The Learning Management Chasm
Updated: Dec 8, 2020
The 'learning management chasm': the gap between having an LMS, and it fulfilling its purpose and potential for the business.
You have an LMS and lots of ideas for how to deliver the service the organisation deserves, but somehow, every new project feels like you are pulling teeth without an anaesthetic. You always seem to encounter responses like "it can't be done" or "it's a problem with the content" or "we haven't got anyone who can do that". You're staring into the learning management chasm, where your vision and capability exceed the capacity and focus of the organisation providing your technical support.
To bring this to life a little let's consider a couple of practical examples....
Example A You've got this great new course which everyone is excited about and which works fine in your test environment. Expectation is high! But when it's moved to your live LMS and the initial group of users are enrolled, it becomes apparent that the content is unreliable and it doesn't appear as expected; as a result the users' immediate impression is poor. The LMS is working, they are enrolled and can launch, so the problem must be with the content - which you produced - or does it lie with others? Desktop IT, IT security, who knows? Who owns it? Who has the skills to fix it?
Example B You've created an update for a course, but for some reason only some users can see the updated material and it's needed to support an urgent, time-critical software update. As a consequence, field support engineers are left with an inadequate understanding of the updates being distributed, and there's also a drop in response rates and a knock-on effect for clients. The new content is online, everyone who should be is enrolled in the course, IT don't own the content or the learning management system process, everything is working - but it's not right. Where does the problem lie? What is the best course of action? Who owns the solution?
How can these things happen? Surely with modern service management practices, internal customers enjoy high levels of control, resilience and information in their systems these days?
I have so far identified 7 symptoms which are almost universally the cause of these issues:
1. The original business case has been fulfilled and the organisation has moved on to the next big thing. This means that the people in IT and the lines of business who originally sponsored and committed resources have themselves moved on.
2. IT are predominantly concerned with the service and performance of the LMS. They're less engaged with business need and user experience until something goes wrong, at which stage it becomes apparent that neither the LMS nor the elearning content have the same level of resource or depth of understanding as, say, Microsoft Exchange.
3. The technology stack between the LMS, the content, the security, the desktop environments and the browsers is very convoluted and potentially out of date. As web applications develop they become increasingly dependent on updates which may be needed and which may need to be synchronised through complex update dependencies.
4. The person responsible for learning management, whether the administrator or the course developer, may not enjoy a deep enough understanding of browsers, html, or databases in order to adequately understand why two people have differing experiences on adjacent desks - or even how to exploit previously unknown or newly released features of the LMS.
5. Each new course is essentially a new website but it is not under the control of IT, or the web team, or for that matter the course designer; it is just 'on a server' and it jams on page 'x'.
6. The range of devices can vary from Citrix workstations - configured to run the corporate ERP systems effectively but so locked down they just act dumb at the sight of HTML5 - to handheld devices which do the opposite!
7. There is often no test system which can be used to trial changes and new offerings before they are deployed.
In my opinion these symptoms point to a very fundamental communication problem, caused by the absence of a learning technologist. This is a person with a very broad skillset who enables effective communication and problem solving with IT and learning administration.
They're someone who:
Understands the business and learning project requirement
Understands the learning technology
Can communicate with and investigate problems with the IT infrastructure/security environment
Can problem solve, manage expectations and identify workable solutions
Has the capability to understand a new vision and see it through to fulfillment using the available technology and whatever is needed to complement it
Can solve a wide range of problems involving areas such as content, reporting, certification, notification, analytics, learning management process and skills transfer
The organisations described above will have a learning manager, the person responsible for delivering a learning programme - basically the person who suffers when the end user kicks off because what they expected has not happened - but none of these organisations will have someone in this role of learning technologist. Few could justify it, many didn't even have this when they first implemented their systems, and all have moved these people on because they were more valuable elsewhere!
A learning technologist is a rare skill set, but it is very transferable. With support this person can take ownership of a problem, and enable an outcome which meets the business need by supporting everyone: the end user, the learning manager, and IT.
Realising that you might need a learning technologist is one thing, but finding someone who has the breadth of understanding and people skills when you need them is another matter. We have been solving these sorts of problems with a wide variety of clients for nearly 20 years. Whether you need help with quirky content, reporting, or learning management process, give me a call on 01959 543900.