Sunday, July 11, 2010

Why Do We Have an LMS?

That's me

Warning, this is a bit of a rant written mostly for my own need in sorting through how I really feel about learning management systems (LMSs). If you work with the average LMS you probably understand.

I have worked numerous different LMSs, some good and some not so good. I don't think I have used any considered "user-friendly" on either the admin or the user end. Currently, I am getting to know another LMS and trying to be patient with its quirks and illogical design. To give it some credit it is not much quirkier, or designed much worse, than most other LMSs (most are drek). As in the past, once I get used to the peculiarities of the system I am sure I will begin to tolerate it and even be able to do what is needed. However, learning to get it to do what you want it to does take quite a bit of hair pulling and shouting many nasty phrases at it. I also have received great deal of help from my coworkers who also work with the system, in which I am extremely grateful. If you are reading this, thank you.

Now, why the heck do we even use these things? Here are the crazy reasons we keep hearing in the corporate training world.

  1. "Auditors are going to ask for reports showing everyone took the compliance courses."

  2. "We need to give assessments and see that learning occurred."

  3. "We need a way for staff to enroll in classroom training."

  4. "So staff can access their transcripts."

  5. "We have to track EVERYTHING!"

Some of these reasons are valid to a point, but do we really need a cumbersome LMS for all this? First off, we do not need to track everything. We should be more concerned that staff are learning and applying what they learned than if they have the word "completed" next to their name. In the case of assessments it may demonstrate learning, but not the application of what was learned or the results of its application. It is very important that learning occurred, but please do not assume they did anything with it. As far as classroom enrollment and transcripts, I am confident there are cheaper, easier alternatives for those tasks.

Yes, there is some practicality in the fore-mentioned list and I am not naive enough to think we can simply write off the LMS so quickly. And yeah, I know the auditors want to see a report that has the word "completed" next to each person's name. However, in my perfect world we can offer courses that are accessible outside the LMS and our audience take courses because of their thirst to learn not to get the word "completed" placed next to their name.

For the record, I see the value in having an LMS, but I also see  its limitations, hindrances, and how it can be when overused. I guess you could say I have a love-hate relationship with it.

What value do you see in an LMS or what do you see as reasons we do not need one?

Thank you for allowing me to vent on this subject. I have to get back to completing a bulk enrollment and then run a couple of reports.

That's me working on the LMS


  1. IMHO, an LMS should be used to track and record competency. In other words, it should be used to manage assessment, not content.

    In an age where we recognise the ubiquity of informal learning, tracking "everything" is a rediculous concept!

  2. Ryan,

    Thanks for the comments. I am glad we are in agreement. The crazy thing is even today there are still people with the "track everything" attitude. However, those people do not have a grasp of the whats and hows of informal learning, or learning in general.

    Thanks again,


  3. Jeff,

    Unfortunately since the dawn of eLearning, we (the industry) have created this linear culture of access, consume, test, track compliance. I see it every day where managers are managing the KPI (Key Performance Indicator) reports rather than managing the performance...or learning.

    It's all about "My team is at 100% compliance and I'm not on the bad boy list."

    As for the LMS in today's world we moved so fast in the last couple years with social networking, social and informal learning that the top LMS providers today don't offer a platform to foster that environment. Too often I see LMS's that look as though they were designed by engineers and programmers whereas they need to be designed as web interfaces with the latest usability and navigation. That goes for admin tools as well.

  4. Kevin,

    Thanks for the comments. We have created a "...linear culture of access, consume, test, track compliance." I could not have said it better myself.

    What I also worry about is that not only are the LMS's are being left behind in regards to informal learning, but so are many corporate training depts.



  5. What we need these days now is, a LMS connected with WikiPedia,blippr,twitter,google reader,slideshare,youtube,dropbox.......

  6. I think less experienced training teams, some executives, and highly regulated organizations inappropriately put the LMS as the center of the learning. I find many on elearningguild and astd chat areas noting they are "starting out in elearning and need to know what LMS to use".

    Unfortunately, once the purchase is made, the problem worsens in many cases. To justify investment in the technology, they must put all training through it to show "how much it delivers".

    It's maddening.

    I've always advised after seeing this cycle of poor diagnosis and over-purchasing that organizations should define a very clear learning strategy first, then determine needs and budgets (not just $, but all resources) accordingly. Surprisingly, the LMS is quickly seen as one tool in the suite (and in some companies a high ranking item), but not the core.

    When I joined a large financial several years ago, my first two comments were that the LMS could NOT be a central portal because it was too difficult for most users, and that the amount of "tracked training" vs what should really be "easy to access on the job referenceware" was out of balance.

    It was a long battle, but folks are finally seeing the issues, and we are moving to accessible learning, tracked where needed (to the level needed).

  7. You make some great points here and I hope your message travels far.

    We got rid of our LMS almost two years ago now. It was taking more time to manage users in the system than it was to develop the content. The eLearning was not attached to job performance and all we needed some record of completion. We did not need to issue grades, track learning or keep reports of any kind.

    I used a "no tech" solution by adding a screen at the end of a Captivate movie at the end of the course with a code number on it, and the user was prompted to send an e-mail containing the code. You could put a subject line in the mailto command, but we thought we might have users who completed the course on a computer attached to an e-mail address other than the one we had on hand. This system has been working perfectly fine with no reported issues.

    I'm currently investigating Articulate's Quizmaker tool which can send a learning completion report automatically at the end of a course. So far, it's looking like a good way to make our course a little more slick.

  8. Michelle,

    Thanks for the comments. I wish we could do the same. Right now we are in the middle of our compliance period and I would love nothing better than to dump the LMS and all the reports I have been making lately.

    I just acquired Articulate Quizmaker and will have to check out the completion report function. Thanks for pointing it out.


  9. I could not agree more with everyone here! The truth is that "completed" says very little about whether training is successful in changing learner behavior to do the things that make our organizations more efficient.

    Bolting social networking stuff onto a content presentation and administrative tracking engine isn't the answer either. To facilitate real, behavior changing LEARNING, it's necessary to fold in the social interactions on which people have depended on for eons into a natural human learning design.

    At Q2, our platform is designed to do the necessary tracking, but primarily, it's focused on permitting total flexibility to create programs that speed learners to actual proficiency in the things they are asked to do.

    Designers can create training programs which features "ride-alongs" with senior folks, reflection exercises so they can process what they are observing, discussions with peers and with senior folks, using both face-to-face and electronically mediated modalities. And they can keep track not only that the learners are performing the required activities, but also that their coaches are being responsive.

    I'd encourage anybody who has programs for which simply checking the compliance box is not enough to check us out at

  10. Dear All,
    I find all your sentiments fascinating but that is because they were posted 2years ago.My company is brand new in the LMS market and we are currently building an LMS from the views of the end users,the people who are going to actually use this product not just programmers and engineers.
    We are doing thorough research to see the failures of the companies that have come before us.
    We would like to know:
    -what would you like to see on an LMS?
    -how much would you like to pay for an LMS?
    -Do you think having cloud technology on LMSs would improve things?
    We want to make it all about you.



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