Learning technology trends
Training and learning & development delivered anywhere, anytime
Mark Ward, Chief Technical Officer
Evolution doesn’t mean forgetting our past.
Mark Ward, Chief Technical Officer
I actually started my career teaching 16 to 18-year-olds about computers a local college, making extensive use of Moodle, a “Virtual Learning Environment” built by a large open-source community of largely academic organisations. Eventually, I ended up supporting that tool full time, helping my colleagues to try to get the most out of it for their students.
In academic environments these types of systems could be very effective. They make allowance for the range of faculties/schools, all of which need to manage the significant number of courses they offer. In turn, these courses have curriculums which often last for 12 months or more and therefore contain a substantial amount of information.
There are some features that teachers and lecturers love on these systems: electronic assignment submissions, collaborative glossaries, student groups and course formats jump to mind.
Such features were critical for the success of these systems in an educational setting, but I don’t believe that they are beneficial to businesses in search of a modern and engaging Learning Management System for their employees.
If you’re curious, here’s some of the functionality which was recently queried on the Elearning Industry website:
As I went through the form we were submitting, I was genuinely surprised at the amount of functionality they were asking about, which undoubtedly caters for an educational environment. I couldn’t believe we were submitting to get Thrive listed as a corporate Learning Management System.
And that worried me because the functionality which is critical for the success in education is vastly different to that of a corporate platform. I asked myself: “Why are we still expecting to see this functionality from modern systems?”
In a great many cases, even in 2020, the tools and mindsets which are prevalent in the learning technologies industry spawn from academic circles. By and large, the methods that we have inherited from education have not been altered as they transitioned to corporate learning – as a result we are trying to encourage bite-sized knowledge sharing with tools that were designed to deliver a year-long curriculum.
In my previous role as CTO at Mind Click, I found myself constantly struggling against the tools within a specific open source learning management system. Its course structure operated in exactly the same way the system I used at the college, forcing L&D teams to create curriculums instead of allowing them to easily share information.
As we tried to innovate we found ourselves disabling and hiding “core features” in an attempt to make the system more usable, but despite our best efforts we ended up with a system which could only frustrate developers, infuriate learners and exasperate admins.
The whole structure of these more ‘traditional’ learning platforms, which are firmly rooted in academia, go completely against the wants, needs and expectations of modern learners. And that’s because many have just taken the successful methods of further education and assumed that they will also apply to corporate learning.
Having spent years working on both sides of the fence I can confirm…they really don’t.
For a typical employee terms like “Courses”, “Programs” and “Certifications” are just confusing – all they want is accessible, bite sized content. I’ve seen many cases where L&D teams’ instincts to keep things simple were put to one side in order to make the most use of the tool – creating lengthy, blended learning programmes just to make the most of our tools. Surely, this goes against the grain when we know that by next year over 80% of all content consumed online is video?
Why are we giving learners experiences that don’t equate to what they want?
Of course! Here at THRIVE we’ve talked a lot about a huge need for a shift in mindset from the learning technologies industry. We need to stop trying to solve modern problems with outdated methodologies and mindsets; the learning management system needs to go through a process of rejuvenation and evolution.
One of the major challenges many traditional learning platforms solve is being able to control and organise huge volumes of learning resources and content which fit into curriculums. They allow teachers to share content in a linear structure, with lesson materials appearing before assignment submissions.
Grouping materials into large silos works well when you’re delivering a really big course, but is far from ideal where you’re trying to encourage time-poor employees to access a range of interrelated, bite-sized content.
For an employee who is focused on productivity, they need to work faster and smarter to bring home the bacon. They don’t have the luxury of time; in fact, according to our research over 60% of people have less than ten minutes a day to learn at work. Their learning is at the point of need: “I have a problem, so I need to fix it.”
You’re probably beginning to see why platforms that encourage lengthy, impenetrable courses are infuriating learners – they can’t get access to what they need when they need it.
New tools allow us to revisit the way we curate our content. In our learning experience platform, we view content as being atomic: it exists independently of any courses, formats or enrolment methods. You simply choose who should have visibility and share it with your team.
This highly reusable, multi-faceted content is the gem of user generated content; it can easily be used in isolation, but it can also be used again and again in different ways.
For example, perhaps a member of your team shares a really useful video guide on leadership skills. People like it and interact with it – meaning you can easily identify it as something useful for your audiences. It can be further shared with specific audiences, or added to a structured learning pathway, without requiring you to take away any of their flexibility or usefulness to other people on the system.
By creating learning pathways around content, rather creating content within courses, your LMS becomes much less rigid. Learners can find the content in many ways depending on how they look for it, or even have it suggested to them by the system if it may be relevant.
This approach is much more simple, and far better suited, to what a business and its learners want.
Modern learning platform solutions, such as Learning Experience Platforms, are designed from the ground up to support knowledge sharing within organisations, supporting the creation of user generated content (UGC), while still giving L&D administrators the tools they need to effectively curate and share.
Encouraging users to generate content means we are capturing their knowledge on topics they have expertise in, while admins of the system are able to more easily curate and apply that content across the business.
It also encourages connection, inclusion and fosters stronger professional working relationships as formal educational barriers are dropped and we move closer to creating the consumer-grade learning ecosystem our people are having outside of work.
The structured nature of traditional LMSs means that learners are shown what admins think they need to know, and nothing else: they are stuck in a world of mandatory training mindsets. Many organisations choose to make their content more widely available, but learners are not empowered to find the content they need because it is locked away within course structures.
The experience is clunky, difficult and nowhere near as flexible or engaging as learners are expecting. And so they disconnect.
Of course, I’m not the first to identify these issues, and the social LMS offers an alternative model. Many would say that a social LMS can conquer these problems to surface user-generated content – and in some businesses, I would agree.
By and large social LMS’ surface content to learners based on when the content was created rather than how relevant that content is to the learner. In some organisations, this works well enough because the two concepts have some parity – but I would argue this is not the case generally.
As a result, relevant and useful knowledge is lost to learners as soon as it slips off the bottom of a timeline. It’s certainly an improvement on just being able to see training which is assigned to you, but it’s still not really allowing relevant content to be surfaced to employees.
Why shouldn’t older content still be prioritised for a user? Why shouldn’t old, but really good, relevant content still be surfaced when appropriate? A learning experience platform can help with that.
That’s what we’ve done with our LXP – focused on helping your users get their hands on the most relevant content for them. Depending on their (or admins’, for that matter) needs that could be highlighting stuff that’s new, or manually assigned, of course. But the really smart, machine learning aspect of it means that Thrive is focused on saying: “What’s happening in this system and how is it relevant to you as an individual?”
Moving beyond mandatory or recent content, our system can also surface content based on topics you are interested in, or highlight items which are being shared or interacted with a lot (especially if it’s by people in your teams or people who you follow).
This is exciting work already, but it also gives us a starting point to evolve the platform and algorithms, for example in future we could recommend content at certain times of year based on previous behaviour patterns. The world is our oyster.
This level of personalisation is vital for real, relevant and timely experiences for your learners. These are the experiences they are having on social media, when browsing online and even when shopping. The internet of things is working hard to be bespoke for each individual; to create a unique experience for every single person. Why isn’t your LMS?
Of course, I would say this because I am working in a business which is trying to help evolve L&D to a more modern, sophisticated delivery engine. But I believe as long as we continue to use tools which aren’t fit for our purposes, we will continue to be held back by those tools.
We know that academia has influenced the elearning and corporate learning space, and somehow, many of us have adopted these ill-fitting training models. It’s important to recognise that something which may work well for education very often will not work well for business.
So let’s give the LMS a pat on the back and a firm handshake, thank it for its service and accept it might be time to move on to something which is better for us and our employees. Evolution doesn’t mean forgetting where we’ve come from. It means we must use our experience to propel forward to do something even better.
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