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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

LMS and Social Learning

As a follow on to the discussion of social learning and formal learning in Long Live … great post by BJ Schone - Have LMSs Jumped The Shark?

I constantly hear people (across many organizations) complain about their learning management system (LMS). They complain that their LMS has a terrible interface that is nearly unusable. Upgrades are difficult and cumbersome. Their employees’ data is locked in to a proprietary system. Users hate the system. It’s ugly. (Did I miss anything?)

We’ve recently seen LMSs shift to include more functionality, such as wikis, blogs, social networking, etc. I think they’re heading in the wrong direction. I don’t really understand why LMS vendors are now thinking they need to build in every possible 2.0 tool. If I want a great blogging platform, I’m going to download WordPress (it’s free and has a huge support community). If I want a great wiki platform, I’m going to download MediaWiki or DokuWiki (also free and they have huge support communities). And when it comes to social networking, as a co-worker put it, “Do they really think I’m going to create a ‘friends’ list in the LMS? Seriously?”


I've wondered the same thing. Mzinga seems to have jumped out early with a strong social platform that also has an LMS capability. But there does seem to be a difference between what you expect with an LMS and what you expect from your social learning / work platform. Dave Wilkins from Mzinga talks about the two models of social learning as depicted by the diagram on the right.

There's social learning wrapped around the formal learning resources. He calls it the Amazon model with the learning being like a book. Lots of stuff wrapped around the book on Amazon. Then there's a model when the community is first and foremost and the formal learning is part of this overall model.

BJ's point is that trying to get people to spend enough time in the LMS so that you have a vibrant social learning community is problematic. We will see some level of social interaction going along with a formal learning event. But you really are much more likely to success when the social tools are the same tools that will exist beyond the formal learning. And I don't think that many of us expect our LMS vendor to provide the solution that organizations will adopt more broadly.

Thus, the question …

Why aren't the LMS vendors looking at deeper integration with other offerings?

In some ways they are. SharePoint and LMS seems to be a more common discussion:

Likely this is the beginning of a wave of this kind of approach.


Jon Aleckson said...

Add to the wordpress and media wiki sentence: open source--Moodle for learner tracking and reporting.

Mike H said...

The reason why LMS vendors are adding more social tools is because technology departments in high schools are asking them too. Technology departments HATE having to unblock wordpress, twitter, youtube, wikispaces, and other social tools and would rather have everything under one roof. To them, it's about convenience rather than understanding how Web 2.0 stuff works.

Anonymous said...

Hey Tony,

Thanks for the reference. At the end of the day, what we're trying to do is provide flexibility to give learning organizations a path forward. While we think the ultimate right answer is a community model that includes formal learning, not everyone is there yet. Some people have to socialize informal learning approaches in the models they already have.

And even in a Community learning model, you may want to provide learning object-specific social media to provide places for people to discuss learning or network around courses they might be taking.

As to the Sharepoint thing, we're just not as enamored of it. For starters, we offer a competitive solution... ; ) But even absent that, their social networking is weak and they lack things like idea share which is important in terms of capturing emergent knowledge. The other big failing is that it doesn't let you bridge between internal customers (employees), external customers, or those in the extended network like partners and suppliers. We think these constituents will become increasingly blended in the coming years and already are to some extent. We have already designed our solution to accommodate multiple constituencies in ways Sharepoint can't and we're extending these in the coming months.

I also worry about giving up the tools. There is a reason that the fastest growing segment of the LMS space is hosted solutions. It's not just cost, it's because learning groups have more control over their vendors than they do over their IT groups. You yourself noted a few posts ago how learning professionals weren't even a part of the Wiki ownership question. What will happen when IT owns all the cool web 2.0 toys?

I could be wrong about the models we need to adopt, but in our client pool we have people who are ready to do extended enterprise communities with partners and suppliers, people who just want to experiment with social networking and blogs, and some who are just getting comfortable with the idea of rating courses. Sharepoint might work for some these folks, but for others I think it's going to be way too big a transition at the moment.

Emma said...

Good points ... (though Mazinga really need to remove that apostrophe & make it "social media and learning for its own sake".

Otherwise, good points.

Anonymous said...

In some ways I question whether LMS providers really "get" the interactivity they are providing. LMS providers seem to be so focussed on measurements, which can be kind of hard to measure when social learning principles that underpin educational uses of wikis, blogs etc are applied. I'm not that sure as I'm certainly a student studying social learning, rather than an expert, and I'd question whether social learning occurs around a "resource" or around what those in the group deem important given guidance and a subject area.

Darrin Hayes said...

Isn't it the case that many organizations don't want to lose control by advocating users look outside the network for their learning and community solutions. Seems like we need a tool that allows companies to somehow aggregate access to or capture the flow of learners going to external sites for formal learning and community networking.

Unknown said...

Hey Tony,

I'm thinking all the LMS' (I use or have used most) need to abandon the Packard Bell model of proprietariness (that appears to be a word -- wow!) and use what is available. There's been dialog elsewhere about the lack of need for "another social networking site," why would we think that social grouping for a class or semester would be desirable?

How 'bout we get the LMS to use Google and/or Facebook Connect in combination with the requirement to login (and while we're at it, get D2L to let me save my login and password)?

Anonymous said...


Great insight. I am 100% in agreement. The goal of an LMS vendor needs to be interoperability and flexibilty.

The problem is that in the purchasing phase, vendors (including myself), are often pressured to match features with the competition. If I say "we don't have that tool"... but you can add it... I become a second rate product in the eyes of many prospects. All things being equal, a client will take the tool with the most "X" on their comparision sheets.

The other challenge that LMS purchases represent "the future" for many companies. They want a product that is cutting edge, which often means overlooking the immediate goals and challeges that are on their desk.

As for the open source arguements, I'm still skeptical. I still believe that licensed software products will be stronger resources for most organizations in the long run.

Anonymous said...

Integration of social tool into learning management system is the necessity of time. Cognizant of this fact, in 2009 Saba has introduced Saba Social; Plateau has created the Talent Gateway; and other vendors (SumTotal Systems, Cornerstone,, Mzinga, and others) are also joining the bandwagon

Craig Weiss said...

I like the Topyx solution by Interactyx, which does some amazing stuff on the social media angle, thus social learning. Some of it, is new to the market, in terms of intertwining with Linkedin (as I recall).

Craig W said...

On an additional side not, just because a LMS vendor offers social media/social learning solutions does not mean, it is a great solution nor offers the full capacity/capabilities of it.
Having a blog/wiki/RSS feeds/app sharing is just the basics. And frankly, "reviews" while perceived as new, really isn't, nor is peer to peer communication/discussion.
Let's see some Web 3.0, content producers and taking emerging technology into social learning as the next step - and making it work. Then I'll be impressed.

Craig said...

Saba Social is not even live yet, so before everyone jumps on the bandwagon, lets first see what it can do.