4 Steps to Get More from Your LMS

Some 38 percent of companies are actively looking to replace their current learning management system (LMS) according to Brandon Hall Group research. Here are some critical calls to action to help organizations rethink their approach to learning technologies.

Learning Management System (LMS) solutions continue to underperform across a wide swath of metrics, according to the organizations that use them. The average satisfaction score for any of the 17 aspects of the LMS measured in Brandon Hall Group’s latest research never surpasses 3.5 on a 5-point scale. This is not exactly a ringing endorsement of a market estimated to reach almost $8 billion by 2018.

This relative dissatisfaction has not changed significantly since 2012. This is especially concerning when you consider that organizations spend an average of 18 percent of their overall training budget on learning technologies. Only 64 percent of organizations said they were likely to renew their current LMS contract, and 20 percent confirmed they will not renew. Perhaps worse, 31 percent indicated they would not recommend their current solution to a colleague.

This leads to a climate of change in the LMS space, where 38 percent of companies are actively looking to replace their current LMS. There are many reasons that drive organizations to make a wholesale change of their LMS, and some of the top reasons identified in Brandon Hall Group’s 2015 LMS Trends Study include:

  • Poor customer support
  • Desire to move to the cloud
  • Lack of social/collaborative tools
  • Difficult to use
  • Outdated appearance

Think Outside the LMS Box

For years, learning organizations have been challenged to prove return on investment, or “justify their existence.” It has always been difficult for Learning leaders to draw a straight line from their investments in learning to a bump to the bottom line, thanks to an array of variables. But these demands have only increased over time, and companies clearly do not believe they are getting their money’s worth from their learning platforms. The ability of the LMS to meet ROI expectations scored an average of 2.92 on a 5-point scale. ROI scored more 1s and 2s than 4s and 5s. Essentially, far too many organizations feel they are paying too much for systems that are difficult to use, outdated, and do not provide the data and analytics the companies need.

Also consider that these satisfaction scores do not change regardless of what an organization may be paying for its system. Those companies spending more than $15 per user annually are just as unhappy as those paying less than $5. In fact, ROI satisfaction scores are, on average, worse for those companies paying more per user. This quickly dispels any arguments around “you get what you pay for” and paints a picture of something far more systemic.

In taking a holistic look at learning technology—including what companies are dissatisfied with currently, what they want from future systems, and the trends in learning and technology in general—we see that perhaps the solution is not to be found in a newer, better LMS. Perhaps it is time to start thinking outside of the LMS box toward something altogether different.

There are many demographic and cultural shifts occurring that are changing the learning landscape:

  • Brandon Hall Group’s 70:20:10 Learning Framework research tells us that 57 percent of learning now involves on-the-job activities and informal learning, while 43 percent involves formal learning.
  • The power and ubiquity of mobile devices grows at an unrelenting pace.
  • People continually are finding new and different ways to connect and share thoughts and experiences.
  • Millennials, a completely digitally native generation, are poised to take over the workforce.

All of these things are causing organizations to take a serious look at the ways in which they deliver learning. The truth is, for all the features and functions of the modern LMS, it is still a technology rooted in serving a traditional purpose.

While the LMS market has been successful over the last 15 years and technology continues to advance, we are hitting a point of diminishing returns. Companies are demanding more new features, and ignoring much of the functionality that has been built into the systems in the past. The average satisfaction rating for feature sets has dropped consistently, from 3.01 in 2012 to 2.95 in 2014 and to 2.82 in 2015. There are changing attitudes about how to approach learning, and the traditional LMS is falling short.

Brandon Hall Group’s 2015 LMS Trends Study indicates that companies are dissatisfied with basically every aspect of the systems they are using and are looking for better options. However, this may be the point in time when simply switching to another LMS is not the answer. Instead, companies seem to be longing for a different strategy altogether.

Critical Calls to Action

Our research has highlighted some critical calls to action to help organizations rethink their approach to learning technologies:

  1. Use technology to support the learning strategy, not dictate it.
  2. Solve today’s challenges, but plan for the future.
  3. Leverage technology for a truly blended learning experience.
  4. Realize the potential in mobile, collaborative, and cloud technologies.

1. Use technology to support the learning strategy, not dictate it. Too often, organizations develop a learning strategy, but once the LMS is in place, the features and functionality tend to dictate the way the strategy is executed. Companies may have plans for the way they want to develop their people, but eventually find themselves constrained by the limitations of the LMS. For the 43 percent of companies that do not have a formal learning strategy to guide them, the influence of the technology is even stronger.

With the resurgence of the 70:20:10 Learning Framework, companies are keen to focus their energy on the 70:20 piece, which involves collaborative/social, experiential on-the-job, and informal learning. In most cases, however, the majority of time and resources is spent on the 10 percent of learning that is formal. A big reason for this is because the LMS traditionally has been designed to support this type of learning. This disconnect is partly responsible for the poor satisfaction ratings.

2. Solve today’s challenges, but plan for the future. Organizations often are driven to select new technology—any technology—to address a specific and immediate set of challenges. That often causes a lack of foresight into the organizational needs beyond the immediate future, which, in turn, leads to a whole new set of challenges that will need to be addressed. We see this over and over again in our LMS research. In fact, the area in which LMS solutions receive the poorest satisfaction rating is the ability to meet future needs, scoring an average of 2.57 on a 5-point scale.

More than 38 percent of companies that use an LMS are actively looking to replace their current solution, and this failure to plan ahead plays a large role. The top 10 reasons companies want to switch includes challenges such as a wish to move to the cloud, a lack of social/collaborative features, an outdated appearing system, and—at No. 1—that the organization’s learning needs have changed. The fact that an LMS cannot adapt to meet a company’s changing learning needs is a clear indication of a poor initial decision.

3. Leverage technology for a truly blended learning experience. Organizations just now are coming around to the 70:20:10 concept, despite the fact that it’s been around for the better part of two decades. Organizations need to embrace technology that allows them to focus on the 80 percent of learning that is not formal classroom or Web-based training. And that’s not to say that this functionality does not already exist within many of the LMS platforms available. Instead, companies have been obsessively focused on creating courses and filling classrooms. The learning strategy itself needs to recognize the existence, strengths, and value of informal and experiential learning, and technology must be used to execute.

Companies often provide classroom training and Web-based training and call it blended. But a truly blended approach involves multiple modalities that can meet the various needs of a diverse learning audience. The technology available today allows organizations not only to provide necessary formal training, but to expand and enhance that experience with collaboration, mobility, and context. An embrace of a blended environment is the foundation for changing learning from a disconnected event to part of people’s everyday work.

4. Realize the potential of mobile, collaborative and cloud technologies. In order to execute on a more expansive learning strategy, new technologies need to be leveraged. There is no doubt that mobile devices are going to continue to play an integral role in how people live, work, and learn. The potential for employees to have everything they need to know at their fingertips is a quantum leap forward for performance support. Even in the simplest use, mobile devices provide learners with the opportunity to interact with learning when, where, and for as long as they want. The personalization of the mobile device also provides new possibilities for more contextual, relevant learning.

As multiple studies have shown, people learn more, are more engaged, and retain knowledge longer when they are able to collaborate. Schools and universities are embracing this concept even more so than corporations, providing students with both physical and digital spaces to work together and learn from one another. Social and collaborative tools within learning technologies allow companies to promote and leverage the 20 percent of the 70:20:10 model and make collaborative learning easier, more effective, and more impactful.

As for the cloud, companies that are using a cloud or SaaS (software as a service) model for their LMS have higher satisfaction scores than those with installed solutions in every single category that Brandon Hall Group measures. This relates closely to the call to plan for the future. Organizations that use installed solutions typically find themselves customizing and modifying the solution to meet their needs. While this seems ideal and addresses changing needs, over time, the customizations can become cumbersome. When a new version of the platform becomes available, these companies have locked themselves into using the older system because an upgrade would undo all the customization. Eventually, they will be stuck using an unsupported version of the software. And while some organizations may not be able to move to the cloud as easily as others due to security and regulatory concerns, technology providers are addressing these concerns by creating secure cloud models.

David Wentworth is principal learning analyst for Brandon Hall Group, an independent human capital management analyst firm, with practices in Learning and Development, Talent Management, Leadership Development, Talent Acquisition, and HR/Workforce Management.

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