Eric Duffy

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5 min read

Why We’re A Bit Uncomfortable Being Named a Top LMS

Articles L&D

In his most recent rankings of the top Learning Management Systems (LMSs) for 2016, Craig Weiss ranked Pathgather at the #5 spot. And honestly, we’re honored…we really are. However, we’re a little uncomfortable winning the award. Why? Well, because we aren’t an LMS.

What is an LMS?

Traditionally, an LMS is a system that stores and serves learning content for an organization. As users consume content, progress is automatically tracked and reported back to administrators. It’s been around for decades and is commonly at the forefront of a company’s compliance requirements.

In theory, the LMS is certainly a worthwhile idea and a necessary system. From a compliance perspective, an LMS is practically a requirement. If you’re obligated to report minimum training hours performed by your workforce, having a dedicated system that automatically tracks those hours is absolutely valuable. And to build a successful company that attracts and retains top talent, you absolutely must provide learning opportunities to your workforce. Refusing to do so is a recipe for disaster, as you’re essentially stating that the collective knowledge of your workforce is good as-is.

We all know that’s a ridiculous notion, so why are we so leery of the ‘LMS’ label?

We set out to make something different

When we started this company, we had a single goal in mind – to build a learning platform that employees truly valued. The idea was to build a product that anyone from the summer intern to the new VP of Sales found value in because it helped develop knowledge critical to their career progression. Yet, after researching the LMS market in our early days, we quickly found out that system didn’t quite exist yet.

LMS dissatisfaction has steadily been on the rise over the past several years, with dissatisfaction rates commonly reported to be in the 60-70% range. But here’s the thing – that dissatisfaction was at the buyer level, not at the employee level. The normal, everyday employee often didn’t even realize their company had an LMS, and when they did, a common opinion was “it’s a bit tough to use”.

Thus, to achieve our goal, we came up with a solution that, in some ways, flips the traditional LMS model upside-down. We knew that to build a system that revolutionized the way employees learned, we had to rethink the ideal solution from the ground up. Here are just a few of the stark contrasts between Pathgather and the traditional LMS.

Top-down vs. bottom-up approach
The LMS is typically very ‘top-down’ – owners of the system define the content available and facilitate delivery to the employees. We flip this around, allowing any employee to share and curate content, resources, and their expertise with others. The end result is an extremely transparent system where anyone can influence the learning that occurs at their organization.

Content storage vs. content aggregation
The traditional LMS often stores content in either SCORM form or its successor, xAPI. We won’t get into these formats in this post, but we at Pathgather currently have no support, and don’t intend to, for hosting either of these content ‘standards’. Why’s that? Well, beyond the fact that we’ve yet to see an engaging SCORM course, we leave that job, and content hosting in general, to the LMS or other systems.

Our reasoning is quite simple. The average enterprise has content scattered about in dozens of places – LMSs, CMSs, internal file stores, cloud storage solutions like Box, video platforms, etc. So instead of providing yet another place for content to live, we focused our efforts on aggregating all that content into one single, searchable place. Pair this strategy with our ability to also index modern content libraries like Pluralsight and Lynda (something LMSs have historically struggled with), and what’s left is a single ‘metadata’ store for all the learning content available to the organization.

Required learning vs. inspired, or encouraged, learning
At the core of a lot of LMS experiences is the notion that learning is required. Company mandates, compliance requirements, required classroom training – the LMS has historically focused on providing administrators with tools to push learning onto their workforce. In Pathgather, we stray away from this notion, instead focusing on a personalized experience for each learner that encourages learning and provides context to the importance of it. The word ‘required’ isn’t found anywhere in our UI. Of course, we provide tools that allows content to be recommended to others, but at no point do we inform learners that 20 hours of safety training is due next week, for example.

Back to the ‘Top LMS’ award

At this point, it’s probably obvious why we’re a bit uncomfortable being labeled a top LMS. At both the functional and surface level, we look nothing like an LMS. And frankly, we have little desire to change that.

But the core reason is more philosophical – we don’t want to be thought of as an LMS because that label ‘boxes’ us into what is traditionally expected from the system. And frankly, we think the LMS, at least in its traditional state, is simply the wrong system to scalably and effectively solve the critical learning needs of the modern workforce. It’s too top down, relying too heavily on a small group of owners (the learning team) to provide engaging, modern, and continuous educational content for a workforce with diverse skill sets and needs. With technology and practices often becoming outdated just as soon as they get adopted, more power must be given to the experts scattered about throughout the organization. Thus, that’s where our focus lies.

Times have simply changed since the LMS was first developed. The workforce of today is dramatically different than the one that existed during the LMS’s glory days (we have the internet to largely thank for that). Of course, companies still have compliance needs, and we’re happy leaving that responsibility up to the LMS. But to solve the more critical learning issues peering down on today’s organization, a new solution is required. We at Pathgather want to provide that solution outside the shadow of the LMS.

There are something like 500+ LMSs out there, and we’ve yet to see one attempting to solve the problems we’re focused on. So while we’re working on bringing our entire vision to fruition with the right product, we’d prefer it if you didn’t call us an LMS :).

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