There are still hundreds and hundreds of LMS solutions in the world. Although many try to leave the “LMS” moniker behind, buyers and the industry won’t let them. The overly broad term LMS (learning management system) is here to stay and confuse buyers for many years to come. Those of us who think we’re woke often use an even-broader term, “Learning Systems.” But often we have to explain that, “Yes, a Learning System is an LMS.” Or, “Yes, an LMS is a Learning System.”
The confusion can partially be attributed to LMS solution vendors trying to rebrand themselves as new, exciting, convenient, affordable and learner-focused “systems” vs. the old, boring, cumbersome, expensive and administrative-focused LMSs of yesteryear.
To do that, they name their solution some variation on a “learning, talent, employee, business, content, development, channel, continuing education, association, ecommerce, micro, video, compliance, sales, customer, performance, social, academic, franchise, artificial intelligent or experience” system rather than simply calling it an LMS.
It’s not all marketing fluff though. It’s also about leveraging specialization to differentiate in a crowded marketplace. Certainly, many LMSs position themselves as “good for anything you need,” but the majority have trended intentionally or accidentally towards being “really good at something specific.” In other words, they have evolved to survive and thrive.
Specialization is the Key LMS Solution Differentiator
Although there are thousands of potential LMS requirements in the world, any given LMS solution vendor has a subset depending on their focus.
Imperfectly, all LMS requirements can be organized into 25 or so groups of similar functionality such as social, mobile, compliance, gamification or virtual classrooms. A vendor’s level of competence in any given group is directly tied to their specialization. For example, buyers of LMS in professional associations care little about compliance features and a lot about ecommerce features. Buyers for an employee LMS are exactly the opposite. The perfect LMS solution for each type of buyer is different.
The trick to finding the right LMS is to be crystal clear on who your target audiences are and what your use cases are and start researching the group of vendors that specialize in what you want to achieve.
Why is a Specialized Vendor So Good?
When you find your perfect LMS, you will find yourself surrounded by other clients with similar needs and goals together driving the innovation and direction of LMS solution.
Vendors prioritize and build the enhancements the majority of their clients want, creating a positive cycle of attracting the right type of prospects, turning them into successful clients and growing with them and for them strategically over time.
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Challenge of Doing LMS Solution Research
Frustratingly for buyers though, the differences between the vendors are not obvious at first or even second look. Many vendors use different terms for the same thing and disguise their true level of competence in any given feature group in soft marketing fluff. Buyers really have to dig through their website, inevitably engage sales resources, get demos, ask questions, solicit proposals and have clarifying discussions.
At that point though, research becomes overwhelming because you are also now a “prospective customer” so all interactions with the vendors will be through that lens. The more “real” they think you are, the more frequent the communication.
At first, with just one or two vendors, it is manageable. But as buyers expand their research, it quickly becomes obvious that you can’t research a dozen vendors or more without giving up your day job.
Many buyers try. And most reach their practical limit long before they are confident they are looking at the right subset of vendors to evaluate.
Where Does Talented Learning Fit In?
We figure out the true strength of each LMS solution, stay up-to-date on those strengths across vendors, and communicate continuously about it to the world in a fiercely independent and simple-to-understand manner.
We’re not buying anything, ourselves. But as LMS selection consultants, we help buyers buy better, every day. Vendors know that. So we can get deep looks at many different learning solutions without any sales badgering or marketing puffery.
We do the research so you don’t have to!
Seven Types of LMS Solutions
Without a doubt, there are still too many solutions in the LMS landscape. Personally, I’ve reviewed and actively track 200+ solutions. In my mind and on paper, I’m constantly entertaining new ways to group similar solutions, but I keep coming back to target use case specialization as the most valuable way to categorize solutions from a buyer’s perspective.
Below are 65 LMS solutions, categorized into 7 types of LMS solutions:
- Talent Suite LMS Vendors – The long-lived, traditional LMSs that most new vendors try not to emulate are now incorporated into broader talent, HR or ERP suites. You know these names: Cornerstone/Saba, SumTotal, Oracle, SAP Success Factors, Infor, PeopleFluent and Workday.This group typically competes for the world’s largest and most complex LMS deployments – most successfully when tied to broader performance, succession, recruiting or business needs. However, the large-scale employee LMS market is saturated and these vendors are not built for the SMB market and are generally clueless about the extended enterprise market.
- Cloud LMS Vendors – This vendor group includes Docebo, TalentLMS, Absorb, MatrixLMS, Accord, CD2 Learning, iSpring, Adobe Captivate Prime, Upside Learning, SAP Litmos, Northpass, Totara and LearnUpon.All are easy to setup, deploy and maintain. This vendor group operates across most industries and can support employee, channel partner and/or customer learning segments. These vendors have been stealing clients from the above Talent Suite LMS vendors for the last five years, in both employee and extended enterprise. But this group also competes stunningly well in the small-and-medium business sector.
- Extended Enterprise LMS Vendors – This vendor group does not compete for employee training opportunities. Instead, these vendors focus all of their efforts on customer, prospect and channel learning and/or the sale of learning, certification, test prep in a B2C, B2B and B2B2B format. They are fantastic at what they do and are leading the industry in business/marketing/learning solutions.When you are measuring success in terms of revenue for your organization, EE vendors such as Thought Industries, Learndot, BenchPrep, BlueVolt, NetExam, Community Brands Crowd Wisdom, Skilljar and Academy of Mine shine.
- Association LMS Vendors – This is one of the most specialized groups of vendors in the industry. Professional associations have unique needs, jargon, integrations, business case, buying cycle and scale. They need to engage and provide value to voluntary members through education or they will not survive.Although many LMSs say they meet association requirements, associations primarily buy from association-specific vendors because of their strong industry knowledge. Examples in this group include Community Brands FreeStone, WBT Systems, Web Courseworks, Holmes Corporation, EthosCE, Digitec Interactive, CommParnters and BlueSky eLearn.
- Employee LMS Vendors – This group is by far the largest. These vendors focus on making standard employee learning better, easier to access and more modern. They have a limited concept of external learning and will only support it if it falls on their laps.This group includes companies like Brainier, Lessonly, BizLibrary, Mindflash, Axonify, SmarterU, CrossKnowledge, Growth Engineering, Risc, Wisetail, Administrate, eFront, eLoomi, Schoox, On-Point Digital, Thinking Cap, DigitalChalk, Totara and hundreds of others. These vendors tend to focus on SMB solutions and building a better LMS mousetrap with personalized services.
- Academic LMS Vendors – This group sells to schools, systems and universities. They are and always have been a separate and unique group in the LMS industry. The academic metaphor just doesn’t align with the corporate learning framework, so there are few successful crossover vendors (though not for lack of trying).Examples in this group include Moodle, Instructure Canvas, Google Classroom, Blackboard, NeoLMS, Schoology, D2L and eSchool.
- Learning Experience Platform Vendors – This is a relatively new group created to capitalize on the poor learner experience offered by Talent Suite LMSs. These vendors provide a “layer” that sits on top of an organization’s LMS(s) and uses AI to consolidate, organize and stream content based on learners’ preferences, job, function, past interests and skills.Examples in this space include Degreed, EdCast, Fuse Universal, Percipio, Valamis and Filtered. Vendors in this group vehemently believe that their systems are not an LMS, but they continue to build more and more LMS-like capabilities into their solutions.
Which LMS solutions are the best? Who should you evaluate? Start with your audiences, use-cases and what you want to achieve. That will lead you to the right group of vendors to evaluate.
Within each group, there is tremendous variation in cost, capabilities and technical prowess to support novice to expert buyers and specific needs. Although a little daunting at first, finding your perfect LMS solution is very achievable. Or as I like to say, everything is easy, once you know how.
Thanks for reading!
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This analysis is extracted from our 2023 Commercial LMS and Learning Systems Market Guide. In the report, we cover another 45 key trends as well provide in-depth profiles of the top 40 solutions including functionality, integration and service ratings. If you are a modern LMS buyer, seller or investor, report is an essential tool for success!
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