Where Does PLM Fit in the Extending LMS Formula?

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There are two reasons which led me to write this blog. Firstly, I recently had briefings with vendors such as Learn.com and Xyleme that made me realize that the learning management system (LMS) industry is building up more and more connections with other technologies and enterprise applications. Secondly, a recent article (see Trends in LMS by Don McIntosh) explains how LMS is evolving with Web 2.0, talent management, mobile learning, software as a service (SaaS), and open-source software. Having worked mainly in the product development area in manufacturing, one question popped into my mind—does LMS have anything to do with product lifecycle management (PLM)?

Using three-dimensional (3D) models in the learning arena seems like a no-brainer to me. Whether it’s a technician who needs to replace a part hidden deep within a complicated piece of equipment, or a soldier who needs to detonate a land mine (see Canadian Armed Forces Use 3D for Training Under Fire), intuitive 3D instructions can be highly valuable in saving time—or even lives. In manufacturing, 3D computer-aided design (CAD) has long been used. The existing 3D CAD assets have the potential to be used for learning purposes, but sophisticated CAD systems are usually expensive thus not available for a wide range of audiences. Actually, for most learning purposes, a learner only needs a very small fraction of what today’s 3D CAD systems offer. Based on 3D models, 3D learning content needs to be generated and communicated conveniently and inexpensively, and I see 3DVIA as a good candidate for this task.

Certainly, this is not the only thing that PLM has to do with learning. Even though PLM and LMS as information systems don’t interact with each other often, PLM as a management methodology may bring many benefits to learning management.

Similar to the way that a product has a life cycle, learning content also has a life cycle. Although many organizations are now managing the evolution of content (e.g., learning content version control), there are other elements that organizations need to consider from a life cycle perspective. For example, ideation and conception may happen prior to creating new learning content; content creation may require collaboration amongst different parties; and content performance may be measured and monitored. The bottom line: the life cycle of learning content needs to be managed.

Now, let’s move a little further. If we treat training as a service (either as internal—you provide it to your employees, or external—you sell it to your customers), this intangible “product” has a life cycle as well. Learning content is a critical part of training services, but the latter also includes when, where, and how the content should be delivered.

Whether you are a learning manager or an LMS vendor, I hope you can find inspiration from the PLM methodology (follow this link to read my personal interpretations of PLM). I welcome your opinions and experiences in adopting the life cycle perspective in your learning management practices.
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