We stand at a technological turning point when it comes to learning and development (L&D). Though L&D may not be the flashiest of topics compared to creating shiny new products, it has risen sharply in priority worldwide. According to the 2017 Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report, the issue of improving employee careers and transforming corporate learning was rated “important” by 83% of executives, and “urgent” by 45%. Millennials are particularly hungry for knowledge. They cite “the ability to learn and progress” as a top driver of their employer brand perception. This makes perfect sense in an era when skills now have shorter useful lifespans. Software engineers, for example, must work on new skills every 12-18 months. So how do we keep our workforce continually learning and engaged?
Enter the LMS
Over the past two decades, L&D professionals have used category of tech called Learning Management System(s) or LMS as their education platform. At its core, an LMS is software (usually web-based) which tracks, reports, documents, and provides learning programs. It might do things like delivering study materials, track progress of participants in a course, administer evaluations, etc.
The LMS market is now estimated to be around $4 to $4.5 billion in total value from products and services, yet, these solutions might soon be edged out of the lead spot. When LMS platforms were developed initially they were based on existing higher education models with defined courses, instructor-led learning, and so on. Adopting them was the next logical step for HR and L&D professionals needing to track the employee training experience of formal e-learning more effectively and document compliance. During this time, feedback systems also arose to measure the employee experience of learning initiatives, but they weren’t particularly robust—think of short feedback forms administered directly after a course.
Times have continued to change though: We’ve already witnessed a major shift at the beginning of the millennium from CD ROMs to online coursework, and then in the last few years to short form videos and micro learning content. Each shift has brought innovation and a tide of vendors to the market.
Rise of the X-API
Most LMS products were built on a protocol called SCORM, which was made to track completion of activities in classroom or e-learning courses. Yet learning clearly doesn’t only happen in these venues, so X-API (also known as the Experience or Tin Can API) emerged so that L&D professionals could try and keep up with many other types of learning.
The X-API specification allows L&D professionals to create a detailed picture of what tools and activities employees are using to learn. Essentially it enables multiple content and learning systems to communicate, and store a rich amount of data on the employee learning experience online and offline. This means it can encompass not just an online learning course, but things like workshops, and mobile content. The learning “actions” are recorded to a “Learning Record Store” which can be mined for sophisticated insights into the learning experience and process.
Companies that specialize in LMS tracking (Lessonly, Bridge, Moodle, Blackboard, CANVAS, etc.) are continuing to hold their share of the market, but have been struggling to adapt and remain competitive in the face of this new protocol. Whereas SCORM required an LMS, X-API does not and captures a much broader perspective on learning. This is particularly important, because we currently use a plethora of different activities and types of content to learn.
Fitting Learning In
As the technology of learning has evolved, so has the way we get information at work. Unfortunately, we seem to be in a place of feeling overwhelmed without the productivity yet to show for it. The average US worker now spends 25% of their day answering emails, works 47 hours per week, takes a week less vacation than they would in 1990, and only finds about 25 minutes per week to slow down and actually learn. We have time to watch short form videos and check our phones, but finding the time to embark on deep learning is more challenging than ever.
Right now, we are typically combining micro and macro learning materials. Micro learning is the category of information that can be consumed in a few minutes: Short form video, blog posts, questionnaires, and all of those other pieces of content we constantly circulate on social media. If one wants to delve deeply into a skill or subject there are macro-learning resources available. These range from online courses in SEO or cyber-security to MOOC (series of small videos)and even interactive content.
These materials work together well, as employees have different needs at different times. A person beginning in a new role might need the macro format to dig through a lot of information in an organized fashion, whereas someone who has been in a role for a few years might find a short video featuring a new way of using a particular software more useful.
The Future of Learning Experience Tracking
What does the future of learning look like if it doesn’t center on the LMS model? The current CLO of IBM, Guillermo Miranda, thinks that learning systems will follow in the footsteps of digital marketing. They will incorporate many types of content, monitor details of interactions, and use intelligent algorithms to place the most relevant content in front of individuals at the right time. In short, the learning experience is going to become much more personalized.
A new breed of vendors is on the rise offering what some call “learning experience systems,” which curate and deliver content much like customized magazine. They use machine learning from in-depth analysis of job skills to make better suggestions, and adapt to employees whose job roles are constantly in flux. IBM itself is already experimenting in its existing learning platform with using AI and machine learning to provide a tailored experience. Instead of simply creating courses for employees to check off their list, IBM is leveraging technology to enhance each employee’s individual learning experience and help them improve their performance.
For L&D professionals, this means getting cozy with engineers and designing an experience for employees using lots of rich insights. Though it’s a substantial shift, this change rests on the same basic HR principles professionals have always followed. There may be more vendors and tools to choose from, but this remains a human-centered process. In fact, these sophisticated systems can aid in retention by making workers feel their needs are met, and even retrain those whose jobs might be cut for other roles. Though the task to adapting to changes in technology can be daunting, L&D professionals have everything to gain by exploring new options and building a fresh L&D strategy which stands out as a business driver.