Wisetail LMS employees Ryan and Lana work together on a project.

LMS Year In Review: The top challenges of 2019 and how they’ll impact 2020

Jason Bacaj | 7 min read

Learning and development professionals have a knack for understanding the big picture. There’s something inherently interesting about how your organization’s approach to training compares with other organizations, and how all the changes in the L&D field combine to create new priorities and trends every year.

In last year’s Year in Review article, we focused on challenges that accompanied our clients’ LMS implementation efforts: centralizing resources and communication, integrating systems, and employee engagement. We’re feeling pretty good about our prediction that 2019 would emphasize getting out of the inbox, getting buy-in from leadership, and bringing company culture front-and-center, because we saw a lot of clients working toward those goals within the Wisetail platform.

Looking back on this year, though, we think there are two things to add to the “new and noteworthy” trends you’ll want to keep an eye on: marketing tactics turned inward and LMS capabilities turned outward.

Here’s what we mean:

Looking Back: Marketing Tactics Emerge as Learning and Development Tools in 2019

In 2019, a fascinating movement swept through L&D teams: they started wholeheartedly applying marketing tactics to internal initiatives. After all, for L&D initiatives to succeed, you need employees to not only be aware of new opportunities but to convince them that those opportunities are worth the time. That’s why innovative internal uses of external marketing strategies like showrunning, QR codes, and experience have been so successful this year:

Marketing Innovation #1: Showrunning

Brand showrunning—or developing a story-driven show via video or podcast—is taking off as a way to capture customer attention and build loyalty. As it turns out, it has the same effect internally, allowing HR and L&D teams to share stories, engage employees, and build culture.

Big companies have jumped on this trend, like Verizon’s “Up to Speed” and American Airlines’ “Tell Me Why.” But restaurants, retailers, and franchises are also developing these attention-grabbers for HR and L&D purposes, like Melt Shop’s “Tot Talks” (a monthly show about Melt Shop’s mission and core values), Equinox’s “What the GF” (a monthly show by and for Equinox Group Fitness), or Cafe Rio’s weekly video series (a five-minute video with updates from members of leadership or human resources).

If you haven’t already explored internal showrunning as a way to build community and shape a strong internal narrative, consider it for 2020. Companies that have a widespread or remote team or that rely on frequent updates, such as changing regulations or recipes, are typically good candidates for building engagement with this format.

Marketing Innovation #2: Internal QR codes

The QR code was the darling of consumer marketing in the 2010s. Would it surprise you to learn that it originated — and is being used today — as an internal organizational tool?

The QR code was originally developed to track parts in the Toyota manufacturing process. Today, brilliant franchises are using these codes to allow employees to quickly and easily access relevant learning. Chains like Shake Shack place QR codes around their restaurants that refer the scanner to the corresponding LMS module, where the employee can learn more about the task at hand.

For restaurants, retailers, and franchises with multi-step training programs, QR codes offer a great way to provide employees access to a version of just-in-time learning. The codes allow employees to quickly find information that’s relevant to what they’re doing, like the proper technique for stocking a restaurant fridge or onboarding a new exercise membership client. Creative applications could include developing a self-guided portion of a new employee tour, or quickly sending employees to a survey or questionnaire.

Marketing Innovation #3: Experience Takes Center Stage

More than one marketing expert positioned 2019 as the year of customer experience. We think it’s interesting that L&D put the same kind of emphasis on employee experience.

A lot of factors influence this focus, with companies doing their best to adapt to a job-seeker’s economy and keep up with shifting employee demographics. But the end result is a consumer-like focus on employee experience: efficient pre-hiring, supportive onboarding, and personalized growth and development.

Companies taking this approach find that more strategic attention to employee experience brings powerful returns in engagement and retention and — most importantly productivity and performance over time. And a big part of that success comes from how your employees find out about and engage with your LMS.

Wisetail LMS onboarding page.

Looking Forward: Companies Expanding How They Use LMSs in 2020

If 2019 saw restaurants, retailers, and franchises expanding how they use marketing, 2020 will see the expansion of how they use their entire LMS.

Companies that use LMSs are in hot pursuit of digital transformation and the consolidation of data and tools. And when an LMS is well designed and implemented, you start to see all sorts of applications for the streamlined processes and vibrant communities that you build. This connection has allowed organizations to realize Josh Bersin’s declaration of “the LMS as a set of capabilities, not just products” — to the extent that today’s LMS will rarely be limited to the learning function.

Here are a few ways you can expect to see LMSs expand outside the traditional L&D space in 2020:

LMS Expansion #1: LMS in K-12

As a side effect of government policies like ConnectEd, which connect schools to the internet, K-12 schools increasingly deploy LMSs to manage student learning and progress.

Monitoring what K-12 entities are doing with technology may seem like a waste of time. But it becomes more relevant when you consider that a significant portion of the workforce in retail, restaurants, and franchise organizations in positions like cashiers and counter attendants, dishwashers, food prep, and hosts and hostesses are youths aged 16-24.

In fact, as much as 76% of the potential workforce in the next 5-10 years will come into these kinds of organizations expecting to use the internet, mobile and tablet devices, and an LMS to learn.

Many organizations are already feeling the effects of Millennials and Gen Z in the workforce when it comes to benefits, job roles, and engagement. As the K-12 population ages and graduates, we’ll see companies adapt the way they implement L&D to meet their preferences.

LMS Expansion #2: LMS for Business Operations

Organizing job and task information, analyzing employee data, and streamlining people processes may start out improving your HR department’s performance, but the benefits quickly extend into company-wide operations. In the same way that your people form the core of your company, your people data forms the core of how your company operates. Which is why companies are increasingly using their LMS to connect other departments outside of HR, like marketing, sales, and finance.

The connections are truly endless, but here are a few examples to get you thinking about how you could use your LMS to improve operational efficiency:

  • Build a repository for product and service glossaries to give marketing and sales access to the same up-to-date content
  • Capture an electronic record of all your operational tasks and who they’re assigned to, then review to ensure compliance
  • Keep employees informed of critical standards like food safety, speed of service, and guest feedback
  • Track employee engagement and performance data to study different relationships within your organization

LMS Expansion #3: LMS as Intranet

There are plenty of intranet services that allow companies to build their own internal wikis, or centralized hubs of processes and information. But in an effort to streamline and consolidate platforms — not to mention make it as easy as possible for employees to know where they can get the information they need — companies will increasingly use their LMS to house their intranets.

We think this is an excellent development, because a company’s intranet and LMS share the same purpose: making information accessible and easy to understand across the company. Here are a few ways you can use your LMS to make your company intranet a part of your team’s daily workflow:

  • Store and organize important documents and reference materials (replacing complex folders of Google Docs or Microsoft Word Documents)
  • Create a one-stop portal with links to all of your company’s external systems, such as HRIS/payroll, scheduling, certifications, and more
  • Share announcements and internal job listings

Click here to learn more about how to turn your LMS into an intranet

The overall movement of turning marketing tactics inward and LMS capabilities outward is fascinating. It’s something we’ll be thinking about long into 2020, and a concept that will continue to evolve as L&D and HR teams increasingly take a more holistic look at their role within their organizations. How companies hire, train, and support their employees is central to their organization’s success — and LMSs are central to all of those processes.

Thank you for joining us for another year in review! We’d love to hear which of these trends overlap with your own predictions or which you’d add to the list.


Sarah is a writer for Wisetail. By analyzing and condensing cutting-edge research and data, she helps L&D professionals develop their instincts and arrive at actionable insights for employee engagement and training. She loves to consider the possibilities of humanizing, organizing, and minimalizing all things HR. 


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