The Invisible LMS

I bought my parents iPhones awhile back so we could stay in touch, especially since they moved north of the city. I am a hardcore downtowner and if I cannot see the Toronto skyline with the CN Tower, I break out in hives from anxiety. I can’t do nature.

With my parents’ adoption of new technology, my mother lovingly transferred her daily nuggets of wisdom from my voice mailbox to WhatsApp format. For example, this:


Still, our wifi umbilical cord keeps us connected. This has been particularly beneficial as my parents share their struggles with living outside of the city. In the latest saga, my mother was frustrated with the number of seagulls circling (and pooping) around their property. Her solution? Using the power of YouTube, she dialed her Bluetooth speakers up to ten and played audio of a distressed seagull on loop for an hour. The birds left. And for any environmentalist readers out there, do not blame the storyteller on this one. If you can take on my mother, more power to you.

I am guessing the seagulls told their friends, because I got another update. This time, there was a robin repeatedly pecking at his reflection in a window of their house. My ever-creative mother decided this was an appropriate solution. I honestly love her with all of my heart.


So, what do texting fails and bird wrangling have to do with an invisible LMS? Well, the more I think about how we upskill people using platforms, the more I believe we are trying to combat human nature, rather than work within our constructs and habits. We build or buy a platform and push people to consume content on it, out of context of their work environment. Now, this can function with various degrees of success, but there just might be a better way.

Much has been written about learning in the flow of work. And I really, really, want to believe in it. It is extremely powerful for the right content to be available at the point of need. It enables teams to be more efficient and achieve performance goals quickly. However, the more I see it in action, it is less about learning with a capital L. Instead, it is short-term, targeted, performance support, or even knowledge management, not deep skills development. Quite frankly, we also need the latter.

Sometimes, L&D support can be eliminated completely. I was using PowerPoint and wanted to delete a header from the master slide. In laziness I searched in the embedded help function. Much to my happiness, when I clicked on the search result, “remove header”, it just removed it from my document. No pop-up window with a step-by-step how-to. It was a completely frictionless experience.

But this is not what I mean by an invisible LMS. An invisible LMS would have some elements of learning in the flow of work, such as surfacing content at the point of need. But more importantly, it would also do the same at points of influence and engagement. And there would no longer be an LMS/LXP as a destination.

You probably do not even realise it, but by the minute or second, you are being touched by numerous marketing platforms as you go about your normal habits on your smartphone or laptop. That sweater you put into your virtual basket but never proceeded to checkout? Now it follows you, appearing as ads on Facebook. A google search for a discount flight to Paris will ensure all things magnifique will show up in your news feeds and don’t forget the baguette! I recently ordered a Billie Eilish hoodie for my best friend’s teen daughter and my Twitter feed still has not recovered.

Now, these campaigns can also be nefarious, but imagine if we wore a white hat and took some inspiration from some of these tools like Eloqua or Hubspot? We could target our audience in meaningful ways, nudge them through deep learning campaigns, all within their own tools and without logging into an LMS. And if you are not familiar with campaigns, click here for more.

Your day might look more like this: You open your laptop and the screensaver is a reminder message about leadership culture. You log in and there is an email invitation to listen to a relevant podcast in an identified 15-minute open slot in your calendar, which you can accept or decline. You start reviewing your Slack notifications and a chatbot shares a link to an article with a synopsis and why it is a recommended read based on your role and goals. You go into your time tracker and a pop-up asks if you want to change the language to Spanish because you just completed Level 4 last week.

Those are a few examples and sure, having them all together could result in a lot of initial noise. However, by examining what people respond to, it would lead to more sophisticated campaign designs that are meaningful and impactful. Learners could opt-in to campaigns they are interested in or be enrolled based on demonstrated activity. And of course, they can opt out at any time, or if they do not engage with any activities, they are phased out of the campaign. Add in AI and machine learning and there are loads of possibilities.

I have long voiced my dislike for the LMS. As for the LXP (or whatever the cool people call it), these are truly improving. Unfortunately, there is simply shiny thing fatigue. Another site or another app is anathema to the integrated experience people have outside of L&D. By flipping the model to be invisible, we become an internal part of the work life DNA.

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Why I Said Stop Building Leadership Courses


I put up a post on LinkedIn last week that had quite a few readers clutching their pearls. It said, “No one. I repeat: NO ONE needs to build another leadership course”. Some took objection to the uppercase letters, others thought I was dismissing the skill entirely. Either way, I clearly touched a nerve to those with leadership training near and dear to their hearts. So, here’s an extended version of my opinion.

Google search “Leadership Training”. There are over 3,400,000,000 results. If only 10% of those hits are valid, there is still a ton of content, nay a shit ton, out there. We need to digest what already exists and find out what works, and, what does not. Leadership is a very difficult and complex topic, few do it well…even fewer teach it well. So, people build more courses to fix this perceived gap. It is a never-ending and very expensive loop. Which leads to my next point:

Psst…a lot of courses are ineffective. Like a LOT. Some estimates place only 10% of learning is delivering results. Having sat through dozens of leadership training sessions by different vendors, I would agree. But do not listen to my own anecdotal and humble opinion. The smart folks at Forbes and Harvard Business School are doing their own deep dive into the topic, which makes for compelling reading.

Now before you start sending me hate mail about why your content is the exception, the content is not necessarily the problem, although it certainly can be. I am glad to see trust falls have gone out of fashion – do not touch me ever, thank-you-very-much. The real issue, according to HBS is, “many HR professionals find it uncomfortable or impossible to confront senior leaders and their senior teams with the truth. They find it hard to tell them about how their leadership, organization design and policies and practices are the root cause of failures in strategy execution”. Applause to that truth bomb.

When a client says to me they want a leadership programme, if you dig deeper, it is usually code for one of the following:

  • Oops. We hired jerks and no one wants to work for them

  • We promoted strong individual contributors into leadership roles, and they are sinking

  • We do not have a succession plan (BTW – this is an HR, not an L&D problem)

  • Our competitors have leadership academies, so we want one

Let’s break it down a bit. Leadership training is not going to fix toxic culture. The best designed learning experience, complete with coaching, paced reinforcement, and heck, throw in an app, will do nothing. Fire your assholes, even if they are bringing in top revenue. They are costing you more in reputation and attrition.

Not everyone wants to be a leader. On my original post a few suggested I was personally lacking leadership qualities. Well, you may be right (albeit rude). I am the “I” in “team”. I do better as an individual contributor and carve my career towards my strengths. Only twice have I truly enjoyed leading a team (I am looking at you, Toronto Titans!). So, can the ladder upwards not include people management? One CTO I worked with refused to have direct reports because he knew he was not a good people leader. He was smart. For some, leading is a difficult distraction from what they are really excellent at.

Regarding the last point, of course everyone has some form of leadership training. However, make yours count. Two of my final suggestions are:

Go to the experts. Tasking your L&D department to build a Leadership Course is like asking your accountant to be your dentist. Do not have your own leaders be SMEs, because they are not. Work with people who know the skill well and have demonstrated success in this area. No, not a bunch of happy quotes, but actual tangible impact. If you cannot afford experts, at least curate from smart sources rather than wasting more money internally developing.

Challenge the C-Suite to define what they want leadership to be. There is not one style and some models out there are doing more harm than good. Kevin Miller MCIPD had a great point when he said we need, “a lot more high-quality focus on human-centred leadership skills, development of EQ, empathy, resilience, trust building, vulnerability, outsight, listening and practical coaching”. Some leadership styles I have been urged to adopt were just gross (see point above about jerks). We can do a lot more in this space

To be honest, I could have chosen from any number of topics for my post. No one should be building more courses on project management, coaching, communication, etc. The market is saturated with these too and is there really anything new to say? Skim from the best. I only selected leadership because in the past week, I have gotten no less than 23 emails advertising masterclasses, apps, webinars, and more, on the topic. It pains me to see companies, and my clients, get sold on solutions which do not address the real problem, and likely will not be effective. At the other end, there is a person trying to navigate their career and stay employed. Let's be smarter.

Annual Planning: The L&D Frenemy

LoriSidewalk (2).jpg

I am not known for my stellar decision-making capabilities, particularly when reacting impulsively, or after the words, “Here, hold my vodka”. One fateful summer night, the City of Toronto was laying fresh cement sidewalk. As luck would have it, someone (thankfully not me) did not notice all the caution signs and tripped right into the wet concrete, leaving behind two massive footprints, plus one elbow-print. The city workers were not impressed, but hey, it was an accident and they said a crew would repair it the next day.

Something I had always wanted to do is write my name in cement. Since the sidewalk was already ruined, why the heck not? I grabbed a stick and gleefully went to write my name. It does not take long to write Lori. When I finished, I expected to see my friends giving me the thumbs up. Instead, their jaws were wide open in shock.

I did not write Lori in the ruined sidewalk slab. I left my name in the pristine slab beside it. Um, oops.

So, whilst this is an example of a spectacular lack of planning and the consequences, there are equally damaging outcomes when one decides to plan obsessively. For example, the annual plan used by L&D departments.

Look, I get it. It is incredibly neat and tidy to begin the fiscal year with a list of courses to develop and get a dopamine hit when you tick each one off the list. It makes stakeholders and CEOs happy, and everyone gets a bonus in December. As a “bonus”, you end up with a curriculum on one of the following topics: Project Management, Leadership, or Presentation Skills. Enjoy taking care of that pet rock.

If you ask an L&D leader for their biggest challenges, a common complaint is no seat at the table with the business. As a consultant, I see all sides of the table and this is not an oversight.

It is a fact universally acknowledged when someone starts a group chat, someone else immediately creates a sub group chat, minus the people they think are annoying. Sorry L&D people. We are not invited.

Consider the following common experience: there has been a crisis and employees need to quickly know about a new operating procedure or there could be potential injuries and impacts to reputation. Learning is contacted but because the annual plan and budget has been set, there are no resources available. So, either a vendor is brought in at a very high cost, the content waits in the queue, or the business goes ahead and develops their own solution. BTW, nothing triggers an L&D professional more than a non-learning professional building content #ForReal. You will hear them passive aggressively pound at the “click next” button several cubicles away.

The business expects L&D to be agile, but there are agreed upon deliverables promised to stakeholders. Still, the annual plan is your frenemy. Yes, it makes you feel secure, but it is preventing you from moving forward.

I have written about triaging learning requests before (see here). Basically, it means prioritizing projects daily based on what will deliver maximum ROI to the business. Here are some more details on how it works:

Compliance content is considered steady state. You plug into your calendar the resources and budget allocation and consider it an unavoidable annual deliverable. My personal suggestion is to invest the absolute minimum into compliance training. There is so little room to be innovative, it is a CYA exercise, and has endless content reviews. Thank U, Next.

Next, plan for your big rocks, but not only on an annual basis. These are the large business initiatives which will require learning interventions. Pre-allocate 40% of your resources to these initiatives. You might be thinking, but all my resources are already dedicated to these projects! Yes, because the front-loading has been allowed via the frenemy annual plan. Use data and performance consult to only commit to projects with tangible ROI.

Thirdly, and this is where it gets jazzy, amend your intake process to capture the following:

  • Does this request have a risk (reputational, monetary, etc.)?

  • Is this request revenue generating?

  • Does this request align with the identified business priorities?

  • How many people does this impact?

  • What if nothing is done?

Now you have critical information to rank projects against each other and determine which have higher priority. Work should then be reprioritized daily (yes, daily), based on what will have the most positive impact on the business. So, if we think back to the crisis above, that request would be a heart attack and move to the front of the queue. Other projects with less critical impacts would be deferred.

I will not lie. Many stakeholders disliked this model because they wanted their work to be first. But these are people complaining in an emergency room about their stubbed toe when a spinal injury gets wheeled in. This reprioritization model means L&D is a better strategic partner, not wasting resources, and delivering better value.

Pro-tip: I recommend Workfront as the best tool to manage this type of model. I do not work for them, but it is the only software I have found to give the agility, reporting, and ability to reprioritize quickly.

Reconstruction meant I assumed my inadvertent vandalism would be destroyed. I was pleased to see not only has the sidewalk not been replaced, the new building is a liquor store. Yes, any North Torontonian buying wine will see a worse for wear LORI. Thankfully I did not add my surname.  

Learning in the Tsunami of Work


There is a train bridge in North Carolina which is 11 feet and 8 inches high. Unfortunately, this is not enough clearance for large trucks. After several accidents, the city:

  • installed signs

  • lowered the speed limit

  • installed a sensor that triggers an LED blackout warning sign when an overheight vehicle approaches

  • added a suspended padded bar to hit the roof of too tall trucks, and

  • implemented a red-light system to give overheight vehicles 50 additional seconds to rethink their choice

Yet at least once a month some poor individual rams into the bridge, which is affectionately called, “the can opener”. A very enterprising truck repair company installed surveillance cameras at the site and built a website The collection of 140+ videos of people destroying their vehicle roofs, plus some funny commentary, makes for compelling viewing on a cold winter day (I lived through the polar vortex of 2019 – no judgement, please).

It is comfortably easy to laugh at someone’s misfortune, especially when they are so oblivious. It also flatters the ego a bit to think, “I would never be that stupid”. Well, not so fast. I have legit asked if there are beans in a bean burrito. And in a store that only sells black and white clothing basics (it is in the name of the brand and on every sign) I sincerely asked a sales associate if a shirt was navy blue. I could go on, but my invitation to join MENSA is clearly not just lost in the post.

But all of this gets me thinking about learning in the flow of work and what does it really mean? In the case of the bridge, they physically installed what we L&D professionals would consider just-in-time job aids, at every possible moment. To be fair, they have reduced the number of incidents, but the can opener is still fed regularly. And raising the bridge or lowering the road are not possibilities for several reasons, which only proves learning will never fix shitty design (I’m looking at you, software developers).

Look, we build a lot of content to plug performance holes, but these need to be surfaced at the precise moment of need to add value. This is not something we are good at. Likewise, SCORM content can only live tethered to a platform, which is a pain. So is the LMS, as a matter of fact.

Then there is the issue of notification fatigue. This used to be an overflowing email inbox which migrated into text messages. Now, you open your mobile device and every app is buzzing for your attention. People are drowning in this. How do we insert learning, and most importantly, have tangible impact and not be another wave in the tsunami?

It may seem counterintuitive, but the first step might be to focus less on new technology. Not forever, mind you. Simply pause for a bit and survey what already exists and consolidate platforms to streamline the noise. Then use data to locate the digital pub for your company. Find the place where people are already going and place your content in those locations. However, no one likes to see their teachers at a house party. Make sure you are facilitating, not controlling.

Approach learning solutions holistically. For example, my mobile device determined via GPS that I grocery shop on Saturdays around 14:00. Interestingly, one weekend a coupon for toilet paper was pushed out to me at 13:45. To some, this might be a bit Big Brother is watching. On the other hand, I saved $2 on loo roll, which face it, does not really have to go on sale. How could we similarly intersect value content into daily work?

Be comfortable not everything is learning with a capital L. Add “locate” to the bottom of the Bloom’s Taxonomy pyramid.

With the increasing complexity and diversity of skills, there are plenty of tasks people only do once. So, place what they require where and when they need it. Digital Kleenex box.

To insert learning into the flow of work, you need to truly understand the workflow. Ironically, I think we used to do this very well a decade or so ago, but like many trends in L&D, it has fallen out of fashion. It is important to understand the systems, environment, and processes, and design around those, rather than shoving a curriculum onto a learning platform (or ecosystem, or LXP, or NGLP, or whatever the cool kids are calling it). Put down your rapid authoring tool and spend a week on the shop floor.

Finally, fewer courses and more resources. Nothing new to say on this topic.

Personally, I do not think we really have the technology infrastructure to truly have learning in the flow of work in a meaningful way. This will develop as we get closer to an Internet of Things for the work environment, but that’s another blog post for another time.

As for, it is likely a problem with a limited lifespan. With driverless cars, drones, and AI, there is a good chance the height will become obsolete. We can cross that bridge when we come to it (see what I did there?). Until then, I will keep visiting the website every once in a while to procrastinate.

Wheels up for 2019

Quite a few events coming up in the calendar! Hope to meet you at one of them:

Brandon Hall Group and CrossKnowledge will be hosting a free webinar on Digital Learning Transformation on March 21st. I will have a banter with Paul Morton on going beyond the technology and practical tips on how to evolve. Link to register here:

Then it is back to my motherland of Poland for the e-Learning Fusion conference in Warsaw on April 10! Vodka and pierogi are calling. Join and hear my really bad, but earnest Polish (although conference will also be in English).

Totara Learning has a brilliant EMEA user conference in London on May 15-16. Come by to collaborate and share about L&D and the power of an open platform I will be delivering the keynote on "The Learner Social Contract"

Back in Madrid at the end of May and planning a TBD in Australia in October. Time to get packing!

Panic at 29,000ft, or Learning Anxiety

Sorry to bore you all with another story about flying. However, it is healthier for my marriage if I talk about it here, rather than with my husband (who is really, really, tired of hearing about how each flight was worse than the last). Please indulge me a bit.

Last week, I went to the Degree LENS conference - always a crowd-pleaser, with excellent keynotes, curated conversations and plenty of time to network with smart people. Two notables were: Tim Munden, CLO at Unilever, and Barry Murphy, Global Learning Lead at AirBnB. The former was giving me a steady dopamine rush talking about marketing and learning, whilst the latter told my absolute favourite L&D bedtime story: he turned off his LMS and barely anyone noticed or cared. In conclusion, it was a worthwhile event and many vodka and sodas were imbibed in good company.

Of course, to get to NYC from Toronto, I had to fly. The planes are generally of an okay size on that route, so I booked the largest and made my way to the Big Apple, with some, but not a lot nervous energy (well, no more than usual). As my travel luck would have it, there was a thunderstorm. Not just any storm, but one prompting a flood advisory for Manhattan. Fun times.

Long story short: I survived the flight by doing a new move I call the starfish, which is one arm bracing against the window, the other gripping the top of the seat in front of me, and each leg in an iron grip against the legs of my chair. My FitBit tracked my heart rate at 152 BPM.


I’m sure 2 hours and 37 minutes in the cardio zone is a record for someone only sitting in a chair, but I have some undiscovered talents.

Beyond sharing my pain, this experience makes me reflect on two themes currently rattling around in my head about L&D: emotion in learning, and new skillsets.

I am positively obsessed with understanding flight and turbulence. To me, knowledge is power. I read aviation articles and watch videos explaining turbulence (even ones built in GoAnimate). My personal hero is Sully, who famously saved his crew and passengers during a crash landing on the Hudson. His blog is bookmarked. PilotPatrick? Yep, I am subscribed.

So with all of this information, why can I not make the leap to end my flying anxiety? Rationally, I know turbulence is just like waves in the ocean and cannot possibly rip the wings from a plane….incidentally, I also hate boats #justsayin. Nervousness stubbornly prevails.

Learning is emotional. Making the leap from acquiring a skill and consistently applying it is just as much a physical as a mental skill. Things like anxiety, and fear, can play a large part. Likewise, the buzz on the L&D street is all about the skills gap. Every presentation these days has a slide with some snazzy metric on how 83% of people do not have the skills for the jobs of 2025, or half of the jobs will no longer exist in 13 months, according to Wall or Sesame Street. All of these are framed as business and profit issues….and they are.

However, what about the end learner whose very income depends on constantly learning, lest the very real fear of being terminated? Imagine the anxiety for workers who have to rely on the efforts of L&D departments to stay employable? That alone negatively impacts the ability to absorb content.

There is a great risk for the learning profession to become self-defeating if we focus solely on the ROI and business outcomes. Yes, those results are how we get paid and win awards, but consider the sins we inflict upon learners for the sake of stakeholders or regulatory bodies. Everything from lockstepping, to legal jargon, to complex navigation, or pointless tests, prevent the employee from getting what they need to simply stay relevant in an increasingly gig economy.

To add to the heebie-jeebies, L&D is not immune to the need to upskill. I have done a number of digital learning transformations and as much as I hate to reveal this, not every employee makes it through. I do not relish these decisions and for all of my cynicism, they keep me awake at night. Unfortunately, there are many once highly sought-after and valued skills which are now relics. I do not need an instructional designer who can write learning objectives. I need a journalist who can interview a SME and write an engaging story in under four hours. Instead of a Storyline developer, I need a videographer to capture user-generated content, or a data scientist to decode learner behaviour and discover predictive analytics. It’s painful, but true.

I will probably never get over my fear of flying. Some have suggested Ativan, but this only removes my filter so I make awkward remarks with border officials (not good) and go on iTunes sprees, which explains Bananrama on my iPhone. I continue to white-knuckle my way around the world. And why? Because it is a part of my job. Yes, I am very grateful for the opportunities I have had and to do the things I do. It is a privilege. Easy? Not always. And I am not alone.

Millions of employees are faced with their own skyrocketing levels of stress and so much depends on the means of an individual to upskill quickly, or be replaced. We may be in the business of L&D, but we have the tools to keep people employed, if we behave responsibly. Apply this lens to your next project. Push back hard on your SMEs and stakeholders who want to cram all and sundry into bloated projects. Be ruthless defending the rights of an already over-taxed employee trying to stay relevant. Do better.