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Five reasons why you should replace the learning programmes on your LMS with learning playlists


Written by Toby Harris

Lists. Often when talking to clients about designing a dashboard for an LMS, we have to gently remind them that ‘at the end of the day, guys, it’s just a list’. A list of courses, a list of action points, a list of statuses, or a list of things to do. That’s not a bad thing, as lists are also deeply satisfying things – they are how we throw a hoop around our complex lives so we can sit back and say: ‘that’s under control.’ And as BuzzFeed’s success demonstrates, absolutely any content is immediately more appealing if it’s in a numbered list.

Or take a look at Wunderlist, a huge start-up success story from Berlin. Those guys figured out that complex task management software doesn’t work because it attempts to impose order on what is essentially a user-controlled list (or a set of nested lists). The main organiser of that list is not the software – but you, the one who is actually doing the stuff. So they made the to-do list incredibly easy to update, categorise and edit and put it in app and desktop application you can manage from anywhere. In 2013, the company was valued at an estimated $60 million…

So I want to pose a question: is your learning programme really anything more than a playlist, that is, a set of content items in a certain order with statuses? That complex pathway diagram which is personalised to each role – it looks like a pathway schematic to you, but to a learner… doesn’t it look more like … a playlist?

 The exciting work which Saffron’s development team is doing on our Saffron Share platform has convinced me that learning playlists are the future. So at this year’s Learning Technologies show we’re going to asking everyone to call time on the programme. In the spirit of lists, here’s five reasons why:

1. Playlists are incredibly popular in the digital world

Playlists are invaluable tools for YouTube and Spotify. Playlists are the way that people nowadays collect, curate, enjoy and share content. And, as Wunderlist has shown, by applying the same user experience principles to tasks which we don’t necessarily think of as enjoyable or voluntary, we actually make those tasks feel more enjoyable and voluntary. Face it – playlists have long-since arrived, they’re here to stay, and the L&D industry has a long way to go to catch up.

2. Playlists strip out the unnecessary stuff

The learning programme has become extremely cluttered. It’s now full of dates, priority levels, organisational objectives and it’s subdivided into the ‘learning plan’, the ‘programme’ itself, the ‘course’ and even the ‘class instance’. Whilst hierarchical organisation (i.e nesting) is useful, why are we trying to elevate a category above the content? Playlists don’t show any of that – they strip it all out and focus on what’s now, what’s next and what’s available to add. Playlists are about benefits, not pointless features.

3. Programmes are oppressive. Playlists give agency to learners

We like lists that we create or choose. We dislike lists that are forced on us. A big part of switching from programmes to learning playlists will involve handing the reigns back to the learners. If something is next up on the list, let learners add it themselves – they’re the ones who need to do it! Or how about delivering your programme of learning in the form of a ‘recommended’ playlist which learners are able to tweak to re-order? Does it really matter that they complete unrelated compliance training in a particular order?

4. Playlists are good at recommending instead of offending

If I were to choose one word to characterise ‘learning programmes’, it is offensive. And patronising. And daunting. For some reason the word that comes immediately to mind when I begin a new learning programme is ‘embark’. But in today’s world, where a million automatic joys are just a click or swipe away, do you really want to make learning such a big deal? Playlists are more about jumping in, doing and recommending. It’s easy to start the first item on a playlist, way easier than ‘enrolling on a learning programme’ (yawn). Do I want to see what Bob’s ‘learning programme’ looks like? About as much as I want to see yet another photo of his baby. But do I want to check out Bob’s learning playlist since I like Bob’s playlist on Spotify? Yes sir, I think I do.

5. Playlists encourage curation and are inherently social

This is the big one. The essential nature of a playlist is that you can add things to it. Many LMS platforms are cluttered with random content curation tools: my files, my certifications, my courses, my resources, my this, my that. You add things to these areas via various upload pages or places to save a link or a piece of text. But isn’t it all just lists and the ability to post something to those lists? The learning platform of the future has no clutter. It’s just your playlist and the recommended content to add to it, plus the ability to access the public playlists of others. On most of the digital services we use, lists have become the main means by which significant amounts of content are socially shared and rated.

2015 is time to put your learners in the driving seat and give them control. Ditch the programmes, bring on the playlists. Why not visit Saffron at Stand 36 at the Learning Technologies show to talk to Saffron about the future of learning platforms?

Or get in touch and give me the chance to take a look at that list of 700 requirements you put together. How much do you want to bet that it’s all just… lists?

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