The Different Contexts Of Your Learning Management System.
A couple of years ago mobile learning was one of the major buzzwords in elearning. It hasn’t gone away, either. There are plenty of elearning and LMS developers (like ourselves) who still sell their wares on the basis of mobile accessibility. The advantages are obvious, of course – your staff can access learning content at times that best suit them, it minimises the administrative burden on trainers and HR staff who would previously have been required to arrange training sessions at given times in given places, and especially so if access to the LMS is facilitated through multiple devices. For the context of this blog, we can understand another, separate trend in elearning as in some ways contradictory (or at the very least preoccupied with a very different set of concerns) to the mobile learning school of elearning development; that being the school of social learning (pardon the pun).
The idea of mobile learning is all about the faciliatation of individual learning – if you’re selling an LMS or learning content on the basis that it’s accessible from a smartphone, you’re obviously not suggesting that a group of people gather around a single smartphone and participate together. We’re an LMS and elearning producer, but we’re also a division of a longer established traditional business training company that has been supplying business training since 1995. One trick we learned early was to try, if at all possible, to ensure that if a company was interested in any of our traditional training services they should really enrol at least two employees in a training course. This wasn’t for self-serving reasons, but simply because a significant proportion of the most effective learning happened not with the trainer in the course’s scheduled time slot, but between the learners on the drive home, or around the water cooler in the following days. It’s not controversial to observe that people don’t necessarily learn simply by reading content and retaining it by rote-learning, but rather by discussing it, interacting with their peers and imitating the use of the new skills and competencies by their colleagues (here’s some more information on that. Again, it’s neither new or controversial).
With all those provisos in place, the purpose of this blog is simply to try and square the apparent circle of these competing trends in modern elearning (if in fact they actually are competing). There are a number of ways that this can be done. It was always important to us, for example, that our learning management systems are not simply a repository for elearning content, a way for us to sell an add-on to our online training courses. Our learning management systems allow for the scheduling, tracking and administration of traditional classroom learning also. We understand that very often there’s no substitute for putting people together to hash out concepts between themselves, so we facilitate that in all our systems. It goes without saying that classroom-based learning requires a more significant investment of administration time and effort than elearning, but our systems streamline as much of that admin as possible and it is unquestionably time well spent to facilitate some face-to-face learning amongst your staff.
Social learning has also (especially in recent years) come to introduce the concept of social media into elearning thought. The number of social media platforms available today is, of course, staggering, but they’re also in such common usage that it’s almost guaranteed that a very significant proportion of your employee base will already by familiar and comfortable with using several of them. There’s an obvious advantage, then, to providing a place for staff to (virtually) meet and exchange ideas around their training content and experience. The obvious issue with a method like this is security; it is implicit in such a strategy that your training procedures (and possibly some content) will be out there being discussed if not disseminated on the world wide web. Protection of your internal training systems and intellectual property becomes of foremost importance in such an environment and many companies are understandably reticent to formally engage in or approve such strategies. Obviously very clearly defined and effectively policed security procedures would be required in such a situation, but for many the nagging question remains: how do you realistically provide security on the internet?
There’s also the option of specifically building virtual social structures into your learning management system. On the face of it this seems like an effective middle path – the accessibility and openness of the social networks (depending on your LMS setup), but with the security of having that social network built into your own learning management system. Again, there are important factors to take into consideration – just how accessible is your LMS? Is it a dusty old system that staff access once a year and then never think of again until compliance training has to be refreshed? Needless to say we don’t recommend an implementation like that. We build our systems to be used, to be key structures in the training procedures of the companies which use them. Essentially, there has to be time and space provided for learners to engage in this way with the LMS and the content it contains.
These are three examples of how a company might embrace the best of both worlds when it comes to modern elearning, but the truth is probably that in today’s world, the contradiction simply doesn’t hold anymore. We’re used to having extraordinary amounts of information available to us at our fingertips, and we’re used to discussing that information and interacting with it at a few taps of a keyboard (or increasingly, simply a glass screen). While the trends for mobile and social learning initially seem like shooting off in two different directions at once, it’s probably truer to say that in the modern world, that contradiction simply doesn’t exist anymore – modern elearning should reflect that, or become an anachronism.