Over the past 20 years, innovation in the e-learning industry has been staggering. Rapidly innovating technology has eliminated the majority of frustrations associated with legacy learning management systems (LMSs) by focusing on the evolving needs of the consumer. That consumer is also evolving – both HR/L&D professionals and the modern workforce. What an exciting time to be in this industry!

Hats off to those early adopters of e-learning. They understood that the use of technology for training could be cost-effective, offer flexibility and appeal to their learners. What they found in actuality was that the systems couldn’t handle audio/video content, and the user interface was quickly outdated. Systems struggled to integrate with others, the platforms weren’t mobile, and tracking and reporting weren’t what they needed. Early adopters morphed into fair-weathered fans and began to doubt their investment. The word spread, and e-learning was no longer the solution “de jour.” It became widely accepted that older LMS platforms were succeeding at managing compliance but nothing else.

Today’s learning platforms creatively look for ways to brand themselves as anything but an LMS to distance themselves from the negative connotation of the term. In reality, these platforms are precisely the learning management systems that those early adopters first dreamed of. They offer microlearning, just-in-time learning, powerful analytics, advanced built-in content creation and the ability to convert old content into engaging courses for the modern learner.

Today’s cloud-based learning platforms provide a way for L&D professionals to quickly create learning for a variety of learning preferences. Courses go beyond delivering knowledge and allow learners to apply what they’ve learned and then to prove mastery. Organizations can create simulations to reduce expensive or dangerous errors and empower confidence in team members. Gamification can increase engagement and healthy, productive competition (and provide valuable recognition and rewards). Collaborative learning also has a positive impact on user satisfaction; interactions among learners, trainers and peers are essential.

Most importantly, personalization and personalized learning are now possible. This individualized learning, designed to meet individual needs and interests, is highly valued by modern learners. It’s all about choice – where, what, when and even how. Even better, it can provide a path to career advancement, which is motivating for employees and leads to cost-saving retention for organizations.

What was once impossible is not only possible but now successfully in use, with the most significant opportunities in specialty industries. Companies are now training pilots without risk to their lives or expensive machines. NFL players can practice plays before hitting the field. Chemists can combine elements in a safe environment. Competitors in the show horse industry can practice “in the arena” in front of judges. First-time employees can confidently master the point of sale system before facing a customer. Medical professionals hone their skills online instead of “on mom.” Students challenged with visual learning will discover alternatives, and thousands can pursue degrees or certifications they never thought possible. Why not prove competence on a new machine before buying it, or role-play an important sales call and problem-solve the potential results?

Now is an exciting time to work in e-learning. Authoring is built-in, reporting is sophisticated and highly valued, assessments are varied and provide immediate feedback, mobile apps are included, and so are gamified elements and some form of virtual experience. The time is right for users, too! Dissatisfaction with early LMSs was based, in part, on feedback from users. The workforce of 20 years ago had a higher percentage of people who were uncomfortable with online learning and computers in general. The modern workforce (digital natives) are not only comfortable, but they also have high expectations regarding user experience. They will set the bar that current LMS and LMS hybrids will innovate to reach.

In this continually changing e-learning environment, the responsibility for delivering an organization’s most valuable asset – its combined knowledge – is great. Through technology, however, the opportunities are limitless.

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