How do you react to the words ‘Learning Management System’?

Today we had a great webinar for the Learning and Skills Group. I host 30-40 of these each year, and we always invite a lot of audience participation, usually by asking questions.

Today’s event was delivered by Paul Morton of CrossKnowledge who began with a provocative question to the 100 or so learning professionals present:

How do you react to the words ‘Learning Management System’?

Not everyone responded – that never happens – but over a third those present did, a very high proportion. And what they had to say wasn’t flattering to the Learning Management System (LMS). Here’s the text chat from the session, with individuals’ names removed:

Administrative Overhead
slow, creaky, hard to get into
I would like one for a starter!
Total headache!
Thats my job
Learners, learning modules, and assessments
it makes me fell cold
It pays my mortgage
90s usability
control by trainer, admin,
web 1.0 concepts.
delivery of e-learning and tracking completions
Just something you need
Old fashioned and too slow – not immediate enough for learners
structured, formal approach to learning
Sounds like a supplier’s (teacher’s) word, not a clients (learner’s) term
good for tracking and reporting
Huge amount of untapped potential
reflect what companies/schools want – control. Not learner driven
great potential but delivery disappointing
My customers like them because they track, record and report for compliance purposes.
Also a critical part of our multi $m learning business
untapped potential
its not necessarily the LMS but the 90’s approach to it
Too Bl***dy Expensive (if you want all the bells and whistles)
Needs to go.
better than no system at all – but need to move forward
not fit for purpose
Good for the overall enterprise re reporting but not a great experience for the learner

Remember, this wasn’t a zealously anti-LMS crowd. By and large they were familiar with these systems, and used them daily. That’s what makes this list of pejorative adjectives so worrying.

I’ve long said that LMSs are constrained mostly not by their native functionality. For me, the two comments that stand out are:

untapped potential
its not necessarily the LMS but the 90’s approach to it

It seems we could definitely get more out of our corporate investments in LMSs. Do you agree? What’s your reaction to the words ‘Learning Management System’?


22 responses to “How do you react to the words ‘Learning Management System’?

  1. Sadly I missed the webinar but I see it was about shifting from an LMS to a Learning Experience System (LES) along the lines of Tin Can and the Experience API (xAPI). The old school LMS however is symptomatic of an organisational culture where we tell people what they need to learn and then check that they have ‘learnt’ it. Only when we allow learner’s more autonomy will we be able to take full advantage of an LES.

    • John – thanks for the comment, and I take your point about the old-school approach to corporate learning. My question is this: the LMS is often made the villain of the piece. Is that fair? I’ve seen plenty of places where LMSs have been imaginatively implemented to good learning effect.

  2. LMS monitor only explicit knowledge, and these days tacit knowledge rules.

    • I agree but as ‘teachers’ our role is to make some sense of all that tacit knowledge and re-package it as explicit knowledge for those new it all. Of course facilitating tacit knowledge sharing between individuals should also be encouraged but having spent many years as a KM practitioner it’s easier said than done and the results are often messy in the extreme. Still I am a believer in the wisdom of crowds and would welcome a much more guerilla approach to organisational learning.

    • Tacit knowledge does indeed rule, Jay, so we need to use the right tools and methods for sharing that. However, explicit knowledge still needs to be shared, and that’s still the job of L&D, so we need the tools to do it, whatever they are.

  3. Ironically, the reason I missed this today is because I got caught up in some project work I am doing with our provider to update our LMS. I have been questioning its existence for some time, wondering if Nirvana would the shift to a tin can platform etc but by pushing the boundaries a little we are going to shift the current platform to a more personalised set up. As I looked into options and discussed with our supplier, the more I could see that we could actually do the things we wanted without the pain of relocating 4500 users. The LMS gets a bad rap. In my opinion it’s not flawed, just how we want to use it.

  4. P.S, by doing this. I can sign off on a social platform for our graduate intakes and Alumni…….okay so my LMS can’t do everything I need 🙂

  5. Clearly some LMS’ are better than others. Moodle for example can be used much more imaginatively than something like NetDimensions (at least from the perspective of the learning designer). The real issue I have with LMS’s though is their focus on the MS (the management system) rather than on the L (learning). In one client I am working with L&D have to go through enormous hurdles simply to get a SCORM onto the system. They then have big issues allocating the course to specific internal groups. Also most LMS’ are very SCORM focused – need to upload a video or start a learning discussion? Forget it! (Moodle scores well here). Finally LMS’s look awful and generally have a dreadful UI and poor UX. Things are changing but there’s still a lot of expensive systems out there that serve 21st century learners very poorly.

  6. I’ve spent the last month evaluating LMS systems for extended enterprise suitability and 13 years selling LMS solutions. I wrote 11 reviews so far and you can see them at Many of the new LMS solutions are really exciting and user driven like ExpertusONE, TOPYX and Absorb for example all have engaging social, mobile, gamification and other fun features. I agree the old school LMS are really boring and admin driven.

  7. I agree with the “90’s approach” as well. The LMS is a tool and the functionality varies greatly depending on which LMS you use. So it’s how you use the LMS.

    Another interesting question is “how would employees of your company react to the word ‘Learning Management System” (or whatever name you use for the LMS within your company)?

    As somebody has commented “Good for the overall enterprise re reporting but not a great experience for the learner.” Not a great experience is something I hear often which results in avoiding the LMS.

  8. As a next-gen LMS vendor, our feedback may not be welcome — but we’ll take a risk and speak up! This isn’t a product pitch. It’s a plea for constructive collaboration with the learning community.

    We appreciate both sides of this issue, because we were founded in 1998 when we saw that organizations needed help to implement + customize their LMSs. Eventually, after years of painful hands-on LMS support, we reached the conclusion that legacy platforms needed a radical rethink, and we applied what we had learned through the years to develop ExpertusONE LMS. (Yes, we embraced the “old school” lexicon because people continually used that shorthand to describe the platform when it was launched.)

    If you follow our blog, you know our design + development philosophy focuses on learners first. But that doesn’t mean we assume an LMS should “do it all.” That’s not the nature of enterprise applications of any type. It’s also not a realistic expectation in today’s fluid social workplace. What matters is how well our functionality FITS IN with an expanding mix of learning modalities, digital apps and content resources — while remaining effective in supporting core business requirements for training and HR organizations.

    That’s not easy — but it’s a valid goal. We welcome input to improve and simplify the learning experience, while simultaneously providing the level of flexibility and integration companies seek on the administrative side.

    Regardless of the terminology and semantics associated with L&D (and the tools that support it), we hope the learning community will work hand-in-hand with all technology vendors to fulfill our common mission.

    I’m sure we speak on behalf of many other next-gen vendors — our eyes, ears and minds are open. Our customers share their challenges and innovative ideas with us. We hope other learning practitioners will, as well. We’re excited to continue an open dialogue, for the benefit of all.

  9. Thanks for the comment! I’m sorry if it might have seemed to have a been a ‘risk’ to speak out, as you say. It shouldn’t. If vendors and buyers of software are at odds then the L&D community won’t progress.

    I think your experience is reflected by many vendors. Most that I know have completely re-tooled their platforms to be far more sophisticated than the simple elearning course delivery system of 15 years ago, and I have seen these LMSs used to great effect. Yet still, the LMS is widely perceived negatively – largely, I believe, because of a mis-match of expectation and experience.

    My experience of LMSs and learning technologies in general have led me to these two conclusions:

    1) Usage trumps functionality. A great platform can be under-utilized for a range of reasons. Most tools, including LMS, are not used as effectively as they could be, usually because organisational cultures won’t allow it. At the same time, we have all seen simple tools used imaginatively and have a tremendous impact.

    The difference between these two is that we’re usually delighted that a simple tool can do something, and disappointed that an LMS doesn’t do everything, which leads me onto my second conclusion:

    2) No tool can do everything, but every tool can do something. Use them for what they can do. Don’t expect them to do what they can’t. Tools deliberately chosen to serve the various learning aims of an organisation always work better than the same tools bought in the hope that they will solve all learning needs.

    • Thanks Donald, for sparking this discussion, and others for sharing unvarnished opinions. Although sometimes it may seem that “it’s all been said” on the subject of LMS platforms — we find that conversations with those who inhabit the complex space between technology, content, workplace context and learners often expose issues in ways we haven’t considered. The LMS innovation adventure continues…

  10. My biggest bugbear with LMS is that I think they’re measuring the wrong things.

    We’ve a culture in L&D of justifying our role based on what we do, our effort and our production. As a result we have a tendency to measure inputs – presence, reaction, quality, timing, structure. When we attempt to measure outputs these are too low level in many cases, especially through simple testing.

    We go to vendors to find more efficient ways to measure these things, and vendors are simply being more creative in measuring these inputs; Learning Record Stores in the xAPL are a case in point.

    Where are we measuring long term outcomes? Where are we linking implicit knowledge (as Jay suggests) to learning and performance?

    Thanks for prompting the conversation Don.

    • Good point Andrew, but here’s a short thought: the LMS provides the data, but we do the measuring.

      In other words, how much is the fault ours for using the LMS data if we don’t think it tells us anything useful? Of course the reality is we do, because it’s there, there’s a lot of it, and it’s credible. It just – as you say – tends to measure the wrong things.

      You raise the right question: where are we with measuring outcomes? The answer is, usually, nowhere. Yet it is, as you and Jay suggest, the right question – and the much tougher question – to answer. Perhaps its very difficulty is why it’s so much easier to turn to the LMS activity data.

  11. A thought provoking piece, thank you.

    To declare some interests, I am a learner, a consumer of multiple LMS. I am also a content provider for our own organisation’s in-house LMS, an arcane early version of Moodle.

    My reaction to the term LMS is to visualise a deep chasm below a high cliff.

    On the high ground above are my experiences as a personal learner with Coursera and professional one with Virtual College. Mostly the grass is green. Occasionally I can stumble on a rough edge or crack and get too close to the edge, but these providers are quick to help me back up.

    Down in the chasm however vegetation does not grow, there is no natural light. There’s been stuff dumped down here for ages. If it wasn’t tat, it might do for an antique shop. Two essential courses to me (one for research and the other for health Informatics) are here. Periodically the stagnant air is pierced, as an angry voice screams through a megaphone that I still have not completed these courses, sometimes it issues threat. My organisations in-house LMS is here too. It has the shape, size and look of a broken twin-tub washing machine. The controls come with no instructions , but its okay since they don’t work anyway.

    Does that help?

  12. mustardseedtraining

    Hello donaldhtaylor,

    Thank you for sharing this post ,LMS Learning Management Systems is a learning suite of lms programming important to prepare workers throughout onboarding and create representative abilities…

  13. Hi Mustard Seed – I’ve removed the two (!) links to your site that you added to this comment because it looked like link spam. In fact, I still think it looks like link spam rather than an addition to our conversation about LMSs. I normally delete and block when I receive such comments; please let me know if you’d like me to delete it, or if you’re happy for it to stand. I don’t believe it shows your company (which may be a very good one for all I know) in a positive light.

  14. swelldiabetes, very funny

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