In my ongoing love affair with Quora, I recently joined the discussion on a new question: Can specialised social networks replace learning management systems? This question really captures my interest. Of course the LMS is a topic of (sometimes justified) opprobrium – but can large organizations really leave the LMS behind?
After some consideration, I think the answer is really that soon we won’t be able to tell enterprise social networks and LMSs apart.
From an administrative and management perspective in a large organization, the purpose of a learning management system (LMS) is both delivering and tracking training and learning information. While the tracking is certainly unglamorous, many organizations rely on LMS tracking to demonstrate compliance with insurance and regulatory requirements and to ensure that their employees are meeting a minimum level of training and development expectations.
Without a doubt, an LMS doesn’t really manage or measure learning, but the tracking provides a baseline of information for learning and development professionals.
Social networks like Yammer, Ning, SocialCast and Bloomfire will deliver certain kinds of training and learning information, but they do not yet provide the same tracking functionality as a traditional LMS. As a result, current trends reveal that companies who require tracking features are using the social networks in addition to existing LMSs, or possibly using APIs to merge a social network with their LMS. For example, Yammer offers an API integration with Sharepoint, which can be used as an LMS.
Social networks are extremely effective for facilitating learning, especially by connecting colleagues and enabling informal learning in conjunction with participating in online courses. LMSs and social networks will need to learn from each other to make sure that colleagues can capture the benefits of collaboration and informal learning while still providing the formal documentation necessary to meet compliance and management requirements.
As visionaries like Harold Jarche and Clark Quinn reveal the future of working smarter, learning technology will have to keep up. I believe that LMSs and enterprise social networks will start to look more and more alike, as LMSs continue to add social networking features and social networks develop more tracking features. Just waiting to see who gets there first!
Photo Credit: choconancy1 on Flickr