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LXP: A Sustaining Or A Disrupting Innovation?

Evolution, Not Revolution

The Learning Experience Platform (LXP) evolved out of the Learning Management System (LMS). This might seem an obvious point, but it is an important one to make at the outset. It explains some of the difficulties people have had in recent years in giving a clear definition of this new product category and in determining whether the LXP is a sustaining or disruptive innovation.

Not all products evolve out of something else. The technology we are using to write this paper—word-processing software running on a computer linked to a printer— did not come about through incremental improvements to the typewriter. It was a completely different way of approaching the task, resulting from the introduction of a new paradigm: personal computing. This was a revolutionary change, not an evolutionary one.

The LXP, by contrast, evolved out of the LMS in a process perhaps analogous to the way domestic dogs evolved from wolves. At two different points along the evolutionary timeline, we can see two distinct species, wolf and dog, but at points in between, there were doubtlessly many varieties of wolf-like dogs and dog-like wolves, with interbreeding further confusing the picture and making it hard to draw a clear line between the two. So it has been with LXPs and LMSs. However, this is beginning to change.

The Two Types Of Innovation

In understanding the distinction we are seeking to make, it is useful to set it in the context of the different types of innovation as defined by Greg Satell in the Harvard Business Review [1].

Satell’s matrix draws on the work of Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, who introduced the concept of disruptive innovation in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma [2]. Disruptive innovations are very different from sustaining innovations.

In the example given above, word-processing with a personal computer would count as a disruptive innovation. It is a revolutionary paradigm shift that changed the landscape of competition and consigned the typewriter to the status of a museum piece.

This raises the question of whether the LXP is a disruptive innovation, set to cast the LMS onto the trash heap of obsolete technology systems or a sustaining innovation that will complement it, and by doing so, actually prolong its life. Ultimately, only time will tell. But the very entangled nature of the LXP and LMS concepts to date tend to suggest that the LXP is probably a sustaining innovation.

Establishing A Unique Identity

The contention of this paper is that the LXP and the LMS can now just be described as separate entities, each with its own distinctive characteristics and capabilities. However, this wasn’t necessarily the case a few years ago.

In the two decades of their existence, as Laura Lee-Gibbs [3] of Learn Fox points out, LMSs had begun to add many of the features we now think of as associated with the more recent LXP concept, such as User-Generated Content, social learning, the ability to design and route learners through learning pathways, eCommerce, mobile learning, and more recently, gamification. At the same time, those systems that were beginning to be described as LXPs had diverse and overlapping feature sets, and there was not much of a settled view within the learning technologies community about what the defining features of an LXP might be.

Latterly, however, LXP feature sets have tended to coalesce in the process. What has become the most notable about them is not so much what they do as what they don’t do—to the extent that it is almost easier to describe the difference between an LXP and an LMS in terms of absences. The LXP, by and large, believes certain features are no longer valid or required, and streamlines its feature set in the cause of better User Experience, cutting out the “features bloat” that has come to be associated with the LMS.

Having said all this, there are still many hybrid systems around, and it is not always easy with a given system to decide whether it is truly an LXP or an LMS. Nevertheless, the fog has cleared somewhat, and it is now possible to form a clearer definition of each, their distinctive characteristics and strengths, and how each might best be deployed within the organizational context to support the learning needs of a modern workforce.

Further Reading

It is worth understanding a little more about the process of evolution by which the LXP emerged and the forces in the business environment that drove it. The eBook “Powering The Modern Learner Experience” can help you understand the history, the present, and the future of the LXP while explaining the current situation of the market and the amazing potential it has.


[1] The 4 Types of Innovation and the Problems They Solve

[2] How Accurate Is Alpha’s Theory of Dog Domestication? 

[3] The 4 Types of Innovation and the Problems They Solve

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