David Wilkins, a technology evangelist at Learn.com, recently published a blog post I thought worthwhile. A Defense of the LMS (and a case for the future of Social Learning) hits several nails on the head, including the ideas that (1) it is without a doubt easier to build social networking functionality into a mature enterprise system like an LMS than it is to build LMS functionality into a social networking application, and (2) LMS platforms are essential business applications in large part because compliance support is crucial, complicated and difficult.
He also makes the point that future learning cooks will want to throw everything but the kitchen sink into the mix — a shake of social, a pinch of old-school personnel records, a tablespoon of talent management, a cup of sifted reporting and repeated lashings of user generated content.
This is all true but I would add a couple of thoughts:
1) No LMS vendor is going to “own” the social networking space. Applications like Linkedin are powerful precisely because they exist outside the bounds of any one particular company. They benefit from both the power of loose connections and the fact that the service is a single, neutral place, a public commons if you will. Similarly, nobody inside a company is going to want to be on one social network for company products, another for internal “people finder” purposes and a third for learning. Nobody wants to have to be on everything and have to keep up multiple profiles. Eventually, somehow, companies will find ways to incorporate workforce enterprise systems, including learning platforms, into a more unified social landscape. This suggests access and open standards rather than yet more silo-ed reinvention of the wheel; this suggests that a semantic, enterprise version of something like OpenID on steroids (or APIs — see point #2 below) will likely be the future and that much of the effort all of us vendors are putting into building out our social services will prove (pretty quickly I’d wager) an expense of spirit in a waste of shame.
2) The LMS is not dead yet, neither is it dying. David is right on these points. The LMS as an application category is stronger and more important than ever. However, it will disappear from sight. LMS functionality will become even more ubiquitous but the LMS as an end user destination will disappear entirely. As we vendors get more sophisticated in our use of portal tool-kits and rich, persistent API libraries that call features from the LMS into other environments, clients will slice and dice LMS functions and post them wherever they want: an end user will see an icon for, let’s say, a five-minute compliance course in a compliance portal or on the homepage of a company intranet. The user will click on the icon. The course will launch. The user will get it done and move on.
In the background the LMS will have performed a real-time user authentication of some kind, registered the user for the course, launched the course, recorded the user’s results and made the user’s history available for reporting, either in the LMS or on some other system. The LMS may have also done some interruptive or interrogative verification of the user and his identity in the process. But at no point will the user ever “go” to something called an LMS.
So, to paraphrase Bill Gates who once said that the future looks bright for banking but not so good for brick and mortar banks, the future looks ever better for LMS functionality but the LMS as a specific, old-school destination — that paradigm is likely to fade away.