Sunday, 14 November 2010

Should you blow up your LMS?

Does your organisation have a learning management system (LMS)? If it does, do you love it or hate it? Either way, what is its role – is it a disabler or an enabler when it comes to learning?

Learning management systems have been around for at least 10 years and were, at one time, regarded as an indispensible component of all e-Learning provision. Today though the nature of learning in organisations is changing to include and acknowledge both informal and social learning which means that the usefulness of the LMS needs to be reviewed.

Why have a LMS?
Many organisations embarking on e-Learning have been recommended to buy a LMS, in fact this is often the first thing they buy, even before the e-Learning programmes, courses, modules, etc, on the advice of vendors. "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." (Jane Bozarth, 2010 on Mark Oehlert’s eClippings blog).
A learning management system is basically a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, and reporting of training programmes, classroom and online events, e-Learning programmes and training content. A robust LMS should be able to do the following (Ellis 2009):
§  centralize and automate administration
§  use self-service and self-guided services
§  assemble and deliver learning content rapidly
§  consolidate training initiatives on a scalable web-based platform
§  support portability and standards
§  personalize content and enable knowledge reuse.
By using a LMS organisations can track its staff’s use of training programmes, their test results, how long they took to complete a course, to name but a few. This capability has led many to say that a LMS is a sine qua non of all regulatory/compliance training and, as this use has much credence, it is difficult to argue against it. However, the current debate is much wider than this, as it would be very difficult to justify the cost of a LMS (which can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds) for just regulatory/compliance training requirements.

The LMS critics
Very recently, both Dan Pontefract and Richard Culatta (2010) have criticized the standalone LMS:
"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." (The standalone LMS is dead, Pontefract, 2009).
"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." (The traditional LMS is dead, Culatta, 2010).
In addition, research conducted by the LMS supplier IMC found that among larger organisations, most had a LMS, with over 90 per cent having had one installed for more than two years and nearly 50 per cent of these had a LMS installed for five years or more. When these organisations were asked if they would recommend their current supplier only 23 percent said ‘very likely’, with negative responses totalling 50 percent, leading to the conclusion that either they were not completely satisfied or they had made the wrong decision in the first place.
When asked if they were completely satisfied with their LMS in relation to both current and future requirements, only 30 per cent said they were, with an astounding 70 per cent saying they were dissatisfied, and where 30 per cent said that their concerns were in relation to future requirements.
Is it the learner, the L&D function or the organisation who benefits the most from having a LMS? Again, whilst most people are using it to benefit their learners (ie as an enabler) and to capture data of use for the L&D function, such as management reports, there is considerable under-use for the benefit of the organisation, which coupled with a very low level of satisfaction with their current supplier, means most are unable to show a realistic return on their investment in the functionality of their LMS.

The changing nature of learning
Jay Cross has, for many years, been one of the main advocates of ‘informal learning’, which has led to the term becoming established in mainstream use. Although there is no scientifically proven research, it is generally accepted that approximately only 10 to 20 percent of our skills learning comes from formal means, such as training courses and development programmes, and with which the L&D function is typically most comfortable.
The essential approach of a traditional LMS is to ‘push’ content to situations where gaps in skills have been identified. The LMS is key to identifying a skills need, delivering content (in the form of a course, module, etc), monitoring the learner’s use of what is provided, and recording if the learner’s needs have been met.
However, informal learning relies on the ‘push’ of content at the point at which there is a need. This means that the LMS now needs to be able to capture that skills have been acquired informally if the skills database is to be keep up-to-date, otherwise it will become a disabler of learning.
In addition, people are now using public social and collaboration tools to build their own personal learning networks for use in their work. To include all these tools or to retrofit them into the functionality of a traditional LMS is a massive undertaking, although those suppliers who are evolving are looking at ways in which to do this.

What’s the solution?
There are two different viewpoints here. One view is that it is easier and better to add some management capability to the social networking tools rather than retrofit all that functionality into a traditional LMS. The downside of this is from the aspect of data migration to ensure that there is a transfer of data from one area to the other.
The alternative view is to forget the previous approach, because what is needed now is an organisational system which supports and enables an informal approach to learning as, quite simply, you cannot manage or formalize informal learning as it then just becomes formal, managed learning.
This type of system is an example of enterprise 2.0 architecture (blogs, wikis, chat etc). More and more collaboration systems are now appearing in the marketplace, commercial systems like Socialtext and Jive, and open source systems like Elgg and Liferay, which cater for all budget sizes. The use of this type of enterprise system will support the relatively new concept that learning=working and working=learning.

The way ahead
As Don Pontefract has said “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.” and, even more to the point, “Blow up your LMS.  Find a way to integrate it into your collaboration platform.”(2009).
If you are tempted to go down this route then it is vital that you work with your IT Department or Business Operations on this, as a whole-enterprise approach is required here and not yet another L&D initiative!

(From an article by J. Christian-Carter (2010), Training Briefing, No 55, Croner, Wolters Kluwer (UK) Ltd.)

Monday, 27 September 2010

Getting into those important spaces

For the last few years I have read and heard so much about how trainers need to wise-up, get with-it, and embrace social media. This is undoubtedly true but how will people know what to do? The simple answer: by reading Jane Bozarth’s book ‘Social Media for Trainers’, that’s how.

For all you trainers out there, there is one book which should be on your ‘essential reading’ list: Social Media for Trainers: Techniques for Enhancing and Extending Learning, Jane Bozarth, 2010, Pfeiffer, ISBN 978-0-470-63106-5.

Why? Well, as Jane says in her book “It is critical, if workplace trainers intend to remain viable and credible, that they understand how to participate in the networks and use the social media tools to extend their reach and enhance the development of the employees they are charged with developing.” Surely, only luddites would tut at this and say that social media tools are not for them? Which means that if you are reading this blog, it would be reasonable to assume that you are not one of the ‘tutting’ brigade, so read on.

To start with, I felt I should support the technology focus of this book, so I downloaded it from Amazon and, using the Kindle app on my iPad, read it electronically. As a result, I realized that via this medium it wasn’t only a book but an interactive one at that, allowing me, via the many hyperlinks, to go straight to tables, diagrams, etc. in the book itself and to access straight away the valuable external website links provided; which really added that extra bit of something to what was a very pleasurable reading and learning experience.

The book opens with an overview of social media tools and current trends, both of which are covered superbly. This is followed by chapters dedicated to Twitter, Facebook and Other Communities, Blogs, Wikis, and Other Tools, each of which provides a long list of ideas for activities, discussion topics and formats, and exercises using the tool in question. I found each of these to be very informative, well thought out, and extremely valuable.  Even as a fairly experienced blogger and twitterer, I learned so much more and, although I was not a great fan of Facebook, I now see it in a much more positive light. The book concludes with an overview of the larger picture, ie social learning, along with suggestions for gaining organizational support for change – which nearly blew my socks off with the number of citations, examples, and case studies provided.

One of many meaningful messages in this book is as follows: “Research … indicates that as much as 70 percent of workplace learning is informal, occurring outside the classroom and in the spaces between formal training events. Social media is one way for the training department and the training practitioners to get into those spaces and reach employees between events.” – hence the title of this blog post.

As Jane says “In essence, training approaches incorporating social media strategies more closely resembles how we really learn in our day-to-day activities.” I could not agree with her more and, if you do too, then make sure you get and read this book. As I said to someone the other day on Twitter “you will not be disappointed” if you do.

Finally, just take a moment to think about your own organization or those for which you provide training. Social media tools are here to stay, so why not incorporate their use into your training provision? Then, having read Jane Bozarth’s book, draw-up a plan of action for doing just that.

You can contact Jane Bozarth via her website on Facebook at Jane Bozarth Bozarthzone and via Twitter at @janebozarth.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

What has Twitter done for you?

It started when Jane Hart ( ) sent me a tweet of a blog post ( which was entitled ‘What Twitter Has Done For Me’. This got me to thinking about how much Twitter has done for me, so here are my immediate thoughts.

I blogged 3 months ago about ‘Twitter – 1 year on’ and, having re-read that post, I now realize that in the intervening period quite a lot has changed:

§  Twitter has now become my main CPD (Continuing Professional Development) tool. I hadn’t realized this until now but through Twitter I have learned so much about so many aspects of my work and interests.

§    Twitter has put me in contact with some well-known and respected L&D professionals, as well as many people who work at the ‘chalk-face’ (what an out-moded term that is but you know what I mean!). Not only has the number of people who ‘follow’ me risen considerably in 3 months (which is important) but it is the quality of these followers which has really made all the difference.

§    Twitter has enabled me to extend my horizons and to return to my educational roots. For many years now I have concentrated and worked in the adult learning training and development world of organizations (corporate, public, small-medium-enterprises). However, my roots are in education (Schools, Further and Higher Education) and through the medium of Twitter I have returned to that world. I now feel ‘clued-up’ with what’s going on and how people who work in these sectors of education feel, think and behave. Perhaps, more importantly, I feel both empowered and challenged by this experience.

§    Twitter has made me want to share and exchange views, articles, news, etc with others. We live in interesting and changing times and Twitter has encouraged me to share with others items of mutual interest as well as wanting to exchange my views with others.  I have to confess that pre-Twitter I wasn’t so keen on doing this but I will need time to reflect as to why!

§    Twitter has given me the confidence to debate L&D issues with others. I know this may sound trite, as those who know me would say that as a person I definitely do not lack confidence! However, outward appearances can often be deceptive and Twitter most certainly has provided me with a medium through which I feel happy to debate issues with others.

So, what has Twitter done for you? Please feel free to share your experiences if you also operate in ‘Twittersphere’.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

The Need for Change

Recently, many challenges have been laid down at the door of Learning and Development (L&D) as far as some much needed change is concerned. However, even if you agree with these challenges, meeting and achieving them is going to be something else altogether.

Every day on Twitter I read so many tweets about the need for a stunning amount of change in L&D. Judging by what people are saying, change in large corporates, public sector organisations, small and medium enterprises, higher education, further education, as well as secondary and primary education is required. Yes, it’s right across the board and, as I value greatly these people’s views, a tremendous challenge for all of us in L&D – perhaps the largest one most of us have ever faced.

My assessment on why this need for change has come about is because so many of our L&D policies, strategies and processes have not moved with the times, or with the technology which we now have at our disposal, and are still firmly based in the last century.
When looking back over the first decade of the 21st Century only a hermit could be justified in saying that there has been little change. In the course of 10 years all of us, no matter where we are located in the world, have seen an exponential amount of change which is already having a direct impact on all aspects of our lives, including our work and our job roles.
For all of us working in any area of L&D, there is now considerable pressure being brought upon us to get ‘with it’ and to drag L&D into the 21st Century. The cost of not doing so isn’t something we should even contemplate.

In a nutshell we need to free-up and open-up L&D in all areas.
In the corporate/public sector world L&D needs to be representative of and support the goals of the organisation: training needs to change both in style and approach; development needs to change with informal learning recognized and rewarded; and, people need to be given the technology and tools to help them learn better and faster.
In education teachers and lecturers need to be freed-up to help their students to learn in ways which suit the latter, allowing them to use a range of learning processes, technologies, and tools.

This is the ‘six million dollar’ question, although the cost will probably run into billions of dollars! But it’s not just about cost, it’s also about attitude – a resolve and a belief that change is required as well as the ability to effect that change.
There will always be those who resist change, initially at least, but unless those people who have the resolve and belief are allowed to start effecting this much-needed change, it will never happen. Those who resist initially will either retire or leave the profession or, more positively, will join in when they see and experience all the benefits that undoubtedly will result.

The learner
For me, it’s all about those who learn. They always need to be our focus and not us, complete with our preferences and prejudices. We are here to help people to learn and to develop as human beings. The omens are good with a growing groundswell of L&D professionals not only clamouring for change but also working extremely hard to bring it about.
The most important action for us is to remove the strait-jackets, which time and other people have imposed on learners, in order to liberate them. This has to be the starting point and then all we have to do is to deliver what learners need and want.

So what challenges are you facing in L&D right now – do please tell and share?

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Learning & Development 5 years on

In June 2010 the BILD (British Institute for Learning and Development) attempted the impossible: to hold a conference with the theme ‘Learning and Development – the next five years’. So, just how did the ‘crystal ball’ perform?

The day’s conference showcased some of the current trends and innovations in learning and looked towards what the future might hold for Learning and Development (L&D). As Jack Wills (the BILD’s Chairman) said “If we accept that a ‘learner’ is a consumer by nature and reflects the society in which he/she lives, we might be able to spot some significant trends in how we might support them”.

Significant trends
Leaving aside the more human performance and organisational change aspects, it is far easier to speculate about how technology will have advanced by 2015 and the role that it might play in L&D. In the last 10 years technology has advanced so much that for some of us it is difficult to keep up with. Technological advancements over these years have, are having, and will have a truly mighty impact on L&D. It’s not just the Internet, it’s also the tools and, more importantly, the vision to see how all the advancements can be used to help everyone to learn.

Immersive technologies
David Wortley from the Serious Games Institute ( gave an excellent presentation, telling delegates what immersive technologies are, what their impact will be on the next generation of learners, how and where they are being used, their benefits for education and business, and their future implications for business and society.

The most graphic part of the presentation was what happens to someone who dies from a head wound/trauma. Whilst this was not something for the faint hearted, it showed in a way that no other current technology could, by linking real-world data to realistic simulations, exactly what happens; it was not pretty.

As David said, “Immersive technologies are engaging our discretionary time, attention and money. It is this investment which is driving innovations in all aspects of society and changing our relationship with technology. Learning is being transformed from a transfer of existing knowledge by experts into a facilitated, self-directed discovery of new knowledge in collaboration with our peers.”.

The future of learning technologies
When it came to predicting the future, Alan Fletcher from the Open University ( was simply superb, so much so, that many delegates having heard him complained of their heads hurting! Having taken those present through a 50 year time travel to the present day, to show how much technology has changed particularly in the last ten years, Alan then went on to demonstrate, by using new media channels, how learning content can be communicated very quickly to the whole world.

As for the future, it will no doubt be based on Web 3.0 technologies and in all probability in less than eight years from now. This will provide us with a semantic web, allowing us the superior handling of information, to apply reasoning technologically and to map a journey between one piece of content and the next, all of which will enable individual learning journeys. Alan concluded by saying that “Latent Semantic Analysis is a theory and method for extracting and representing the contextual–usage meaning of words by statistical computations applied to a large corpus of text.”. No small wonder then that people’s heads hurt?

Mobile learning
Mobile learning is not the same as e-Learning, according to Geoff Steed of the Tribal Group, because most existing e-Learning design guidelines do not apply to m-Learning. The key to successful m-Learning is to use it to deliver small pieces of the total learning experience at the point of need. The concept of ‘at the point of need’ is becoming an increasingly important one and was mentioned by several speakers; it certainly has a particular resonance for all those who see learners as consumers.

Geoff also gave a brief but interesting description of the m-Learning work being undertaken in further education, which had showed improved student retention and achievement, as well as in education more generally ( He concluded by saying that m-Learning gets around current learning delivery barriers and it’s easy to see why.

On the horizon
Brian Bishop, Caspian Learning, who definitely understands the instructional design process, highlighted three technologies which are on the horizon and which he feels will soon become mainstream: augmented reality, cloud computing, and haptic devices.

Augmented reality (AR), which should not be confused with virtual reality, is already in use, eg for military training. It means a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are augmented by virtual computer-generated imagery; with the help of advanced AR technology, such as adding computer vision and object recognition, the information about the surrounding real world of the learner becomes interactive and digitally usable.

Cloud computing is also here right now, ie data stored ‘in the cloud’ and accessible via the web. However, it is likely to be used more and more by organisations and individuals, and therefore will have a commensurate impact on learners.

When it comes to the use of haptic devices (the perception and manipulation of objects using tactile feedback) we now have the technologies to create the required 3-D graphics, so it is likely that the use of these will grow in the future.

The future?
Whilst all this may excite or chill people in equal measure, “the game we professionals in L&D play, to some extent, is using the trends and products that the consumers will face: working with them and not against them, using the consumer trends to our advantage.” (Jack Wills, BILD). For those of us who are involved in any form of L&D, we need to appreciate that those who learn are our consumers and, by so doing, we will be in a position to provide them with the learning experiences they need.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

The place of design in learning

Last Thursday (27th May) I took part in a very interesting ‘LearnChat’ (#lrnchat) via Twitter about the place of design in learning. Since then I have thought a bit more about this topic.


If you want to see the transcript of the latest #lrnchat or even join in next week then go to for full details of when the ‘chats’ take place and what you need to do.

The nature of design

I think it goes without saying that ‘design’ pervades all of our lives, whether it is in our homes, the architecture of buildings (as well as in them), the equipment we use, the layout of villages, towns and cities, to name but a few.

But so does or should ‘design’ pervade all aspects of what we provide to learners, irrespective of whether that provision is for training, development or educational purposes, and regardless of the means by which the learning is delivered (eg face-to-face, classroom-based, blended, e-Learning, paper-based learning and so on).

What is ‘design’

Whilst various definitions exist, here are two useful ones from a L&D point of view:

§ ‘a plan or drawing produced to show the look and function or workings of a building, garment or other object before it is built or made’

§ ‘purpose, planning or intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, fact or material object’.

Design in L&D

We already have and use the term ‘instructional designer’ which for me covers both definitions provided above and which explains why such a role is both a crucial and fundamental aspect all educational, training and development provision. However, whilst I am an instructional designer, I am not a graphic designer, an artist or, even, a programmer! Yet, I would contest that all these roles are examples of design in learning.

In all the forms in which learning takes place, the look and feel of what is, or should be presented to users must be a primary consideration. I’m not just talking about e-Learning here, I’m talking about all aspects regardless of their means of delivery.

A neglected area?

As far as I’m concerned, learning design per se has been a much neglected area and it continues to be so. From the ubiquitous ‘handout’ to the ‘e-Learning’ course, all elements and facets of design should figure prominently. Just as much most of us like and appreciate the aesthetic aspects of our world, the same is also true for our learning experiences.

Essentially, anything which helps me to learn, be it formally or informally, has to be good and this includes the design, in all its formats, which has gone into it.

The place of design in learning? It must be a given but I think we have some way still to go to prove it!

Sunday, 2 May 2010

The Power of Social Media

The Power of Social Media

I’ve now gone past the ‘wow’ factor with Social Media (SoMe) to appreciate just what SoMe tools can do in the world of Learning and Development. Here are a few thoughts.

The tools

Well, for starters, there are so many of them and they are increasing on an almost monthly basis. If you want to see a list of some of them then look at which also provides a neat classification. Also Jane Hart ( the UK’s leading SoMe guru (I hope she will forgive me for describing her thus) provides a ToolsZoNE area on her website, which lists over 2,000 tools in 12 categories.

But which ones are useful for L&D purposes? Again Jane Hart ( lists 100 top tools as voted for by 278 learning professionals worldwide in 2009. Interestingly ‘Twitter’ is ranked the number one tool. Delicious is ranked second with You Tube, Google Reader and Google Docs forming the top five respectively.

So, without a doubt, many SoMe tools are not only suitable for L&D purposes but they are also being used more and more by the profession.

The power

Although it is relatively early days with using SoMe tools for learning, particularly formal learning, there is a number of interesting reports from people who have embedded the use of these tools into their L&D programmes. One of the most recent reports from Jane Hart (I hope she doesn’t start to get a complex!) can be found at which details Jane’s experience of using Twitter in a face-to-face workshop. If you want to know ‘how’ just read her write-up as it’s excellent.

On 30 April the topic for #lrnchat was ‘Enterprise 2.0’. I expected the ‘chat’ to be about Enterprise 2.0 platforms but to my delight it focused on Enterprise 2.0 tools, i.e. SoMe tools. You can find a transcript of the chats on this topic at It was interesting to discover that only a relatively few people had actually managed successfully to embed some of these tools into their current L&D programmes.

Apart from IT issues, such as IT departments/controls which block or act as a negative influence on the use of such tools, there are some other factors which, seemingly, are limiting their use. Factors such as getting buy-in from the ‘hierarchy’, the ability of learners to use the tools, a limited vision as to how these tools can be used effectively and not just because they are available, and how to ‘manage’ their use by the L&D profession, appear to be some of current constraints.

However, in the next year or so I expect to see the increasing use of SoMe tools in L&D as current constraints are overcome. It is their power and potential which will come to the fore and survive, believe me!

Many thanks to my growing network of L&D folk, without whom I would not have been able to write this post.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Twitter - 1 Year On

I have now been a ‘tweeter’ for just over a year. I have tweeted 805 times (and counting), have 129 followers, and I follow 56 people. I also have the somewhat dubious distinction of being a ‘Twitter Elite in Warwickshire, England’. I think I am now completely bitten by the Twitter bug!

An important grovel: I realize that I haven’t blogged for many months, for which I apologize, but work has really taken off in a big way (no doubt the subject of further blogs) and I’ve been so busy that I haven’t found the time for blogging, that is until now ....

What’s happened?

Since I last blogged on my Twitter experience, a number of things has changed:

I have ‘met’ many interesting people, not just from the UK but also from Australia, Germany, India and the US, most of whom work/are interested in Learning and Development, e-Learning, Social Media, etc.

I now have 129 (at the time of writing) faithful followers. I decided early on not to follow everyone, especially those who have ‘Twitterrhoea’, as it would be impossible to keep up with everyone’s tweets. Accordingly, I am at the moment following just 56 people.

I have now used Twitter to ask questions of my followers, for example I asked recently what people felt were the main obstacles to designing and developing high quality and effective e-Learning; I was not disappointed with the response that I received.

I also take part in a weekly discussion group about learning, #lrnchat. It’s amazing what you can say in 140 characters and all discussions/debates thus far have been very lively and extremely informative. Also, I have met some more kindred souls as a result.

Whilst I use Twitter mainly for L&D purposes, I now also tweet about Cally (my beloved Labrador) and our adventures, plus cricket and tennis (two of my passions). I’ve also taken heed of some other people’s tweets and am now happy to include some social tweets, such as my latest: “Arrrh I hate this British Summer Time lark (apols to those in Scotland) – I have far too many clocks & it makes me really bad tempered.” However, when it comes to my work as a Parish Councillor I do not tweet about this, just in case I land myself in any trouble, as I can do that very easily without Twitter!

I now ‘retweet’ anyone’s tweets that I think will interest the vast majority of my followers. Using the recently added ‘retweet’ button this is a very quick and easy thing to do, plus I have also learned how to RT (i.e. retweet) people’s contributions where I can add my own comments or views.

Last but not least, when, on very rare occasions, Twitter goes off-line I feel quite deprived! Now, how sad is that?

Where next?

Some people can be extremely disparaging about Twitter, especially those people who tweet. However, Twitter is what you make of it and how you use it. Having used Twitter for over a year I now see how it can be used, amongst other things, with considerable benefit for ‘Social Learning’.

Twitter is a readily available and free tool. It is easy to set up a group of likeminded people, e.g. #lrnchat, and to moderate this use. Users can ask questions of followers, provide information, generate debate, and so on. The people I follow are not lonely, small-minded folk, as some have claimed. Most, if not all, are at the cutting and leading edge of Learning and Development and I have learned so much from them.

Yes, I am now a truly dedicated follower of Twitter!