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In a post-pandemic world, keeping remote employees engaged, productive and well-trained is crucial, because training and development is key to the employee experience. Two choices -- the learning management system and the learning experience platform -- can help, albeit in different ways.
For years, companies' only option was a learning management system (LMS) to run training and educational programs. Thanks to the focus on employee experience, HR has another choice, the learning experience platform (LXP).
"What's happening now is people are thinking more about [employee] experience, and that's filtered down to the learning environment," said Mark Vickers, chief research analyst at HR.com. "People aren't just interested in employee experience, but learner experience, and this has become one of the primary priorities of L&D [learning and development]."
While the use of learning experience platforms is growing, most organizations still regard the learning management system as the backbone of their learning systems, Vickers said.
Only 11% of companies surveyed said they've implemented an LXP, according to HR.com's 2020 report on learner experience and engagement.
To understand why organizations may be reluctant to switch systems and what to consider if they plan to, here's a look at some differences between the two systems and the benefits each offers.
What is an LMS?
Learning management systems have strong administrative tools to help L&D teams manage learning programs, select and assign content, and assess learners' progress.
An LMS system is designed to deliver formal training material, covering areas such as internal policies, compliance or onboarding new employees, said Alexandria Clapp, content manager of learning technologies at Association for Talent Development, a nonprofit based in Alexandria, Va.
A learning management system's focus is mainly on compliance and tracking.
"The LMS allows corporate learning teams to track and monitor employees' overall progress against different competencies and standards compliance," said Jennifer Whitbeck, a learning strategy consultant based in New Hope, Pa.
For example, employees in some roles may be required to complete certain training programs for regulatory reasons, she said.
What a learning management system can't do, however, is track activities that take place off of the platform, such as informal discussions or online chats.
The LMS focuses on things like housing internal learning content, tracking learner usage and creating permissions, Vickers said.
What is an LXP?
Learning experience platforms enable users to access content through social media, blog posts, videos and other channels, and tap into information from sources around the internet.
"The front-end interface will look more like Netflix, while the system's back end generates content recommendations based on the user's goals, experiences, preferences and history," Clapp said.
In general, the user experience is much more personalized with an LXP.
Using consumer-grade experiences that simplify searching and accessing content, LXPs offer learning in a variety of ways, many of them less formal than the LMS approach, Clapp said.
"The LXP seems to focus more on things like learning interactions," Vickers said.
Many learning experience platforms deliver micro-learning, which presents content in short bits to make it more digestible.
For example, rather than requiring employees to learn all of Microsoft Excel's intricacies at once, the LXP presents on distinct tasks, such as creating a graph, Clapp said.
Learning experience platforms also provide more flexibility, allowing learners to consume information in multiple formats.
"LXPs reflect the fact that there are a whole lot of other ways to learn," Whitbeck said.
LXP vs. LMS
The differences between the two systems is relatively easy to sum up.
The key difference between LXP vs. LMS comes down to administration and control, Whitbeck said.
An LMS focuses more on the administration of learning than the experience, while an LXP focuses on the ability to facilitate personalized learning.
When comparing the two, business leaders should recognize that one system doesn't necessarily replace the other, Vickers said.
LXPs are an evolutionary step in learning technology, he said.
The system helps organizations move toward more interactive, personalized learning focused on the employee experience.
"That's the evolution from something that's just keeping track of learning within the organization [to something that's] opening it up to the outside environment, focusing more on the experience of learners and how learners can help one another develop better experiences within the organization," Vickers said.
An LMS system, however, focuses more on compliance and tracking, and not so much on the user experience.
"An LMS is an enterprise tool that employers use to assign training opportunities, then monitor and track progress toward specific competencies and standards," Whitbeck said. "Its technology also allows employees to sign up for the training they must or want to take."
Each type of platform has its own strengths.
The LMS works best with learning content that won't change much, is facilitator-driven and requires the measurement of outcomes, Clapp said. The LXP's strengths are its ability to provide on-the-job training, allow learners to work on their own timeline, present content or address learning goals that are constantly changing and manage efforts that require less measurement.
Deciding which system is best for an organization
When choosing between an LXP vs. LMS, organizations need to take stock of both their learning requirements and their company culture.
Because larger companies may have challenges creating organizationwide change, they may want to start by having a pilot group work with a new platform, then expand the offering when there are some early successes to publicize, Whitbeck said.
This can help make the transition easier for both employees and organizations when it is time to choose the system that works best.
Different companies are going to have different requirements and needs, but the only way to determine which platform's most appropriate is to speak with people who have either implemented, or at least had experience with, both, Vickers said.
"If you have an LMS that's not easily expanded or integrated, and you really need to broaden things, then maybe an LXP is what you need," he said. "If you have an LMS that's easily expandable, maybe you don't."
Companies that need to track learning for compliance reasons, for example, might prefer an LMS over an LXP because of its record-keeping capabilities.
Sometimes, however, organizations don't have to make a choice between one or the other.
Some platforms integrate both LXP and LMS capabilities, Clapp said.
This can leave the choice more up to the organization, if implementing both systems is a viable option.
"I don't think it's an either-or thing," Vickers said. "Companies should look at both types of platforms and try to see how they work together."