ATD Blog

The Near Future of Learning Automation: The Smart LMS

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Smart LMS
If you were born after 1970, you might not even remember a day in your working life when the learning management system (LMS) did not exist. Early iterations of the LMS first started appearing in the 1970s to support a truly disruptive innovation that we now call “e-learning.” Since then, these two learning tools have grown up together, each evolving as the other pushed the envelope a bit further, creating an iterative path to innovation. 

As LMS technology made things easier to do, instructional designers found ways to use its features to enhance the learning experience. When instructional designers demanded more of the LMS, providers found a way to deliver better video support, new ways of tracking learning experiences, and a wider array of features to engage learners. Yet this cozy relationship has been producing diminishing returns for years. According to a 2016 Brandon Hall study, most training professionals only rate their current LMS slightly higher than 50 on a scale of 100. As I recall, a score of 51 out of 100 would have warranted a failing grade on my report card. 

However, we continue to purchase, maintain, and patch together a tool that we all agree is failing in so many ways. The learning technology industry is ripe for a disruption; we need a smarter solution. Enter learning automation.

What Is Learning Automation?

With learning automation, the LMS is programmed to “learn” the skills that each individual employee needs to meet business goals. Algorithms tell the LMS computer code how to determine which skills are required, based on business objectives. The LMS then produces a customized learning plan for each employee based on gaps indicated by skill assessment results. No more writing assessments; you simply upload your existing content and the system writes the questions. As business goals change, the LMS, guided by the underlying algorithms, adjusts immediately and changes learning plans as needed to fill the newly identified skill gaps. 

This new type of LMS has only become possible with the advent of machine learning. The algorithm provides detailed instructions that enables the LMS to discover the needs of the business and each individual in your organization. No matter how much things change, the system will continue to adjust learning plans automatically, responding to updating company objectives. Instead of trying to plan for every possibility, the “machine”—in this case, the LMS—“learns” what is needed by analyzing the data according to the instructions contained in the algorithm.

Benefits of E-Learning Automation


We may eventually develop a long list of benefits for learning automation as we gain more experience with this new technology. For now, here are the top advantages I see for early adopters: 

Shortened needs analysis process. The smart LMS will be able to help you conduct a needs analysis by delivering assessments based on existing content. If the employee doesn’t pass the assessment, and the skill is flagged for his or her current or future role, the LMS will add that training to the learning plan. Detailed reports can show you a snapshot of needed skills versus assessment scores for your entire organization, group, or individual. You should be able to spend less time on analysis and more time on developing content and robust learning experiences. 

No more writing assessment questions. Let’s face it, writing assessments is a science and an art; few of us are truly qualified to do them well. With the right programming in place, your assessments will be written for you by the LMS. This enables you to concentrate on developing the content, save time, and probably get a more valid assessment of individual capabilities. 

Training that adapts to changing business needs in an instant. The rapidly changing business world demands a nimble response from the training organization, and a smart LMS can help you meet those demands. For example, if your company decides that your customer care team needs to start making sales during inbound calls, just update the program, and the system will deliver these employees the training they need to achieve their new goals. 

Truly personalized learning—at last. We’ve been talking about personalized learning for decades, and the technology has finally caught up. Because no two people are alike, no two employees will have exactly the same learning plan, even if they are serving in the same role. 


Greater learner motivation and performance. When employees receive learning suggestions that are truly customized to them, they will probably respond with more excitement about their work and a greater appreciation for the company that has invested so sincerely in their future. While this new type of LMS will likely appeal to all learners, Millennials are already demanding this sort of customized approach that mirrors their experience as consumers.

Stay on Top of Technology Trends With ATD

My ATD membership helps me stay on top of trends like smart LMSs, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. I’m excited to be able to share some of these exciting trends with you during my session at ATD 2017 International Conference & Expo

The next 10 years may be the most disruptive the learning professional has ever seen, as we race to incorporate the new technologies that are already invading other parts of our lives. Join me and we’ll learn more together.


About the Author

Margie Meacham, “The Brain Lady,” is a scholar-practitioner in the field of education and learning and president of LearningToGo. She specializes in practical applications for neuroscience to enhance learning and performance. Meacham’s clients include businesses, schools, and universities. She writes a popular blog for the Association of Talent Development and has published two books, Brain Matters: How to Help Anyone Learn Anything Using Neuroscience and The Genius Button: Using Neuroscience to Bring Out Your Inner Genius.

She first became interested in the brain when she went with undiagnosed dyslexia as a child. Although she struggled in the early grades, she eventually taught herself how to overcome the challenge of a slight learning disability and became her high school valedictorian, graduated magna cum laude from Centenary University, and earned her master’s degree in education from Capella University with a 4.0.

Meacham started her professional career in high-tech sales, and when she was promoted to director of training, she discovered her passion for teaching and helping people learn. She became one of the first corporate trainers to use video conferencing and e-learning and started her own consulting company from there. Today she consults for many organizations, helping them design learning experiences that will form new neural connections and marry neuroscience theory with practice.

“I believe we are on the verge of so many wonderful discoveries about how we learn. Understanding what happens in the brain is making us better leaders, teachers, parents, and employees. We have no limits to what we can accomplish with our wonderful brains— the best survival machines ever built.”
—Margie Meacham

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