The learning management system (LMS) has been touted as the answer to all our corporate learning and development (L&D) woes — access, the ability to shift to self-directed learning, record keeping, compliance tracking and document storage, to name a few. However, more often than not, once implemented, L&D professionals often find a whole new set of issues — maybe this fancy new system doesn’t do many of the things the salesperson said it would, or it has some frustrating feature that can’t be turned off. Or, despite claiming it was “enterprise ready,” the platform truly can’t meet learners where they are.
In addition, despite growing evidence that many of the philosophies and practices surrounding learning are outdated, antiquated or have always been downright wrong, learning leaders use these systems in ways that perpetuate stereotypical learning environments that force feed ineffective content to frustrated learners. The result? The inequalities of our secondary and post-secondary education system continue in the corporate world. Employees who thrive with linear, visually and auditorily-presented content — traditionally neurotypical individuals of certain socioeconomic, cultural and familial educational backgrounds — get to continue to shine and get promoted. At the same time, the neurodivergent, non-native language speakers, or anyone for whom the school experience was a nightmare for any other multitude of reasons, continue to be seen as “poor/non-performers” and unworthy of promotion. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) becomes stifled in the one place it should be allowed to shine brightest — corporate training and development.
Does it have to be this way?
Just as three-ring binders, policy and procedure manuals and overhead projector slides filled file cabinets and bookshelves in years past, the LMS has become a virtual “junk drawer” of content, job aids and cringe-worthy long videos. What if we changed how we thought about learning and the experiences we wanted to deliver when making technology decisions?
Rethinking the Rules of Learning
The coronavirus pandemic ushered in 10 years of digital transformation in one year. Organizations had to rethink the nature of work rapidly. Workers who were once not considered at all have now been deemed essential. Previously office-based jobs are now being done from the comfort of one’s home. With this new (almost) post-pandemic era, what rules of learning need to be rethought when considering the technology stack for a learning organization? Here are a few:
|Move From||Move To|
|Compliance and tracking is the No. 1 business requirement the system must meet.||User experience is the No. 1 business requirement the system must meet.|
|Restricting access to content based on each employee’s job role/function/title.||Democratize learning as much as possible to foster true lifelong learning in the organization.|
|Libraries and catalogs of structured, formal content to meet every possible existing learning need.||Curated, trusted sources of content — including user-generated content — must meet learners’ learning needs throughout their careers.|
|A desktop/laptop as the primary interface between the user and the LMS.||A smartphone as the primary interface between the user and the LMS.|
With this new framework, new rules for learning regarding how we think about technology can be explored.
New Rules for Learning
Rule No. 1: The learner is at the center of everything.
Technology is powerful and can greatly impact how learning is delivered and consumed. The user experience must be a primary driver of every technology and design decision. Over the past 20 years, nearly all human knowledge has been available at our fingertips within fractions of a second. Yet, we continue to invest in “click next” learning experiences — which bear little resemblance to how our learners interact with technology today. Stop that.
Rule No. 2: Actually democratize learning.
L&D professionals and corporate leaders and executives talk a good game about wanting to promote lifelong learning career progression through training and skill development, but then erect barriers (intentionally and unintentionally). 80% of front-line workers globally are undesked, meaning they are often not given access to the tools required for learning (primarily the LMS). Additionally, many hourly workers are only given access to learning during paid work hours, which is a mixed message.
While legally- or state-mandated training can’t be required “off the clock” in many states, opening up our learning and skill development pathways to every employee, no matter their “clock” status, sends an encouraging and inclusive message. Selecting the right technologies enables this vision.
Rule No. 3: Expand the lens on content.
As content curators, training professionals must redefine what that means in today’s day and age. Extended forms of content (e.g., content libraries) aren’t going anywhere soon, but what new, trustworthy forms of content can be curated? How can learning platforms support user-generated content (a creator mode) that allows employees to share what they know with other employees? (You know they are using TikTok and reels, right?) Can the technologies being evaluated support multiple forms of learning content? Multiple user experiences? A flexible, evolving taxonomy?
Rule No. 4: Make learning inclusive and accessible to all.
Learning is the great equalizer when factors such as access, physical and/or learning disabilities, native versus non-native language skills and neurodivergence are accounted for. More than ever, employees are leaving organizations for professional development opportunities. Any L&D professional not accounting for everything listed above, who limits learning access to “work hours only,” and who is tied to antiquated content cannot point to their current LMS and/or learning environment and say, “But wait! We provide professional development!”
It’s a New World of Work
While it’s tempting to think things will return to the way they were pre-pandemic, the reality is they will not, and that’s exciting! This is an unprecedented opportunity for L&D leaders to rethink the learning technology stack and how we deliver learning to our organizations.
Today’s employees expect professional development as part of their comprehensive benefits package: Let’s not cede our responsibility of providing the best content to our employees to a search engine.