I started writing this after reading a piece of content which successfully managed to rattle my cage (for at least a few minutes). However, I got reflecting afterwards why this specific article managed to agitate me so acutely. And it’s this ongoing, incessant navel gazing we all seem so obsessed with in this industry.
We’re stupidly stuck on semantics
Over the last twelve months, I have been reading some really thought-provoking, compelling articles (from the likes of Craig Weiss, Ben Betts et al and Josh Bersin, to name a few. These articles focus on the future of workplace learning: what it means, where we’re headed and indeed how we’re going to get there. They’re often really well researched, backed by data or tangible evidence. And all signs point to some type of learning ecosystem, with an evolved platform as its lynchpin, or as Josh coined recently: the Learning Experience Platform.
“The LXP market exists because the paradigm of the Learning Management System is out of date. People no longer search course catalogs [sic] for “courses” the way they used to, and we need a way to train and learn “in the flow of work.” So while the category is a product category, it’s also a category of systems designed with a new philosophy: learning in the flow of work.”
Conversely, I have also read some eye-opening, hyperbolic marketing bunff recently. Antagonistic content designed to agitate, but deeply lacking in compelling evidence or data to suggest the author has done adequate research on things they claim to be an expert on – the most recent being the Learning Experience Platform. Hurrah for another human hopping on the buzzword bandwagon.
But it doesn’t matter that their articles are mostly hype, because the latter group of writers have done something really magnificent: they’ve captured our inherent desire to obsess over the minor, inconsequential details in this industry. Is it an LMS? Or an LXP? Well, you can’t call it an LXP because of this or that. But you can’t call it an LMS because of this. Well heck, what should we call it? They’ve got us distracted and taken the focus off the real, gargantuan problem and onto language semantics. Clever.
LMS? LXP? NGLE? WTF?
This isn’t a new thing. Long have we contested the semantics of specific words. I specifically reference Don Taylor’s ‘learning’ definition article from last year as an exemplar – just explore the comments section if you’d like to defy me that we don’t have an inherent desire to discuss these inconsequential, nuanced details as an industry.
But, I ask you, what’s in a name? Why are we letting the chosen name of something taint our ability to see it for what it really is? We can all agree that a bread roll is a bread roll, but sometimes we call it a bap, or a bun, or a barm. Why are we becoming blinkered by the nuances of words and noise instead of doing our research, educating ourselves and understanding what it really means to meet the needs of our learners these days?
Unfortunately, no amount of navel-gazing is going to help with that conundrum.
These ‘thought-leadership’ articles, in my opinion, are designed to distract and often come from a place of fear: fear of change, fear of the unknown. Fear of anything that enters the industry and disrupts the status quo.
What about a Learner Engagement System?
When we started designing our LXP at THRIVE, we didn’t sit in a room and go: “Right, let’s build a Learning Experience Platform!” In fact, our approach had origins in real frustrations from the limitations of the Learning Management System. Having implemented our fair share of LMSs at other organisations, we’d had plenty of first-hand experience of how poor the learner (and admins’) experience truly was. In many senses, in our opinion, they are failing their users. And for us, that wasn’t good enough.
And so we looked at how we could take the things that were really important about an LMS and incorporate them into a more consumer-grade experience for all users. That meant going back to the drawing board and starting from scratch. Because of that, we truly felt that calling THRIVE an LMS was doing it an injustice. It didn’t signify a point of evolution and didn’t clearly indicate that the platform was much more than JUST a learning management system.
We were actually going to call it a Learner Engagement System for a long time. We didn’t care much about what we called it; it was much more about the opportunities it offered our customers and the learning ecosystems it could create. The name was nothing more than a name. It was only when our CMO started cornering us all around SEO and Google that we discovered how aligned our product is with the category of ‘LXP’. And so we called it as such, for simplicity and clarity. Nothing more.
Boldly going beyond buzzwords
Because that’s what it is, right? A category. Underneath the blanket of Learning Platforms sits a wealth of different systems, each designed to fulfil a certain purpose. Much like our design/development/marketing teams will curate a range of software to help them do their jobs better, so will L&D search for systems and products which help them deliver better learning experiences and outcomes for learners and the business.
We’re building a learning ecosystem here after all, and it’s naive to think any single piece of software will fulfil our elaborate and voluminous requirements. I don’t really think that’s what the LXP market is attempting to do (it’s certainly not what we’re doing). In fact, we’ve built our product with really open APIs so that we can integrate with as many other systems as possible, because we recognise that solving these problems is much bigger than just our LXP.
An LXP is more than just a snazzy UI/UX
“A great software UX is not necessarily a great learning experience.”
No, it’s not. But the consumer world of Netflix, Google, Instagram and Apple have clearly shown that being simple really is a directive for success. Consumers (read: your employees) now demand straightforward and seamless experiences (admins and learners alike). No one has the time to sift through reams of suggested resources or content. So although a great UX is only a small piece of the puzzle, it’s a critical component and I think one of the most essential components of any modern platform, learning or otherwise.
But he has a point, to a degree. Because some businesses are selling killswitch software and pitching it as an LXP. The reality is, no amount of lipstick on the pig will hide the weaknesses of these failing systems; I’ve even seen one supplier put a chatbot on the front end of their open source LMS and called that an integrated LXP. If those are the LXPs that David is referring to, then yes, I agree that the world has gone a bit mad.
Short-term solutions are not long-term changes
I do also agree with David’s sentiment around solving problems which are way bigger than tech alone. We feel the same at THRIVE and have written many an article about it.
Solving these complex problems and remedying the foibles of the LT industry are much greater than building a new plugin which sits on top of our outdated LMS in the hopes that it’ll resolve our issues. Technology, social learning, consumer-grade experiences and personalisation are just small pieces of a pie. These are deep-rooted challenges, many of which are entrenched in our approaches, culture and mindsets. They cannot be remedied by tech alone, and certainly not by last-ditch salvations for the dwindling LMS.
So I implore you: stop looking for simple solutions to complex problems and stop getting distracted by newfangled words and hype.
Do your research, don’t just follow the crowd. Don’t just read articles (like this one) and take them as fact. Read from a broad range of sources; curate and cultivate your own opinions. Don’t think that you need an LXP just because that’s what everyone is talking about. Ask why 1000 times, ask for the source of data and start being more discerning. You’ll get much better solutions that way.
And finally: explore what your learners and your business need and take the time to align solutions with the desired shift in culture – be that tech or something else entirely. Resist the urge to get involved in the next best thing just because it seems that way – because it might not be the next best thing for you.