Video killed the radio star. Will it do the same to learning management systems?

Janine Milne Profile picture for user jmilne October 6, 2015
The shift to digital learning is a clarion call for big corporates and LMS vendors alike to transform their people, processes and technology, according to learning analysts Josh Bersin and Jonathan Eighteen.

There’s no question that learning is becoming a digital experience. People engage with learning all the time, every day and it’s integrated into their work life.

This shift to digital learning is changing the face of corporate learning for good and hopefully for better, according to Josh Bersin, principle and founder at human resources consultancy Bersin at Deloitte.

But it’s change that could also mean a bumpy ride for learning professionals and the learning management system (LMS) vendors that supply them, if they don’t adapt quick enough.

Learning is being consumerized. Employees want to be able to pick and choose what, when and where they learn and the format it’s presented in. To do that, they’ll use a plethora of technologies from mobile devices, apps, video or social media. And they want personalized Netflix or Amazon-style suggestions of what they might like to learn next.

Above all, learners want to be in control. If they can’t find what they want from internal training resources, then they will take matters into their own hands. As Jonathan Eighteen, who leads the Learning Solutions service at the People & Programmes at Deloitte, points out:

What you find is that even when there’s a central department, there will be people who can’t get what they want quick enough and will go out to the market to buy it.


All these pressures are leaving many corporates “struggling to meet up with the demands of employees”, suggests Bersin, because traditional LMS solutions weren’t built to cope with this new world order.

Instead, they were intended for a more formal, classroom-based training world, where their job was to track and manage the course catalogue and schedule classes, e-learning or virtual training.

While they may include internal video sharing and some knowledge management, they were not designed to help employees track down new content available somewhere on the internet. And they were not built to handle the volume of video training, which is becoming a key tool for learning. Bersin comments that video is:

Like a freight train that’s hitting training – organizations don’t understand how very important it is.

YouTube generation

Until recently, video in a learning context has been created centrally, professionally and at great expense. But now anyone can cheaply produce videos on their own. The YouTube generation are used to seeing homemade, clunky quality video on the likes of Facebook – and they don’t care that it doesn’t look professional.

The LMS market has had to reinvent itself a few times. In the 1980s it was classroom based. Then, in the 1990s and early 2000s, e-learning and virtual learning took center stage. Since then, the focus has been on integrating learning into the bigger talent management picture. But now it’s time for YouTube-style corporate learning, Bersin says:

LMS vendors have just spent the last 10 years R&D on talent management and now R&D needs to start on video. Workday has pushed that train a little harder.

Bersin is referring to the fact that Workday is making video core to Workday Learning application, enabling employees to create and share content.

This shift in emphasis doesn’t mean that the existing LMS players will disappear, believes Bersin, but it does mean they will need to reinvent themselves:

I’ve been watching this space about 20 years and big vendors don’t disappear, but the little vendors get bigger. I don’t think the big vendors are going away, but they are buying intermediate systems to sit in front of their LMS.

The market is split in two. On one side there’s the traditional LMS, doing admin stuff and on the other side what Bersin and Eighteen refer to as the learning experience software, including things such as MOOCs, recommendation engines (the personalized Amazon-style approach) and video.

There’s certainly a lot of investment going into the space. According to Bersin by Deloitte research the LMS market is worth $2.6bn and grew 20% in 2014.

Learning about learning

There are other reasons why learning is now becoming a hot topic. According to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2015 report, learning has jumped from the number eight to the number three priority.

A couple of things have collided at the same time to make that happen, notes Bersin. First, from an employee standpoint, there’s a growing awareness that they need to skill-up to keep them competitive in the market. Bersin says:

There’s a pent up demand for knowledge and need to re-skill – there’s been an explosion of content in video form and on YouTube. There’s a scramble for training going on from individuals.

The other chief reason is that the economy has picked up. And when there’s more money sloshing round the corporate piggy bank, L&D gets a bigger handout.

And corporates know that they need to ensure they have the right capabilities in-house to be competitive. As Eighteen points out:

L&D is the lever to do that and is critical to make that happen.

So there’s a lot of naval gazing going on and companies are asking themselves, 'Do we really understand it and do we really have what we want?'.The answer is often ‘no’, according to Eighteen:

Most organizations don’t have true control and understanding what’s going on around learning.

So the first step is to take a look under the hood of learning and see what’s actually there. Chances are it’s a bit of a mess, says Eighteen:

There’s a soup of technology available out there, but companies don’t know what they’ve got, so they need to get a handle on that.

And the situation is set to get worse, he points out:

Technology is changing so fast, as soon as someone learns something, it’s obsolete in 12 months, so content has got to keep up.

It’s not only the technology that needs changing; it will require learning staff with different skills sets. Training has attracted people who are teachers at heart, but their job is shifting to become the curators of learning.

Only a third to 45% of learning is happening in the classroom now, notes Bersin. L&D is no longer about arranging or giving classroom courses.

What’s required is not just commitment from heads of learning to put their house in order, but also commitment from chief finance officers (CFOs), because it’s going to take a lot of cash to clean up the mess.

There’s a lot of “scrap learning” as Bersin calls it; courses that are out of date and need to be dropped or updated. Putting the learning house in order is, Bersin admits, “a project that might take a few million dollars to do”. But it will pay dividends when the company has the processes in place to share knowledge internally effectively.

With that leadership in place and a YouTube generation LMS to back that leadership, learning platforms will be able to help people find the content they need quickly. They will access it on their mobile device whenever they want and make it easy for people both to publish and recommend content.

My take

It’s a really interesting time to be in L&D. Digital technology is really making a difference in how learning is created and shared. It’s not just a new delivery mechanism, but disrupting the way we think about learning.

And it’s not something that’s separate from our work lives, but integral. It’ accessed at the point of need, on a device that suits us rather than a scheduled course which may not.

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