Reflections on Learning Technologies 2018 and what Next-Generation Learning Platforms will bring

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Now that it’s been a couple of months and we start to get ready for the Learning Technologies Summer Forum, I thought I would take some time to reflect on the Learning Technologies event in February this year and the state of Next-Generation Learning Platforms. There is no question that this year was alive and bursting with new ideas, products and services – after all, learning technology is in a very exciting place at the moment. Digital disruption has well and truly hit corporate learning and spawned a myriad of cool new tools for learning that supplement the learning management system (LMS), often referred to as Next-Generation Learning Tools or Next-Gen Environments.

As one would expect, the exhibition hall was filled with people looking for ‘something Next-Gen’. As a company with what’s sometimes referred to as a ‘Next-Gen learning platform’ this is good news because we have lots of interest, however this is a new category which is still being defined so a lot of questions abound and they are met with an equal number of different answers.

There is an acceptance that the legacy LMS isn’t being developed and that to meet the demands of today’s learners, companies need another learning experience platform which may be built from one product or a collection of tools.

The functional spec for these platforms is varied; there is a heavy and consistent emphasis on the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) although when we go a bit deeper into functionality, companies are looking to cater for workplace entrants with informal, social and micro-learning. You name a buzzword, I’m sure it’s being used to describe initiatives for the younger generation, yet at the same time companies want to keep traditional formal programmes for established employees but deliver them in more engaging ways.

And so, we see Next-Gen and legacy LMS platforms starting to overlap

Some Next-Gen platforms provide a thin layer with a good UI that acts as a portal to all the other tools in the learning ecosystem and the content therein. However, they are perhaps too informal and don’t allow things to be structured enough to guide learners on journeys. Other Next-Gen platforms are the cool son or daughter of the corporate LMS, going deeper into existing functionality and looking good whilst doing it… but they can’t quite replicate the deep reporting and compliance management. They do relevant, impressive stuff at a pace that their ‘parents’ can’t keep up with, though.

SMEs don’t have the budget or resources to host a whole family of learning technologies and so are looking to get rid of their old school LMS and replace it with something fresh, new and engaging; they are not going to bring in a young and inexperienced Next-Gen platform, nor are they going for a slightly better traditional LMS – they are looking to adopt an adolescent technology.

Ruminations aside, whilst mum and dad are busy oiling their joints and modernising their platform, large corporates will continue to evaluate, and in many cases, implement Next-Gen learning platforms on top of their legacy LMSs while Next-Gen vendors will continue picking up SME clients who decide to ditch their legacy LMSs completely.

In the long term, I expect that some business functions in large corporates will have greater success than others in implementing these Next-Gen learning platforms; reason being that whilst enterprises continue to make standardised decisions at a global level, the needs of learners vary widely across job roles and geographies. Most legacy LMS platforms have been built to cater for as wide a range of learner needs as possible and scale across an entire global organisation, the end-result being a feature-rich application with a poor user experience. The Next-Gen category however, offers the ability to have a great user experience and best of breed functionality through one omni-channel platform that integrates lots of other tools into a complete ecosystem of technologies.

Watching Next-Gen learning technologies put pressure on the former generation will make for an exciting time – some of them will no doubt retire, but others may be born again, and many will extend their legacy by partnering with the Next-Gen and building on their strong foundations. As that Next-Generation grows, I hope it has real impact in the corporate market as today’s workforce are hungry for learning.

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