Julia Morison of the eLearning Industry wrote a great article on how technology improves education. She suggests that advances in technology have led to digital simulations and models, improved communication, advanced research, more effective assessments, and a growth in self-paced learning, all of which has simply made learning more fun. There’s no question that technology in the learning and development (L&D) space has enhanced instruction and is transforming how, when and why people learn. However, this has also led to the vast growth of learning-based software available in the market, which makes it an overwhelming challenge for organizations to select the “best” tech tools while not losing sight of the key objectives of their learning ecosystem.
To overcome this challenge, the most important thing you can do is ask the right questions. I guarantee you that asking the right questions will help you select the optimal devices that meet your learning needs. That being said, I’ve identified a number of learning technologies, their uses, benefits and disadvantages that will help you narrow down your search and select the tech that matches the objectives of your learning ecosystem.
Finding the Right Learning Ecosystem Tech
1. Off-the-Shelf Curated Content Libraries
Many organizations are turning to curated resources like YouTube, Udemy, Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, and so on. “Off-the-Shelf” courseware is a good option when you have a limited budget because these courses are typically less expensive than custom-built courses. Additionally, ready-made content is exactly that, ready to use, meaning your employees can access the course as soon as it’s been purchased. The disadvantage is that these courses are not customized to your organization. For some types of courses this may be okay, but for other content areas you may need a different solution.
2. Online Course Authoring Tools
Like other learning technologies, there are so many eLearning authoring tools to choose from. An authoring tool offers you the ability to create, edit and transform online training resources. Possible options include:
- Cloud-based eLearning authoring tools (SaaS products) – through a licensing model, you can access the software anywhere as long as you are connected to the internet. You simply log into the system and follow the wizards available to build your eLearning course.
- Multimedia eLearning authoring tools – allow you to create interactive slideshows or animated videos.
- Screen capturing and recording eLearning authoring tools – these tools are custom tailored for screen recording and are ideal for developing simulations and tech tutorials.
The biggest advantage is that you get exactly what you want because the courses are customized to your learning needs. Before you consider this option, you’ll want to think about your budget, the resources available to you, and the skillset required to build the course. If you are interested in building your own eLearning courses, check out the article How to Build an Engaging eLearning Course, or read 5 Instructional Design Tips for Engaging eLearning.
3. Learning Management System (LMS)
There are thousands of LMSs on the market, all available at different price points. These LMSs generally have similar functionality, but, essentially, they enable organizations to deliver all types of learning content, enroll learners, track performance, engage learners, generate strong analytics and reporting on performance and provide recognition. An LMS has a lot more functionality than described here. Must-have LMS features generally include:
Some of the advantages of using an LMS include: centralized learning, tracking and reporting for enhanced performance, immediate evaluation, and having the ability to easily update and disseminate content. On the flip side, not all learning management systems support offline learning such as in-person workshops or peer-to-peer coaching, and it’s very difficult to track informal learning, which we know happens all the time in the workplace.
*Note that these advantages and disadvantages will vary slightly depending on the LMS.
4. Learning Experience Platform (LXP)
Full disclosure – the LXP is this generation’s LMS and has many of the same features. However, where an LMS is traditionally driven by leadership in an organization; developed as management systems for learning, focusing on business rules, compliance and catalog management for courses, an LXP is learner driven, making content much easier to find.
The LXP was developed to answer the issue “I want to learn something or take a course and I simply cannot find it in the course catalogue”, and they are structured like a YouTube library or Netflix catalog. One could even argue that these technologies are more similar to curated content libraries. The challenge, however, is that they don’t always have a management component and the tracking and reporting functionality has not yet caught up to the LMS.
Consider the Whole Learning Ecosystem
Technology is an important part of your learning ecosystem and advancements, especially in conversation AI platforms, augmented reality and mixed reality, have the potential to disrupt your ecosystem. But, the key concepts of people, content and process, and learning itself, (i.e., information dissemination, knowledge transfer and skill acquisition), will remain the same and adapt to these technological advancements.
So, regardless of the technology you think you need for your learning ecosystem, it’s important that you keep your learners’ needs and key learning objectives in mind. Remember, your learning ecosystem includes your people, content and processes, and any technology you choose to support your ecosystem must align with these three components.
If you are on the search for a technology to enhance your learning ecosystem, start by looking at off-the-shelf curated content libraries, eLearning authoring tools, learning management systems and/or learning experience platforms. Each will have its own advantages and disadvantages – remember not to let technology drive your learning-related decisions; always begin with a needs assessment and have a concrete understanding of your key learning objectives. Keep these tips in mind, and you should be able to pick a technology that blends into your learning ecosystem, instead of disrupting it.