A couple of weeks ago, I tweeted a link to this BBC News article on The Knowledge Academy about Dilshad and Barinder Hothi – joint founders of the international training company, the Knowledge Academy – in which they stated their aim to turn their business into the “Amazon of the education world”.
This immediately reminded me of one of my most recent projects where I scoped out the underpinning concepts and core requirements for a new online corporate university portal. Here my aim was to create an Amazon-like user experience for learners in order to not only make it easier to make informed decisions about what they wanted to learn, but also to have them come back time and time again to learn more. I called this “learning stickiness”.
As way of background, although the LMS was a good content repository and held the usage data, the organisation had long reaped the benefits of guiding learners to training through separate online learning portals and wanted to take this concept still further. And if you look into the digital learning market today, you’ll already see a number of vendors offering customisable learning portals that provide a better shopfront to their clients’ LMSs. I could – but won’t – get onto my soapbox about whether today’s LMSs serve us well, but it’s clear that something is up when we need to look to complementary platforms to provide what we need.
The article got me thinking again and I posed myself the question: if I wanted my LMS to be more like Amazon, what would that mean? These are my initial thoughts.
If an LMS was like Amazon…
Content would be created by professional writers and publishers; and keen amateurs and self-publishers
In the early days, Amazon was where you went to find professionally written, edited and published content and that was it. Now anyone can self-publish their content on the site and Amazon even provides you with the authoring tools and services to do this. Just about any search result you make comes back with a mixture of both. Often the “pro” content gives the theoretical viewpoint, whilst the “other” content provides the more practical and pragmatic take on the subject. When our LMSs make it easy to combine L&D-developed, third party and user-generated content, then we’re on to a winner.
Content would be available in hard copy and e-versions
The world’s gone digital and so has learning, but on Amazon, the choice is mine as to which format I want. I can choose from hard or e-copies (for my Kindle or smart-device) and hard or digital copies of any multimedia content. I can even stream video content to all manner of devices. The complexity of the back-end of most LMSs – and cost of creating different versions – has put most of us off trying to do the same for learning resources.
there’d be A Pared down mobile version
I probably make most of my Amazon purchases from their iPhone app. It’s great. It does the basics well – I can search, choose and even consume some items directly from my phone – plus I can switch to other Amazon stores if I need to look further afield; and amend my own personal settings and preferences too. If only an LMS could do this. They are getting there, but are a long way off giving what our learners would value when they’re on the move.
content would be Recommended by me
The great thing about Amazon is how much we value its rating system and how users are actively encouraged to rate and make recommendations. I know some LMSs do this now, but I don’t think they make it as easy to do and most learners simply never get around to it.
content would be Recommended for me
This is probably one of the most powerful aspects of the Amazon experience and the one that generates the most “retail stickiness”. I’ve bought things I’d never have dreamed of, just because Amazon told me about them and suspected I would be interested. This might be products from similar ranges or – most excitingly – items that it knows other similar purchasers also bought. In the learning space, I want my LMS to suggest content for me, not just based on what I’ve already studied, but based on what other learners like me have taken. That’s real “learning stickiness”.
i could Filter search results by relevance and popularity
When I search for something on Amazon, it’s likely the search results will run into the 100s if not 1,000s. The same happens on most LMSs too – and in defence of the LMS providers, in many cases this is down to poor tagging and cataloguing when the courses are first populated in the system. But it still leaves learners confused and frustrated. Just under 20 years ago, I started to cull content from the LMS I had at the time, saying that…
rather than make the wrong choice, learners were making no choice
On Amazon, I can not only filter my search results by content type, but I can also rank items by their popularity with other purchasers and by their relevance. Now wouldn’t it be great if my LMS could tell me which learning resources came closest to meeting my needs. I’d rather take the course on time management where 80% of the content was relevant, than choose one that barely touched on the subject. I won’t pretend to know how Amazon makes that judgement, but I wish that would happen in our learning platforms too.
it would have A great home page
When you land on the Amazon home page, you see a page that it just about built around you and your interests. It shows me items “related to items I’ve viewed” or “inspired by my shopping trends” and “more items to consider”, along with reminders to treat myself from my wish-list and new and relevant items it wants to showcase. I am also reminded about what I was looking at the last time I visited the site. Just imagine how amazing it would be if our LMS home pages offered the same user experience.
capturing Evaluations WOULD be a breeze
Now Amazon has the feedback part mastered. It only asks me to rate an item after I’ve had a chance to read or use it. Most LMSs have triggers to pose some evaluation questions once the learning is marked as “complete”, when the learner really has no idea how useful it be to them back on the job. And is it always appropriate for someone to complete an item for them to have benefited from it? Amazon reaches out to me and makes it easy to provide the most basic of feedback, whereas most LMSs require the learner to first remember to do it and then secondly to hunt down the place in the system to do this….and most learners don’t. Now some LMSs do offer the ability to request feedback at a future date, but I’ve not yet seen one that truly makes it a seamless process.
there’d be Fast and responsive user support
It always amazes me how quickly Amazon replies to any of the queries I ask of them. Of course, I realise that they are resourced to do just that, but in my ideal LMS, I want any learner to be able to easily ask questions and get the answers they need in double-quick time, before that “moment of learning need” has passed.
So please challenge your LMS provider to think “Amazon” as they evolve their product roadmap. And if you can’t wait, then think about how you can step in yourself and develop a front-end that does all these great things. As I mentioned at the start, there is a growing industry out there for learning portals. Also take a look at SharePoint 2013/2016. The cornerstone of most corporate intranets, the later versions of this technology finally offer scope to create an Amazon-like experience.