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Reflecting on this in Chicago October 24th!

During the past few years, I have seen a lot of discussion about whether or not Learning Management Systems (LMS) are dead. Recently, cell phones and tablets and the strong use of social media has disrupted the concept/meaning of what an LMS is. Over the past ten years, the implementation of LMSs have been used then reused for numerous different purposes within different professional environments.  Originally, companies were choosing to use an LMS in their Human Resources departments to train and track workforce learning.  In a new twist in the corporate sphere, departments are using a different LMS to train outside sales forces and/or distributors on product knowledge.  Furthermore, the use of eLearning has pushed to associations who wish to either give their members the option, or require their members to continuously fulfill professional development courses. To add to the confusion, higher education often uses the term CMS versus LMS, because to them the system is maintaining all online course content.  So when people use the term LMS (especially in the context of its demise) what exactly are people talking about?

This October 24th brings great excitement for me as I have been asked to participate on a panel discussing the future of the LMS at Training Magazine’s Learning 3.0 Conference being held in Chicago the week of October 22nd.  I was asked to be on this panel because of my experience with the open source system called Moodle.  In preparation for this discussion I have been doing research on the argument that the LMS is dead, and furthermore reflecting on what it is that makes people think this.  After researching numerous studies, blogs, and books, I have come to find that the consensus seems to be that the LMS is most definitely not “dead”, but that it is being applied to solve business objectives in different ways, depending on context.

CLOmedia.com covered this topic in 2010, with an article that not only reviewed the history of eLearning and how it came to be today (well, in 2010), but also emphasized the necessity to find a delivery medium that is “right” for different types of  learners/context and for the type of information/education that is delivered.  Ed Cohen argued in this article that most jobs “require not only that training be documented, but also that learners actually prove that they know the material…this is what learning management is about”.  He goes on to include that while companies may be actively combining their original learning management systems with new media and social features—that it does not destroy the concept of an LMS, instead it enhances it; we are “adding capabilities to existing practices that already occur within our daily lives”.

The aLearning blog (a blog that focuses on the association space) which features posts written by Ellen Behrens had a great article on this subject which included a similar proposal that the “LMS hasn’t passed into the realm of obsolete yet”.  After reviewing a white paper released by NetDimensions on a similar panel to the one I will be participating in, Behrens came to the conclusion that instead of dying out, the LMS will be significantly changing in the years to come–most likely to continue including successful ways of providing access across the world, smart ways to measure learning, and lastly, implementations of social features that allow both association members and non-members (learners) to interact and connect.  She argues that the LMS, while continuously changing and morphing, isn’t gone and most likely won’t be.  Instead, it is a system that has to stay updated with the times and needs of the corporations. What Cohen and Behrens speaks to is the impact of social media and mobile on the LMS.  This leads to outside system challenges to the predominance of the LMS.  This includes white labeled social media platforms and digital asset management systems that function as knowledge centers for educational assets.  This is somewhat ironic, because an up to date LMS should provide these features.  Even more ironic, is that higher education systems like Blackboard and Moodle have used discussion forums (social interaction on a topic) for the last decade. They were the pioneers of social media.

I want to touch on one last blog post before adding further to this argument, because quite honestly it’s a good one with an incredible amount of valid points to as why the LMS is not only still very much alive, but not seeing “death” anytime soon.  David Wilkins wrote a lengthy but passionate blog post entitled “A Defense of the LMS (and a case for the future of Social Learning)” on his blog, The Social Enterprise Blog.  To put in short, Wilkins has determined that all, yes all, people who have determined that the LMS is dead or unusable have not been exposed to, or at the minimum paid attention to, the capabilities of the LMS at the present.  He pushes the claim that most articles or blogs on the subject are giving opinions about the features of the LMS five years ago, a management system without the ability to do more than 27 different things that he lists out as current features of leading LMS solutions.  He furthers that while not every client uses all the features that are available in an LMS, because the LMS still has the ability to include them, it provides one solution to many problems that corporations and associations face. I call this the “lag effect”.   Individuals are using their “turn of the century” view of an LMS to evaluate today’s LMS.  In fact, I would argue that many Learning Management Systems have too many features and try to be all things to all types of buyers.

I don’t believe that the LMS is dead. Yes, my livelihood depends on it, but the facts are that institutions like “software systems” that help meet strategic objectives. The cool part (and often challenging for buyers) is that there are hundreds of systems that use the LMS moniker. The emergence of open source Learning Management Systems like Moodle and Saiki, expand buyer choices. And the relevance of open source again depends on context.  Who are you and what educational mission or initiative do you have?

The LMS in name has been a critical part of educational distance education efforts for over two decades.   Use of the LMS is growing—growing in the number of associations/corporations/organizations that need it, growing as a system by incorporating new features especially in the social/mobile realm, and growing to become a single learning solution that assists many institutions in achieving their goals.

Whether or not you need an LMS depends entirely on who you are, what your goals are, and whether you need formal versus informal training. An LMS may not be needed for some non-profits because there is no need to track and verify learning.  The educational activities may all be considered informal.  Yet, if you are a business and you need to track the competencies of your employees, you need a Learning Management System.

(Full disclosure: Web Courseworks markets a Moodle based LMS to non-profits, associations, and corporations for specific educational initiatives.)

Managing eLearning is written by the Blog team at Web Courseworks which includes Jon Aleckson and Jillian Bichanich.  Ideas and concepts are originated and final copy reviewed by Jon Aleckson.