What’s the Purpose of an LMS?

I attended a CLO Magazine-sponsored webinar titled “Benefits and Best Practices for Moving to an Enterprise-Wide LMS.” The presenters were Josh Bersin of Bersin & Associates and Shelly Heiden of Plateau Systems.

Bersin presented some survey results of why organizations purchase learning management systems and what purchasers found to be the key benefits of having an LMS. The biggest reported “business driver” for purchasing an LMS was to “manage training administration,” and the biggest reported benefit to having an LMS was for “tracking and reporting” on training activity.

These results absolutely floored me! What it tells me is that many training professionals view an LMS as simply some sort of elaborate central digital record keeping system. Where is the concern for the kind of rich and interactive and always accessible learning environments that could be created? Where is the view that an LMS could be a great tool for improving employee performance and facilitating the achievement of specific business results? Sure, accurate centralized records are a nice side benefit of an enterprise-wide LMS installation, but need this be the end goal?

Bersin’s findings reminded me of a session I attended at an eLearning conference a couple of years ago. Two training representatives of a large company demonstrated the various reports that their LMS could generate on which employees across the organization, and across the country, took which courses. They declared their eLearning programs a success because X number of employees had participated. I couldn’t help thinking that it was nice that there was all this activity, but to what ultimate end? Did performance improve? Was productivity better? Did sales increase? Did defects decrease? Was customer satisfaction higher? These were the types of questions that neither they nor their LMS could answer.

This phenomenon of focusing on activity rather than results in eLearning is what Lance Dublin referred to as the “butts in virtual seats” fixation. It is a bad carry-over from the days of focusing on attendance in classroom-based training efforts. In itself, attendance (whether in-person or online), means nothing.

If all you want to do is achieve better record keeping, any centralized database will do. You do not need an LMS for this. An investment in an LMS makes much more sense if you are looking for a tool to help achieve (and measure!) key performance improvements and business goals via online learning environments.

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