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Exploring the PLMS: A Sit Down With CEO of Acorn Blake Proberts


Q: Setting a baseline, can you help us understand what a PLMS is?

Proberts: Of course, this is a question I get a lot given the traction we’re seeing in the market. A performance learning management system (PLMS) allows organizations to address the topics of performance and learning in one platform. With a PLMS leaders can continually assess and improve learners based on their specific company and role-based capabilities.

Q: You mentioned capabilities there. If I have just started exploring capability building or am not yet ready, is a PLMS right for me?

Proberts: It’s perfect, many users of a PLMS use the core LMS as a starting point. This gives them all the benefits of legacy LMSs plus the inclusion of capturing all formats of learning, and the ability to scale up as learning maturity moves up towards capability building. And all of this is helped along with the power of AI.

Q: I just want to stay on the point of capabilities for a bit longer. If we’re heavily invested in and focused on building skills, is a PLMS still right for us?

Proberts: The recent explosion of the skills-based organization and all the benefits this brings form a core part of a PLMS, not an either/or situation. PLMSs lead with capabilities as they are the only data-backed example of learning that impacts organizational performance. It is widely accepted that skills play an important part in driving performance, but cannot do so in isolation, hence the focus on capabilities.

A PLMS allows you to take the definitions for your capabilities and proficiencies into the platform easily so that you don’t have to confirm it to the PLMS provider.  You will also be able to access a PLMS provider’s capability library (and industry standards) to help you get out of the gate quickly.

Q: A lot of us have been in organizational development, learning and development and people development more broadly for a long time. How is this not just another marketing play on words like LXP?

Proberts: It’s a fair question, but I think it’s different than the LXP, and other attempts to rebrand the LMS. There are two key differences. The first is that for a PLMS, performance comes first and is the driver. The provider’s core principles and vision must be focused on improving performance. This is the guiding light for all product development decisions. If the focus of the provider is, for example, on upskilling or learning management, then by definition, they are not a PLMS. There is a place for all in the market, but it’s very much dependent on the business case of the customer.

The second key difference is in how a PLMS is built. The R&D that goes into a provider of a PLMS must meet the six components of a PLMS:

  1. Pre-learning
  2. Manage learning opportunities
  3. Assess and benchmark learning
  4. Embedded performance management 
  5. Multi-stakeholder learning
  6. And workflow automation

Bringing it to life with examples:

Therefore, when searching for a performance learning management system you have your checklist as follows:

Q: Ok, so let’s say I am onboard with needing a PLMS. Where does a PLMS sit within my existing human resources technology set?

Proberts: PLMS is a sub-category of the HR stack. And as such, it sits alongside legacy LMSs if you have multiple systems. In some cases, within certain organizations, it is the only learning management technology. It integrates with traditional HRMs, HRISs and payroll systems among other relevant systems.

Q: What are the typical reasons that customers select a PLMS over an LMS?

Proberts: For decades, LMSs were (and still are) successful in compliance management. However, legacy thinking has failed in getting learners to adopt and consume content. Burdened by content overload, muddled visibility and waning employee engagement, companies have been unsuccessful in tying their employees’ learning and development to overall business performance. People leaders have indicated that lack of direction and perceived relevance has led employees to believe that the learning content they are consuming does not apply to the day-to-day performance of their jobs. Additionally, a majority of companies struggle to tangibly link their L&D programs to increased business performance and prove ROI. These are the pain points the PLMS was born out of and to solve.

Q: How is this different to standalone learning and performance management systems?

Proberts: At its core, a performance management system is focused on improving performance and development through learning. In other words, measuring performance against job scorecards. Your traditional LMS is focused on the administration, delivery, tracking, and assessment of educational courses and training programs.

Firstly, we have yet to see a successful integration of separate providers, and secondly, the HRISs in the market are focused on individual performance and learning management, not improving organizational performance. This is the crux of legacy perception issues with L&D.

Q: With the exponential growth and improvements in AI, how is this incorporated?

Proberts: The PLMS’s take is different to the legacy LMS take on AI. The use cases for AI in LMSs are focused on creating more—more learning briefs, more learning content, and more AI admin assistance. PLMSs come from a different angle, with their innovative generative AI systems focusing on assisting organizations in identifying optimal workforce capabilities. By tailoring recommendations to the organization’s strategy, problems, priorities, and key performance indicators, this tool revolutionizes the process. The AI prompts users with targeted discovery questions, aligning with overall business or departmental strategies. Here at Acorn PLMS, for example, you can leverage a comprehensive proprietary database of 545 unique capabilities. The AI will suggest specific enhancements to address priorities and overcome challenges, empowering organizations to achieve desired outcomes. We want your people to only use what is most effective for them, we want them to do less learning, if it’s the right learning it gets you there faster and leaves more room for impact in the day-to-day.

Q: Thanks Blake, we appreciate you sharing these insights with us. Where can people get in touch?

Proberts: I’m active on LinkedIn, just search my full name Blake Proberts and you’ll find me. Or Google Acorn PLMS, and we’ll come up.

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