Key Points:

  • Current LMSs focus too much on Management, not enough on Learning
  • Need to customize the learning experience not just by learning need but also by learner type
  • LMSs should be able to design, offer and track informal learning such as job shadowing or mentoring
  • There is a great need to make user generated learning / content available through a standard LMS.
  • LMSs should evolve into Personal Learning Environment (PLEs) or enable them
  • Learning Management Systems should evolve into Learning Network Management Systems
  • There is too much focus on measurement – is there a need to measure every click, every page view, every second spent within the course
  • Learning is evolving from being more personal and less organization driven
  • As organizations pass on the learning responsibilities to the learner, the need to track and report may reduce.
  • Newer concepts such as MOOCs should be available through the LMS
  • Integration of mobile devices and tablets is a clear need – apps for mobile platforms, Kindle, tablet versions etc
  • LMSs should help individuals find more information within their

Can you briefly describe what your involvement and interest in e-learning has been?

I’ve been a career L&D professional based out of India. Over the past 13 years, I have worked across multiple sectors such as hospitality, IT/IT Enabled services, consulting, with large organizations. Although I have not been associated with eLearning all through my career but I have seen it work in different large organizations and hence have a good handle on the base technologies, platforms, courseware, evolution etc, related to eLearning.

Like most other folks in the profession, till very recently, my exposure to eLearning was only as a learner. In 2005, I assumed the responsibility as an LMS administrator for a fairly large part of the services group withinAccenture in India. This responsibility was in addition to my day job as a capability Development Lead for the Accenture Human Resources Services (AHRS) business. This association was instrumental in helping me understand the organizational side of the LMS functionality, the need for learning analytics and above all the ability to use the LMS interface to drive eLearning adoption.

My next role was more main stream from an eLearning perspective – it involved scoping and implementing a suitable (read cost effective, scalable and low maintenance) eLearning platform for a large organization (~15000 users) across 6 geographies. The organization was ICICI OneSource (now renamed as FirstSource), which was a BPO offshoot of a large Indian bank, ICICI. Again, the motivators for adopting eLearning at ICICI OneSource were the usual – geographical spread, large population, high PC penetration, 24×7 operations, need to save cost and costly infrastructure etc.

My current role with IBM, I work in the Talent Management domain for the technology consulting part of the organization. As a Business & Technical Leadership partner, I support the leadership development agenda of a large business unit (~50000 people). In this role, I design and execute development interventions to deliver targeted learning to our top talent. My role involves evaluating third part courseware / platform and recommending the purchase. Based on my experiences with eLearning, I have recently published an invention disclosure through my employer, on “Enabling Learning Management Systems to Offer and Manage Job Shadow Programs”.

So now you are a consumer of e-learning? And so, you’re involved both in using LMSs and content to deliver to folks who need to learn within your organization?

That is Correct.

What new and innovative things are you doing in the training and learning, or what would you like to be doing?

One of the key things that we are doing differently is that we are aggressively building informal learning into our portfolio of offerings, incorporating them as components of a learning intervention etc.

What I would like to be doing is:

  • Using the LMS to deliver informal learning – currently that capability does not exist
  • Focusing more on learning and less on measurement – what seems to be happening today, is this entire environment is becoming more about measurement and management than about learning. Can we not have a ‘dumbed down’ version of LMS available for our organizations?
  • I want to be offering learning which is packaged to a typical learner type – SCORM packages all content is a standard manner. LMSs should be able to figure out what kind of learner is at the controls and then offer content congruent to his/her learning style.

Do you mean the presentation to the user is more audio, more video, or you give them more text? What do you mean by the packaging?

For example, let’s assume that you and I are users, and you are a very visual person while I am an auditory learner. And I’m just using this differentiation to make a point, but obviously the differentiation could be in any number of areas. So, currently I do not know of any LMSs that try to gather this type of data and bring it into the user profile. This will be like administering the Learning Styles Inventory for each learner and using that data to package the course material most useful for that particular type of user.

So in a way, the LMS you would picture to resolve that would have some set of assets from, assuming again that the content is created by someone outside the LMS, that content would kind of have to give them a whole set of assets and say that these are the ones that are — these are more appropriate for these types of learners and this how they can be swapped out, and the LMS would then have to do that. Is that what you had in mind?

Yes, exactly.

When you say give greater emphasis to certain content, is that when the user is selecting which course they want to take at a package level, or is that within the package that might have different ways to explain something, it gives more prominence to the visual way, the more auditory way, or so on?

I think this can happen both at a SCO level and at a course level. It will be obvious from the point of view of the learner.

Not just in the search for content, saying that this content is more appropriate for a specific user, one content package will adapt to different styles?

Yeah, the ‘Learning Styles’ data will also influence the search results – could be that courses designed for that particular style are given more prominence in the search results. Also if the LMS repackages content based on an individual’s ability to learn, then any and every course, within the LMS will be presented in that particular way, for that learner.

Assuming the content has the appropriate assets to use.

Yes, Assuming the appropriate assets exist.

And you say that the LMS should handle it as opposed to having the LMS make that information available to that particular content, which should then alter the way the SCOs are defined. So the LMS should handle it as part of sequencing, which SCOs does it sequence to or which does it make more prominent?

Yes, so I was thinking about this, and there are two ways I could think of: one was exactly how you think of it, what you were talking about where the LMS handles the sequencing. The other way of handling that is actually going in and having an industry- wide standard of how different learners react to different content, which I think is extremely difficult to achieve. You can have multiple SCOs for the same learning objective. These are picked and chosen depending on what kind of learner is at the controls.

And you think either of those is valid.

Yes, let the simplest solution win!

All right, so you said you had a couple other points to go through?

The second one is about informal learning and again, I have had first-hand experience in designing and executing multiple informal learning programs for very large groups. Now the current breed of LMSs do not allow you to use the standard informal learning approaches – the likes of stretch assignment, mentoring programs, or a job-shadow program. There is a complete glut of this capability within the current LMS, to offer such activities. And with ‘offer’, I am talking both from the standpoint designing, delivering and measuring (basic measurement). LMSs today in the market do not allow learning designers to create something on the fly and deploy it to the target audience, enabling them to utilize it.

The other piece that I don’t think LMSs do very well today is building the social aspect of learning, so the whole idea of PLEs or Personal Learning Environments is not something that the current SCORM standard supports. I don’t know if you have seen Microsoft Labs’, the have a product called Montage that can be used to design a PLE – there are other similar ones in the market. I think they represent some good examples of aggregating content from various sources and presenting it in a single interface. And to support this SCORM standard should enable the ability to turn off detailed measurement for any component catering to learner led learning.

This will be more relevant as learning becomes more personal and less organization-driven, which I foresee it to be in the next five or ten years. If an organization tells a learner that they are responsible for keeping their skills up to date in the market, and that there will be limited supervision and provision of assets and tools, and content, then I think the learner should be able to say that if they are the ones doing all the learning and the company isn’t providing anything, the company shouldn’t measure anything from the learner’s end.

So, you think that learners, if they are seeking out their own learning experiences and it’s not being provided, that would be a reason they wouldn’t want to be measured? Because I have kind of heard the opposite, that they go out and find some learning experience and then in a way they want to get credit for it with their organization somehow. If they’re supposed to be learning, as far as the organization is concerned.

I agree — I see what you’re saying, and I think it’s absolutely correct in the correct context. Today I think many people think about learning from a course standpoint, so if I don’t enroll in a classroom session offered by my employer, and I enroll instead in on my own, another provider, I need my employer to recognize the credit that I get from the other provider. However the way I see the course evolve in the future is that not everything will be in a structured course form – it will be an amalgam of maybe a twitter chat (e.g. #adlchat), a YouTube video, Google docs, Slideshare presentation etc. If I was participating in ADL Chat, it will not be a course; it’ll be like a set of interactions that I have with other people who are more skilled in a particular area. So as an employee, the measure of my learning will be the performance on the job and not the number of links, page views, and seconds spent on a page etc.

So, you think because as people are learning more in these other ways, there will also be a shift in organizations: not really to require and track learning at all, but just to expect people to go do the learning they need to do, help them and making it available if they need it, but not keeping track of it the way they do now.

The role of the organization will change as well. They will highlight what needs to be learnt for optimum performance, provide directions and maybe some resources for learning but by and large the learner will be free to choose what he learns from where. The resources that the organizations provide will be measured but as the contribution of external resources / course to employee learning increases, the opportunities to measure and track will decrease.

In the future, organizations will tell their employees what the market-valued skills are and provide limited resources and direction on how to develop them. The employees will have to figure out how they want to learn them. Organizations will only be interested in seeing enhanced performance – Kirkpatrick Level 4.

Yes, certainly not directly. I guess the other scenarios I have heard are where people might submit something they’ve done and then an administrator can decide to give them credit for it, but the LMS still isn’t measuring that, it’s just tracking.

Yes, The concept of accreditation or certification boards (in your example, the board consists of a single person – the administrator) is poorly represented as a capability within an LMS. And again this is because a LMS is primarily oriented towards ‘Management’ and not ‘Learning’. This would be one of the key features of a community driven Learning Enablement System (LES) – my vision of the next evolutionary step of an LMS. In the future a LES will enable a community of learners to build ad hoc boards of experts focused on individual skills. Apart from the learning through participation, Learners in these communities will be able to share / evaluate / review work products based on a commonly agreed rubric to gauge the depth of expertise.

So they’ve gone out and learned and then you can look at, presumably, if you’re asking or telling folks they need to learn something, it’s because they need it for their work and you should be able to measure the result of the work that’s tied in to that learning and see if it’s improved?

Absolutely.

That makes sense, but then you’re still doing, tracking them, but it has to do with, it’s more identifying which — Either if the LMS, if an LMS is to be used to help people learn, you’d want to be able to identify what they can go out and do that would help them with a certain task. Or, you, as you say with the personal learning environments or networks, you might, it might just be telling them what skills they need to pick up and they might be doing that independently, completely on their own.

A certain amount of tracking and measurement is inevitable. However unlike today, the next version of SCORM should offer a kind of a ‘volume knob’ which can be used to reduce or increase the tracking and measurement functionality within courses / areas / community / networks.

Another area is the ability of our LMSs to reveal their features to the administrators / course designers. An Average LMS has so many features but only a handful ever get used. I recently got exposed to the concept of MOOC (Massively Open Online Courses), which are great at promoting collaborative learning, with more than 1000+ participants. I am yet to see an average virtual course on a top of the line LMS go beyond 100-150 people. So that kind of capability, it is there, but either deeply embedded or is not creatively exploited. Other seemingly simple actions like creating add-on learning activities through a web link, twitter hash tag, etc are just not transparent enough (hoping these features are there).

And the last one I have in mind is how LMSs can take advantage of this new wave of ubiquitous computing products. Can tablets, smartpones, Kindle like devices access your LMS? The interfaces / clients are either not available or are ‘crippleware’ – so there we loose another chance to engage our learner.

When you say access your LMS, do you mean — you don’t necessarily mean go in and assign people training, and that sort of thing, but actually go and take a course offered through the LMS, or some learning experience offered through the LMS, right?

Right, as a user. As a learner, I want to go in and use the LMS, yes.

The ideas around trying to get content more loosely coupled with the LMS would potentially help with that, as long as the content itself can run on mobile devices.

Yeah, the other piece is all about leveraging newer ways of pushing / accessing content with existing LMSs. Can a learner access an online book from Google Books, Nextbook, Apple iBooks, or the Kindle. Can I use other devices to access recordings, notes and handouts through my LMS?

So, through your LMS, you want to de-emphasize the “M” part of the LMS, you aren’t as concerned with tracking as being able to, I guess, if not assign it to people, have people be able to identify through their LMS that this is something that can help them and be able to discover it.

And again, it just brings me back to the point that current LMSs are so focused on tracking that I think somewhere down the line, I think learning is being compromised. As a user, if I really look at myself, at how I learn, I think nine times out of ten, the hand-out or the presentation that accompanies a particular session, along with any post session discussion with the participants may be helpful to me. And this usually doesn’t even get tracked. So the big question is the utility of this intensive tracking part of an LMS. What’s the use?

If it’s not a question of tracking, if it’s more a question of discovery, then there are two scenarios people could go through. Either they’re logged in with a desktop or mobile content that’s available on a format best presented on the Kindle, and they might want to have a way to mark it as something they might download the next time they use their Kindle, and read it there. I guess the other one is, if they are actually on the Kindle, is there a way they can access their LMS’s search feature, and they can say, “Hey, I have some time with my Kindle. What’s the most useful for me?”

And again, this goes back to what kind of learner I am, not necessarily meaning that I’m visual or kinesthetic, but what is my preference in terms of technology that I’m using to access learning. So if I go ahead and, if an LMS can ask you some questions and based on those responses, can recommend me courses, links, learning assets that I can use in the available time I have, that will just be fantastic. So let us say that my LMS knows that I usually access the LMS on my Galaxy Tab on Saturday afternoon. Now the LMS knows that the Galaxy Tab is a rich media device unlike a Kindle, it can then push videos, PDFs, etc on Saturday mornings available to me when I have the time. While on the other hand if I said I use a Kindle, obviously it will start pushing things in the Kindle format, more in gray-scale than color.

There’s probably differences to keep track of too, between what you usually use or can use, and what you are using right now. So you have talked a lot about LMSs focusing too much on tracking, but it is one of the key things that people have taken to SCORM for, is the tracking ability. I’m still curious if there are things you think you do want to track, you do want to know about your learners, and since you think too much is tracked, what’s the minimum — is there a smaller set of data you think should be tracked, or do you just think tracking should be used less often?

I think, although I’m kind of cribbing about the tracking, you are right: one of the strengths about SCORM is the tracking. When the standard first got developed, we were in the CBT / WBT era where tracking became an essential way of showing value to the business. However as learning becomes more social in the next 5 to 10 years this current focus on tracking will become irrelevant. I want to clarify that I am taking about the focus and not the ability to track – that will still be relevant but will need to track other stuff. For example, in future it may be required to gauge the strength of an individual’s network on any particular topic (How close am I to theDunbar Number for my Rapid Prototyping Network?). The current LMS basically track courses, how much time was spent, how many time they were accessed, how many people completed them, how many people cleared the assessment, what was the mean increase in knowledge levels between pre and post evaluations, what was the first time pass %, how much time did an average learner take to complete, How many times were each of the links were clicked, etc. But in the future these measures will be inadequate because the learning will shift from the ‘course to the community’.

So I see future LMSs constantly evaluating my network on key topics and if it sees that my network is not strong, it would recommend folks who would beef it up (a la Linkedin). It should say, Here are some people you might want to connect with, because these people are pretty strong, they’ve been ranked pretty highly on this topic by the people on their own networks. This may also bring about the blurring of boundaries between the expertise that resides within and outside the corporate network. Not to far into the future, when our LMSs will connect with Linkedin, Facebook, FF etc. So it will in effect be building your personal learning network/environment, whether it is inside or outside the organization, it doesn’t really matter.

We have to remember that the next generation coming into the workforce is not accustomed to a regimented environment (ask any parent of a teenager for verification), they are always connected to one or the other network – Facebook, MySpace, BBM etc and our corporate systems need to change to accommodate that.

Do you think LMSs should like you to present learners with the chance to say that a lot of people have taken this and had this learning experience, whether it’s watching a video or anything else, and maybe it must be useful so I’ll try it?

Sure, maybe it means the measurement has two faces, one that is relevant to people who spend money for buying the course, managing the LMSs and the other that persuades the user of a inherent social value of learning something – ‘like’ tags, # of time watched, ‘recommend to a friend’, ‘%People who visited this course completed it’ etc. I strongly feel that a lot of times people agree to undertake a learning activity because someone in their peer group told them that it was a great experience.

Right, as you say, for the learners and one for the managers, and if they think it’s useful.

And again, I think these measures will gain prominence as we see a rise in user-generated / user-recommended content. If there’s a great video available on YouTube or another website, I think people should be able to recommend it.

So users of the LMS might recommend it, but then the LMS itself might — should it be kind of looking out and trying to pull this information and catalog it and make it available through it’s own search, or should people just find it themselves?

I feel that it will start of as the former – people recommending content. The LMSs directly searching content may be possible that is hosted within the corp. firewall. As organizations are nervous about connecting anything to the internet it may be some time before the latter can be a reality. But I think what should be of value would be for course-designers to look at the user community recommendations and figure out which ones can be incorporated into the course itself.

So there’s both a sense of users recommending assets to each other that they might just use on their own, but then that would also be used by course designers pulling together something more formal?

Right. I think a great example of this is the, if you have seen the iPhone Bump application, which allows users to share applications and contacts by just putting two iPhones together. And I think Zune has something similar where you can share tracks across devices. I don’t see reasons why you shouldn’t allow two different users to share content, whether it is official content the organization provides or links that other people are kind of recommending.

And that should work across organizations too, right?

Well I do not see that happen in the immediate future but maybe in a decade or so. Third party courseware providers such as SkillSoft and Elementk would be able to mine user comments and recommendations from multiple organizations and build them into their courseware. In the long run I think that it is LMS implementer’s job to advise organizations on how much openness in this area is good.

I’m not saying any sort of standard should force things to work across organizations, but just to take into account if that’s a use-case some people will need to do to make it possible in that. Obviously there have to be administrators who want to lock certain things down, and that has to be supported too.

Absolutely.

Ben is literally one of the top experts on SCORM and xAPI in the world. Heck, he wrote the first draft of xAPI. He’s a software developer here at Rustici Software and enjoys visiting us “down South” because it means trying new foods, like catfish.