How your LMS is Designed Like a Prison

Well, like a Panopticon, to be more specific.  But we'll get back to that in a second.


First - it's important to note that the enterprise LMS (Learning Management System) does a lot of things right.  It lowers the cost of training, makes content more easily accessible for learners, and allows managers to track learning performance.

And yet, if you're an LMS customer, the statistics say you're probably not a very happy one.  The dissatisfaction rates (45% of companies give their LMS a C, D or F!) are pretty astounding numbers for such a mature industry - especially one addressing such a critical business need.  What gives?

Now, many LMS vendors say that critical improvements are on the way: they're moving to the cloud, removing unnecessary features, improving usability, updating their user interface...

The good news: these improvements will indeed make LMSs better.  The bad news: simply improving the LMS largely misses the point.  This is because, in our opinion, the problem doesn't lie in the quality of the LMS, but in the very ideas underlying the LMS itself.

Which brings us back to our Panopticon analogy.

The Panopticon, an idealistic prison designed in the 1780s, promised great cost-saving and disciplinary advantages over your normal, run-of-the-mill 18th century prison.

It all had to do with the design.

Instead of arranging cells in rows, they encircled a central tower, from which the prison guards monitored the prisoners.  Or so the inmates had to assume, because they couldn't actually see into the tower, nor could they see or interact with one another.  Great way to get people to toe the line, right?

Now, the analogy might seem like a stretch, but it's worth noting that as recently as the 1970s many were saying the Panopticon should form the basis for lots of structures, including schools.

Just as with the Panopticon's residents, LMS users are often isolated from one another and rarely go there of their own volition.  While this system is definitely an effective system for requiring certain learning content, it's not the kind of system that fosters a sense of empowerment or ownership over the learning process.  And that's a killer for motivation.

The reality is LMS vendors have been designing more for the people they were selling to, and not enough for the people who actually use the system, and that truth is not lost on LMS users.

If you really want your employees to engage with learning and development, if you really want them to push themselves, their peers and their organization, you need a system that they feel was built for them, their goals, their ambitions.  All people have an inherent desire to improve and contribute - companies deserve a learning platform that catalyzes that inherent desire, rather than inhibits it.

In upcoming posts, we'll look at how this prison-like design limits the opportunity for collaboration between learners. 

In the meantime, consider how empowering your employees with a better learning system might impact training and development at your company.  We think your employees would love you for it, and that so too, ultimately, would your bottom line.

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