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Why Time Ran Out On the Traditional LMS: LMS and LXP vs Performance LMS


Since their invention almost a century ago, the learning management system (LMS) has undergone substantial development. Those of you readers who are industry veterans will appreciate the LMS is nothing new. But did you realize just how long they have stayed the course? (Hint: It’s way longer than they should have.)  

During the 1920s, Sidney Pressey, the inventor of the first “teaching machine” (a typewriter with a window) created the first learning management system.  

From this breakthrough moment, Dr. Donald Blitzer developed a computer-based training program that enabled students to keep track of their own advancement in the 1960s. Due to its instant chat and email features, PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operation) was also the first platform to function as a learning community and permit collaborative learning. The HP-9100A started laying the groundwork for the development of the modern LMS systems in 1968.

Fast forward to the 90s. In 1991, Norway’s NKI Distance Education Network created and launched EKKO, the first fully functional LMS. Three years later, the NB Learning Network in New Brunswick unveiled a comparable system tailored specifically for business learners and built for DOS-based instruction. During this time, the LMS’s technical capabilities, especially its capacity to produce expertly designed course content, were enhanced.  

Which brings us to the early 2000s, when many new competitors entered the LMS industry as it experienced fast growth. The learning technology market is dominated by LMSs, which are a direct offshoot of e-learning. The technical features of the LMS, such as the capacity to collect statistics, generate reports, grade exams, and make and give certificates, have continued to advance.  

How did the LMS perform? 

Love or hate it, the LMS has outlived swing dancing, the hippie movement and Y2K panic. So, how did it do this?  

For the naysayers, and in defense of the LMS, most present a comprehensive solution to numerous training and learning challenges encountered in the realm of, well, learning and development. 

One such challenge was the absence of personalized learning programs before their time. LMSs offered an effective remedy by enabling the creation of individualized learning plans tailored to the specific needs and preferences of each student. 

Another common problem (still) revolves around the lack of reporting and analytics for learning data. Most LMS platforms can bridge this gap with the functionality to monitor learner interactions, analyze statistics, generate reports, grade assessments, issue certificates and the like. Moreover, the costs and time constraints associated with training can be substantial. Again, the LMS came in clutch by delivering online training courses that are accessible at the learners’ convenience, reducing both financial expenditures and time commitments. 

Then there’s train the trainer, a crucial aspect that can sometimes fall short of effectiveness. LMSs came to the rescue by offering efficient training resources for educators and facilitators. This ensures that they’re not only proficient in using the system, but also equipped to deliver high-quality instruction to their learners. 

Personalization has historically been another challenge; many platforms continue to address this by offering personalized learning paths and courses, aligning with the learners’ interests. This personal touch contributes significantly to boosting engagement and retention rates among learners. 

On the flip side, administrative aspects come into play, with course management often presenting hurdles. LMS functionalities like course scheduling, tracking, and completion monitoring have been the presented answer to said hurdle, streamlining the management of educational programs. 

Security concerns surrounding data are also prevalent. LMS platforms alleviate these worries by implementing secure login procedures, password protection, and data encryption measures. Not all users consider that the compatibility of different technologies and data formats can lead to incompatibility issues. LMS platforms sidestepped this by providing support for various technologies and data formats, assuring compatibility across different systems and seamless integration. 

Yesterday’s solutions are today’s problems 

Ask any people, talent, L&D, OD (and so forth) leader if the LMSs put in place have solved the problems they face. You’ll find the answer is a resounding no. People crave paths to excellence but are sick of wasting time wading through mountains of content because someone said so. They’re learning outside of their organization’s LMS by interacting with peers—and that learning is lost. 

But don’t take our word for it. The business leaders charged with delivering high performance have a legacy of negative perceptions that LMSs have only amplified. 

Objectively looking at it, we can find numerous problems. 

Firstly, business leaders may harbor negative perceptions of L&D for a variety of reasons. A primary concern arises from the presence of inadequate learning infrastructure within many organizations. Outdated or insufficient infrastructure can impede the success of L&D initiatives, hindering their effectiveness and impact. 

Disarray and disorganization can further contribute to the unfavorable perception of L&D. When the orchestration of learning and development efforts appears chaotic or poorly managed, it can lead to internal friction and delays in the implementation of vital training programs. 

The next problem calls into question the legitimacy of L&D departments, especially when it comes to demonstrating tangible value and return on investment (ROI) for their programs. Difficulty showcasing the concrete benefits of L&D initiatives can lead to a perception that such efforts are of minimal (if any) importance in achieving broader business objectives. 

This leads to the fourth issue, wherein a notable divide between employee development and overall business interests can exacerbate negative perceptions. L&D programs that lack strategic alignment with the organization’s objectives can undermine the connection between individual growth and collective success, unintentionally creating a sense of detachment and misunderstanding. 

Engaging employees in L&D can also prove challenging, as awareness of available opportunities and relevant programs may be limited. This lack of awareness or confidence in choosing appropriate courses can result in diminished participation and a general lack of enthusiasm for L&D endeavors. 

When training initiatives fail to deliver positive outcomes or neglect to address specific employee needs, skepticism can take root among the workforce. Discontent with unsuccessful training experiences can breed doubt in the effectiveness of L&D programs and erode trust in their potential benefits (affecting attrition and retention down the line). 

The effectiveness of L&D initiatives can be hindered by various organizational barriers. These barriers encompass inter-functional conflicts, inadequate coordination, insufficient attention from leadership, and a reluctance to voice concerns about impediments. These hindrances can collectively undermine the impact of L&D efforts, compounding the challenges faced by business leaders in appreciating the true value of learning and development. 

So, whilst an LMS manages learning well, it’s fair to say it does not enable the objectives business leaders need or expect. 

LXP to the rescue? 

Then came along the learning experience platforms (LXP) to save the day. They are a relatively new concept in the world of corporate learning, making their history rather brief. 

During the early 2010s, the concept of LXPs began taking shape, marked by the pioneering efforts of companies like Degreed, EdCast, and Pathgather. As the years progressed, LXPs gained substantial traction in the venture capital space, leading to a lot of money pouring in to fund these software companies. They were steadily adopted but didn’t reach anywhere near the heights of the LMS. By 2017, the LXP’s market appeal had surged, experiencing a 50% growth as reported by G2. 

Entering the 2020s, the evolution of LXPs continued with a strong emphasis on integrating artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies. This innovative approach aimed to enhance learning experiences by tailoring content and interactions to individual preferences, fostering engagement and effectiveness. 

Notably, LXPs have responded to the challenges posed by remote or hybrid work setups, which have disrupted conventional employee development methods. As organizations navigated the complexities of these arrangements, LXPs emerged as a solution to bridge the gap, providing accessible and adaptable platforms for continuous learning and skill enhancement. 

What did the LXP rescue mission do? 

Learning experience platforms stepped in to confront the challenges often encountered within conventional corporate learning initiatives. And these platforms utilize several strategies to help foster a more effective and engaging learning environment.

Personalization stands as a core tenet of LXPs, tailoring learning experiences to the specific needs and interests of individual learners. Embracing continuous learning, LXPs move beyond isolated events, focusing on the ongoing development of skills and knowledge. They achieve this with an array of social learning and community-driven features that craft a distinct and dynamic learning journey for each participant. 

Advanced data analytics and reporting capabilities also form a pivotal aspect of LXPs. These tools empower organizations to meticulously monitor learning activities, gauge the efficacy of training endeavors, and present a demonstrable return on investment (ROI) to stakeholders. 

Leveraging the strength of collaborative learning, LXPs create opportunities for learners to interact, share insights, and glean knowledge from their peers. These platforms embrace social learning features that facilitate networking, fostering a collective sense of growth. 

Contextual learning is another forte of LXPs, ensuring relevance by providing content and resources tailored to learners’ roles, preferences, and learning histories. This approach offers a more immediate and pertinent learning experience. A user-centered philosophy lies at the core of LXPs, transcending the conventional learning framework to deliver heightened value for both learners and the organization as a whole. 

Further enhancing their utility, LXPs seamlessly integrate with authoring tools, enabling interactive engagement for a diverse audience including corporate and industrial employees. 

In essence, learning experience platforms champion personalization, continuity, analytics, collaboration, context, user-centricity, and integration, culminating in a robust solution that effectively addresses the complexities of contemporary corporate learning needs. 

LXP mission failed 

There’s always a but. Learning experience platforms indeed offer a range of advantages for corporate learning enhancement; however, it’s worth considering that they might not directly resolve the prevailing negative perception of learning and development held by business leaders.  

A number of factors contribute to this. The first is the perception gap between the goals of L&D and the priorities of business leaders. LXPs, while concentrating on personalized learning and engagement, could potentially address learner-oriented issues without directly aligning with the specific concerns and priorities that business leaders prioritize. 

The deficiency in learning infrastructure within organizations also contributes to this perception problem. Although LXPs introduce advanced features and personalized learning pathways, they do not directly address the underlying predicaments associated with outdated or inadequate learning infrastructure. Not to mention that the more L&D is perceived to be detached from broader organizational interests and objectives, the harder it is to bridge that gap with a solution that has maintained a status quo. That’s to say that despite LXPs offering personalized learning, bridging the gap between L&D initiatives and the strategic aims of the business is not inherent to their design. 

A vital component is the inadequacy in effectively evaluating and measuring the impact of learning programs on overall business outcomes. Although LXPs offer data analytics and reporting functionalities for learning, they do not link to business performance or think about this as a core principle. 

Complex organizational dynamics could also contribute to this perception challenge, encompassing issues like disarray and misalignment between L&D and other departments. While LXPs introduced features to foster collaboration and engagement, they do not directly tackle intricate organizational issues as they don’t look at organizational capabilities. 

We offered some solutions for enhancing learning experiences when objectively explaining the purpose and meaning of LXPs, so it’s fair to say they do not directly tackle the intricate web of challenges that underpin the perception of L&D by business leaders. Addressing this issue requires a holistic approach that encompasses not only improved learning experiences, but also a deeper alignment with organizational objectives and priorities. 

So, here we are. Decades into technology working to enable L&D results for business, with a great foundation from the LMS market. But they still only ‘manage learning’ rather than drive performance. The LXP tried to come along and solve the problem, with the mantra that if we give learners the user experience and choice they are used to in today’s economy, they’ll upskill, translating employee development into business performance.  

But, as we can see above, improving the ‘learner experience’ does not serve the needs of the business. 

Finally, the solution? 

Enter the 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 develop learners based on their specific company and role-based capabilities.  

Table comparing Acorn performance learning management system's features and functionality with the limited abilities of a standard LMS

More specifically, a performance learning management system 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 capturing key interactions hidden within organizations to transform 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 learning in real world scenarios is how you close the loop on whether learning was 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 whilst 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 or members) and internally with employees. A PLMS allows 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, you can decrease course management efforts, increase learner adoption, and view usage in one common analytics layer. And with each stakeholder is in one platform, linking progress and performance becomes possible. 
  1. Workflow automation: Managing the measurement of learning and performance is hard. Leaders are forced to enter data into hundreds of spreadsheets while 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 can kick off initial and scheduled assessments so that leaders don’t need to remember to. 

Business leaders, HR, organizational development, and learning and development have for decades sought a solution to truly link learning and performance. They’ve searched for a platform that is designed with this principle at its core—not some marketing spin from a traditional LMS or LXP.  

That time has arrived. And Acorn is proud to be pioneering a new path forward. 

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