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Dave Foxall 3 Common Pitfalls in Learning Management System Implementations

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 By Dave Foxall

Are Learning Management Systems Still Viable?

According to a 2010 Forrester report, the four pillars of talent management are recruiting, compensation, learning management, and performance management. Of these, learning management may have the longest history in HR software terms. However, the consequences of such longevity are questions such as "Is the Learning Management System (LMS) dead?" as asked in the introduction to Bersin & Associate's 2011 Learning Management Systems report. The report's verdict is that the learning software is "alive, but not necessarily well" and that the learning management system's role is shifting and potentially becoming a component of the Corporate Learning System (CLS)—the basic HR features of which Forrester research lists as:

  • Training administration
  • Online learning delivery
  • Learning reports
  • Course catalogue
  • Learning content management
  • Individual learning plans
  • Compliance
  • Skills and competencies

While it's true that elements such as "skills and competencies" offer a common language allowing potential linkage with the wider performance management and talent suites, most offerings are going beyond this essential list, reaching for social media and full integration for a greater adaptability to future HR requirements. In order to reap these benefits however, organizations must be cognizant of 3 specific learning software pitfalls.

Learning Management Software Pitfall #1: Misunderstanding the Learning Software Market

On the maturity of the LMS market, the Bersin report warns, "what the maturity does not guarantee is successful realization of those customer needs; many buyers remain generally frustrated with their systems. Nor does this maturity beget overall market stability. In fact, this market is under extreme evolutionary pressures, including the race to integrate HR processes across the organization and the race to make these systems into spaces for collaboration." Bersin & Associates see learning systems as splintering into three distinct sectors. The first is integrated talent management software suites that encompass talent acquisition, workforce planning, performance management, learning, reward and career development. The second includes the emerging social learning platforms. The third is further splintered into various specialist niches, such as industry-specific systems (e.g. healthcare) and specific compliance requirements. Predictably, the lines between these three sectors are blurred with some vendors covering more than one but few covering all.

Bersin concludes: "This is very much a buyer's market; multiple providers compete for most contracts, putting pressure on providers to keep pricing moderate."

LMS Pitfall #2: Inflexible Learning Software Systems

Bersin found that, "The LMS continues to have the highest percentage of dissatisfied customers of any HR system." This is backed up by the Towers Watson 2011-12 New Horizons, No Boundaries report which found that only 17% of organizations rated their learning management technology as 'very effective' in meeting their talent management objectives. Users still seem to be struggling to align their learning software to their business requirements. Two factors are beginning to make a difference to these concerns--the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) delivery model (with its flexibility and easy mobile access); and the inter-penetration with social technologies. To this point, Bersin remarks, "If you have not yet considered collaboration and social networking [as] a part of your HR and LMS systems strategy, now is the time. You will empower your workforce, improve collaboration and innovation, and help transform your organization for the future." As in other areas of HR technology, the social media element is defining the future of learning software systems and bringing greater collaboration, m-learning, knowledge sharing and 'loose networking' opportunities.

LMS Pitfall #3: Lack of Wider Integration With HRMS

Forrester's Claire Schooley observes, "Solutions for corporate learning management have traditionally been siloed and separate from the applications used for talent management. In addition, despite the widespread adoption of ERP/HRMS suites, functions like recruitment, performance management, and succession planning often remain outside the suite as best-of-breed applications." The symptoms of this 'silo working' include: unsynchronised employee data across the systems, uncoordinated talent processes lacking synergy, and a reduction or an absence of effective HR analytic reporting. Forrester's Four Pillars of Talent Management report paints a picture of integrated operability: "Learning management system vendors leverage competencies as a growth platform. LMS leaders, including Cornerstone OnDemand, Plateau Systems, Saba, and SumTotal Systems, have added performance management capabilities within the past four years. Employee competencies provide a foundation to integrate learning processes with performance measurement. Skill gaps identified in performance reviews and assessment tools drive learning-focused development plans. Career, succession planning, and variable compensation and rewards are also generally available in the expanding suites from learning management system vendors."

The Learning Management System Bottom Line

An obvious but often over-looked pitfall (during implementation and embedding) is user resistance which usually requires a dedicated change management programme aligned with the stages of the technical implementation process. However, as Ellen Wagner, PhD says in Intrepid Learning's How Social Tools and Technology Catalyzed a Learning Renaissance, "If a new technology — whatever it is — provides greater return, and that greater return is articulated, and the value is clear, then people don't resist." This may be an over-simplification, but communication plans are clearly a critical success factor in degrading user resistance. The key is the articulation of the value in terms directly applicable to the user; however, regardless of users' past LMS experience, Bersin & Associates are clear that, "… what constitutes a 'learning management system' is changing – sufficiently and significantly enough to warrant an honest discussion as to whether or not we need a new name (or names) going forward. These changes also mean that potential future value may not necessarily be derived in the same ways as in the past." End

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Is the Learning Management System dead? No, it's alive but not necessarily well."
—Bersin & Associates' 2011 Learning Management Systems


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