Rethinking Learning Management Systems

Rethinking Learning Management Systems

In my decade long career in technology-enabled learning, I have spent a lot of time using, managing or implementing learning management systems (LMS). I first used them as a student – we used Blackboard at Grad School and then at each of the companies I worked at – GreenPoint (Docent & SumTotal), Bechtel Corporation(SumTotal & SuccessFactors) and now at LinkedIn (Cornerstone On Demand). At some point right after Grad school, I even designed an online course on how to use a feature in an LMS (Plateau) (Now that just doesn’t sound right- a course on the LMS on how to use an LMS!)

Everyone in corporate education complains about their LMS – in fact my favorite quote about LMSs is from someone I met years back who said he selected the LMS for his company because he hated this particular LMS the least and liked the people representing this vendor the most. But I know this is harsh particularly for all the smart people I have met who work for these LMS companies.

So what’s going on here?

In my opinion, the issue with most of these systems (and many other enterprise systems like CRM, ERP etc.) is that they eventually become so feature rich (ok- so bloated) that often these complex features designed to serve a few, start impacting the very basic features that every user needs to use these systems. Very simple transactions that users perform effortlessly elsewhere, in other content consumption platforms like Websites, Blogs, or YouTube, become mired in complexity in an LMS. A few examples – multiple steps to launch online courses (which after all that effort typically load in a pop-up window that the users browser suppresses.), the inability to launch content on mobile browsers from an email deep link or completing a course evaluation right after taking a learning event. The ‘friction’ in these experiences is not solely the fault of LMS vendors who design these systems – requirements from compliance training and certification organizations dominate how these systems are designed (features such as five-step training approvals and sign-off requirements). These requirements seem to consume most of the time that product teams at LMS companies spend their time on.

But I believe the tide is turning – in the past 2 years, I have attended two conferences hosted by two large LMS vendors and I am heartened by the focus on user experience & user interface design during their CEO keynotes and product demos. Of course these vendors are not starting from scratch so they have to craft an elegant user experience over a system that is already being used by millions of users and a software stack that was written years back. But as these vendors do these makeovers and as new entrants come to this already crowded market, I’d like to propose a simple conceptual framework to think about these systems:

Be Invisible and Frictionless
LMSs should be invisible – users should be able to get to the content they need to get to gain proficiency or mastery without encountering any friction – login windows, register buttons, pop-ups – Is their team intranet or the product they are using the most natural setting for them to need training – let them launch content from that location. Let them launch a webinar directly from the confirmation email or the calendar invite.

Be Visible and add Value
LMS should be visible only when they add value – Course landing pages that explain why users need to take the courses they’ve been assigned (MOOCs do a really good job with this), how much progress have they made towards completing an assigned curriculum, what are others saying about the course or what other courses should they take if they indicated that they liked the one they just completed. Even well-designed easy-to-print transcripts that they can print and mail to their licensure organization.

I am eager to hear what others (particularly those who like me spend a good portion of their time managing an LMS) think of this framework – what features would you want to make invisible or how would you improve a feature that’s currently visible? So chime in – Maybe a few product managers from your ‘favorite’ LMS vendor are reading this post!


There’s a lesson here for IDs…

I laughed out loud at this video. I am sure I have done this to some courses I’ve developed. I’ve certainly received slide decks from SMEs that are similar to the final design of the package.

p.s. This is an old internal video created by Microsoft’s own packaging team as a humorous look at branding and packaging issues for marketers.

via MacRumors


Boots On The Ground: Introducing A Community of Practice at Bechtel

Boots On The Ground: Introducing A Community of Practice at Bechtel

My colleague Paul and I wrote an article for the Learning Solutions Magazine about building a community of practice at our company. Here’s a summary:

In this article, the authors, members of the Global Learning and Development team at Bechtel, a global engineering and construction firm, give a detailed account of building an online community of practice geared to help field professionals share knowledge and insights gained at the project sites with each other. A key point they attempt to make in this article is that with the right game plan, it IS possible to start and nurture informal learning communities even in organizations where management has not explicitly embraced the value of social learning and networking.

Find the full article here. (eLearning Guild membership required.)

Six Word Summaries

Six Word Summaries

I really enjoyed this Sebastian Wernicke TEDx Talk about how he approached the task of summarizing each TEDTalk to six words.

Now wouldn’t it be fun to summarize every piece of content we consume in to six word summaries.  Or how about starting with summarizing all the content you create…online courses, white papers, even e-mails? It also might be interesting to ask each learner to create their own summaries of each courses and posting them for all learners to see.

Instructional design advice from Orwell

Instructional design advice from Orwell

My colleague Paul Drexler, a man of many many talents, has been working on improving some eLearning courses and shared some sage advice from Orwell via e-mail.

“I’ve been struggling to organize my thoughts on making these courses better.  This morning an essay came to me which brilliantly describes and sums up some of these thoughts.  I refer to Politics and the English Languagean essay by George Orwell, author of Animal Farm and 1984.  I read this my college Freshman year and it made a deep and lasting impression.  If we followed Orwell’s suggestions alone we would greatly improve our courses.”

If you want just  the take away points, read Orwell’s summary below:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
mLearnCon 2011: Our impressions

mLearnCon 2011: Our impressions

My colleague Paul & I attended a mobile learning conference in San Jose last week. We interviewed each other to record our impressions of the conference while it was still fresh in our memory. See it here: 

p.s. We made the video in a hurry so some details are missing from the video or are incorrect.

1. Jeremiah Owyang Keynote slides are here: (And my last name isn’t Johnson, so I shouldnt comment on someone’s last name.)

2. A brilliant young chap by the name of John Park co-presented with Alison Rossett. to their presentation here:

3. NexLearn doesn’t just sell SimWriter but they build custom sims. And Brandon Andrews, the presenter at the session I attended is THE expert to learn how to write simulations from.

Make it simple!

Make it simple!

This week I heard a NPR Planet Money Podcast that’s probably the best piece on Instructional Design that I’ve come across in a long time. I think it’s very relevant because a majority of e-learning designers write courses for regulatory or technical compliance and we often work with SMEs whose viewpoint on the subject matter to be taught resembles the view of the attorney in the piece who thinks every line of the credit card agreement is important and that every one who receives such a notice should read it (like she does!)

I encourage all my designer colleagues to give this podcast a listen (click here)! Not only is the content excellent but the podcast uses humor so well to make its point.