Why Do We Try to Manage Learning?

managing learningWhen was the last time the word “management” inspired you with the faith that it was making something better? When we hear “performance,” our eyes light up, because let’s face it, performance is great. Performance management, on the other hand, instills a sense of dread within all who hear the words.

The same is true for learning. We all like to learn at least to some degree. It happens almost unconsciously on a daily basis. Yet, when you add the word management, it sucks all the wonder right out of it. Imagine if someone told you that this weekend was going to be all about fun, but you had to run everything through the fun management system first.  Thanks, but no thanks.

Trust me; I know that an entire industry is not going to suddenly stop calling its products Learning Management Systems because I made some snarky comments. But maybe we should start thinking about learning outside of the context of the LMS. We used to do this, before the advent of the LMS, but we’ve become slaves to the system, bending the natural ways people learn to fit inside the LMS box.

How’s that working out? In Brandon Hall Group’s 2015 Learning Technology Trends Study, we asked companies to rate their satisfaction with their LMS across a variety of factors. The result was a resounding “meh.” On a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being the best, the highest score was 3.48 — and that was for system reliability. In other words, the thing people are most excited about (and they’re not that excited) is that their system actually works. Feature set and modern look and feel were near the bottom, meaning the systems aren’t necessarily getting people excited about learning.

There are a set of necessary, transactional things a learning platform has to do, and that’s where the management piece comes in. And to be honest, most end-users don’t refer to it as an LMS because it’s not their terminology. But because the learning function has become so wrapped up in managing learning, we are delivering a very transactional and “managed” experience.

The good news: there is a whole host of new technologies that allow companies to deliver a learning experience, rather than just manage a bunch of courses. Left on its own, with no management, learning becomes a very informal, collaborative, and experiential exercise. Sound familiar? It’s the 70:20:10 framework. But we use most of our technology to deliver that 10% formal learning experience.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with classroom training and it is still the number one training delivery method. However, it needs to be used the right way and for the right things. Then we can use technology to facilitate all the other types of learning that make up an effective environment:

  • Assign stretch assignments for experiential learning.
  • Connect learners for peer-to-peer informal learning.
  • Deliver to mobile to allow just-in-time, just-for-me learning.

Use the technology available to create an engaging, effective, embedded learning environment. Don’t use it to simply manage learning into the ground.

David Wentworth, Senior Learning Analyst, Brandon Hall Group


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