It Should be Called a Participation Management System

At the center of the Learning Technology conundrum is the unwieldy Learning Management System. The joke is that you cannot manage learning. Learning takes place in the learner’s mind despite the best efforts of learning professionals to control it.
So what is it that gets managed? Participation. Completions, the coin of the realm for an LMS are really just measurements of who has participated in Learning Experiences. Registrations are the method to control who will participate in an experience. Even quizzes really just measure  whether you participated to the end. You can pass a quiz even if you haven’t learned but you probably cannot pass if you haven’t participated.  The LMS’s watchdog, SCORM, is designed to control participation in reviewing web content, oops I mean eLearning. Without the control you would just need a hyperlink and some web analytics.
Why all the focus on participation? Because it is a proxy for learning which can’t be measured. Showing up, as they say, is the better part of success and while it is true that it is unlikely that you will learn if you don’t participate, there is no guarantee that you will learn if you just show up. Being handcuffed to the content by a SCORM connection makes no difference.  
So what is the alternative?
If you cannot measure learning what can you measure? Memorizing?
We outsource our memorization to the Internet.
Why do we have to measure in the first place?
Because we have to account for the resources that we have been given to create Learning Experiences.
And why were we given those resources?
Because our stakeholders believe that learning will solve problems.
And how does learning solve problems?
Because learning changes people’s behavior.
So how do we measure that change?
Measuring change involves setting a baseline and then measuring the difference after an effect.  What can we measure about someone’s behavior before and after learning? There are many assessment tools that measure someone’s bias towards action. Are these tools granular enough to capture the change? Is it worthwhile to stop people from working and learning in order to make these measurements?
Or would it be better to simply ask people to reflect out loud, to narrate their experience and write about what changed. Perhaps that would be the best return on investment for everyone.



2 thoughts on “It Should be Called a Participation Management System

  1. From the little knowledge I acquired in this field this post seems to me perfecly balanced. XAPI is not changing anything in this outside form adding flexibility.

    Real question is to measure the change. Reliability of documented processes, conformance checking, speed of execution.

    For the outsource of memory I don’t agree. What is on Internet stays there. You can refer to it but not interconnect stuff as you do in your mind. IMHO Some memorization needs to take place to allow efficient inferences and execution to take place. Also each learning experience is not fianl, it’s the base of the next one. You can’t stack on outsourced memory.

    • Hi Bruno, you are exactly right. Memorization by itself is not learning and does not add any value over simply storing the information online for easy access. It is what the human mind does with the information that is important. That’s what I mean by this being the “Post Memorization Age.” We we were kids, teachers were impressed if we could tell them the capitol of New Hampshire but now kids need to be able to give their opinion about state government. To me that’s an improvement.

      Thanks for adding to the conversation. -Adam

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