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Bringing the Invisible LMS to life – an update on earlier posts

It has been a while since I blogged on an LMS related topic – mainly because I have been too busy actually working on deploying a new one! I have previously written about the concept of “The Invisible LMS”  (and here) back in 2015 and wanted to share my thinking today on how to make this happen. One of the tools where I believe we can leverage LMS functionality and data is in our Community and Collaborative applications – after all, our users are more likely to want to visit those on a regular basis than the LMS! Many people will want to spend time in a customer community or portal for example but only use the LMS because they have to. With this in mind, I recently spent a day with Stephan Müller-Ziebur and Stan Jeffres of Pokeshot whose Smarterpath add-on for Jive gives some good insights on how integrating LMS functions into your community tool can add real value. Whilst i will be using screenshots from their application, the principles behind integrating any LMS into any community or portal application are the key thing here. This is particularly important for those of you who have already made a significant investment in an LMS. I would look at this from two different perspectives – functionality and data.

LMS Functionality within your portal/Community

Remember the old saying “Content is King”? Well, it isn’t any longer! Context is the new King and the ability to bring only relevant content into a community space will make the content more relevant and increase the likelihood of users engaging with it. It also removes another barrier which is “how do I find relevant learning?” – a question I have heard a lot over the last 17 years that i have been in the Learntech space! In Smarterpath, it manifests itself like this: It looks like a normal Jive Community space for onboarding into a sales team but a relevant curriculum is pulled in from the LMS. (highlighted by the red box)

Smarterpath LMS Integration in Jive

All links for the course then open the item in the LMS – and if you have SSO, this is totally transparent to the user. Here’s another version where all courses related to a particular community topic are displayed together with both clickable links and your current status for each course – all sourced from the LMS:

Contextual course search within a community

Of course, this is easy if you are a Jive customer without an LMS – in which case, Smarterpath may be one to add to your RFP list – they already bring the LMS and the Community together in Jive. (Or indeed, you have an “unloved” LMS and are looking to change!). To find out more about why you might want to look at them click here.

But for those of us that have already invested heavily in an Enterprise LMS, such as Cornerstone, Saba, SumTotal etc, or collaboration platforms such as Jive, Yammer, Sharepoint etc, this will not be an option. For those of us who have Jive, the solution is simple – Stephan  and the team at Pokeshot can develop a widget for Jive that would enable this to be achieved, regardless of which LMS vendor you have chosen. More to follow on that once I better understand the development cost.

LMS Data in and out of your portal/Community

This is where the thinking in my earlier blogs comes to life! As I mentioned then, the 2 keys to this are API’s and xAPI (TinCan). Since writing back in 2015, I have already worked on a project where a learners current LMS enrolments are bought into Customer & Partner Portals using web services – taking the learning to the learner at a potential point of need. Customer support portals are where a user will need to go to get documentation, patches and to log support calls – where better than to remind them of the learning available to them?

Future plans include extending this to include Certification status – this is often something that Partners need to know to be able to maintain their Partner status or level so making this visible whenever they visit a partner Support portal makes perfect sense too. To date, I have used internal resources to write the web service calls – but once again, Stephan’s team can help you if you are a Jive customer and do not have the relevant skills in-house.

The aim is to provide access to the 4 key areas that users (in addition to searching for content) have told me they need to get to in :

Areas regularly requested by uses for quicker access

But what about data coming out of the communities? Or indeed, useful content found by learners elsewhere that they want to have recorded in their learning history?

This is where xAPI can fit in.

This does of course mean that your collaboration tool needs to be xAPI enabled and that your LRS (Learning Record Store) can be the destination for any data you wish to capture. Using Jive once again as an example, the application doesn’t have any xAPI capability out of the box.  The good news for jive users is that this is also something that Pokeshot can develop – they already have xAPI tools for Jive and I am looking at the development of a widget that could be used to add a marker to any data item you want to track and for that to be passed to your LRS, regardless of which one you are using. Once again, more on this to follow as we know more about development costs!

You don’t have an LRS? Not a problem – you can wait until your LMS vendor catches up or you can look at an LRS that is a stand alone tool! Check out Learning Locker, an open source LRS option.

The final part of the xAPI jigsaw is how to capture useful learning that the learner has found all by themselves – and this is where the smarter LMS vendors are developing tools to do just that!

Cornerstone Learning ReporterIn the screenshot above, I have triggered the “Learning reporter”, part of the Cornerstone LMS. This neat tool will send back information on this item to the Cornerstone LRS which will then place it in my Learning transcript as a completed item. Neat!

But why would you want to do that? (and I have been asked this many times!).

  • It will help us to understand where there are useful learning resources we are not currently aware of
  • We can better understand if such content is contributing to the performance of our top people. For example, if we discovered the top 10 sales guys also all watched the same motivational video, maybe we should be including it in our sales training curriculum?
  • It supports the idea of self-directed learning and enables learners to include external content when reviewing their training plans as part of a performance discussion.

As a final thought, I have focused so far on Collaboration and Community tools. But there is another place you might want to surface your LMS based learning content – SFDC.
The power to be viewing relevant content whilst viewing an opportunity in SFDC is available today from EdCast – worth checking out!

EdCast for Salesforce


The use of collaboration tools like Jive in learning is not new – Higher education organisations have been early adopters. (The UK’s Open University were using the “First Class” collaboration tool when i was a student back in the late 90’s!).
And there is a lot of interest within the Jive learning community on how the product can be used to support learning activities. Much of this though has not focused on the LMS aspect of this which can be very important outside of Higher Ed and particularly, in highly regulated businesses such as Financial Services & Pharmaceuticals.

Whilst the suggestions in this post should be viewed generically, with my involvement with Jive products, I cannot avoid focusing on that! I hope though that you will be able to translate the principles here to your own choice of Collaboration tools.

I believe then that it is imperative that we have a learning stream at the next Jiveworld conference which includes presentations/discussions not just on the use of the native tool but also on associated technologies and specifically, the LMS. And of course, i have already submitted a speaker proposal on this!

If you are a Jive customer, get involved in the Jive Learning Community and let’s make this happen!

#7 Songs

This slightly different post was inspired by Kate Graham’s blog of the same title, #7 Songs. The idea was to share 7 songs that have had significance in my life – not an easy task for someone who has spent a lifetime as a musician!

Those who know me will be aware that I have a very eclectic taste in music that covers a wide range of genre’s. Coming up with the first was easy though as from the day I first heard this, a lifetime love of this band started which continues to this day.

Yes – Starship Trooper

The release of “The Yes Album” was a pivotal point in the development of prog rock and this track was on constant play in the Sixth Form Center at school. I can safely say this track changed my musical tastes forever – along with “Tarkus” from Emerson Lake & Palmer which was released around the same time.


This is the band I have seen live more times than any other – I never tire of hearing this song!

Maynard Ferguson – Birdland

If there is one trumpet player that has influenced me more than anyone, it is Maynard Ferguson. I was first introduced to “The Boss” by army colleagues Bob Allen and Dave Marcham who between them, had great Maynard record collections that made baby sitting duties for them a real pleasure!


Earth Wind & Fire – September

During the late 70’s, I ran a mobile disco and developed a real love of the great bands that were around then – especially Earth Wind & Fire which probably had a lot to do with the great brass lines! This remains THE dance track that I am most likely to request from the DJ at a party!


Elgar – Nimrod

This is without a doubt, my favourite piece of classical music, period. And when the genius of Leonard Bernstein is added to the mix, it becomes even more powerful. (not all classical musicians will agree with that though!). IMHO one of the most moving pieces of music even written.


Ride of The Valkyries – Regimental March of The Parachute Regiment

If you love Wagner, you might want to skip this one. But as the post is about songs with meaning in my life, this one has a huge part to play. I served as a musician in The Parachute Regiment for about 6 yrs during which time, I made a lot of lifelong friends and learned a lot about music outside of the brass and military band genre – much of this thanks to a great bandmaster, Ernie Mortlock. This is also the period in my life when I was posted to Germany – a country I now call home. So for many. many reasons, this one has to be in the list.


The Beatles – Something

Growing up in the 60’s, one can not help having been influenced by The Beatles. This is my favourite Beatle track and one that shows off the often underestimated talent of George Harrison.


Choosing just seven songs isn’t easy – just looking at my CD collection tells me just how difficult that is! And I’m sure I will look at this in years to come and thing “how did I forget that one!”. My final choice was difficult – but whilst I do have wide tastes, in the past, Folk music wasn’t one of them. This man changed all that when I saw him supporting Jools Holland a few years ago. 

Seth Lakeman – Kitty Jay


I hope you enjoyed this post and my thanks once again to Kate for the inspiration.

Great uses of Learning on Video.

I am occasionally knocked out by the effectiveness of some of the video I see that is freely available on YouTube – especially that many people are making these available at no cost too!

This brief post was inspired by something I was sent by a fellow trumpet play on Facebook today which featured the highly talented trumpet player, Dominck Farinacci who has created a series of tutorials on a variety of brass techniques using the music of Clifford Brown.

This example is about “Ghost Tongueing” – his explanation is superb and something I will be personally working on !

Clifford-isms (Part 2/3): Ghost TonguingPart 4/8 of the #CliffordBrown Educational Series. This post deals with Ghost Tonguing, one of the most defining characteristics of Clifford’s playing. (Select HD for best viewing).

Click here to receive a PDF summary at the end of this series:

I know I had said this series would only be for October, but each video ended up getting more in depth than I initially anticipated, and I’ve gotten so many great questions from you about specific aspects of his playing, so I’m dedicating a little more time to tailoring them around the requests. Thank you all for your comments and interaction throughout this series!
#BrownieLives #GreatJazzSolos #JazzLegends

Posted by Dominick Farinacci on Saturday, 7 November 2015

(A by product of this post is that I also had to learn how to embed a Facebook video into WordPress!).

Here’s Dominick in action – I love the fact he is taking time on the tour bus to do this and is counted in by the driver!


My second example is the awesome Astrid – Astrid is a teacher and creates highly engaging videos on a variety of topics and as it is Christmas time, here she is explaining where German words end!


Next, a short but effective video from Don Taylor on how to run a great webinar. (check out his ebook on this too!).


Don also runs an annual survey on “what’s hot” in Learning and Development – the current survey results have Video well towards the bottom of the list – but I think this is a reflection of the fact that Video has already become a standard tool of choice.

Finally, the work of Outtakes continues to impress – they have taken the art of interactive video to a new level with their DAz technology. This enables video to having moving “hotspots” which take the viewer to additional content and is also now trackable using SCORM or TinCan xApi.


Video isn’t hot, it’s just business as usual now!

Corporate Learning & Potty Training!

I can hear you thinking – what on earth has potty training got to do with how we train our people?

I came up with this metaphor during a recent gathering of our Global Academy Team during a discussion on how to better meet the needs of our users. Here are some questions to think about when you are helping your kids in this important task!


  • Where is the most likely place they will be needing the training the most?
    – The answer to this is obvious to me – they need this training “on the job”!
  • When will they be needing it?
    – Their need is never going to be set in their calendar and I suspect many a parent wishes they had a crystal ball in those early days of training. Also, “just in time” rather than “just too late”!
  • How often will they need reminders?
    – This training needs to be on demand and in the early stages, they will most likely need a lot of reminders!

Of course, you could teach them all about this in advance of their need – but without a current need, how interested do you think a 2-3 yr old will be? So maybe, the best place to make things available would be on the cloakroom door?:


Whilst this is very much “tongue in cheek”, there is much to be learned from this metaphor which can be summed up as “take the learner to the learning, not the learner to the LMS”. Check out my earlier blog on “The Invisible LMS” for my thoughts on how to achieve that.

Here’s a few of the Corporate “cloakroom doors” where users may be more easily found:

  • In customer support portals to seek technical documentation, raise support cases, download software updates/patches
  • In customer or internal communities
  • On your main .com website
  • On your Intranet – if you are very lucky!

As with Potty training, the user experience for our own learners is a vital element of our Learning delivery that we overlook at our peril. Unless you want to spend a lot of time cleaning up the mess after a training need hadn’t been met! 

APIs, Adaptive Learning & the Invisible LMS: Andy Wooler Interview with Steve Rayson

“I was very lucky this week to catch up with Andy Wooler. Andy is the Academy technology Manager at Hitachi Data Systems and one of the most experienced people I know when it comes to learning management technology. I was keen to get Andy’s take on how learning technology is developing.”

Andy is always looking outwards at new technologies and their potential application for learning. What I particularly like about Andy is that he cuts through the hype and has a good sense for what will really work inside large corporates. This is what he had to say about current trends.

Has the death of the LMS been exaggerated?

Despite predictions about its imminent demise the learning management system (LMS) continues to evolve and thrive.

The LMS will continue because it covers all the learning processes we need to manage, particularly in a regulated industry. However, the LMS will become less visible to learners.

The LMS functionality will sit behind the scenes and we will surface the functionality and data at the point of need.

In the old days we had a SCORM compliant LMS (the learning tracking standard developed originally by the US military) and we produced a lot of SCORM based content. These days learning blends have a rich range of content including video and a wide range of resources such as blogs, slides and social networks. You need to be clear what you need to track. There is an increasing body of content we don’t track in the LMS. We use a lot of video based content which we surface on platforms such as Jive where it doesn’t need to be tracked.

What does this mean for learning design?

I think it is a challenge for learning designers. How do you bring in collaborative elements and how do you adapt the learning. In my view the future is adaptive learning. For us this means producing less scorm based content and creating more learning in an adaptive learning tool.

Adaptive learning tools continually assess the skills and competencies of staff and then adapt learning delivery accordingly. I think this is key as it is about making learning and knowledge fit the individual learner. We are using adaptive technology from Area9 to assess how much the learner knows at any given time, and which adapts the learning accordingly. In my view the future of learning design is adaptive and personalised learning.

What will be the impact on tracking and reporting?

Tracking how many people have completed a course can mean very little. What we really want to know is the current competency and skills of our staff.

With our adaptive learning we are continually assessing staff competencies and skills. We use sophisticated assessments, for example we also ask on assessment how confident learners are of the answers they have provided. How sure are you of the answer you have given.

I think xAPI has a huge role to play. The LMS of the future needs a learning record store (LRS) and the ability to integrate data. Learning should be linked to an individual’s competency and skill.

I can see use cases such as for software engineers inserting a Tin Can statement into the executable file of the software they install which will then bring back data from their actual performance such as time taken errors logged etc. Thus using xAPI we may be able to track not simply learning but performance that can be mapped to their learning needs.

On data analysis there has been a lot of talk of big data but in reality it is not about big data but making best use of the data we have. To me it is important to get the data out of the LMS and analyze it in a data warehouse. We can then look at correlations with other data for example learning and sales data, can we see if learning increases sales. By combining data sets in data warehouse we can look for actionable insights to improve our performance.

So the future is APIs and an invisible LMS

Absolutely, I don’t want anyone to see the user interface for the LMS unless they absolutely have to. What we need to do in the future is pull content and data from the LMS using an API which allows us to surface it on different platforms at the point of need. For example, content could be launched from a deep link from a QR code on a piece of machinery. It gets accessed at the point of need.

The learner really doesn’t care if there is an LMS. We care as learning managers as we need to manage a range of processes and track the impact of learning. The key though is delivery of learning at the point of need, using APIs and single sign on. Thus we need to be able to surface content and data on other platforms as required.

Reproduced by kind permission of Steve Rayson.

Creating the “Invisible LMS”!

Secret LMS







It was a real pleasure recently to be interviewed by my former boss, Steve Rayson, for an “Expert Interview” on the Totara blog.

And this theme of the “Invisible LMS” has been behind a number of conference presentations I have made recently – most recently for a workshop as part of the Learning & Skills Summer Forum at Olympia.

What do I mean by this “Invisible LMS”? Put simply, it is the idea that we should be taking the learning to the learner and not taking the learner to an LMS interface which he often doesn’t understand! The learner really doesn’t care if there is an LMS! We care though as learning managers as we need to manage a range of processes and track the impact of learning. How to achieve this was the topic of the Olympia workshop.

Of course, you can spend a lot of money customising the user interface of your LMS and I have seen some great examples of this. But there are other ways to improve the user experience other than playing around with the LMS interface – just remember, the user often doesn’t want to have to go there in the first place!

I believe 3 things are key:

  • Deeplinks to your learning content
  • Web services to surface LMS functionality wherever users need it
  • Single sign-on to remove the barrier of yet another password


The major LMS vendors will have the ability to provide links that take you straight to the content. For elearning courses, this should launch the course without the learner having to find it and register for it. In it’s simplest form, this could even be a simple Excel spreadsheet with a list of courses with their hyperlinks! This technique was used very successfully at one of my previous organisations for the roll out of Sales Training Curricula and completion rates were the highest we had seen! (and the idea for this came not from a learning technology guy, rather the manager responsible for sales training!). Another potential use is of course Social Media. If you have seats free on an upcoming course, why not use Twitter to try and drive more course registrations?  Using deeplinks in a tweet!




The applications of this technique are many – think about where the learner goes on a regular basis and the times and places they might need access to your content. QR codes are another good way to surface content – imagine an engineer arriving on site to fix a piece of equipment which he hasn’t seen for a while. He opens the faulty item and finds a QR code taking him straight to some video content from the LMS which guides him through the process on his smartphone. Is this learning or performance support? I can tell you that the engineer will not care if it helps him complete his task!

Right now you might be thinking “how do I create a QR code”? Here’s the answer! How to create a QR code






Think also about the value this could add to printed course materials – it’s great to show a video in the class but wouldn’t it be great if the learner could access that from the handouts as well? Or perhaps have additional verbal explanation on a  topic using an mp3 file that the learner can access on their mobile device direct from the printed page?

Web services/API’s

So far, I have focussed on accessing specific content. But there are other things we might want learners to find more easily such as:

  • Finding appropriate learning
  • Knowing when they have an upcoming course
  • Are my Certifications up to date?

Let’s first think about where these learners might be in contact with us:

  • In our customer support portal to seek technical documentation, raise support cases, download software updates/patches
  • In our customer or internal communities
  • On our main .com website
  • On our Intranet – if you are very lucky!

These are all places where web services can be used to bring personalised information on current enrolment or Certification status together with access to an easy course finder. All without visiting the LMS UI itself. Of course, we enable LMS notifications on all of these too – but how many get really noticed? In my current organisation, we have already enabled a view of the current enrolment status within our Customer Support portal and plan to extend this to more services soon. We also have a course finder app on our main .com website and display the current most popular courses in our Customer Community. All without the user visiting the LMS.

Single sign-on (SSO)

The final barrier to the LMS! The separate user id and password can be a barrier to getting your users into the LMS and single sign-on is the answer to this. Whilst the use of deeplinks is possible without SSO, removing the intermediate step of logging in totally hides the existence of the LMS interface and completes the move to the “Invisible LMS”!

No LMS Here!

The views expressed here are those of the author and not of any current or previous employer.

Fixing the NHS – some thoughts based on my experience of the German Healthcare system

At the Chemist!This is a very different topic to the ones I normally post! But a recent Facebook discussion on the ills of the NHS in the UK have been apparent to me for many years now – my recent move to Germany highlights the way that you can get great healthcare,

One of the biggest complaints I see in the press today is about NHS funding – and for me, that’s where the problem lies. I see so many comments like “the government isn’t putting enough funding in place” but let’s remember, it’s not the government that funds the NHS, it is you, the taxpayer! So when you say the state isn’t paying enough, what you are really saying is “I am not paying enough!”.

And that is where the German system is so much better! Funding for healthcare is all done through the various “Krankenkasse” – an insured scheme whereby the funding for healthcare is isolated from your general taxation. And yes, I have to pay a lot for it – but isn’t that the best way to ensure that the service I receive is top class? None of my payments to healthcare get diverted to fund illegal wars & there is no variation from one county or country to another if I need specific drugs. Pensions and long term care are also separately funded and unlike the UK’s National Insurance Scheme, there is no shortfall between funds coming in and payments going out.

The quality and speed of getting access to medical help is vastly different to the UK – here’s a comparison based on my own experience here: (for those that don;t know me, I have had a long association with nasal polyps!)

NHS- Make appointment to see GP, undergo treatment based on his general experience, eventually, get a referral to a Consultant and wait 6-9 weeks to see him. If X-rays or CT scan needed prior to that, make an appointment separately to get that done.  Any prescription charged at £8.05 per item

NHS + Private Medical Insurance – Make an appointment to see GP, ask for the referral straight away, get an appointment within a couple of weeks. X-ray equipment on site, CT Scan wait was just 1 week.Any prescription costs are at cost price of the drug – for many items, this may be lower than the NHS prescription charge. if not, a smart Consultant will write you up for enough for a few days and refer you back to your GP where you can then have further prescriptions at £8.05 per item.

Germany – without an appointment or referral, go direct to an ENT specialist and simply present your health insurance card. I had to wait just 30 minutes to see a Consultant who had all of the specialist equipment on site. Prescription charge (which does depend on which insurer you are with) just €5 regardless of how many items.

As you can see, a superior experience than I ever had in the UK even with BUPA cover in place!

Of course, many will ask “What about the unemployed and low income families”? Premiums for the Krankenkasse are based on income and if you choose one of the State approved schemes (there are 2), the premiums are also regulated by the State. If you are unemployed, you will be covered for your healthcare under the separate payment you have to make towards Unemployment Benefit.

So in summary, healthcare funding is ring-fenced to ensure a properly funded healthcare system. And in my opinion, that is exactly what is needed in the UK to get the NHS back on track. National Insurance payments need to be also ring-fenced and at a level that can sustain the service we all want to receive. That will mean people earning more pay more – I’m not a Labour supporter but even they ought to approve of that!

The NHS funding problems cannot be fixed without a radical overhaul of the National Insurance scheme with a focus on employer/employee contributions being at a level where a proper service can be delivered. If we really want a world class healthcare system in the UK, it is we, the taxpayers (and yes, I am currently still paying some UK tax!) who have to accept that we have a part to play in this through more realistic contributions into a a scheme where we can be sure that our payments all go towards healthcare.

Reflections on Learning Technologies 2015

It was a real honour when Don Taylor asked me to chair 2 sessions at Learning Technologies this year. This is THE go to conference for me and is fast becoming the annual meeting of my PLN (Personal Learning Network)!

When I first started out in the world of Learning Technology, I was fortune to be introduced to a number of people who have helped to shape my thinking in the early years and I was delighted that one of my sessions included one of these people – David Wilson. Being a part of David’s Corporate Research Network over the years has enabled me to get to know so many of the leading figures in the LMS world and it was great to see so many of them at the Conference. Sadly, my duties clashed with some other good sessions but thanks to a great backchannel, managed by the lovely Kate Graham, I was still able to pick up on the key points. Another great resource is from David Kelly who has curated a huge amount of resources that were shared during the sessions – check it out here!

My thanks also to my LMS panel speakers – Stuart Bennett, Stephen Macdonald and Randall Roberts. With a focus on Learning Management Systems, these 2 sessions proved that the LMS is alive and kicking – reports of the demise of the LMS are way off the mark! If you missed the 2 David’s session, you can download their updated 9 Grid analysis here.

For me, this conference is as much about the conversations that happen outside of the seminar rooms as it is the conference content. One such conversation with Donald Clark and Nick Shackleton-Jones  on the topic of Adaptive Learning led to my joining Don’s session to add my perspective from an organisation that is using Adaptive learning right now, Watch our for more on this hopefully at the learning & Skills Group event later this year when I am hoping to team up once again with Don on this topic. Don is also someone from whom I have learned so much over the years and once again, an honour to be asked to join him on stage.

My time on the exhibition floor was mainly spent chatting to old friends – it was good to see many of my former colleagues on the Kineo stand and to see that the company is going from strength to strength since becoming part of City & Guilds. The exhibition floor was packed – for me though, nothing stood out enough to warrant any in depth conversations with new vendors. But I put that down to the fact that I work in a highly innovative organisation that is already exploring the newer technologies such as Adaptive Learning. For a more comprehensive view on the exhibition, Craig Weiss will be posing his review shortly – worth checking out when he does.

Finally, having recently shed my “Ned Flanders” look, a lot of people had to look twice before realising it was me! So, if you think you might have seen me there but weren’t sure, you probably did!

I’ll leave you with one of the best quotes of the event from David Perring: “Learning is the engine room of Talent”. See you all at the next one!

The LMS is Dead! Long Live the LMS!


Is it really 50 issues ago that “Inside Learning Technologies and Skills Magazine” was launched? Congratulations! At 15 years old it is older than most LMS vendors.  And during those 15 years, the death of the LMS has been predicted with regularity. But is that really the case?  In this article I’ll discuss the origin of the learning management systems, its evolution, and what the future LMS might look like.

An LMS for you, and you, and you…

The last 15 years has seen a near constant stream of new LMS vendors coming to market, one of the most notable recent examples being Cornerstone OnDemand, but also a huge amount of consolidation, such as Docent/Click to Learn becoming Sum Total and Saba acquiring Thinq. Well known US based commentator Craig Weiss  recently tweeted that there are 620 learning systems/platforms out there and that the number is still rising. (Although I wonder how many of those will still be around for the 100th edition of the magazine!)

Most of the long standing LMS systems evolved from tools created to help manage the administrative burden of Instructor-Led courses and as such they are not there to manage your learning but to manage the processes around that learning.  They were (and in some cases still are) training administration systems rather than learning management systems.  And despite an explosion in eLearning over the last 15 years the classroom hasn’t gone away.  In my own organisation, 60% of the customer training takes place in an instructor led event, although of course, the use of virtual classroom technology has increased significantly too.

Feature creep

In complex global organizations such as the one I work in where we train resellers and customers as well as our employees, training administration goes way beyond managing classroom registrations, and LMS’s now include capabilities to manage financial transactions including credit card payments and volume discount programs.

And of course modalities have exploded.  First came elearning. But that wasn’t totally new either – computer based courses had been with us for some time, both as CBT’s you ran on a PC or interactive Laser Disk-based  or tape-based courses.  When the World Wide Web came along, it was an obvious move to put these courses onto a web platform – and where better that the LMS? The desire of many organisations to track and record all learning made the LMS an obvious choice at the time.  Since then we’ve added video and podcasts and job aids – the list goes on.  And having spent over 25 years in Financial Services, the advent of more regulation led to a bigger need to record Compliance related courses to appease the regulators. (Whether that is a good thing is another debate!).

In the last few years, we have seen the addition of Performance Management, Talent Management and Social applications. But for many vendors, the heart of the system remains the management of the processes behind these use cases, which may go a long way to understanding why the user experience is often awful!

I once attended a demo of a new LMS whilst it was still in development. The demo used emails with embedded deep-links, and at one point one of the attendees asked the question “but what does the UI look like?” The response was way ahead of its time: “Why would anyone want to use that when they have quick access this way?” How right he was!

Delivery at the point of need

One of my favourite training sayings is that “learning should be a part of work, not apart from work.” By this, I want to see easy access to relevant content at the point of need. For example, if you need to learn about a product – say a CRM system – then why not have that learning accessible within the product itself, rather than forcing the user to go hunting for it in an LMS? Or have mobile device access to specific content accessible via a QR code on hardware so that the engineer has all he needs on site when he gets there?

The user experience is probably the most often criticised aspect of any LMS – and rightfully so! But that is no surprise when you consider my earlier point that the LMS is predominantly there to manage the administrative processes around learning. This, though, is changing, and not necessarily just by the UI improvements made by the software vendors.

I said earlier that like many other companies, my organization teaches customers in addition to our own employees.   Customers interact directly with our LMS, but also with our dedicated customer portal, our online community, our main .COM site – and many other web properties and applications.  Our customers would prefer a single place to go to get all the information they need, and the ability to surface functions from the LMS using web services is now an important part of an LMS procurement decision.

We’ve already started to use those web services. Access to your current class enrolments is displayed within the Customer portal with plans for other functions to be added. The web services we have available in our LMS platform allow us to deliver the basic things people want to see:

  • Catalogue search
  • Courses I need to do
  • Courses I am doing
  • Courses I have done

…all without going to the LMS user interface.

The second aspect of the delivery at point of need is the ability to deep-link direct to relevant content (a URL that takes the user directly to the content object), either as links in the customer portal or via a QR code. Once again, the LMS needs to be able to provide these links and should become another important part in vendor selection.

The future

Whilst the core administrative  function of the LMS will be needed as long as the classroom is alive, its days delivering page turning elearning are surely coming to an end.  My own organisation is now working with “Adaptive Leaning” – think of this as the idea of the course without an end or a never ending skill/competency assessment that is dynamically adapted minute-by-minute to the unique needs of every student. SCORM has no role to play in this, as there is no concept of completion in this new world. Of course, the LMS may well still be where a learner can access such “courses” but the tracking of progress will be taking place outside of the LMS.

In our case, learning objectives will map to skills or competencies and we may want to bring this together with the remainder of our learning data. But does that need the LMS? Not necessarily! With the emergence of “Big Data” thinking in the learning space, much of this analysis will be taking place in a data warehouse rather than the LMS itself where it can be combined with other customer data such as CRM sales data, Support Desk call data and even data from Social Media and company collaboration tools. Learners will eventually want their data to be portable and the power of the Tin Can Learning Record Store (LRS) will come into play.

So, my vision of the LMS by the time we get to edition 100 of “Inside Learning Technologies and Skills Magazine” looks like this:

  • The core function of managing classroom and virtual classroom courses
  • A place where a learner can find learning paths based on skills/ competency gap analysis
  • A tool to find learning paths that are appropriate for their role
  • A record of all their training and Certification history

I do hope they will not need by then to use the system user interface! The LMS of the future will be delivering all of this at the point of need with content being surfaced via API’s into Customer portals, Collaboration sites, mobile devices and directly into the workflow. And LMS data will no longer be analysed in glorious isolation!

The LMS of the past will be consigned to history – but the things it does well will be done even better and users will not even know they are using it.

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 edition of “Inside Learning Technologies & Skills”


Innovation lessons from the world of music – part 6

One of the things I find amazing about musicians is their capacity to innovate – and I don’t just mean new technologies.

One definition of innovation from The Business Dictionary is “the process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay.” – and there some great examples of people who have done just that: taken a good song and done it in a way that is very different from the original.

One of my current favourites is a brilliant cover of “All about that Bass” – the Meghan Trainor original is a huge hit out here judging by the amount of video plays on the music channels but the idea of a real bass player covering this is genius! Here’s Kate Davis’s take on the song:

I think we will be hearing a lot more about Kate Davis! There’s also a good parody of this song here.

And thanks to Peter Cook of The Academy of Rock, here’s another brilliant take on this song by Andee Price:


Going back to creating something customers will pay for, I would think that getting your new album to  #2 on Billboard’s Top Jazz Albums chart and going Gold in Canada suggests that Paul Anka got this spot on when he did a great series of swing covers of well know rock songs. Who would have imagined Spandau Ballet’s “True” quite like this:


If there was ever a band that sold millions of records on the back of an ability to craft out fine arrangements of other people’s songs, it has to be James Last who according to wikipedia, has sold over 100 million records. Of course, it helped he had fine musicians like the late Derek Watkins in the band:


So instead of “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”, maybe your business should be thinking “if it isn’t broken, make something new out of it” instead to increase product reach and ultimately, sales revenue.

Or what about that product you have that still doesn’t seem to have a use? You know, the “solution looking for a problem”?  Just like 3m did with their “pressure sensitive adhesive“, thinking of a different use for it could just be your next killer product!. I don’t recall Bruce Springsteen making much out of “Blinded by the light” but Manfred Mann’s Earthband turned it into a massive selling single :

Of course, it isn’t always someone else improving your song though! There are many examples of a band releasing a totally different version of a song that is very different to the original. In this way, Eric Clapton extended not only the life, of “Layla” but would have increased the royalties on the way! (and with the introduction of payments for musicians if you play any of these video’s, you too will have contributed!).

In fact, there will be many of you who never heard the original so I will end this post with Derek & The Dominoes classic version:

Remember that your next killer product could be someone else’s dead product or a second lease of life for one of your own older ones! And simply changing the name isn’t enough – Snickers is still a Marathon bar!