As social learning continues to grow, LMS/LCMS vendors are taking various approaches.  While some view themselves as “social learning” savvy, incorporating various components, others seem to see themselves as just sitting on the sidelines.

Equally interesting, is that those who incorporate it, for the most part, are re-treading the same components as others, which when you consider the marketplace, makes no sense, especially in the current economic times.

LMS/LCMS vendors are following one of three approaches when it comes to social learning

  • Do nothing – avoid it and leave it to other competitors
  • Dip their feet in it – just a bit, a little here, a little there – oh and call it a full social learning platform
  • Jump right in – trying out new things, yet in some cases incorporating features everyone else is doing

Do Nothing

In any other market, the goal is to be number one, yet for whatever reason, in this market when it comes to social learning, there are a significant number of vendors, who would rather just sit on the sidelines.  While, I can understand vendors who would rather not offer a “talent management or performance management” option, the decision to ignore social learning, is strange.

It is not as though, social learning is going to disappear. Nor is it likely that social media types are going to vanish off the planet. If you are trying to be a global player, and people are accessing from everywhere, why ignore the collaboration, content generating, communication sharing approach?

The idea that only 20 somethings, are interested in this feature is plain nonsense. Let’s set the record straight on a couple of details

  • The fastest growing segment on Facebook is 55 to 65 year old women
  • The age range of people using social media is 35 to 54, with a college or post graduate degree

Tell me where is the “young crowd” on this data?

When so many potential customers are seeing the advantages of open source, creating their own learning or VLE portals or seeing the value of various social media types and incorporating them into some type of social learning community, the “do nothing” spin is well, a time warp into the past. The days are gone, when everyone is going to use a LMS. Time for these vendors to wake up, or see your audience share disappear.

Stick your feet into the water, just a bit

There is a mid segment of the vendors in the LMS/LCMS or learning portal markets that offer some features of social learning, as part of their standard system or as their “add on modules”.

They do not want to jump into the water, for fear of the social learning shark. They offer the repetitive features of what they deem to be social learning

  • Facebook like page – where people can follow others, create a profile, post on a discussion board or wall or something similar so that others in their “friends” group can see and respond or post their own comments, includes a profile – upload your image, tell a little about yourself, perhaps add a job title
  • Micro-blogging – similar to Twitter, again learners in the system can “followers” other learners, see their micro blog posts, and their friends can respond. Not everyone can see the micro blog comments, just your “followers”
  • RSS feed – not all offer this, but enough do
  • Wiki- looks nothing like Wikipedia
  • Blog – looks nothing like Blogger or WordPress
  • Widgets and APIs (albeit, the widgets are not really a social media type)
  • Chat room – text based (enough vendors offer this – it is just scary -”text” chat was very popular in the late 90′s – heck I had a text chat room on my web site in 95)
  • Discussion board – enough vendors offer this and call it social learning. Yes it is a social media type, but come on, a discussion board with threads; some add the “forum” angle – again it is a social media type; how many people are really going to get excited seeing this and saying to themselves – wow, this is cutting edge?

Some offer a “YouTube” like feature, where people can upload videos and others can comment on it.  Others offer a pseudo app share offering – where people can upload documents, pdfs, PowerPoints and other group members can download them or view them or both – it is basically a COP (community of practice) wrapped as social learning.

I have seen enough vendors that actually offer this fine package to their end users and think they have hit the social learning ball out of the park:

  • Blog
  • Wiki
  • Ability to upload and download files – in various formats to a degree (rarely offering .mp4, and never offering .aac)
  • RSS feed

Then they charge extra for amazing features like

  • Chat room – text based
  • Discussion board/whiteboard
  • Micro blogging feature

Jump right in and just start swimming

Not only do the offer all the above, excluding the forum, pure text chat room with no web conferencing – see the person in real time, and often the discussion board with threads; they add various other cool features – slick social media types and in some cases, really scream – “innovator”

  • Videos – the real thing – Link to YouTube videos, upload their own videos, learners then can add comments; system identifies number of people who view their video and last time it was viewed.  Formats include .wmv, .avi, .mp4, even .flv
  • Complete app sharing between learners – video, audio (.mp3, .mpeg), .pdf, documents including PowerPoint and Excel; learners can then view/preview and can download them; again the items are uploaded into the system
  • Group pages that mimic what people see in Linkedin, including responding.. they see their picture too – it looks exactly like the Linkedin groups
  • Links to Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin accounts right in the LMS, so the user signs in, and it is now working in the system
  • Twitter – the real thing, and not only can learners in the system – “followers” and respond within the LMS, but the end user’s tweets are seen externally by their “followers” and their followers tweets are seen back in the system, in real time – no delay
  • Incorporate the WordPress blog, so learners can write posts on the blog, and then externally it is seen on the WordPress blog – complete open environment
  • Wikipedia that actually looks like Wikipedia – 100%, they use mediawiki kit – available for free
  • After taking a course – even if it is a midway and not fully complete, learners can rate the course, leave comments
  • Ratings on other content in the system and comments from learners
  • Web conferencing in the system, and 100% free – built by the vendor; real time webinars, see the person presenting in real time via their webcam, whiteboarding, web tours, desktop sharing,  full interaction – text chat is included as part of the system, but is not the only feature – i.e. it is a chat room with text only)
  • Social Q/A – question is posted by the end user, and then x number of people who are knowledgeable about that specific topic, respond; but after one responds, the other two cannot; a mentor option can be created
  • Mashups and APIs (again, some people in the social media space, see them as social media types)
  • Event management

What is missing

Here are the basics

  • Social bookmarking
  • Social news or network aggregators
  • Links to other video web site, i.e. blip.tv for example
  • Niche social communities, within their own system, i.e. one general FB page or perhaps using a combination of other social networking sites with various features that may not exist on FB; and then a social networking feature geared towards only HR people or IT people, or job roles, etc.
  • Meetups – it is one part social networking, but end users can setup meetings or get together will their fellow end users and meet – off site or at the workplace; date and time is set, e-mail reminders are sent out and follow-ups

Taking it to the next level

Just a few options, by no means the entire kitchen sink

  • Livecasting or Livestreaming – it could be done by end users uploading videos or media files and then stream them in real time, to everyone or just their specific learner group
  • Social Bookmarking, but with a twist – for videos and audio
  • Extended Enterprise feature – sell courses to your sales agents, customers, wholesalers, whomever and enable them in real time to chat, cool option I think for sales agents across the country or globe
  • Personalized recommendations of web sites or media (in the LMS, if u so choose) by learners, can be seen by everyone; possibly listed in a list, created by the end user
  • Send e-mail reminders of courses needed to be taken, completed to mobile phones or tablets; offer the option to end users to accept SMS (text messages)
  • Take your micro blog to the next level – enable end users to send video clips, photographs, etc. to other followers
  • Gallery of photographs by end users, where other end users vote – using the thumb up/thumb down, then a top ten appears
  • 3D worlds

Social Learning Systems or Social Learning Management Systems

There are two (that I know of), who pitch themselves as a Social Learning Management System.  They are heavy into social learning with the standard features of a LMS.

The two are:

Social Learning Systems

It would be great to see a system identify themselves as a Social Learning System, with no LMS features. Pure 100% social learning. Think it is impossible? Think again. With so many social media types out there, open source code (thus any one can build one), and the on-going growth of new social media capabilities coming out every day; it would change the industry. Oh, 100% standalone and not integrated into a LMS.

Mzinga’s OmniSocial product sort of fits the build, but it lacks some components, to what I see as a true system, specifically 100% standalone, since it can also be integrated into a LMS or used in their own LMS.

In The Cloud – zinged into your Learning Portal or even a social networking site or group

If you want to add courses, you can – BUT it is done via the cloud. Thus you create your courses via your own authoring tool and upload them into the cloud. Then wherever you are, the are launched within the cloud. No need to have a LMS.  You can also build courses within the cloud and launch – FB page, social networking site, WordPress blog, learning portal, etc.

I will admit that the one of the best products I have seen this year, does what I am listing above - SCORM Cloud.  I rarely recommend 100%, a product, but I will on this one. It is that amazing.  The courses are tested in their system to verify they meet the SCORM requirements; plus the system works and their own content authoring tool works with SCORM 1.2, 2004 3rd edition.  As I said before this is a game changer.

One note: it does include a basic LMS, but you do not have to use it. Frankly, I’m not a fan of it. What I am a fan of is the ability to launch courses wherever you are – regardless it is in a social network site, vle, your web page, whatever. The key here is – you do not have to be using their LMS; you control the content and where it lands up.

Bottom Line

I am reminded of a poem by John Donne, “No Man is an Island”. The poem’s meaning is that people cannot thrive when isolated. Social learning eliminates this isolation. So, for those LMS systems that decided on standing on the sidelines or just barely putting their feet into the water, it will not be your learners, but yourselves that will be isolated.

Isn’t a free marketplace, great?

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