Why bash the LMS?

In response to a query about why someone would question the concept of the LMS, I penned the (slightly altered, for clarity) response that follows:

What seems to me to be the need is to have a unified performer-facing environment.  It should provide access to courses when those are relevant, resources/job aids, and eCommunity tools too.  That’s what a full technology support environment should contain.  And it should be performer- and performance-centric, so I come in and find my tools ‘to hand’.  And I ‘get’ the need for compliance, and the role of courses.

So, what’re my concerns?

On principle, I want the best tool for each task.  The analogy is to the tradeoffs between a Swiss Army knife and a tool kit.  There will be orgs for which an all-singing all-dancing system make sense, as they can manage it, they can budget for it.  In general, however, I’d want the best tool for each job and a way to knit them together.  So I’d be inclined to couple an LMS with other tools, not assume I can get one that’s best in all it’s capabilities.  I’m sure you’ve seen the companies that put in some version of a capability to be able to tick it off on a feature list, but it’s a brain-dead implementation.

Also, I do worry about the DNA of the all-singing, all-dancing.  I was asked whether a social system and an LMS, each with the same features, would be equivalent. Yes, but.  It depends on the learner experience, and that could be different.  The feature list could be identical, and all the features accessible, but I’d rather have it organized around the learner’s communities and tasks rather than courses.  But even that’s not the big worry.

My big worry, both at the individual and org level: is that focusing on an LMS, and talking about an LMS, focuses on formal learning.  And history, tradition, and a bunch of other things already have made that too much the emphasis.  Yes, I’m on a crusade, not to replace formal learning, but to put it in balance with the rest.  And given all the weight tilting towards formal, I think the pressure has to be to push much harder on non-formal before we’ll get a balance.

As an aside, my take on Snake Oil is that it’s actually about the social space, not LMSs.  Everyone who can program a DB is suddenly a social media vendor.  And lots of folks who’ve used twitter and blogged a few times are suddenly social media experts. That’s the snake oil; and it’s SoMe, not LMS (it happened there, too, but that’s past).

I don’t want my colleagues who work for LMS companies to take the bashing personally; I’ve great respect for their integrity and intellect, but I want them to understand that it’s a mission.  I’m not anti-LMS, or anti-LMS vendor; I’m anti-’courses are the one true learning’, and I’m afraid that leading with the LMS is a slippery slope to that place.

LMSs are a tool, social networks are a tool.  I’m perfectly willing to believe that “the remaining LMS vendors are adding Web 2.0 / Social / Collaborative functionality into their offerings in a robust way”, but then don’t call it an LMS!  LMSs are about ‘managing’ learning, and that’s not what we want to do (nor, really, can do), nor do we want organizations thinking like that.  We want to facilitate learning.  Call them learning infrastructure platforms (you wanna give me some LIP?), or something else.

But if someone keeps leading with ‘learning management‘, I’m going to keep suggesting a different path.

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