Learning Management Systems: Do we need them?

LMS 1This week’s post comes from #chat2lrn crew member, Judith Christian-Carter. Judith is a Director of Effective Learning Solutions, a UK-based learning services company. You can find her on Twitter @judithELS


The LMS conundrum

Seldom in our community have I come across a topic anything more sharply bipolar than that of Learning Management Systems (LMS). ‘For’ and ‘Against’ camps are formed, with each side arguing passionately one way or the other. The LMS has become the ‘Marmite’ of the corporate learning world!


Some arguments for …

  • If learning isn’t tracked and measured via a LMS then it’s not learning
  • We need to know what people are learning, what content they are accessing and if they are completing their training courses
  • Saves on administrative and paperwork costs, as well as saving employees’ training time
  • If you aren’t using a LMS, you aren’t operating your business as efficiently as possible
  • You can control the content that your employees can access
  • “What you do not measure, you cannot control.” (Tom Peters)
  • You can consolidate all training content for all employees into one central location
  • Course content can be bundled with online tests, enabling administrators to gauge easily learning levels
  • A LMS facilitates learning and the retention of content
  • A LMS allows administrators to create a culture of compliance, promoting safety in all situations
  • Detailed reports such as course completion, regulatory compliance training and employee statistics, allow managers to identify and track easily the progress of a large group of employees or individuals when needed
  • A LMS delivers a secure exchange of learning data

Some arguments against …

  • The LMS no longer fits into the corporate learning model of the 21st Century
  • The old corporate learning world of command and control is changing to one of understanding and facilitation, and so with it the LMS becomes redundant
  • We have no choice, we have to use it for all courses and this imposes major constraints on us
  • I can’t use the learning tools I want to because the LMS does not support them
  • From an instructional design point of view they are a nightmare, as they so often dictate the learning design instead of the other way round
  • If formal learning, such as training, only accounts for around 10% of what people learn then why bother to spend so much money and time measuring such a very small part of the total – it doesn’t make sense
  • “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” (William Bruce Cameron)
  • Whilst our LMS captures so much data, very few people look at this and, if they do, then they don’t do anything with it
  • I want people to create their own personal learning environments, to exchange ideas and to build their own communities of practice, none of which is possible with a LMS
  • It’s only administrators who like and want a LMS, simply because it makes their lives easier
  • The LMS is the ‘Big Brother’ of learning in the corporate world
  • Employees are not in the driving seat when it comes their learning mainly due the power and control of the LMS
  • The only thing that counts is that people can apply their learning in the workplace so that their performance improves, and no LMS can measure or control that
  • Work = Learning and Learning = Work, so where does a LMS figure in this equation?

In other words …

“Prescriptive, governed, instructional approaches that drive cost reduction and competitive advantage through better productivity and compliance are the sweet spot for LMSs. But what organisations really need to do is nurture skills and activities that computers cannot yet master and link these not to productivity and compliance, but to innovation and intrapreneurship.” (David Becker, September 2014, of “Kill the LMS” workshop.)

What next?

Well, there is always Experience API (xAPI or Tin Can API) to consider, as this new learning-technology specification claims to overcome all the limitations of the existing LMS, by bringing ‘tracking’ into the 21st Century. That is, if you wish to track any digital interaction someone has with content or other people, for therein lies the rub.

So, where do you stand on the LMS question? Join in the debate and discuss these and other questions in #chat2lrn on 2nd October 2014 08.00PDT/11.00EDT/16.00BST

Kathy Kruse of Expertus has provided some additional reading which you can find on the Links and Resources page.  If you would also like to provide additional resources for this, or any other chat, please email a member of the #Chat2lrn crew.





Under the hood of gamification

Today’s post comes to us from #chat2lrn crew member,
shutterstock_161270936_Small2Fiona Quigley. Fiona is Director of Learning Innovation for Logicearth Learning Services, an Irish based learning services company. You can find her on twitter at @fionaquigs

The potential of gamification

I’m a gamer. There I have admitted it – and it is good my secret is out! But I have never really been convinced of the application of games to eLearning content. Not because I don’t think it is a good idea in principle – but mainly because of the time and cost involved to do it well. And I have seen so many poor eLearning projects wrapped up in so called gamified concepts, which actually just turn out to be fancy quizzes with colourful badges.

It seems cost and time prohibitive for the average client and learning project to properly apply game thinking. However, my opinion has slowly changed over the last few months. I am very lucky to have started some work with industry gamification gurus Karl Kapp and Brenda Enders. Both of these folks come with wholly formed gamification credentials – they have been there and got the t-shirt. Brenda and I are about to start working on a gamified solution for a Sustainability project. Convincing people to use less water and turn out the lights is worthy of a gamified effort – right?

So for this week’s post, I asked Brenda to give us the practical low-down on what real gamification might look like in a learning project. Thanks so much Brenda for helping us out with this. I hope you’ll join us for further discussion on Thursday 18th September #chat2lrn at 8am PDT, 11am EDT, 4pm BST.

Question 1: What is your definition of gamification?
Over time, I’ve used a variety of definitions, trying to find the one that resonated best with L&D professionals. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of the term but it is what it is. So, the current way I define gamification is the strategic use of game mechanics and game elements to increase your learners’ engagement within their learning curriculum.  (Game mechanics, if you are unsure, are the rules of the game experience.)

The heart of it you ask? Strategic engagement. When we gamify our solutions we are selecting and interweaving key principles and concepts from games that have been proven to engage players. As such we need to take a step back and understand how games engage us. In essence, game mechanics, game elements and game play thinking address and satisfy some pretty fundamental human needs and desires, such as: competition, reward, achievement, altruism, status and even self-expression. Think about it for a moment, these needs and desires are universal! They cross generations, demographics and cultures. The good game designers have been fulfilling these needs and desires for their game players since probably the beginning of time. By fulfilling these psychological needs and desires within our learning content we have the opportunity truly make an impact on the overall organization.

Question 2: Why do you think gamification is being talked about more and more? Just another buzzword or is it solving real challenges?
Let me start with your second question first. I’m sure you’ve heard the hype of the potential outcomes gamification can have on our organizations such as: influencing behavioral change, solving business problems, increasing letter grades in courses or even having a direct impact on the bottom line. When I hear these claims, I envision this shiny silver bullet that will miraculously solve all of our problems. Unfortunately, it’s not the end all be all solution, however, when strategically used and designed, gamification can without a doubt aid us in tackling these challenges and even more.

Why is everyone talking about it?” I think it’s because we’ve all been impacted by gamification on some level. For example your buying choices, professional networks and school systems have been “gamified”. It’s a topic that when discussed draws on both the positive as well as negative impressions. It’s personal, it’s emotional and we all have our opinions. As such, I would term it a hot topic versus buzzword or trend of the day.

That said, I’d like to believe the increased “buzz” in the learning and development community is centered around the potential of tapping into the powerful engagement potential that game elements provide and have our learners as immersed in the content as a great game experience. I’ve been in the field for almost two decades now and this has consistently been one of the top challenges we faced. By increasing engagement we can ultimately have an impact on our learners behavior and truly make an impact (assuming the content is solid).

Question 3: What common misconceptions are there around gamification?
As you can probably expect, there are quite a few misconceptions when it comes to gamification but I’ve decided to call out three that truly impact our community.

The first misconception that comes to mind is gamification is new. Many industries including L&D, have been applying gamification concepts to certain extents for decades. In fact, my first application of game elements and mechanics was in a WBT around 2000. Throughout the curriculum they earned points, rewards (virtual as well as tangible) all based on their performance. Sure it wasn’t SCORM complaint and at the time technology was a challenge but it was incredibly effective. Did we call it gamification? No. We simply knew we were reusing elements from games that engaged us when we played them within our course to engage our learners to complete and demonstrate a level of proficiency for non-mandated training.

Next on the list is that gamification is really just about using points, achievements/badges and leaderboards (the most common elements we experience in our daily lives). However, especially for learning professionals, we should dive deeper to utilize game elements and thinking such as feedback loops, freedom to fail, player control, and combine them with learning theories such as the spacing effect and scaffolding.

In my opinion this last misconception is extremely dangerous to the L&D community. I hear this all the time, “all you need to gamify your learning is some technology”. The heart of this misconception is that gamification is just plug and play. Quickly adding points, badges and leaderboards within the learning content at a moments notice. Just turn on the features and viola we have gamification! Sure, the technology is a key component however it’s strategic use and design of the game elements that result in the engagement not the elements in and of themselves. As always: “a fool with a tool is still a fool”.

Question 4: What sort of gamified learning solutions work well for adult learners in the workplace? Are we in danger of gamifying too much?
Let me start with a few scenarios where I’ve seen gamification have a positive impact. These include: encouraging or motivating your learners to research a new topic or take optional courses, encourage creativity within a team environment, teach and reinforce basic principles/concepts and even strengthen problem solving skills. This isn’t obviously a comprehensive list but gives you a sampling of the wide variety of uses within learning where they have been successes.

The other consideration with adult learners is which approach to take in gamifying your curriculum. The first approach is to overlay a game layer to your existing curriculum. For example, adding points to your existing check-on learning activities or interactions, awarding badges or other achievements based on the completion of lesson or course content and adding a leaderboard to display their status. In this approach, you are not modifying your content; so ensure it’s solid. The second approach focuses on redesigning your learning content to apply gamification techniques. In this approach, your instructional designers take a fresh look at the best approach to presenting the content leveraging game-play thinking, game elements and also game mechanics. For example, turning a boring page-turner into an interactive storyline including characters in which the learner interacts with the content and rewarding them based on their choices. Yes, using stories and characters are elements of games and as such gamification techniques!

To answer the question on can we gamify too much? That’s a simple one. Absolutely! It’s one engagement strategy and isn’t always the best solution.

Question 5: What is most likely lead to design failure in a gamified learning solution?
I think the largest risk is the lack of game design knowledge on our development teams. I’m not saying we need to have game designers on our teams; however, it would be beneficial to have our team members to have an understanding of basic game design principles and mechanics. One idea for addressing this issue is to have you ID’s take the lead. Maybe have them attend a game design course. They will be amazed at the amount of overlap and synergy between the two fields. Your ID’s can then take the lead on working with the rest of the team on increasing their knowledge base and discuss modifications to the development process.

Question 6: And finally – for someone who hasn’t designed a gamified learning solution before, what first steps would you advise?
First, I would suggest investing in some professional development on game design. Take a course, read some books, attend a conference, collaborate with others on your team or within your network.

Second and this one may sound silly, but play a bunch of games. All kinds of games and really dissect them. A few things to consider could include the following. What makes them tick? How and why are you engaged with the game, how do they use game mechanics and elements? How do they incorporate the element of chance, risk and reward, the freedom to fail? Brainstorm on how you can reuse some of the concepts within one of your own courses.

Third, observe others playing games (even the one’s you would never play on your own). We can gain tremendous insights by experiencing others playing. Maybe even ask your kids to walk you through that World of War Craft game they are always playing, you may be amazed at some of the life skills they are developing in that game.

Social Leadership: authority and humility

This week we are delighted to have a guest post from Julian Stodd, (@julianstodd) Consultant, Author, Speaker and Co-Captain of Sea-Salt Learning.

Things that used to be clear are changing: the world evolves, leaving us with uncertainty and doubt. The Social Age is characterised by an evolving relationship with work, where careers are made up of many jobs and for some of them you won’t even be in an office. The one constant is the communities that we inhabit: formal communities around projects, skills and organisations as well as informal, social ones that permeate our lives. It’s within and alongside these communities that we make sense of the world, that we learn. In this new reality, the mechanisms of leadership need to change too. 

The Social Age requires Social Leaders. Leaders who are able to derive authority in these communities, but these spaces work by different rules. Social Authority is founded upon reputation, it’s based in our curation, storytelling and sharing skills. Hierarchical authority, that which is based on positional power and control is subverted by social authority, grounded within communities. 

To lead effectively today, our formal authority needs to be supplemented by social. Effective leadership is about bridging the gap, about leading with humility and compassion and serving the needs of the community as well as the organisation that hosts it. 

Often facilitated by technology, we are seeing social learning approaches making progress in many organisations, from the informal communities of interest around specific topics through to the forums and spaces that are increasingly incorporated into learning design, but the technology itself is not the answer. Many of these spaces lie derelict, unloved, disengaged. Engagement is a core skill for Social Leaders: understanding how to form, guide and narrate the activities of the communities that they inhabit. 

Organisations that manage to cultivate strong Social Leaders, who manage to drive high engagement in social learning spaces, are able to be more agile, more responsive, more authentic.  

How does your organisation use communities? Where does the knowledge reside and how is it accessed? In the Social Age, knowledge itself is of limited value: it’s the meaning we create with it that counts, and that meaning is co-created, grounded in our communities. Social Leaders develop others, draw them along, support them in this process, ensuring nobody is left behind. 

In a time of constant change, agility is key. At the organisational level, this agility is what lets us innovate. For the individual, it’s about creating meaning and sharing it widely, to be effective. 

Alongside formal leadership, we need Social Leaders. 

I’m launching my Social Leadership Handbook and speaking at Learning Live, which is taking place in London on 10-11 September. The book illustrates a nine step curriculum for the development of Social Leaders, looking at how they built narratives, drive engagement and use technology to do that. It’s about how they become effective collaborators, great social leaders.

© Julian Stodd 2014

Join us to discuss and share ideas on Thursday, 4 September for #chat2lrn at 8am PDT, 11am EDT, 4pm BST.