By Kathleen Waid, Senior Director of Client Services, Expertus
July 7, 2014
Marcia Conner is a well-known expert in workplace learning and innovation. Several years ago, she outlined a next-generation software design philosophy that every LMS vendor would be wise to embrace:
“…Alan Perlis once wrote,
‘Simplicity does not precede complexity, but follows it.’
In software design it can and it should. Well-designed software doesn’t expect people using it to understand the implementation model under the hood any more than Honda requires you to manipulate the engine in order to drive the car…”
Regardless, enterprise software continues to earn a reputation for being incredibly difficult to understand and use. Complicated feature sets are notorious for derailing business software roll-outs. Even in organizations that excel at managing change, it’s challenging to achieve widespread adoption and user satisfaction.
Sadly, enterprise learning management systems are no exception to this rule. There are several reasons why:
1) When LMS platforms were first introduced in the late 1990s, usability was an afterthought. Vendors tended to pack products with as many features as possible, rather than focusing on the quality of each feature, or its contribution to the learning experience.
2) LMS software was originally designed for training administrators — not learners. So, it’s no surprise that employees and others who needed training and performance support struggled to find their way in LMS environments. Platforms focused on course listings, registration tracking, and logistical reports — hardly an environment for developing knowledge, skills and competencies.
About 5-10 years ago LMS systems made some promising strides. Web-based user interfaces emerged, and more relevant functionality gradually appeared. However, those capabilities were built on top of the original complex training administration core. And that had some serious consequences:
- LMSs became bloated with underutilized feature sets that addressed a massive spectrum of narrow “what if” requirements
- The price of this breadth and complexity became huge
- Functionality was often inconsistent or incomplete across the product
- The user experience remained clumsy and confusing
- Before actual training sessions could begin, everyone in an organization had to learn how to use the LMS.
With all of these obstacles keeping learning organizations from accomplishing their mission, why didn’t they revolt? Well actually, in a way, they did.
Today — The New Rules of Simplicity
Now, the digital world is a very different place. We’ve become accustomed to remarkably powerful, yet easy-to-use web and mobile apps that help us manage personal and professional activities. Services like Amazon.com, Skype, Google and YouTube require little or no training — but they provide a user experience that is robust, relevant and useful. And they’re accessible, all the time, on any connected device.
It’s no surprise that expectations for enterprise-class learning software have also shifted dramatically. These days, we want an LMS to be just as uncomplicated to use as popular consumer applications. That’s a huge challenge for LMS providers. But if those expectations aren’t met, adoption is likely to fail.
Learning organizations are quickly discovering the true cost of delaying a shift to next-generation LMSs. Dissatisfied users are abandoning legacy platforms and looking outside of their organizations for workarounds they prefer — even if it means decreased efficiency, higher costs, or content that doesn’t align with business objectives.
The LMS Buying Disconnect
Even though today’s workforce demands a very different kind of learning experience, LMS buyers are struggling to address these needs.
We still frequently receive RFPs focused on the same kind of feature-heavy requirements that were popular with legacy systems purchases 5-10 years ago. We also see inquiries that emphasize administrative functionality over support for end-user learning and performance support.
But there’s no reason to fall into that trap. There are smarter ways to choose a next-generation LMS.
Letting Go of The Past
If you’re among the estimated 60% of companies who plan to invest in a new LMS in the next year, take another look at your selection criteria. Do your requirements put learner needs first? Or do they feel more like a legacy list, with mobile and social “bonus features” tacked on?
Instead, try these tips to improve the return on your next-generation LMS investment:
- Rework your selection criteria to emphasize learner interests, goals and behaviors
- Focus your decision on the subset of LMS functionality that is truly essential for your business
- Don’t be distracted by the availability of “extra” features that only add unnecessary cost and complexity
- If you’re not sure what matters most to your learners, seek reliable input. For example:
- Conduct a stakeholder audit
- Analyze survey responses from recent training participants
- Look at user data from your existing LMS to uncover and verify root issues
- Spend time observing learners, and interpret needs from their behavior
- Choose user representatives as partners in the LMS search process.
Of course, with LMS functionality (as with most things in life), quality trumps quantity. Or, as HR technology veteran Marcia Conner says, “Featuritis costs more than money.”
So, in your next LMS search, keep your eye on the right prize − the factors that contribute to an exceptional learning experience. Make it your mission to understand what matters most for your learners. The rest should naturally follow.
To learn about other common missteps in the LMS selection process — and how to avoid them — read our free white paper, “Choosing an LMS? Avoid These Four Deadly Traps.”
Image Credit: Pixabay