Back in the late 1980s, I worked in the telecommunications industry as a methods analyst, a euphemism for a technical communication staff member who primarily analyzes business processes. One of my assignments involved work on the design team for a records management system. The company served a regulated industry with regular audits from both federal and state agencies. It, therefore, needed to make sure it retained all paper records only as long as regulations required, and no longer. In other words, records management was essentially a risk management function. Well, you may ask, how does this relate to e-Learning 2.0 and LMS?
Before getting to that discussion, we need to clarify the terminology used here. The term e-Learning 2.0 refers to implementations of Web 2.0/social networking technologies to complement traditional learning processes managed by the training or human resource functions in organizations. Blogs, wikis, and other social software are useful in nurturing e-Learning communities of practice and enabling knowledge sharing in new ways. The eLearning Guild’s recent 360˚ Report on Learning Management Systems 2008 offers a few unique insights into the relationship between e-Learning 2.0 and LMS.
The Guild report summarizes developments in the e-Learning industry related to LMS deployments among 1,250 eLearning Guild members representing over 1,150 organizations. The report is full of useful information regarding such things as how different tools compare on market share, satisfaction, total cost of ownership, and implementation challenges. Any training or human resource executive whose organization is currently considering an LMS implementation will benefit from reviewing the Guild report.
Among other key findings, this post looks closely at the following:
LMSs score some of the lowest satisfaction scores we’ve seen in any report, particularly for the ability to supportspecific and complex business process models (2.28), support for Immersive Learning Simulations (1.62), Support for Talent Management/Human Capital Management initiatives (2.23), and support for Web 2.0 features (1.87).
The point I’d like to highlight relates to the dissatisfaction of Guild members with LMS support for Web 2.0 features. The Guild report provides a succinct summary of the issues involved, noting:
Already, 42.1% of Guild members consider LMS support for blogs, wikis, Podcasts, and Immersive Learning Simulations (ILS) to be very important, and 36.2% consider support for informal learning initiatives as very important. So, how does the LMS grasp onto, and manage, these quicksilver elements? Indeed, one could argue that ITM [Integrated Talent Management} and Web 2.0/social networking are diametric opposites with their forces pulling the LMS in different directions. ITM is very much about centralizing learning and performance, while Web 2.0 is about decentralizing learning and performance.
So, should the LMS even deal with Web 2.0 things at all? (p. 4)
The Guild report doesn’t answer the question of whether organizations need to implement LMS within an ITM environment, or a Web 2.0/social networking system (e-Learning 2.0). Though it does provide a useful overview of the ways the three types of implementation (ITM, LMS, and e-Learning 2.0) support human capital architecture and, as a result, points to the salient issues involved in selecting a strategic approach to the issues. One glaring oversight in the report is its failure to address the relationship of e-Learning 2.0 to social capital, but that is a topic for another time.
The Guild report provides two case studies, Dr. Nancy Grey’s essay, The LMS and Web 2.0: Natural Progression or Natural Disaster, and Bill Gayler and Jane Holcombe’s essay, NCSL: Marrying Learning Management Systems and Social Networking, which address the issues of integrating LMS and e-Learning 2.0. Both case studies are especially instructive in considering the issues involved in attempts to integrate e-Learning 2.0, with its robust support for informal e-Learning, and LMS with its traditional emphasis on formal management issues. I will focus briefly on Nancy Grey’s essay because it really highlights the possibilities and limitations of any attempt to integrate traditional LMS with e-Learning 2.0. As Grey notes, “E-Learning 2.0 combines blogs, wikis, and other social software to power e-Learning communities of practice for instructors, and to harness the Web’s host of knowledge resources” (p. 169).
Some observers, like Grey, attribute the focus on Web 2.0 tools to the need to serve the generation of young adults who grew up using social networking tools to learn and communicate, referring to this cohort as the net generation. As a person who started communicating with Bitnet for email and Bitnet Relay for chat in the late 1980s, I find the identification of this development with a specific age group a little irksome. However, the sheer number of young adults accustomed to social networking technologies commands attention and makes it necessary to consider their use for e-Learning.
As noted here previously, Web 2.0 social networking is quite useful in onboarding new employees, regardless of their age, as well as managing change in periods of transition, such as downsizing, outsourcing, or merging organizations. Nancy Grey emphasizes the importance of communication in any effort to integrate LMS and e-Learning 2.0.
The traditional LMS, at minimum, tracks a range of employee learning activities from attendance, to test scores, as well as additional course requirements, while providing extensive reporting on the entire process. Grey notes that LMS vendors who integrate tracking for social networking content often emphasize the ability to see which employee generated content is accessed and linked to the most and by whom, making it possible to develop rankings for contributors. Such rankings are potentially useful in performance reviews or other human resource programs. Yet, Grey points out, using SCORM or AICC protocols to track e-Learning 2.0 activity also carries legal implications and makes it unlikely some organizations will risk retaining records related to those communication patterns. The cautionary, risk management approach Grey highlights is especially likely to gain recognition in companies operating in a business environment subject to government regulation, such as pharmaceuticals and financial services.
Grey suggests that any company facing organizational change driven by layoffs, off-shoring, or implementation of new technologies can benefit from e-Learning 2.0 and benefit sufficiently that company executives need to bring the training and legal departments together to work through any concerns about risk. Nevertheless, the fact that e-Learning 2.0 is an informal process, and learning processes governed by an LMS are formal in nature, lies at the base of Grey’s analysis. Her conclusions ring true to me. “In the end, employing Web 2.0 technology in e-Learning does not have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. If tracking how often someone views a blog, or accesses a particular wiki article, benefits the company’s bottom line, then do so. But who says you have to spend resources tracking everything?”
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