Is the LMS Dead?

As we mentioned in the introduction, the LMS is just like the ATS or the annual performance review — technology that people love to hate. It’s also an apt description in other ways. In recruiting, the death knell for the ATS has been tolling for quite some time. Surprisingly (and maybe controversially), it’s beginning to come out the other side with a spate of reinvention. The online performance review is in a different boat altogether. It’s reviled and headed for extinction, but it may take down entire companies and maybe even the talent management category as compelling alternative solutions emerge from the employee engagement category. So, the polarity that traditional technologies face has been established. You can be a phoenix or you can be a dinosaur.

As David Wilson from Fosway Group points out, the market perspective on LMS is relative. “Customer satisfaction with LMS tools is a poor relative to other learning technology areas, but this doesn’t mean the LMS is dead. None of the drivers for organizations to implement an LMS have rescinded. In reality they’re stronger, with more focus on compliance, more focus on efficiency of operation, and more focus on good reporting and data. Our expectations of these systems have evolved from their original use, but this does not invalidate their purpose or value, it just means we need broader scenarios.”

What’s the future for LMS? “The LMS is not dead and is not going to die anytime soon,” said Michael Rochelle from Brandon Hall Group. For many companies, the LMS is still uniquely suited to deliver and track mandatory or compliance-based training. “Learning delivered through an LMS is still the most straightforward way for most companies, balanced with instructor-led training.” Wilson concurs: “It is only when the core drivers for LMSs really decline that the use of LMSs starts to significantly drop, and that’s not on the near-term horizon.”

The long view for LMS is that it will not be the only learning technology in the building. “Organizations that are moving toward a blended learning approach are finding they need a learning technology ecosystem that supports several learning approaches beyond e-learning,” Rochelle said. In other words, next-generation solutions are not a road to replacement. “For all the market noise and rhetoric from next-gen vendors, few organizations can or will turn their LMSs off, but they may, over time, replace them with more engaging platforms that support next-gen as well as managing core learning and compliance,” Wilson said. However, even if traditional and next-generation solutions are not mutually exclusive, LMS vendors have some legitimate cause for concern.

Only 34 percent of buyers believe traditional learning technologies can adapt to the needs of today’s workplace.

Only 49 percent of buyers would purchase an LMS if they could start over again.

24 percent of buyers would not purchase an LMS if they could start over again.

27 percent of buyers are undecided whether they would purchase an LMS if they could start over again.

10 percent of organizations in our study do not have an LMS in place.

If there’s any cause for concern among LMS vendors about that last bullet point, the news isn’t all bad. Consider this: Buyers with more than one LMS stayed consistent since 2014 — 43 percent of organizations have two or more LMSs in place. It would seem that if you need more than one LMS, you really need more than one LMS.

Exhibit 5: How many learning management systems does your organization deploy?
47 percent of respondents use one learning management system, 25 percent use two, 12 percent use three, 7 percent use four or more, and 10 percent use none.

Key Market Themes

Rumors of the LMS’ demise are premature.

Large organizations have strong drivers for compliance that are not going away anytime soon. “Given the likelihood of large organizations having strong drivers for compliance as well as goals to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their investment in learning, it is likely they will still need LMS functionality within their learning architecture. That doesn’t mean they need an LMS, but they still need these capabilities,” said Wilson.

Buyers are looking outside the LMS to drive engagement.

Organizations focused on driving performance and the learner experience are relying on next-generation technologies. “For an organization focused heavily on driving performance and learner experience, other next-gen approaches are also likely to be critical, and may, in fact, take the lead role in terms of learning engagement,” Wilson said. “Midsize companies may well seek to address these issues through a common platform as they lack the resources (money and people) to manage multiple platforms. Larger, more complex businesses are likely to still need specialist tools for both areas, as next-generation learning environments (NGLEs) generally lack the functional sophistication to manage formal learning in complex organizations.”

The role of L&D has changed, and you need to change with it.

Organizations are dealing with an explosion of content — structured and unstructured, professionally developed and user generated. Buyers are keen to create order of this chaos, and the LMS was simply not designed to manage informal content. “Most L&D teams have yet to truly work out how to engage properly with user-generated content or learning, and still tend to view the materials they provide as being sacrosanct, despite the obvious reality that they are not heavily used by learners on a day-to-day basis,” said Wilson. Because most LMS platforms were set up to manage formal learning content, L&D teams have yet to work out how to reconfigure them to enable access to informal and collaborative content. “In larger companies, this is often done incrementally, outside the LMS, and then integrated together through learner portals or academy sites,” Wilson added. “In smaller companies, it is not managed at all other than informally.” As the L&D function becomes more about curating than creating content, vendors need to partner with L&D as business partners along those lines.

Today’s learning ecosystem is about having it all, but not from one vendor.

Today’s learning ecosystem is about having it all, but not from one technology or vendor. L&D is beginning to understand that the organization doesn’t need everything in one system from just one vendor — they’re selecting platforms and systems that align with strategy and fulfill learning goals.

Key Takeaways for Vendors

Building one system to rule them all? Forget it.

Although the LMS was natively designed for compliance and tracking — and compliance, as an LMS-critical function, is still necessary — development and integration of the learning experience has become critical. Buyers know they can get what they want by connecting different systems and tools that align with their goals. That means you need to make sure your tech is interoperable and can be integrated as part of a learning ecosystem. Buyers are looking to their technology stacks, where interoperability is quickly becoming de rigueur. For LMS vendors, that means unless your systems can be networked with other complementary next-generation technologies, you will quickly become the legacy system that needs replacing. Stand-alone technologies don’t fit into the future of corporate learning.

Help buyers reach corporate learning nirvana (and let APIs drive your approach).

For next-generation technologies, there is enormous opportunity in helping buyers reach that corporate learning nirvana — so long as you play nice with others. Organizations will still have strong drivers for compliance, so embrace that. Don’t be anti-LMS, be the LMS’ friend. APIs are integral to interoperable systems, and the big winners will be tools that focus on curating and analyzing or tracking data from multiple systems.