WARNING: An LMS Is NOT One Size Fits All

Today I came to realize that much of the literature out there today regarding learning management systems is often written from the “utopia” perspective, rather than the practical. What I mean by this is that many of the descriptions and suggestions for LMS implementations are good in theory, but often nearly impossible to pull off. This isn’t to say that consultants should not strive to implement a robust LMS with a central interactive component to their culture – but they should be realistic.

I am reminded of a recent conversation I had with a client counterpart regarding their organization’s LMS. Long story short, she let me know that she only wants her LMS to do the following three things:

  1. Host/play eLearning without any known issues
  2. Properly records participation
  3. Run reports

My initial reaction?

“Wow, that’s pretty basic… borderline archaic”

It took everything in me to prevent myself from jumping onto a soapbox to start evangelizing the case of a modern LMS.

However, I think there was also a lesson to be learned: just because something is new and improved doesn’t mean people are convinced of its utility. This individual is a well-seasoned professional in the learning field, which goes to show that our industry faces similar inertia to new ideas as many other industries.

So what’s the solution here? I don’t really think there is one. I think instead this little encounter with my client counterpart just reinforces the fact that an LMS can’t be all things to all people. Some want “the works”…. while others just want it to work properly.

Some practical advice: before jumping into a sales brochure, make a list of must-haves for your LMS and ensure that those are satisfied. From there, determine how to enhance the LMS so that it can support your organization’s mission. Consult with different parties (preferably learning professionals), both internal and external, so as to form an educated roadmap for your LMS implementation. If something, or someone, starts to sound like a salesman, stick to your initial wish list. All of those other features can be scaled up or down over time as needed.

Similar to how you would not choose a personal computer without doing the proper research, the same can be said for choosing an LMS – you and your organization will be happier in the end.

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About the Author:

Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by the world's leading organizations, such as the University of Michigan, Digital Marketer, WPEngine, and Infusionsoft. Justin has made a career as an elearning consultant where he has implemented large-scale training programs for Fortune 500 companies. Twitter | LinkedIn

7 Comments
  1. rtanner14

    Justin,

    This is an excellent post that emphasizes matching the customer’s needs with the most appropriate LMS. I empathize with the burning desire to “evangelize” or make the customer smarter. Unfortunately, I have failed to restrain myself more than once.

    You have mentioned in other posts that almost half of the clients surveyed host their own LMS. I wonder if that is heavily influenced by the reluctance to change. In other words, they didn’t take your advice to pre-determine their LMS needs, then obtained/bought/designed one, and now feel stuck with it rather than risking change.

    • Justin

      Thank you for your comments.

      The scenario you present for why people host their own LMS is certainly plausible. Sometimes the mantra of “this is how we always have done it” prevents people from seeing the benefits of doing something differently. I particularly find your comment about these organizations “risking change” intriguing. If this is the mindset, I think it clearly points the problem that change is risky. In many cases it is even more risky to NOT change, or adapt in some fashion… be it with an LMS or any other part of the business.

      Thanks again for stopping by and for your comment.

  2. Why I like the idea of WPLMS. WordPress offers so many plugins for commerce, community, authentication/membership, social interactions, that if you can get the “elearn launch and track” to play nice, the user is empowered to select (or even create) plugins that align best with their business needs.

    The issues with LMSs, in my opinion, is that is moves users out of natural workspaces and tools to go “to” the LMS to consume some training (and get it tracked). WP has more options to create work portals and spaces (BuddyPress, etc…) and the LMS thing can weave into it more naturally.

    Esp. if you consider the potential of TinCanAPI 😉

    • Justin

      Well said David. Essentially any self-hosted WordPress based LMS can be modified and molded to fit the organizations desires through plugins and other custom development. Instead of having feature generation owned purely by WPLMS, it is in the hands of the massively creative WordPress community!

      • When there were many “the LMS is dead” type articles floating around a few years ago, David Wilkins wrote a very long post that provided a very lucid, valid and in depth look at what really goes into LMS systems. This isn’t easy stuff. Clark Quinn (I believe it was Clark, if I am mis-attributing here, I truly apologize) in the resulting discussion thread that a “WordPress-type LMS” would be idea. The vision of course being that the admin could select components that could join together to align on specific business needs and priorities without having “one system”, but a federated set of widgets that could work in a coordinated fashion.

        I think WP does this well as a core design of the product. Certainly, many LMS vendors have actually done a pretty admirable job in “playing nice” with more external tools, etc… but in my mind, it’s still a bit of an issue. The LMS is still seen as the “center” of the experience vs letting the business ecosystem (which much of it could be- and is- in WP) be the “center” and the LMS functionality is weaved into that.

        Excited to see what can be possible here. The concept holds much promise, but as Android tablets have learned- painfully- it’s really all about execution.

  3. Hanna

    Hi Justin,

    Interesting article!
    I’m supporting a Jooma-based lms, and after my 3 years experience of dealing with different clients, I would say I’m afraid of clients who only want they system to work “without any known issues”, as obviously issues and bugs always occur, irrespectively of client’s (and supporter’s) experience and professionalism. The best client is a client who has a list of strict requirements and a ready e-learning scheme in his mind (at least knows what exactly he is going to use the lms for). Alas, these clients are so rare 🙂

  4. In my experience clients are often at the limits of their capacity to comprehend and use the technology. The fear and intimidation of new technology and expanded use of technology are what makes them want just the basics. They can often become comfortable with more functionality and willing to themselves learn to accept more if they are allowed to work up to it gradually.

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