Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Are the LMS & VLE dead! Accenture and Udacity draw new line in sand

Dead fish market

I have been saying for some time that the VLE and LMS market is in for a dramatic shift. These are two very different markets with two separate sets of products, both global and lucrative. Both are also crammed with legacy technologies and both encourage old and 'not fit for purpose' standards, like SCORM (not even supported), that cripple their ability to adapt to AI-driven approaches to learning. The sector is a bit of a dead fish.

The LMS and VLE market is set for a change, as new AI platforms emerge. The investors are ready, the need is there, we are now moving into the phase when they will be built. It will take time, as incumbents are locked in, often on 3 year licence deals, and they are integrated but things will change. They always do.

Investor hiatus

Investors have been in a hiatus, waiting to see how things shake out. Guess what - they’re starting to shake out. AI is not just the new kid on the block, it is the only new kid on the block. It is THE technology of the age. The top 7 tech stocks, all AI companies, now have a combined market capitalisation of $12.5 trillion, more than the collective gross domestic product of New York, Tokyo, LA, Paris, London, Seoul, Chicago, San Francisco, Osaka, Dallas and Shanghai. This is no fad, neither is it the future – it is now.

The analysts are also all at sea with their grids and lack of foresight. In truth investors that bought into the LMS market are struggling to realise the revenues and profits. Some very large companies are struggling with their shareprice and meeting revenue and profit expectations. Even at the medium and lower levels, there is suspicion that value is falling. The learning content creation companies should be using AI (and are) and so prices will plummet. It is difficult to see why investors would put big valuations on dated content or bespoke production. Would you invest in a video production learning company having seen Sora? A major Hollywood investor has just pulled $850 million from a studio build. Investors in online learning will be thinking along the same lines.

Accenture buys Udacity

That brings us to Accenture buying Udacity (for peanuts) and saying they plan to invest $1 billion (yes $1 BILLION) in LearnVantage – an AI-first learning platform. Interesting move. They say it will be an AI platform... then make the mistake of saying it will primarily teach AI. That makes no sense. It is the old thinking of - let’s build a pile of courses. Consultancies don’t build good tech – neither did Udacity - and if Accenture lose their objectivity as solutions consultants then they do themselves damage. You can’t be a consultant then turn and say – by the way the 'optimal' solution is our platform. 

However, this doesn’t really matter, as this is just the first line in the sand in a major market shift. If they don’t succeed, someone else will. The huge tech companies could do this and may well enter the market but their eyes are on bigger fish - productivity tools. They are never good in the learning market. They're not looking for gold, as they make a ton from selling the shovels.

The LMS is dead, long live the LMS!

Some love them, some hate them. Some love to hate them.

1. Zombie LMS

Some organisations have a Zombie LMS. At the very mention of its name, managers and learners roll their eyes. Organisations can get locked into LMS contracts that limit their ability and agility to adopt innovations. Many an LMS lies like an old fossil, buried in the enterprise software stack, churning away like an old heating system – slow, inefficient and in constant need of repair. Long term licences, inertia and the cost of change, see the organisation locked into a barely functional world of half-dead software and courses.

2. Functional creep

Our LMS does everything. “Social?” “Yes, that as well”. Once the LMS folk get their hooks into you, they extend their reach into all sorts of areas where they don’t belong. Suddenly they have a ‘chat’ offer, that is truly awful – but part of the ‘complete LMS solution’. For a few extra bucks they solve all of your performance support, corporate comms, HR and talent management problems, locking you bit by bit into the deep dungeon they’ve built for your learners, never to see the light again.

3. Courses, of course

The LMS also encourages an obsession with courses. I’m no fan of Maslow’s clich├ęd pyramid of needs but he did come up with a great line, ”If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” That is precisely the problem with the LMS - give an organisation an LMS and every problem is solved by a ‘course’. This has led to a culture of over-engineered, expensive and long-winded course production that aligned with the use of the LMS and not with organisational or business needs. What we end up with are a ton of crap leadership, DEI and complaince courses.

4. Cripples content

Throw stuff into some VLEs and LMSs and it spits out some really awful looking stuff. Encouraged to load up half-baked course notes, teachers and trainers knock out stuff that conforms solidly to that great law of content production – GIGO – garbage in garbage out.  Graphic, text, graphic, text, multiple-choice question….. repeat. The Disneyfication of learning has happened with tons of hokey, cartoon and speech bubble stuff. Out goes simulations and anything that doesn’t conform to the simple, flat, linear content that your LMS can deliver or even worse.... gamification - some infantile game that feels as though it os designed fro 10 year olds!

5. One size fits all

With the rise of AI, adaptive and personalised learning, the LMS becomes an irritation. They don’t cope well with systems that deliver smart, personalised learning pathways. The sophisticated higher-level learning experiences are locked out by the limited ability of the LMS to cope with such innovation. The LMS becomes a sort of cardboard SCORM template through which all content must fit. But it’s the ‘learn by doing’, performance support and experiential learning that most LMSs really squeeze out of the mix.

6. Compliance hell

We all know what happened in compliance training. L&D used the fallacious argument that the law and regulators demand oodles of long courses. In fact, no law and very few regulators demand long, bad, largely useless online courses. This doesn’t work. In fact, it is counterproductive, often creating a dismissive reaction among learners. Yet the LMS encourages this glib solutionism.

7. Completion cul-de-sacs

With the LMS, along came SCORM, a ‘standard’ that in one move pushed everyone towards ‘course completion’. Learning via an LMS was no longer a joyous thing. It became an endless chore, slogging through course after course until complete. Gone is the idea that learning journeys can be interesting, personal affairs. SCORM is a completion whip that is used to march learners in lock-step towards completion.

8. Limits data

Given the constraints of most LMSs, there is the illusion that valuable data is being gathered, when in fact, it’s merely who does what course, when, and did they complete. As the world gets more data hungry, the LMS may be the very thing that stops valuable data from being gathered, managed and used.

To be fair...

To be fair a VLE or LMS was often the prime mover for shifting people away from pure classroom delivery. This is still an issue in many organisations but at least they effected a move, at the enterprise level, away from often lacklustre and expensive classroom courses. In fact, with blended learning, you can manage your pantheon of delivery channels, including classroom delivery, through your LMS (classroom planning is often included). As enterprise software they also scale, control what can be chaos and duplication, provide consistency and strategic intent. You do need to identify and manage your people, store stuff, deliver stuff and manage data and nn LMS is simply a single integrated piece of software. You may want to do without one but you’ll end up integrating the other things you use – and that will be, a sort of LMS. There are also security issues which they handle 

There will always be a need for single solutions. We can seem however that this has descended into the mess that is the all-embracing, death-clutch that is ‘Talent management’.


Organisations need enterprise software. We’ve been through the course repository model, that got stuck in the rut of rather flat e-learning. The new model is more dialogue than monologue. The incumbent VLE and LMS models need to adapt quickly or be replaced by those who do AI well. The VLE and LMS market looks like something out of the early 2000s, that’s because it is something out of that era. Many of these companies started then and having moved from client-server structure to the cloud, still have legacy code and lack the flexibility to work in this new world. My guess is that some stand a chance, many do not. If all you have done is add some prompted creation tools to your offer – forget it.

We have a chance to break out of this repository of courses model, crippled by box-ticking compliance, impoverished on data by SCORM to create more dynamic platforms that cope with formal and informal learning, also performance support, Tutorbots and data that informs learning and personal development. AI is the technology that appears to promise some sort of escape velocity from these repositories. You can already feel the blood drain from the old model as the new tools become available and improve so quickly.

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