In 2016, most people are accustomed to social media and the conventions associated with profiles, friends, posts, liking and sharing. But how are these new social business behaviors influencing social learning features of today’s learning management systems (LMS)?
We wanted to find out, so we surveyed 74 diverse LMS vendors about the social learning functionality available in their platforms. We targeted the LMS vendor community because these organizations have a vested interest in developing and supporting only the features they believe the market wants and they know they can sell.
To achieve a representative sample of global demand, we limited each LMS vendor to a single survey response. Here is what we found:
What’s Going on with the Social Learning LMS?
Technically, social learning features were built into learning management systems long before social media was invented. In the 1990s, the social LMS feature set included threaded discussions, coffee groups, collaboration centers, forums, FAQ and chat — typically occupying a seldom-used tab in the navigation menu.
In reality, this social LMS feature set was all sales sizzle. Social capabilities were underutilized, mainly because no one understood how to deploy, promote and support them. Common logic was flawed — assuming training professionals and subject matter experts (SMEs) would regularly visit these social “spaces” and interact, keeping content fresh and learner engagement high. Unfortunately, content quickly became stale and learning interaction ceased.
But now, progressive LMS vendors are leveraging the recent business culture shift toward social media to fulfill the promise of social learning. Social functionality has become integral to LMS solutions for extended enterprise, ecommerce and (to a lesser degree) employee LMS solutions. These social LMS features serve many strategic business functions including:
Community development and on-demand support
Increased visibility to attract and retain volunteer learners
Accelerated content curation and knowledge sharing
Enhanced productivity for workgroups and remote team projects
Stronger collaboration for self-paced and live instructor content (peer-to-peer and peer-to-instructor)
Effective drip, drip, drip microlearning and marketing
With these LMS features, organizations have an opportunity to create and sustain learning communities around virtually any topic, course or idea. More importantly, people can leverage all the social behaviors they apply elsewhere to the process of learning. However, there is still tremendous room for improvement in designing and deploying social LMS capabilities. “Best practices” are still very much a work in process.
In addition to conducting our LMS vendor survey, Talented Learning has also conducted over 100 in-depth LMS reviews in the last two years. We have documented all the social features we encountered and divided them into two groups: basic and advanced complexity.
Basic Social Learning LMS Features
Billboards and news
Email and text notifications
Question and answer tools
Discussion boards, threaded discussion, forums and best practice centers tied to classes or topics
Blogs — Often these look more like threaded discussion than WordPress
“Friending” and “following” – users must become “friends” to share deeper information
User profile (and ability to see others’ profiles) with bios, user photos, biographies and status tracking visible in LMS
Ability to like, share and comment on content in catalog
Ability to create and share content in user profile and in peer newsfeeds
Ability to recommend content to peers
Content tagging (new word for keyword metadata) and search by tag
Most popular content, highly rated content and frequently accessed content
Find-the-expert functionality with people search and communications via chat or mail
Allow users to create accounts, log in, port contacts, access feeds using their existing Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, SharePoint, Twitter or other existing social account credentials
Advanced Social Learning LMS Features
Integrated social interface – not a separate tab in the LMS
Intra-content social discussion for learners and teachers
Newsfeed, leaderboard, “find expert” or other social widgets on user homepage
Integration with existing corporate social networks (like Yammer or Bloomfire) to share courses on timeline, invite users from contact list and share success in personal feeds
Post course enrollments, completions, awards, badges, levels or other gamification progress to external social networks to encourage comments, competition and additional enrollments
Personal activity feeds, journals and news streams
Ability to provide peer “recommendations” or “kudos”
Web conference events integrated into social groups – video, screen sharing and recording
Capture chats, video chats and webinars. Record and use for discussion and continued learning
Polling and response stats
Seamless integration with LMS gamification features
Volume of comments or level of social interaction can be used as criteria for learning activity completion
Manage social engagement of users and have relative scores for users (more engagement = higher score)
Use of mainstream social media has been the guiding force for social learning LMS relevance. New and progressive cloud LMS providers have been integrating the best of social media features with social learning — and guess what? It’s working.
These features don’t replace popular social channels and tools nor are they intended to do so. However, with more sophisticated social capabilities integrated into LMS platforms, organizations are finally able to create sustainable learning communities within an LMS environment. And that means the long-awaited benefits of more continuous, holistic formal and informal learning are beginning to be realized.
Selling online learning content to individuals is challenging enough. But selling that same content in bulk through corporate customers or partners can be even more demanding. The business models are fundamentally different. Plus, business-to-business relationships require specialized content management functionality.
What does it take to succeed?
Join John Leh, CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning, as he hosts a live virtual panel with experts who have developed and managed profitable B2B online education programs:
William Hold, Chief Development Officer, The National Alliance for Insurance Education and Research
Linda Bowers, CTO, WBT Systems
In this dynamic one-hour roundtable, you’ll learn how to:
Build a viable business model for bulk sales
Develop effective pricing and marketing strategies
Compare tradeoffs of selling through sales reps versus online channels
Delegate content administration, reporting and user provisioning
Integrate core learning systems with CRM platforms and other operational applications
Achieve internal buy-in, drive project momentum and maintain organizational alignment
All live webinar attendees will receive 1 credit toward a Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential application or renewal.
John Leh is CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning and the Talented Learning Center. John is a fiercely independent consultant, blogger, podcaster, speaker and educator who helps organizations select and implement learning technology strategies, primarily for extended enterprise applications. His advice is based upon more than 25+years of learning-tech industry experience, serving as a trusted LMS selection and sales adviser to hundreds of learning organizations with a total technology spend of more than $100+ million and growing. John would love to connect with you on Twitter or on LinkedIn.
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