Learning Management Systems that kick ass: Generation21

November 28, 2008

This post is part of the Friday series “LMSs that kick ass.” I’ll be highlighting one Learning Management System (LMS) every Friday. This week it’s Generation21 (Gen21).

I spoke with John Stearns from Gen21 about the social media tools and technologies his organization is incorporating into their LMS.

Q: Hi John. What’s new with Gen21? What social media tools are you guys incorporating into your LMS?

A: John Stearns- Gen21’s product focus is on its core product functionality. To that end, core collaborative features in the LMS cover the key aspects of social media – collaborative authoring, wiki’s, messaging, message boards, interactive web environments, content rating, library, etc. Imaginative use of these functions achieves a reasonable level of “social” interaction.

For example, some of our clients have developed blogs within the LMS. We also maintain a relationship with a strategic partner who offers an extensive social media product integrated with Gen21. At the same time, Gen21 doesn’t typically build-in extensive functionality duplicative of that widely available in the open market, thereby limiting our clients range of choice. On the front end, this spares our clients the burden of supporting development of stuff that’ll be used by a limited subset of clients. Clients who want to go full-bore into social media may consider the broadest possible range of options to insure their particular needs are met. In the case of rapidly-changing and evolving technology such as social media, we believe it’s especially important to maintain maximum flexibility for our clients.

We’ve built our LMS to insure any of their choices can easily be accommodated by designing in the “hooks” and “stickers,” (highly technical terms for API’s) to enable clients to integrate social media with their LMS.

Q: What drove your decision to incorporate social media tools into your LMS?

A: John Stearns- For Gen21, social media is simply another analogous function that clients may choose to use in their learning toolkit. The elements of social media in our LMS are those that related most directly to our mission to enable learning. Our overriding goal is to create a product that enables use of any supplemental tools clients choose. Therefore, in addition to core functions and our integration API’s, have and continue to explore more formal relationships with social media technology providers. Given the breadth of options, however, we believe restricting clients’ choice to a particular social media product would probably not be in the client’s interest. So, we maintain a gateway.

Q: If you could predict what LMSs will look like in three years, what do you see?

A: John Stearns – [*laughing*] – I can predict (if I could accurately predict, we could trade jobs!)

So here goes: from an evolutionary standpoint, there appear to be four general tracks – first, there’s the HCM approach; the LMS may be the “hook,” but most development investment seems to go into non- LMS components.

Secondly, there’s the Talent Management segment, where some old things get new names and secondary functions typically found in an HRIS move over to the TM platform .

The third track is the approach where the LMS trails another app, as in Mzinga.

And finally, there’s the more traditional LMS, where the focus in on enabling learning, with technology to link learning to other sponsor functions and platforms without duplicating them. A subset of that is the integrated LMS/LCMS platform – some of these are partnership products and some are a single code base.

I find it interesting that we hear often enough to be noticeable from clients and prospects that they “just want something that works for learning, without all the bells and whistles.”

So to answer the question, I think LMS’s will continue to evolve in various directions, but that change will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Clients will have a broad range of choice of function, emphasis, and price. I think users and sponsors are more comfortable with multiple modes of learning than ever before, and that the populations of both will grow.

I think LMS’s will become way more common in smaller companies than they are now. Things like ease of use, ease of implementation, the price/value equation, and performance will always be important. I guess it would be safe to say I think the 3-year horizon LMS will look a lot like the LMS that was promised in 1999 but never delivered. Ultimately, I believe that will spawn a reinvigorated demand for LMS’s that work they way they should. To a greater extent than we’ve seen, I think implementation decisions will be driven by primary rather than secondary and tertiary functionality.

Maybe a side note, I think content will improve greatly as developers become more comfortable with new tools and technologies, and start to discover how to use these things easily. More complex content is going to be a challenge for LMS’s. I think both standards and LMS’s will be playing catch up with how to deal with the huge amounts of learner/content interface data that newer content will be producing.

Q: What difficulties are you seeing in the incorporation of social media among your current customers/potential customers?

A: John Stearns –We find two principal stumbling blocks with regard to social media. The first relates to how unstructured social media fit in the structured business world. Some of this is generational of course, but some of it relates to concerns of regulatory profile, confidentiality, security, productivity, etc. Some of it also seems to be a mistrust among administrators that they either have the resources and time to filter content (wiki’s for example – contributions need to be vetted) or trust that the society will … behave. Will they spend more time in the social media than they should? Will they lose productivity? Basically, it seems that the Corporate Host hasn’t quite come to terms with the role(s) social media can or will play in their learning mix. No doubt over time organizations will devise their unique “best use” scenarios – and select a platform to fit. The other roadblock we see is cost. No doubt there’s a point where price and utility meet – but other than for the early adaptor market, that point doesn’t seem to have arrived yet.

Thanks John! Great insight and kick-ass flexibility in an LMS! Readers – obviously John has a great deal of knowledge of the space and I welcome your questions for John.

Prior LMSs in series: Cornerstone OnDemand

  • http://newmiddle-earth.blogspot.com/ Ken Allan

    Kia ora Janet

    Thanks for this.

    I must admit that my eyebrows rose a bit when John said “and finally, there’s the more traditional LMS, where the focus in on enabling learning . . .”

    I thought LMS was supposed to be enabling learning. From this prioritisation, one might be inclined to believe that enabling learning was a side issue.

    Obviously I need to learn more about what LMSs are more usually used for 😉

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

    Ken Allans last blog post..Seeds Of Change

  • http://newmiddle-earth.blogspot.com/ Ken Allan

    Kia ora Janet

    Thanks for this.

    I must admit that my eyebrows rose a bit when John said “and finally, there’s the more traditional LMS, where the focus in on enabling learning . . .”

    I thought LMS was supposed to be enabling learning. From this prioritisation, one might be inclined to believe that enabling learning was a side issue.

    Obviously I need to learn more about what LMSs are more usually used for 😉

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

    Ken Allans last blog post..Seeds Of Change

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