LMS: Strategy or Tool? LMS is a fairly common and used (or over-used) phrase in eLearning parlance and means, primarily a software system that allows customers to do a few or many things when it comes to adopting eLearning as a part of the overall Learning strategy. For quite some time now I have been trying to understand – how does a customer look at the LMS? Are more customers looking it as a mere tool which automates tasks and increases the productivity and efficiency of training department or are they looking it as a ‘solution’ or maybe something much bigger than that as well – strategy?

Also, one of the questions I have been trying to answer for myself is – Should the LMS be sold as a tool or a strategy? What approach would bring out the best value to the customer in terms of dollar savings, easier management of tasks, learning delivered, performance improvement, etc.

Ideally, the even bigger question than ‘how to sell’ and ‘how customer sees’ is what actually an LMS is? Is it strategy or is it just a tool? I am sure there are arguments either ways and also there is a mix of factors that we may want to consider before we answer this question. E.g. does it make a difference if an LMS has more or less features? Or does it make a difference if it is SaaS or onsite deployment? Or does it make a difference if the LMS has social learning elements or collaboration tools or not? And a few more such questions.

For the sake of simplicity I am making two categories – one who use LMS for selling training or for just putting up eLearning and one who use the LMS for the entire Learning and Development process.

I am focusing on the second category in this post in the context of workplace learning and, the LMS there is definitely a strategy and should be looked at as a strategic exercise rather than a software (tool) implementation. No doubt LMS is still a software but it is not merely a tool to achieve something but rather a complete exercise in itself which needs to become an integrated part of the entire process in more ways than one. This view is strengthened by the growing popularity (and usefulness) of the social networking elements becoming a part of an LMS in a manner that it would gradually become imperative for the training departments to look at the LMS as a strategy in itself which can bring about the required outcome (and any changes) in the way the employees are learning (and sharing). If the LMS continues to be looked at as a tool even in such circumstances I believe that the overall value added by the LMS to an organization would be undermined and that not only affects the customer but also the LMS providers who would be facing a big wall in near future in the context of what is being offered and what is expected.

This view also calls for the LMS providers to look in this direction strongly and re-align their value propositions along the strategic aspect rather than just a set of features which will make learning management tasks easier. I guess the time calls for the focus to shift to more ‘learning’ than ‘management system’. That an LMS helps in management, etc. is a given now and perhaps not even a differentiator or part of value proposition. The true value of any LMS (should the acronym make way for something more appropriate then? I don’t know!) would be to enable customers to not only implement their learning process but also define new (and better) learning process and ensure that the end result of training (and learning) is met – which is performance improvement leading to a direct/indirect positive impact on topline and bottomline.

I’d like to hear more views on this. I believe it’s a critical question for the LMS providers to answer in order to move to the next level in LMS offerings. I am sure some providers are already thinking on similar lines and I’d be keen to understand their experiences and opinions on this.