Learning management systems: the future is at stake


Traditional learning is being eclipsed as technology – and learners themselves – develop apace, writes Heather MacNeill

The debate over the demise of learning management systems (LMS) is in full flow. Some believe the LMS is disappearing completely, while others are adamant that LMS is thriving and here to stay. My stance falls somewhere in the middle. I believe the platforms and systems we use for corporate learning today are going through a complete (and necessary!) transformation, as the needs of learners are rapidly changing. You may think, “Well, hasn’t this evolution been happening for several years?” The answer is yes, it has. But in 2017, we’re going to see changes in learning technology truly take off.

Let’s start by talking about why the LMS, as it stands now, no longer works. The traditional LMS focuses on learning through required readings and courses, facilitated from the top down. Based on the 70:20:10 model for learning (see graphic), learning via LMS covers only 30% of the equation – formal education and training. What’s left out are the informal and social learning components – the other 70%. Modern learners retain most of their knowledge through self-discovery and collaboration, so learning ultimately fails when it is forced.

Not only is more knowledge retained through informal learning and social interactions, today’s employees actually crave freedom to engage with content of their choosing, to provide feedback on pre-established concepts and to interact with colleagues and experts to formulate new ideas. When learners are empowered to challenge old concepts and recombine content with their own interpretations, engagement in learning programmes builds.

As the learning preferences of today’s employees become progressively more self-guided, the trend for learning professionals is to swap the role of ‘teacher’ for ‘informal learning facilitator’. Empower employees to find their own answers via more modern means, like through curated content and IT consumerization. Then, challenge them to develop their own ideas in a more loosely structured learning environment.

Appealing to the modern learner 

It’s known that the millennial workforce is taking over, and they’re very picky about job perks and opportunities when considering a career path. Gallup tells us that 87% of Millennials rate professional or career growth and development as a high priority. That’s compared to 69% of non-Millennials (so we know professional development is important on a broader level – just more important among younger generations). If opportunities for growth aren’t provided, companies can anticipate higher turnover rates, since 40% of employees won’t stick around without modern learning tools or clear paths for advancement.

To avoid high attrition rates and to engage our workforce in learning programmes, companies need to adopt platforms that are open and that incorporate expert content as a starting point. Provide learners with capabilities to discuss curated content with colleagues, to challenge original ideas and network with global experts, and to invite clients and partners into the learning experience. In an environment such as the one just described, opportunities for career growth are both clear and endless. Employees are granted freedom to take control of their own professional development and to emerge as thought leaders in a natural and inviting way.

The traditional LMS was a wonderful tool 20 years ago. But now, the age of collaborative learning and working is upon us. It’s no longer just about software – it’s about content, collaboration and networking. Vendors offering legacy learning technology must evolve – slowly, of course, to avoid losing credibility with existing customers – but they must evolve nonetheless. As Josh Bersin said in a recent blog post: “It’s only a matter of time before LMS vendors and learning experience software start to come together.”

When it comes to providing learning experiences that appeal to modern learners in corporate settings, will slowly evolving legacy systems win the race? Or, will it be won by new players that are faster in developing the right technology that combines native content, and exploits the synergies between content, tools and network? The latter looks much the better bet.


Heather MacNeill is Head of Marketing and Communications  for BlueBottleBiz – the first collaborative learning platform for business professionals