. It’s not a good Learner Experience. LMSs are the suitcase with broken wheels that we cram clothes into because it’s there and still kind of works. But you don’t change because you’re afraid the wheels will just break on the next one too.

Your LMS is Failing You

According to research done by the eLearning Guild in the Corporate Learning Management Systems report, “Many organizations say they are failing to meet their learning challenges.” (eLearning Guild 2018) The LMS is one of the largest culprits of this. Tracking training is important and the LMS is very good at showing what’s been completed, but not much more than that.

I’m curious… What are the first few thoughts that come to mind when you think about your LMS?

Are they positive? Maybe they are and that’s great. Honestly, I’m happy you feel that way. The LMS does provide you with content you need to do or improve at your job.

Or are they negative or neutral? Is it hard to find what you’re looking for or hard to get what you need on the go? Is it organized, easy to navigate, easy to search, and easy to share?

Nearly half (46%) of LMS users and administrators are “somewhat satisfied” while nearly another third (32%) are either “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied.” (eLearning Guild 2018)

As Manager of Learning Interaction Design, I’ve worked with LMSs of all shapes and sizes utilized by organizations all over the world. I think most of my friends in those organizations would tell you, there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Learning Professionals are Secretly Cheating on their LMS

For years, I’ve been the guy who’s had to say “oh, we can’t pull off that cool thing in your LMS.” Or “We can do that cool thing, but, we’ll have to add custom code to make it work with your LMS.” Or “Yeah we can do it, but your LMS admins likely won’t be able to report on it.”

We frequently create custom tracking and reporting for clients when their LMS falls short. We frequently create apps and games that don’t live on an LMS at all, because our clients know their systems’ limitations. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve made plenty of apps and games that live on a client LMS. However, we find ourselves typically creating custom reporting, or that the LMS admins cannot generate the reporting on the SCORM data we’ve programmed our applications and submitted to the LMS. Even with the data, they’re looking at how many times materials were accessed and completed.

If you’ve been to a conference recently, you’ve probably noticed Software as a Service (SAAS) companies popping up all the time, like our very own Knowledge Guru platform. They provide more robust tracking and training metrics than your LMS admins can ever hope to achieve, and, training professionals at large organizations are using these tools to promote learning in their organizations. They’re cheating on their LMS.

The Need for Better Data

Your LMS has become a dumping ground for training, as a mechanism for checking for learning completion. 73% of training professionals say that the most important requirements of an LMS rank delivery and tracking of training the most important feature of an LMS, followed by reporting (69%), search (48%), and version control (48%). (eLearning Guild 2018)

Sadly, LMS tracking and reporting commonly boil down to course completion statistics, and actually finding materials is hard as search functionality is notoriously poor. This is why new SaaS tools are starting to take hold in our industry. This is why learning professionals are circumventing their LMS, or “bringing their own training” to their learners.

What About xAPI?

It is nearly impossible to correlate business data with training data. You’d like to think the uptick in sales is the result of training initiatives, but you likely don’t have great data to back that up. We need to evaluate and have the ability to generate better reports on training content.

The Experience API (xAPI) was announced in 2012 as the future of learning analytics. Essentially, xAPI provides a standard language for communicating learning events in a “Noun, verb, object” format. A few examples are:

“Nick Shelton wrote a blog post about LMSs.”

“You read 70% of Nick Shelton’s blog post about LMSs.”

“Jason Bateman acted in Ozark season 2.”

“Nick Shelton watched 32 minutes of Ozark season 2, Episode 5.”

Because there is a common language, reports can be automatically generated based on this standard syntax.

xAPI is a good advance in standardizing how training can be tracked and delivered. Unfortunately, very few LMS vendors are implementing xAPI to the spec’s full potential. Many LMS vendors are (perhaps falsely) claiming xAPI compliance (eLearning Guild 2018) and rather are utilizing CMI5, which is a base-level implementation that operates like SCORM and doesn’t offer the enhanced data LMS administrators and stakeholders need. That’s not good enough.

Where Are We Headed?

I see the next 10 years looking something like this:

  • Learning professionals are going to increasingly “Bring Their Own Training,” choosing the best tool for the training need. This will create a lower utilization of LMS’s and an increase of games, apps, custom software, and SAAS tools.
  • xAPI, or some similar standard, will take a more mainstream hold than it has today. LMS vendors will implement the standard better.
  • This standard will allow SaaS tools to communicate through one standard to any system that’s willing to listen (LMS or other). This standard will allow learning content to be hosted anywhere, distributed anywhere, in any content form.
  • LMS providers will have to implement this standard fully, perhaps through utilization of a Learning Record Store (LRS) or something similar and provide robust reporting and better learner experiences. LMS vendors that don’t do this will die off.
  • With so much content being hosted in the Cloud, the LMS will become a lighter, almost transparent search engine and analytics engine (think Google and Google Analytics) for learning content.
  • A learner’s computer and device will automatically track learning events that are part of their Learning Journey. This may be through authentication tools such as browser extensions or single-sign-on systems that will allow training to happen anywhere, on any website, in any app, with minimal onboarding pain.
  • Learning opportunities from anywhere can be shared with anyone on a team and added to any curriculum by a “Learning Administrator”. This article could be assigned to your learning journey and then the authentication layer in your browser or on your device could track any interaction that was flagged for a learner’s participation.

The Bottom Line

By leveraging tools outside of your LMS today, you are collectively starting to push this future forward, whether you know it or not.

The future of learning will be great, and you’re already helping us take steps in that direction.