What is the future of the LMS?

The Learning Management System has been with us for just 10 years or so, and yet for many it is now seen as the core system required for delivering e-learning in an organisation.  I have already mentioned in an earlier posting how, that the first thing that is often recommended
to someone embarking on e-learning is to buy a LMS!

Even though the main topics of conversation in the L&D world are moving from creating content-based e-learning to informal and social learning, the LMS is still seen as the main learning system within an organisation, so it’s time to review its usefulness (yet again).

First of all, taking a look around the web, there are a number of people already critiquing the traditional LMS..

In fact, Jane Bozarth, on 21 March 2010, commenting on a posting, Facebook vs the LMS on Mark Oehlert’s eClippings blog, wrote:

“The greatest scam ever pulled off by “vendors” was convincing management that an LMS isn’t just a database. The second biggest? That they really needed one. The third? That it is a “Learning” “Management” System.”

But the discussion about the value of an LMS goes back further than this.  Dan Pontefract, in April 2009 in a posting, The standalone LMS is dead, on his trainingwreck blog wrote:

“Those organizations (and frankly public learning institutions) that are clinging to their standalone learning management systems as a way in which to
serve up formal ILT course schedules and eLearning are absolutely missing the big picture. Sadly, there are too many organizations like this out there.”

And in an article on Innovative Learning, The traditional LMS is dead, Richard Culatta believes that:

“The traditional stand-alone learning management system (LMS) is built on an industrial age model. There are two specific problems with this model, first it is monolithic within a learning institution and second it is generic across learning institutions.

So what is the future for the LMS?

It is clear that for many L&D professionals, tracking and reporting is a key feature of a LMS, and probably the main reason why they spend a large proportion of their training budget on such a system.  But you don’t need a hammer to crack a nut(!), as this recent posting on SANA Easybloggers points out,  Is Google Analytics the next LMS?!  In other words, there are simpler, cost-effective ways of tracking and reporting usage of content.

But the key point, as mentioned in the earlier Dan Pontefract quote, is  that by focusing on an LMS, organisations are missing the big picture.  This is quite true; just adding social functionality into formal courses might go some way to making them more “engaging” to users, but it isn’t addressing the wider “learning” needs of the organisation.

I’ve shown that when we talk about “learning” we need to think much wider than formal learning, that individuals and groups “learn” in many different ways, and that in many cases they are already using (public) social and collaboration tools to build their own personal and group spaces to support their own “learning” and working.  So what
is needed is a organisational system that SUPPORTS and ENABLES this informal approach to learning.  As my colleagues in the Internet Time Alliance have shown on countless occasions (here’s an example posting, written by Harold Jarche), you simply can’t manage or formalise informal learning; it then just becomes formal, managed learning!

So Dan Pontefract’s advice is therefore spot on:

“Whether you’re in a private or public organization …  start first with a ‘collaboration’ system rather than a ‘learning’ system, and build out from there.”

More and more collaboration systems are appearing in the marketplace – commercial systems like Socialtext and Jive, as well as open source systems like Elgg and Liferay –  there’s something for every budget.  Enterprise systems like this will really support the approach, as Harold Jarche puts it, that  “learning=working; working=learning”.

But one piece of advice; work with your IT Department or Business Operations on this, don’t try and go it alone – you’ll need a whole-enterprise approach here, not an L&D initiative!

Finally and to summarise, I’m going to give Dan Pontefract the last word!

“Blow up your LMS. Find a way to integrate it into your collaboration platform.”


  1. My ITA colleague, Harold Jarche, has now followed up this posting with LMS is no longer the center of the universe
  2. My own follow up posting appears her: A Transition Path to the Future
  3. A further posting from Harold Jarche is Identifying a Collaboration Platform

52 thoughts on “What is the future of the LMS?

  1. Glenn

    Hi Jane,
    Amazing post- we recently did training work on Brown University’s implementation of Google Apps (we were the sub to Appirio- who led the actual implementation)- and the ZDNet write-up about that GApps implementation (http://bit.ly/9r6e6i) has an amazing quote about the dramatic potential changes in the LMS market, based on the evolution of needs:
    “He and other CIOs are watching the evolution of learning/course management systems carefully, particularly in the context of tools like Google Apps, which could, in some cases, mitigate the need for a full-fledged LMS. He wondered whether at some point a provider like Google might simply make modules available within Apps that would leverage the existing collaborative platform and provide LMS/CMS functionality.”
    I actually wrote a recent blog post highlighting the differences between a learning portal and an LMS that seems pertinent to this discussion: “A Learning Portal is not an LMS” (http://bit.ly/cZZOQ4)
    Thanks for the important discussion- we are in the middle of a fundamental market transformation…

Comments are closed.