May 102011

Learning Portal: Next Evolution of the LMS – The Learning Portal

Learning Portal: By Doug Harward, CEO and Founder

If you were in the training industry in the mid 1980’s, you may remember one of the earliest LMS products to hit the market. It was a standalone computer program called Registrar® and created and distributed by Silton-Bookman Systems. Registrar® is a great example of the early market LMS products, or what I call, the first evolution of the LMS. Developed as a training administration package, it was designed to assist the administrator with pre-registering students and tracking attendance to events.

With the introduction of IT networks in the early ‘90’s, LMS design evolved to multi-user platforms networked among training administrators. The idea was to allow administrators to share information about training and student activity. But the sake of information for information sake wasn’t good enough, so LMS design quickly evolved to a resource management environment, allowing administrators to track the utilization of resources, such as instructors, classrooms and materials. It became more about efficiency and utilization.

But never fear – the internet quickly changed all of that again. LCMS’ created in the mid to late ‘90’s allowed students to register online for a course, immediately participate in the training, and return later to pick up where they left off. In the early 2000’s, the LCMS brought the administrator, designer, student and content all together into one environment. It allowed learners faster access and administrators more information about what was happening in the business.

From where I sit, we are entering an era where the LMS/LCMS is now a part of something bigger. The Learning Portal provides an integrated platform of social media, administration and internet technologies which allow the learner much greater access to intelligence than ever before – access that includes other learners. So not only can they learn from structured content, but also from readily available media outlets, research, and thought leaders that can make them more proficient.

My partner at, Ken Taylor, recently developed a model (see chart) which defines the different platform layers of The Learning Portal. The model depicts several technology layers which are designed to provide knowledge based information to any of three user groups; the employee, customer, and system administrator. This outer layer is the user interface and serves primarily as the aesthetic and user experience layer.

The second layer is what we call the filter layer. These technologies ensure that the appropriate user gets access to the information that is most relevant to them – and filters out information that is not relevant. Examples of filters include user preferences, site permissions, preferred language, devices, private membership to groups or teams, and open and sign-on authentication.

After entering the portal, the user has a variety of choices to the types of information they want to access and the applications that help them process information. The learning management system is one component of the application layer of the portal. The LMS is focused on providing access to courseware and structured learning programs. The second component of the application layer of the platform is the content management system. This is where all of the social media tools and content libraries reside. The third component of the application layer is the e-commerce and analytics tools. These applications allow you to manage transactions and track user access and activity.

Design opportunities for these portals are endless, and in design is where art and science of technology converges. The designer and developer of the platform have a range of opportunities and decisions about how to manage the user’s experience. This experience is basically how they want users to access and manage information. Or in other words, how they want to provide information to the user. Over time we will see a myriad of innovations from developers.

Many argue that the LMS and the Learning Portal are synonymous. Mainly because they have designed social media and e-commerce capabilities into their existing LMS product. We view the two as different because there are still many pure LMS products on the market which do not integrate social media technologies, and to the customer its important to distinguish the difference. Like all technologies, not all are created equally.

Quite frankly, I view this new era of technology as exciting and a time where the learner is in more control than ever.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions. Please feel free to comment below or send me an email at And if you would like to receive a copy of the architecture chart, please send me a note.

Portions of this story were originally published in the 2011 Spring Issue of Training Industry Quarterly.—the-learning-portal.aspx

About the Author

Doug Harward

Doug Harward is the CEO and Founder of Training Industry, Inc. Mr. Harward is internationally recognized as one of the leading strategists for training and outsourcing business models. He is respected as one of the industry’s leading authorities on competitive analysis for training services and works with international companies and new business start-ups in building training organizations.

Mr. Harward previously served as the Director of Global Learning for Nortel Networks where he led the industry’s largest global training outsourcing engagement with PricewaterhouseCoopers. He received the Chairman’s Global Award for Community Service for his work in developing integrated learning organization strategies within higher education, public schools and business. He has worked in the training industry for more than 25 years. Mr. Harward received an MBA from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University and a BSBA in Marketing from Appalachian State University.


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