In my role I see system demos a number of times each week. As I am someone who likes change, great solutions and innovation, I always approach them with a sense of anticipation and excitement, waiting to be blown away.
Unfortunately this rarely happens and has got me thinking about why.
Whilst there may be situational factors such as a poor sales person or a poor product, my summation is that the problem is deeper rooted than that. I believe the problem is that for many learning systems they are not really solving a problem or creating value.
Now this may seem like a controversial view but hear me out.
The starting point for me is to understand what are the business problem that learning or learning systems are trying to address. Too often learning systems are addressing problems with learning rather than with business performance. The funny thing is that is you read many of the problems put forward by vendors they can sound like business problems until you scratch the surface.
The problems stem from the evolution of learning technology and the repetitive evolutions of technology to solve these problems created by learning systems rather than the underlying business problem. So let’s follow the journey.
We want to be able to deploy costly classroom training, predominantly compliance online to save on money, travel time etc. We also want to ensure consistent messages are given and we can report on compliance to keep us open and out of jail.
This was delivered via SCORM packaged learning on a Learning Management System (LMS).
Most of this initial training was not valued by the business, learners or their line managers and therefore became a periodic chore. People would need consistent reminding, would try to skip content to get to the test or get others to complete learning for them. To make this chore more palatable a range of interactivity was often added, which in essence made the learning longer and possibly patronising.
Learning designers and teams developed a lot of habits and practices which were not around solving the underlying problem but were rooted in trying to fix the issues with the solution. Learners and businesses received an initial poor impression of learning teams as the people who forced you to do irrelevant nonsense.
Learning technology gained a poor reputation and even those who were doing really creative things were challenged by a negative view of online learning. This in itself became the core of the challenge for stage 2.
Companies recognised that individuals were using more and more tech in their personal and outside work lives but use of learning tech needed to be forced and was not a space employees would choose to go. Long and costly content development processes meant that content would only be developed for key roles, so the scope learning available online was limited with little of relevance to most roles.
The evolution of Learning Experience Platforms (LXPs). These platforms aimed to offer a consumer type experience to keep employees wanting to return. They would often contain social elements or gamification to reward learner engagement. They had the ability to host content which was more granular and not wrapped into a course. This could be individual videos or articles. Some hosted content. Others collated or curated content together.
LXP’s promised a great experience for everyone and in some cases as with other learning tech innovations they delivered. However, many organisations bought into the dream but did not have the approach, skillset, mindset or budget to deliver the promised experience. Organisations were encouraged to drive user generated content but in many cases this was counter cultural. Internal learning teams who did not have content development skills did not have budget to have external materials developed. The previous view of learning platforms was hard to shift and engagement could be difficult to build.
Many early adopters fell into a battle to drive engagement. This effectively became a ratings war for many and business impact became lost behind a drive for views likes and shares. To drive numbers and mitigate content strategy challenges off the shelf content libraries could be uploaded or linked to your learning system to provide content for all.
Many learning systems became clogged up with materials. The problem went form lack of content to content overload. It become hard for learners to find and trust what they needed. Learners who were expecting learning to be served on a plate were delivered neither this option or an alternative google-like search experience. This is turn has led to the core challenge for Stage 3.
This is the stage facing the learning tech industry today. How do you provide relevant learning to everyone which is easy to find and relevant without your learning team have to do very much. This is seen as especially important as due to an ever increasing pace of change, the need for new skills is evolving quicker than we can develop associated learning. This appears to be the nirvana solution many are selling now the ability to easily put together content sourced from multiple sources and served in a personalised way to your learners. This personalisation could be driven by your role, your skills, your behaviour or the behaviour of others. Depending who you listen to it will be driven by machine learning and algorithm or the reality might be someone with a smart spreadsheet. This solution could be an evolution of an existing LMS or LXP or an add on product into your Learning Ecosystem (a term for a number of systems linked together).
This appears to be the nirvana solution many are selling now the ability to easily put together content sourced from multiple sources and served in a personalised way to your learners. This personalisation could be driven by your role, your skills, your behaviour or the behaviour of others. Depending who you listen to it will be driven by machine learning and algorithm or the reality might be someone with a smart spreadsheet. This solution could be an evolution of an existing LMS or LXP or an add on product into your Learning Ecosystem (a term for a number of systems linked together).
Being able to create highly personalised learning based on current and future skills for all of your employees requires the two things. Firstly you need an in depth understanding of an individual’s needs and secondly you need quality learning opportunities to help meet these needs. For many organisations they do not have this level of insight or access to appropriate content.
The most mature organisations are able to build on existing workforce planning strategies to start to enhance how they plan and develop for future skills. Other organisations are implementing systems without a real link to future planning and an understanding of what future skills will be needed. They are also then linking to content sources and libraries which offer up learning on appropriate topics.
Learning has become a self-directed free for all for many. Learners are left to work their way through a set of suggested content and maybe search for items of interest. The content libraries which underpin many of these approaches are still often in course format and are generic without the grounding or anchoring into that specific, organisation or context. The quality of learning offered varies greatly and many of the biggest brand names in the content space offer high level superficial learning with little take away value.
What will be next?
Based on the journey so far, the next evolution will be in two areas. Firstly there will be enhanced content creation tools which will pull together content automatically to try to get past to courses problem to relevant micro pieces or curated learning journeys. Secondly the problem of helping the individual identify their needs and requirements and helping them on their journey will be addressed through enhanced skills diagnostic and career planning tools and coaching and support.
Whilst it is interesting to follow this journey. I hope you are left wondering what business problem are these systems trying to solve? Once you have identified the business problem you are trying to address or opportunity you need to exploit then you can start thinking about how you might do this and somewhere along the way learning systems or technology might be one of the enablers. Without doing this you are probably just investing more money to fix the limits of your existing learning tech.
If you are interested in ensuring your learning team drive business performance and value speak to the team at The Learning Effect, this is what we do.