Does the LMS have a future?

Does the Learning Management System (LMS) have a future?

In a way, this is a non-question. As a commercial proposition, the LMS has never been more successful. Bersin by Deloitte predicts a 10% growth in LMS spending in 2013, with the global market reaching $1.9 billion this year. And Wall Street thinks it’s a hot market, too, with heated M&A activity over the past 12 months for often eye-watering sums: Oracle-Taleo ($1.9bn), SAP-SuccessFactors ($3.4bn), IBM-Kenexa ($1.3bn).

That’s right. Three acquisitions of single LMS providers totalling roughly three-and-a-half times the market’s total forecast global value. Clearly the money men reckon the future of the LMS is not merely secure, it’s golden bright.

In another, perhaps more fundamental way, however, the question is still unanswered.

The question is this: can the LMS survive in a world where workplace learning is about more than taking prescribed courses, a world where much learning comes via our interactions with others?

I have reflected on this since being a guest recently at the Saba Software annual user conference, People 2013. This event is also known as the Saba Global Summit but that headline name – People 2013 – is the key to this question of the future of the LMS. People are indeed what learning is all about. It’s only in the past few years that technology has been able to begin to catch up with this truth, thanks to the power of social networking over the internet.

Saba – one of the first players in the enterprise-wide LMS space, with 31m users, and still an independent, listed company – understands that systems can do a lot more than just push out compliance training. People 2013 was its opportunity to unveil a radical re-iteration of its platform: Saba PeopleCloud.

Clive Shepherd has already blogged about Saba PeopleCloud, examining whether it can meet the needs of modern enterprise learning that he laid out in The New Learning Architect. Does it support learning across his four contexts of the formal, non-formal, on-demand and experiential?

Clive’s assessment is positive, and from what I’ve seen of the LMS, I would agree that the move is absolutely right. With Saba PeopleCloud, Saba has produced a SaaS platform that can support the learning experience rather dictating it. It has – among other things – a genuine social focus and mobile delivery capability.

But I use that phrase “can support the learning experience rather dictating it” deliberately. The devil in any system is in its implementation. By this I don’t mean I think the technology suspect. I think Saba PeopleCloud can probably meet its claims in practice. The real question is how it will be put to use.

Like any LMS, Saba PeopleCloud can be used solely to deliver courses. There is nothing wrong with this, but if it is the only thing we do in L&D, then we are not doing ourselves or our organisations justice And – importantly – if we choose to use our learning systems in this way, it is not the fault of the systems. It is a choice we have made. And frankly, if we make this choice, then neither the LMS nor L&D has much of a future.

I explore this point further in a future post, when I consider what the three letters LMS mean to the L&D profession.

[Disclosure: Saba paid my expenses for attending the conference, but no fee. The company did not view this blog before posting, and did not ask to. Saba is a sponsor of the Learning and Skills Group, which I chair.]

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6 responses to “Does the LMS have a future?

  1. I like the disclosure part, but it would have made sense putting ‘advertorial’ above this text as well ;-). I agree that the LMS has a bright future, since formal learning (and event prescribed formal learning) remains part of L&D in organisations and most LMS vendors are serious about improved integration of social / informal learning as well. Although it is almost contradictory to management, I see some good initiatives towards this integration. Saba is one example, but also other independent vendors like SumTotal and Cornerstone embrace this development with their Social Learning / Collaboration functionality.

    • Hi Daan – just to be clear ‘Advertorial’ is editorial that has been paid for. As I said, this was neither paid for nor vetted. On the other hand, thank you for mentioning some other organisations doing good work in this field. Cornerstone OnDemand is doing well, and SumTotal I believe has been rather overlooked recently. They both remain, as you say, independent. That isn’t to take away from big-name acquirees Taleo and SuccessFactors. They may be part of larger organisations now, but I still like what I’ve seen of their software. The same applies to Certpoint Systems, currently between announcement and actual acquisition by Infor.

      And I should add that I’m only mentioning companies here that I’m reasonably familiar with. Exclusion from this list does not imply inadequacy, nor does inclusion imply an endorsement.

      [And I hope this rather long-winded reply, hedged about with the inevitable caveats, makes it clear why I decided not to include a semi-formed list of LMS providers in the original blog post, but just stick with the one that had kicked off the thinking in the first place.]

  2. Don, you’re right that implementing an LMS well means using it to meet your business goals not simply to deliver the bare minimum expected from the learning and development department. The problem is that those expectations are generally quite low. We should be using learning technologies of all sorts (including those within in the LMS) to extend what L&D can do and raise its profile and impact.

  3. Pingback: What does ‘LMS’ mean today? | Donald H Taylor

  4. I landed here because I was wondering if there was any website or blog that could give the REAL deal on Saba LMS. I worry this company is a bubble ready to burst.
    It has been pretty horrible to go from all the promises on Saba’s customer support and compatibility with broad range of browsers, to discover in actuality, they are put much more effort and money into marketing themselves to the financial world than they do to keeping up with browser updates and the major course authoring software. They are not a leaders in SCORM, AICC, or 508 compliance. They do not show care in maintaining current customer satisfaction. Their support unit is woefully understaffed. For example, their own authoring software doesn’t allow playing in Firefox or the new Chrome or IE10. There have been ticket request for the Firefox issue that are a year old.
    I think this lack of attention to the basics (yes, old school courses) is going to hinder their reputation among the customer base. They certainly can’t expand into the academic world or small businesses since those groups are low-budget.

    • I agree completely. They sound like used car salesman and want to suck you dry. We were a SABA’s customer and had horrible experience with this company!

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