LMS Vendors: U Can Survive – Innovate, Invigorate and Invent

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On 11-18-2010, I was part of an online panel discussing whether the LMS as we know it is dead and if not, what is the evolution of the LMS.  In that discussion, each of us covered various avenues and in a couple of topics all commented.  It was within these comments, that afterwords, I decided to expand a bit plus identify other areas that I see, LMS vendors must explore – which they have not yet done so, to re-energize themselves.

Perpetuating the Myth

In the webinar, I brought up how LMS vendors were themselves perpetuating the myth of the bad things of social media (which is a necessary component of social learning), so, rather than identify the facts and data to potential clients who are concerned about social media and thus social learning, they instead do not include it in their system.

Thus, the LMS vendors are creating a Bogeyman – their own bogeyman, and it does not have to be that way.

A common argument I’m hearing from vendors on why they do not offer a social learning component in their system

” “Companies are blocking social media access at their site and/or have social media governance policies”

Okay, but what does that have to do with anything?  If you look at data across the board, two points constantly appear

  1. Majority of employees access social media sites out of the workplace
  2. Majority of employees access a LMS or Learning Portal out of the workplace

Now, why doesn’t a vendor mention this information to a potential client, at least the first point – I can understand holding off on the second point, for selling purposes.  If a potential client comes back with some spin on the downside to social media, you have to remember it is social learning (social media + e-learning), and not just social media.  Secondly, it is just not social networking.

Mouse on the Wheel

Far too many LMS vendors are stuck in a rut. They are like mice who get on one of those cool wheels in a cage and run around in them..non-stop..not innovating..just running in place.  The worst place you see it? Social Learning.  Oh, excuse me – social networking to most of the vendors who spin it under the guise of social learning.

I won’t constantly bore you on their Facebook, Twitter like components, nor discussion board or text chat, but seriously..who thinks this is engaging and interactive?  A recent report found that 89% of employees are voyeurs when it comes to using Facebook. They read pages, they do not post comments, nor do they update their wall or profile.  In my own random survey to folks, I found overwhelmingly, people following the same mantra.

So, if you include Facebook like in your LMS, wouldn’t it be logical to assume that people would follow the same approach and mechanism, that they use in the actual real Facebook product?

What about Twitter? Greater than 90% send out links to information. One way really.

We are sick of the RSS feed and then super lame YouTube links. I’m sorry but watching a video link, is not engaging social learning in my book. Yes, YouTube is a form of social media, but so is Pandora, and I’m unaware of any LMS vendor enabling Pandora in their system.

Mobile Learning

Tablets there..tablets there..tablets everywhere.

Yes, I love consumer slate tablets. Yes, I own one. No, I do not own shares.  But, the reason I constantly bash this into e-learning vendors heads is they just DON’T GET IT. They just do not see the benefit nor value – NOW – of having their products available to be used effectively and optimized for consumer slate tablets, aka “tablets”.

It is amazing.   This should be a feature that is either finished and operational or is in the works or is sitting on the board and people are working on how to get it done.  Yet, a majority of vendors in the e-learning space as a whole, are just not doing it.

The LMS space is a major culprit here, because there are vendors who offer mobile learning management systems, or m-learning solutions within their LMS.  True, smartphones are here to stay, and they are  wonderful for a lot of amazing things, but from a true m-learning standpoint, I just do not see the engaging interactive value here, in comparison to other mobile devices.

There are exceptions. If the technology infrastructure does not enable internet connection and the only availability is mobile, then m-learning on a smartphone is workable and clearly acceptable.  Costs, have to be placed equally into consideration. For example, m-learning with cellphones are used nearly exclusively in Africa, and they have found great success.

But, besides Africa and a few other areas in the world, where the components of infrastructure  and cost play key roles, LMS vendors seem to be lagging on the other mobile device opportunities.

For consumers in general, smartphones are number one in the market, then PGPs (Portable Game Players) and so on.. near the bottom e-readers and tablets. Ahh, but wait. Fastest growing segments – tablets & e-readers. Fastest growing markets for early adopters: tablets & PGPs.

35 tablets by the end of Q2 2011, on top of the 30+ already in the market. Plus the iPad.  I’m sorry, why the wait?  HTML5 will be available on every one of those tablets, plus they will offer Flash (notable exception the iPad).

While my esteemed colleague today said he saw m-learning on smartphones – value as assessments and progress reports and not content – I agree, but content will be king with tablets.

You can do so much more with a tablet. Bigger screen, higher horsepower, gbs, APIs in HTML5 – greater multimedia experience for anyone and geolocation – huge, especially for people who do new hire training or want to create a real world scenario brought within the tablet HTML5 structure.  Oh, yeah, social learning. More capabilities, more features, more services.

As for smartphones.. which I love BTW.. recent reports find that the #1 and #2 things people do on a smartphone is surf the net and e-mail.

If you want to move onto a new experience with m-learning why not add functionality to an e-reader? Bigger screen than a smartphone. Offers 3G and the data access is free – no additional charge, unlike a smartphone; plus many offer full Flash capabilities, color screens and the e-ink too – the mainstay. Some enable audio, video, plus more.

.epub is the standard format used by nearly everyone including Apple, but not Amazon who is still in proprietary mode.  Wait.. what about PGP?

Portable Game Players. Not now.. maybe in a couple of years, but think about this:

  • People who play games cross all age brackets
  • PGPs are a fast growing segment
  • 6th social networking site on the net – hi5 – a social gaming site
  • Game platforms are a social media type
  • Scenario based learning can be created using a game like sim
  • Social Learning functionality is possible

It can’t be Done.. It’s never been Done.. By Golly, it works!!!

Trailblazers Led the Way.. Risk Takers.. Innovators

  • When everyone was using Internet Explorer, one vendor said, hmm what about “Firefox” – and it worked
  • When everyone was PC only, a vendor thought to themselves.. Macs? it worked
  • When everyone wasn’t offering ad-hoc reporting, someone said..we can.. and it worked
  • When vendors saw the possibility of integrating web conferencing when it never had been done before, what happened? It worked
  • When a vendor decided to add mediawiki to their LMS, so it looks exactly like Wikipedia, while everyone else uses some funky looking wiki..what happened? It worked
  • When a vendor said, hmm, you know HTML5 courses are possible, so we will create a player that will play courses built-in 100% HTML5 and will work with Flash.. what happened? It worked

So, what are the next possible innovations a LMS can offer in their systems?

LMS vendors who are moving into the Talent Management Space

  • Adding a benefits module
  • Payroll

It is logical. SAP SAAS bombed. A lot of small businesses cannot afford various HRIS solutions, nor can they afford an ERP solution – especially if they are only interested in the HR modules. So, what can they do?  Well, if they want a LMS, they can get the best of both worlds. Some L&D, talent management, benefits mod and payroll.  Impossible?

Well, considering that I’ve heard from sources that ADP has been sniffing around the LMS space, I wouldn’t say it is so far-fetched.  Remember, Taleo purchased Learn.com, another vendor is integrating with SuccessFactors, and there are plenty of LMS vendors who are moving more into the TM space, so creating a mini HRIS system is smart business.

Virtual Desktop

If we want end users to be fully engaged with their SAAS LMS, wouldn’t it make sense to really push it to the next level?

We offer social learning – in some cases true collaborative learning, even the possibility to work together on a project or a document in a space. People can get together in groups. With web conferencing integrated, you can desktop share, thus work on a document in real-time back and forth, etc. so why not create a feature set within your LMS that goes beyond what is the norm now?

  • Mini hard drives for each seat (end-user) – they get 250mb – to store whatever they want online in the LMS – its like a locker or a desk; can be files, content they create, .epub books, media, whatever. They can share it with other end users.

Access it within the LMS to view, work on it in the LMS, it is all centralized.  This goes beyond the standard repository of a CMS, which seems inpersonal.  Having my own virtual desk, is personal. I like that.

  • Open source document viewer and docs – think Google Docs or spreadsheets, but you create them – or use similar apps – plenty of code and apps can be found; people access these open source programs in their LMS and save them in their LMS. No need to worry about it being lost forever. It’s on the web in their safe and secure LMS and in their locker/desk.
  • Integrated e-mail. Again, open source programs exist today that you can use as a feature within your LMS. SAAS base. Companies are leaving Outlook and moving to GMail, so why not offer your customers the capability to have e-mail as a feature in your system. Tie it into their servers. No need to have multiple windows open.

Remember, the majority of people access a LMS out of the workplace,  but you can change that. You want to change that. So, how do you change that?  By giving them a reason to open up the LMS in the workplace and use it – see it for more than just courses and a catalog.

Note: Yes, it is true that many companies, orgs, etc. allow their people to access and even give them time during work hours to go into their LMS and take courses.

I have seen the opposite and in some cases, have seen support from C-level folks for employees to be able have access during work hours for courses or whatever in the LMS, only to find out that their supervisor in the department doesn’t see it the same way and due to so much work, the person never has time, Or the supervisor frowns upon it.

Bottom Line

With a market that is extremely crowded, consolidation will happen. This is a reality. Ask yourself, why should I purchase your system compared to your competitor’s system?

Are you a lemming? Stuck in a rut, running in a mouse wheel waiting for a piece of cheese in form of a tiny tiny tiny bit of market share hoping you will survive?

Because if you are, you won’t be for long.  The space isn’t big enough for you. You have to change. The technology is saying it. Your potential customers are yelling it. The market is screaming it, and your competitors are doing it.

E-Learning 24/7


  1. Some interesting ideas, but I’m not sure about the kitchen-sink approach towards the end of the article. Star Office tried that (before it was bought by Sun and turned into OpenOffice.org) and it nearly killed it. People don’t need their e-mail integrated into their LMS; they already have perfectly workable e-mail plus a messaging system in their LMS (which sends copies to their e-mail).

    OTOH, real-time collaborative document creation with simultaneous voice-chat – now THAT would be something.

    1. This is true, if they have an open source LMS, where they can put anything into it with open source code or APIs, but from a corporate standpoint, there is not a system that has an integrated e-mail system.

      Secondly, when Star Office existed, Gmail did not. Sure, there was internet e-mail, but it companies were not moving away from MS Outlook to Gmail, which today they are. All size of companies, by the way are.

      You do not need, nor am I saying that all the things I’m listing under innovate should be in a LMS, rather here is a feature you can integrate or add.

      And, if you add it, it should be free. No charge, not partnered with someone else, as it exists in the paid LMSs, who 99% of them, partner with a web conferencing vendor under the premise that it is free, when in actually the end user has to pay for a license.

      Thank you for the comments.

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