Making Sense of Learning Tracking Systems

A Closer Look at Four Learning Tools

In many projects, my role is to serve as a learning technology consultant to help organizations choose the best learning tool to support their needs. In most cases, these organizations are trying to find one system that does everything. Sometimes, this just isn’t possible. There are multiple categories with some overlapping options and a myriad of systems within each category, so making sense of it all isn’t an easy task.

My goal for this blog is to provide some clarity by distinguishing among these four categories:

  1. Learning Management System (LMS)
  2. Learning Experience Platform (LXP)
  3. xAPI Learning Record Store (LRS)
  4. Learning Portals

Learning Management System (LMS)

Historically, an LMS has been used as a centralized way for organizations to find and launch learning. It provides a place for storing data, so a returning learner can bookmark the position in a course and return to it later. It also has tracking and reporting, which provides a record of what learners have completed. In addition to giving a list of required training learners must complete, an LMS usually provides a catalog of elective training learners can take to help them advance in their careers. This feature could be beneficial for helping foster a “culture of learning” within an organization. However, the benefit can be limited in cases where there really isn’t all that much training to take or the course catalog isn’t very user-friendly.

Learning Experience Platform (LXP)

An LXP aims to improve the experience for learners looking for elective experiences. The search experience makes the catalog easier to browse in several ways, including having better categorization, better search functionality, an interface that’s easier to swipe through on a mobile device, and recommendations based on the learner’s role or content taken in the past. Often LXPs are provided by vendors that also sell off‑the‑shelf content, which helps solve the issue of not having enough training for employees to take. On the flip side, sometimes there are so many offerings, it can be overwhelming to the learner. And you’ll often find that LXPs don’t have as wide a variety of other features found in the top LMS systems.

xAPI Learning Record Store (LRS)

Typically, an LMS requires learners to login to the LMS before launching training to establish a session that identifies the learner and the training content. An xAPI LRS is useful for tracking learning that can’t be launched from an LMS (e.g., an article, attendance at a professional association meeting, content within a mobile app, or a virtual reality experience). An xAPI LRS goes beyond tracking completion and scores. It also allows detailed activity logging in a standard way that’s transferrable from one xAPI LRS to another. When looking into xAPI LRS systems, it’s important to realize that an xAPI LRS is just the storage space and the communication protocols for sending data to the storage space. Some xAPI LRS systems don’t include any reporting capabilities. These systems need to be connected to an analytics platform to generate meaningful reports.

Learning Portals

A good learning portal provides a user‑friendly interface that allows learners to start in one place and find learning content regardless of where it resides. This could be helpful for organizations that have multiple LMS, LXP, and/or xAPI LRS systems. You might be surprised at how scattered learning content is within an organization. In one case, when I was helping a business services client select a new enterprise‑wide LMS, I found that individual business units within the organization had negotiated deals for nine separate LMS instances (some of which were multiple instances with the same LMS vendor). Even if an organization doesn’t have multiple systems, there can still be off‑the‑shelf content licensed from external content providers, as well as content that’s stored in intranets or SharePoint sites. Even if this content isn’t to be tracked, it still needs to be found by learners.

Also note that not every portal is meant to organize all content for the entire organization. There could be learning portals that just help organize content for a specific learning domain (e.g., sales training or leadership training). Sometimes, there are also portals put in place just to make it easier to find content when browsing from mobile devices if the existing LMS doesn’t do this well.

Wrapping It Up

While the features in LMS, LXP, xAPI LRS, and learning portals overlap, you most likely can’t solve all enterprise learning needs with just one of these systems. Understanding how they complement each other and taking a deeper dive into the exact features of particular systems is required to really make sense of what they can provide.

Technology changes quickly, and a system becomes obsolete if it doesn’t keep up with new delivery platforms, authoring tools, and tracking standards. Additionally, there are many vendors in the market today. And sometimes you just need an objective third-party — one with specific technical expertise, experience, and sound objective judgment — to help you select an effective and efficient solution.

Check out the Innovative Learning Group webinar I just conducted with my colleague Walter Schirmacher, “Smart Solutions: Learning Tech Bytes.” The section on Learning Systems, Platforms, and Portals (0:36:56-0:50:00).

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