3 Questions with Paul Sparta, a Founding Father of Learning Management Systems

When your goal is to reimagine the entire learning experience for employees, it’s critical to talk to the best minds in the business. That’s why Workday’s product management team consulted with Paul Sparta for Workday Learning, announced today and planned for general availability in 2016.

Sparta headshot
Paul Sparta

Sparta is the founder and former CEO of Plateau Systems, which created one of the industry’s first learning management systems (LMS). Plateau led the market for many years and was Workday’s first LMS partner. SuccessFactors later acquired Plateau, where Sparta served as chief integration officer. He is now managing partner at Acme Nova Partners and executive chairman at VBrick Systems.

We called Paul Sparta to ask about the market and his thoughts on Workday Learning. Here’s what he told us:

You helped launch the learning systems market 20 years ago. How has that market shaped up?

If you look at the number of learning systems that have been created, then failed, that number is 20 times the number of learning solutions that have actually had any sort of success. The primary reason is a misunderstanding what a proper learning management system should do for an enterprise.

It’s easy to underestimate the bar when it comes to learning technology. A learning system is far more than just a list of online courses that employees can take—it is a mission-critical application that encompasses what a person must know or want to know in order to do his or her job as effectively as possible. Doing this well is not simple.

What do organizations need most out of a modern learning application?

There is a great need for content and information to be instantly available whenever and wherever someone needs it. People want and require information on the fly. And, when they learn a smart way to do something, they want to share it with others.

There’s also increasing pressure for companies to keep up with compliance and risk management requirements. Organizations need to reach their global employees anywhere, anytime to stay in compliance with multiple global regulatory bodies. The cycle time for turnaround in business is much shorter nowadays, so learning systems have to be fast and smart at getting employees the information they need to follow procedures and policies. This is not only necessary for companies in vertical domains such as manufacturing or life sciences, where we’ve classically seen it, but other areas, such as financial services and healthcare where privacy and security are critical functions.

What people must remember is that a great learning system can be a competitive differentiator, and can make a workforce more productive if well implemented.

“There is a great need for content and information to be instantly available whenever and wherever someone needs it.”

What do you think about Workday’s approach for learning management?

Workday is taking the right approach with Workday Learning by responding to some major business needs with its vision. One is user friendliness: the company intends to deliver social learning capabilities—such as video and user-generated content—in a very complete way. And, Workday is tackling much of the hard stuff—compliance, business requirements, and global—right off the bat in the initial release. Workday Learning will quickly be as powerful and robust as its other applications. With a strong enterprise core, a phenomenal global object model built around people, and the established Workday advantage of development speed and reliability, Workday should be able to quickly build out its functionality for Workday Learning.

What makes Workday unique is its truly unified architecture. Companies are going to have the core aspects of their business—HR, finance, and learning—native in one system. A learning application needs to be integrated with all people processes, including core HR, payroll, workforce scheduling, et cetera. Being an island is not a viable model anymore.

This is important for a few reasons. First, it is extremely expensive and difficult to integrate learning solutions with other applications, so Workday’s unified platform could be a huge cost savings for potential customers. Second, a learning solution can be a great source of valuable data, providing information such as what content people are looking at, and what is most important to them. As an application that’s unified with HR and financial data, companies could have richer and more meaningful insights into their workforces. I think Workday has the best opportunity to really deliver on this vision and it would be the first company to actually do so with a truly unified architecture.