Learning management systems (LMS), in many cases, are the bane of learning organizations. Instead of simplifying the learning process, they tend to overcomplicate it. When learning executives enter the relationship, they are filled with hope, but those hopes are quickly dashed as the LMS becomes yet another burden instead of a solution.
“People are investing in LMSs thinking this will improve their return on investment in learning, but I think that is a very questionable assumption,” said Bob Becker of Becker Multimedia, a creative services firm specializing in corporate learning. “I think learning management is very important, but the cost and the labor that are going into [it] are out of proportion to the benefits that are possible to achieve.”
Organizations can spend between five and six figures on the initial implementation of an LMS, Becker said, but satisfaction results are low: At least three out of five LMS customers have not had an exceptional experience. So why does virtually every learning organization have one?
“There really is no other way to administer a large curriculum to a dispersed population. You can’t do it manually with a tablet and pencil. You need an LMS,” Becker said. “The need is real, [but] the appraisal or assessment of the need by LMS vendors is sometimes imprecise or exaggerated, and the promises made to users of LMS [tend] to be overstated.”
With LMSs, bigger is not always better. In fact, Becker advocates for a simpler, more straightforward approach.
“LMS tends to become a problem when the needs are inflated and the system becomes too complicated and too ambitious to deliver on its promises,” he explained. “Organizations that are conservative and critical about their learning management strategy can do it well and spend very little money getting it done. We’re doing an LMS implementation now for a very large company, and we are doing it very simply, very straightforwardly and very inexpensively. So we know it can be done and others are doing the same.”
One obstacle to a successful LMS is integration. Trying to get your LMS to interface with a number of other applications can present problems, Becker said. Additionally, an LMS can impose certain standards on an instructional system. Typically, when an LMS is installed, everything has to conform to it. This can be difficult when involving different departments, different people and different vendors that like to do things their own way.
“It’s a little bit like herding calves,” he said. “Trying to get everybody to comply with and conform [to] the standards of your learning management approach can be an obstacle. It’s so easy to get too fancy with LMS and try to make it do more than what is reasonable to expect from it. I believe that using it for fewer things and making it a relatively modest, straightforward and simple solution is one way to avoid that complexity.”
If learning executives go with a simpler LMS, they will spend less on it, making it easier to attain a return on investment.
“If you keep your cost very low getting into LMS, you will more than achieve your return on investment in a very short period of time,” Becker said. “If I’m not spending $250,000 on an LMS but instead $25,000, I’ve got a lot less to do to make up that expenditure.”