LMSs that kick ass: Mzinga

January 9, 2009

It’s Friday yay! That means it’s time to feature another LMS that kicks ass! This is the seventh featured system in my Friday series highlighting LMSs that are doing innovative, kick-ass things with social media.

Mzinga is the result of a merger between KnowledgePlanet and Shared Insights at the end of 2007. My first encounter with them was when they were still known as KnowledgePlanet. I was at a demo of their system at a company near where I live – an area that is not an easy destination to fly to. (Case in point was my husband’s trip last week to Minnesota via Toronto and Winnipeg.) Anyway, the rep I was working with at the time was Jen Chambers. I remember Jen telling me about her travel experience which – if I remember correctly – included sleep in a rental car and perhaps a minor concussion. I also remember the incredible amount of upfront work she did on knowing the company. So this demonstrated an “in it for the long haul” attitude that puts them in the kick ass category even before we talk system capabilities. Kudos Jen (if you’re out there).

My more recent contact at Mzinga is Dave Wilkins. I’m a more recent reader of Dave’s blog and occasionally have conversations with him in Twitter. I spoke with Dave via email about what Mzinga is doing with social media.

Q: What social media tools is Mzinga incorporating into their LMS?

A: Dave Wilkins – Mzinga has taken a comprehensive approach to social learning by developing three models throughout various components of our entire Social Learning Suite. The first, the “Embedded Model,” weaves social learning opportunities throughout the asynchronous learning experience. Mzinga believes that while traditional web-based training and eLearning courses have provided great ROI and cost reduction, they lack the social aspect of learning—the diversity in perspective, the insights, and the real-world stories and sharing that have always happened in a classroom.

In Mzinga Publisher, our collaborative authoring tool, we’ve integrated social technologies within both the collaborative authoring process and the learner experience. While authors could always share resources within Publisher, they now can communicate more effectively and share their expertise through social technologies such as developer blogs; a presence monitor that indicates not only who’s online, but what they’re working on; chat functionality, an authoring dashboard and individual project dashboards, and deep audit and report capabilities.

Publisher further fosters learner social interactions through a variety of social media within the courses themselves; authors can embed course-specific blogs, comment and ratings capabilities, and even YouTube videos and Google Mashups.

Mzinga’s second Social Learning model, the “Amazon Model,” is broader in scope; much like Amazon.com, it involves closely wrapping social media and networking around a particular item—in this case, any kind of formal learning within our LMS, from curriculum, certification, courses, and simulations to ILT, virtual classroom, assessments, surveys, and off-the-shelf content. The social media available within the Mzinga LMS includes blogs, discussions, rating, comments, and social profiles.

Mzinga also makes social media via a Community Model, in which users can create social profiles, blogs, and discussions—independent of learning resources—in two ways: through the LMS and through a separate Community solution.

As with the learning resource-specific features, these social technologies are enabled individually to help organizations bridge more easily from today to tomorrow. Alternately, for companies ready to move beyond a course- and LMS-centric view of social learning, Mzinga can provide a Community strategy where social networking and social media are more prominently featured and formal learning elements take on supporting roles. In this model, Mzinga “hides” the LMS, but still exposes certifications, compliance, curriculum, virtual classroom, and courses through deep, direct links. These links can be included in any discussion, blog, comment, idea, file or any other community content.

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

A: Dave Wilkins – There were three driving factors. First, we think training and learning today are flawed. According to most research (including Jay Cross, the U.S. Dept of Labor, and others), the majority of what workers do on the job is not learned through formal training. Some studies suggest that the average worker relies on formal learning for only 20% of what they do on the job. The remaining 80% is learned socially, informally, or through on-the-job experience—all of which occur in a complete vacuum, about which the organization knows nothing.

Another key driver for us is demographics. By 2010, over 50% of organizations will be some combination of Millennials and Generation X. Between now and then, 30% of Baby Boomers will be retiring or scaling back their hours. How do we capture the expertise of Boomers before they retire or leave the organization? On the flipside, how do we attract, retain, and develop Millennials who have very different expectations about learning, communicating, and collaborating? A “formal training” model doesn’t have the scale or reach to properly address the content capture and creation needs associated with Boomer retirement, and it has almost no cultural fit with Millennials. Again, these issues require something different than formally delivered training.

A final driver in our decision to enable social learning is the fundamental disconnect emerging between how we learn and contribute in our personal lives versus how we learn and contribute at work. In our personal lives, we can create a blog post, edit a wiki, share bookmarks, follow each other, microblog, discuss virtually any topic, find expertise and experts, connect to those experts, share ideas, rate and review any sort of material—and we can do all this in an afternoon. At work, we’re lucky if we do any of these things at all. This disconnect can only last so long.

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

A: Dave Wilkins – We’re at the beginning of a schism in the LMS space—many vendors are moving their LMS to be part of a larger Talent Management vision. Others, such as Mzinga, will focus on social learning, which is much more of a catalyst for the development of talent. The difference is that Talent Management focuses on top-down planning and management—succession planning, compensation management, etc. Social learning, on the other hand, empowers organization from the bottom-up through transparency, trust, and self-direction. True social learning solutions will eventually lead with peer-to-peer exchanges, social networking, and user-generated content—all of which enhance and accelerate knowledge sharing, enabling learners to become more proficient in their roles and areas of expertise. This does not mean that formal learning will go away. It never will; certifications, compliance, curriculum, etc. will always be a required part of any learning strategy. We believe that as an industry, we have disproportionately focused on formal learning at the expense of social and informal learning, and it’s time to begin addressing the other 80%.

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

A: Dave Wilkins – There are two key difficulties organizations are facing in the adoption of social learning: strategic issues and tactical issues. One strategic challenge is normal change resistance by senior managers. This is partly an issue of the digital divide and will resolve itself in time. Another strategic challenge is in the way learning professionals see themselves and their mandate. Learning professionals today have a very high degree of control over a very narrow niche of information flow. What the future requires is that we augment this model with a very high degree of influence, but very little “control” over a very wide range of information. This is a big shift for many learning professionals.

Tactical challenges mostly fall into the more traditional buckets of enterprise change management, communication plans, adapting work cultures to support new tools and approaches rather than just layering additional work on top of existing systems, and mapping a long-term strategy that is achieved through incremental wins and release phases. It’s a mistake to overlook these sorts of issues. The adoption of social learning, social media, and social networking inside organizations is, first and foremost, a change management issue; the technology is the easy part. Fortunately, we’ve been at this game awhile and have some experience in change management—remember when LMS was a change and culture issue? This isn’t really very different.

We should also note some unique change elements in this new world: moderation, community management, and self-efficacy. The first two are required elements in any social learning or social media strategy and are critical enough that most initiatives will fail without them. Moderation is the safety net to ensure that bad information does not expose the organization to risk, and community management is about keeping the community alive and vibrant until it becomes more self-sustaining. Unfortunately, these skills and competencies are not found in most organizations today, and this is a big challenge in adopting these new approaches.

Again, this is where strategy, community management, and change management come into play, but for many organizations this can be a challenge in getting started. Community, social learning, and social networking are not initiatives that can be mandated and forced onto the organization. The community needs to emerge from within; social learning is born from a willingness of colleagues to share and help each other, and social networking grows from a desire for people to connect and reach out to one another. All the technology and consulting in the world can’t force these cultural requirements into existence. Fortunately, these characteristics are true for most companies today and provide the foundation on which social learning strategies can be built.
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Thanks Dave! And thanks Susan Koutalakis for coordinating the details so that I could write this feature.
You guys rock!
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Here’s a video from last August where Dave reviews the current state of the LMS market and suggests how it’s changing.

Prior LMSs in this series:
Cornerstone OnDemand
Generation21
GeoLearning
Meridian KSI
Learn.com
Saba

(Disclosure: Mzinga was a sponsor of Brandon Hall Research’s IiL08 conference.)

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