I constantly hear people (across many organizations) complain about their learning management system (LMS). They complain that their LMS has a terrible interface that is nearly unusable. Upgrades are difficult and cumbersome. Their employees’ data is locked in to a proprietary system. Users hate the system. It’s ugly. (Did I miss anything?) I think LMSs may have jumped the shark.
If LMSs are going to survive, they’ll need to change drastically. We’ve recently seen LMSs shift to include more functionality, such as wikis, blogs, social networking, etc. I think they’re heading in the wrong direction. I don’t really understand why LMS vendors are now thinking they need to build in every possible 2.0 tool. If I want a great blogging platform, I’m going to download WordPress (it’s free and has a huge support community). If I want a great wiki platform, I’m going to download MediaWiki or DokuWiki (also free and they have huge support communities). And when it comes to social networking, as a co-worker put it, “Do they really think I’m going to create a ‘friends’ list in the LMS? Seriously?”
Maybe LMS vendors are taking advantage of the people/organizations who don’t have the technical resources to install these free open-source systems on their own. I think it’s a big problem; by using these tools within the LMS, people are now locking even more data into a closed system. One of the few LMS add-ons that I think may have merit would be a talent management module, mainly because it could integrate well with the data in an LMS. That seems like a good fit to me.
Instead of adding all this new functionality, LMS vendors should concentrate on better connecting and integrating with open standards and technologies. User data should be 100% portable. RSS feeds should be available both ways: people should be able to subscribe to a feed to monitor when new resources are added in the LMS, and the LMS should be able to import and act on data fed to it. The systems and the data should be mashable. The LMS will need to become one of the building blocks within the enterprise, rather than remain as a standalone system that doesn’t play well with others.
I don’t mean to sound pessimistic; I’ve made a good living in the world of learning and technology working with LMSs. I think I’m most frustrated because other areas of software and technology seem to have progressed at a much more rapid pace in terms of usability and flexibility. I believe there is a future for the LMS, but only for the vendors who are able to see the changes on the horizon and adapt before it’s too late.
B.J. is the Founding Editor of eLearning Weekly and has contributed more than 150 articles. He works in elearning at Qualcomm, focusing on mobile learning.