I recently attended a conference focused on the LMS challenges many of us face in our organizations these days. It was a very interesting event with many great discussions. I don’t know how many of you have struggled with LMS deployment, but it can often become a consuming experience. I talked to many senior learning leaders who have found themselves mired in a long and laborious LMS roll-out. Most were surprised at just how much effort it took. Most started out thinking the LMS journey would be a short and secondary one relative to their overall learning strategy and offerings. Many found out that it ended up being quite the opposite. When asked how they’d like their vendors to focus their attention in the coming 12 to 18 months, the vote was to dedicate 75 percent of their time delivering on existing promises/capabilities and 25 percent adding new features.
It seems that just getting these strategies out the door has caused us to lose sight of one important aspect of learning, and that’s collaboration. Most of my discussions at the conference focused on how to track and support individual learning plans. There was a lot of attention spent on reporting individual usage of content such as e-learning. At the same time, I hear the industry shifting its overall training focus away from skills acquisition to an overall strategy of project-based and outcome-driven learning. Many were talking about competency mapping and effective resource management becoming a major focus over the next year. There’s a dangerous disconnect here between the way we approach the management of our learning programs and the intended outcomes we hope to accomplish. When do we stop tracking and supporting the individual only and start thinking about the many who collectively work on these projects and outcomes?
Most of the project plans I’ve seen lately involve a team approach to success. They craft multiple job roles and competencies across a group of employees who need to work together in order to achieve the desired outcome. Do our learning plans and support systems complement this type of strategy? Many don’t. Although our outlook on learning has shifted, our strategies to direct and teach learners these skills still lag behind. We want a collaborative outcome while we continue to manage at the individual level.
The collaborative side of instruction needs to be addressed in two areas. First, we need to help our learners understand how their roles and responsibilities fit into the larger picture. Many are not aware of how their specific expertise complements and supports others on the team. When developing our learning plans, we need to start helping the entire team see the desired outcome, as well as the competencies and complementary roles needed to get them there. This will help them make better decisions in their learning based on how they support the team and its overall objective. Too many individuals are learning in a vacuum and making learning decisions that are not based on complementing others on their team and the overall outcome. Instead of only tracking how individuals are doing, we need to start adding an overall team dimension that is shared and owned by everyone involved.
Once teams understand how their roles support and complement the outcome, they need to be allowed to learn collaboratively as well. Many of the latest LMS and e-learning efforts have driven learners into learning silos, isolating them from their peers. We need to build the collaborative aspect of learning back into these experiences if we’re going to achieve the collective outcomes we want. Learning teams and projects need to be assigned based on job roles. Teams need to learn to support and understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Collaborative learning environments and strategies such as virtual classrooms, discussion forums, mentoring and coaching need to be enabled and mandated as part of the learning experience.
In our original efforts to help individuals learn quicker and more independently, many organizations are not getting the overall outcomes they desire. We need to take a step back and allow our learners to see the entire learning landscape in a collaborative way if we’re ever going to achieve these team-oriented objectives.
Bob Mosher is director, learning evangelism and strategy for Microsoft Learning and has been an influential leader in the IT training space for more than 15 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.