We are having a number of interesting discussions with clients about their Learning Management System (LMS) and the need for all content to be available through their LMS, which has got me thinking about whether an LMS should be the only way for a learner to find learning. To summarise the argument we hear is, we have invested in an LMS and we need to maximise the investment so all learning content must be accessed through the LMS.

From my perspective an LMS can be a very useful tool to present and host learning options, schedule learning and provide management information on usage. Brilliant for statutory and compliance training. Looking at various blogs this morning from Tony Karrer (lots of great links from this post) and Nicole Fougere it appears that an LMS is still a major investment in terms of time and money and there are limited degrees of satisfaction with the end result.

My major concern with an LMS is whether the investment is based on a strategy that places the learner and their needs at the centre of the solution rather than the organisation. Too often I hear the reason we have an LMS is to measure and manage learning, which is a very different place to start. Tony Karrer’s post on what should go in an LMS is very pertinent

The sunk cost of the investment then leads to the need to have it well used (an economist will tell you this is an emotional rather than rationale need) and the paradox is that the lack of learner focus from the beginning often means that the controls and structure deter usage rather than encourage it, no matter the quality of the content. It seems to me that the Learning Department and the executives in such an organisation are trying to control all the learning that takes place, which given the amount of informal learning that takes place in an organisation is a complete illusion at the best of times. Is this about a need to justify investment decision and protect roles?

Our own experience at GoodPractice and usage measures across hundreds of organisations shows that where learners perceive an online resource as something to help them do their job they use if 4 or 5 times more than where it is seen as a learning tool. When asked, they say learning is something they do once their to-do list is complete. So they see learning as being separate from work. If we can present a toolkit as something to help with work, so placing learning at the heart of the workplace it improves performance, but often isn’t seen as learning. Not a problem from my perspective, if it helped the individual. So a very simple change in perception can have a massive impact on the real engagement with learning.

So I would advocate a learning strategy designed around making learning as accessible to learners as possible. This needs to start with how to support learners where and when they need learning most, when they are working.  The simple solution of saying we have an LMS and everything needs to go through there is not good enough.

That said I understand the pressures learning executives are under to justify investment and drive usage. It just that if you are passionate about helping your learners be the best they can be, “I wouldn’t start here!”