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What is a Performance Learning Management System?


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. 

More specifically, a performance learning management system (PLMS) is used by organizations in six core ways. 

  1. Before learning: Discover, define, assess, and map organizational and role-based capabilities of your learners.  
  1. Manage learning: Facilitate and manage all learning opportunities in a learner profile as the central system of record. This includes not just e-learning, but extends to coaching, mentoring, in-person courses, and captures key interactions hidden within organizations, transforming them into shareable learning assets that promote knowledge exchange at scale. 
  1. Assess learning: A PLMS goes beyond traditional LMS reporting (e.g.  completions). It identifies and measures role-based capabilities to ensure alignment with organizational performance. 
  1. Embedded performance management: At its core this is the way you link learning and performance. Learning completion is only one aspect of performance.  Demonstrating the learning in real world scenarios is how to close the loop on whether the learnings were applied. Leaders can assess proficiencies for each capability that a person is responsible for. The PLMS allows for a data-driven discussion that has a historical progression of the learner’s evolution. These informed discussions enhance employee engagement and performance management while linking the chasm of people and company performance. 
  1. Multi-stakeholder learning: Every organization has the need to share knowledge externally (e.g., with customers/partners/members) and internally with employees. A PLMS should allow for specific learning portals to tailor the content and experience to the different groups. It’s costly to create and maintain multiple learning portals.  By having one account which allows for many tenants the organization can decrease course management efforts, increase learner adoption and view usage in one common analytics layer. With each stakeholder in one platform, the linking of progress to performance becomes possible.  
  1. Workflow automation: Managing the measurement of learning and performance is hard. Leaders are forced into entering data into hundreds of spreadsheets and learners must try and see their learning history via these spreadsheets. A PLMS helps to automate the recommendation of learning, the assignment of role-specific capabilities, and the regular administration tasks of onboarding and maintaining a dynamic learning and performance focused assessment process. Once a new learner enters the organization the PLMS should kick off initial and scheduled assessments so that leaders don’t need to remember to. 

Before learning 

The key point of difference? The focus on capabilities. A capability is defined as a combination of personal and technical skills, knowledge, processes, tools and behaviors that are critical to an organization’s success and future needs. Skills form an important part of this, and Skill Based Organizations still use a PLMS, but there is an acceptance that skills can be completed, the application of those skills need to be demonstrated. The PLMS should allow the leaders to define and measure, both the capabilities and the proficiencies. 

Manage learning 

The key point of difference as part of managing learning is that traditional LMSs are focused on management and completion of e-learning, while a PLMS captures this and the evaluation of the learnings.  

Assess learning 

A PLMS allows organizations to get a baseline assessment of their capability based on both organizational needs and the needs of defined roles. This allows you to link capability directly to learning assessments, whether it be informal interactions or formal training and e-learning. This empowers organizations to assess effective learning and performance improvement.  

Embedded performance management 

The key point of difference here is that when you have independent learning technology you get data redundancy, inaccurate reporting and analytics and difficulty in having objective performance reviews. PLMSs changed this with one simple technology change: Embedding the performance conversation with the learning conversation.  

Multi-stakeholder learning 

The key point of difference here is that high-performing organizations excel with all internal and external stakeholders. Be these employees, leaders, shareholders, suppliers, partners, customers and citizens. Legacy learning management systems deliver learning to some of these groups, while PLMSs serve all driving organizational stakeholders, enabling efficiency gains, streamlined operations, simplification and—ultimately—high performance.

Workflow automation 

The key point of difference here is that high-performing organizations focus on the task at hand. To be high performing you should not have your enabling technologies across manual spreadsheets and forms or disparate, poorly integrated softwares. 


Q: I have just started exploring capability building or am not yet ready. Is a PLMS right for me? 

A: Yes, 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 then the ability to scale up as learning maturity moves towards capability building. 

Q: We’re heavily invested in and focused on building skills. Is a PLMS still right for me? 

A: 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 proficiency definitions 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 own capability library (and industry standards like SFIA) to help you get out of the gate quickly. 

Q: I’ve 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? 

A: It’s a fair question, the key is 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 
  1. manage learning 
  1. assess learning 
  1. embedded performance management  
  1. multi-stakeholder learning 
  1. And workflow automation 

Bringing it to life with examples: 

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

The second part to the answer is the principles of the provider. The core principles and vision of the provider has to be a focus 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; it is very much dependent on the business case of the customer. 

Q: Where does a PLMS sit within my existing human resources technology set? 

A: PLMS is a sub-category of the legacy LMS category, 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? 

A: For decades, LMSs were (and honestly still are) successful in compliance management. However, the 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 a lack of direction and perceived relevance has led employees to believe that the learning content they are consuming is not applicable 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 created to solve. 

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

A: At its core, a performance management system is focused on job scorecards, managing performance against those job scorecards, and improving skills. Then 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? 

A: 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 are able to 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. 

To tie things up, here’s the definitions of the legacy systems available. 

What is a learning management system? 

A learning management system (LMS) is a software application or web-based platform designed to facilitate and manage the administration, delivery, tracking, and assessment of educational courses and training programs. It serves as a centralized hub where instructors can create and organize course content, communicate with learners, and track their progress. 

What is a performance management system? 

A performance management system is a structured process and set of activities designed to monitor, assess, and improve the performance of individuals and teams. It involves establishing clear goals and objectives, defining performance expectations, measuring progress, providing feedback, and taking corrective actions when necessary. 

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