There are still 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 the alternate, even-broader term “Learning Systems” but often 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 — 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 like functionality such as social, mobile, compliance, gamification, virtual, etc. 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 whole 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.
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 what each LMS solution is good at, stay up to date and communicate it to the world in a fiercely independent and simple-to-understand manner.
We’re not buying anything, but as LMS selection consultants, we help buyers buy every day. Vendors know it. So proactively, we can get deep looks at many different vendors without the sales badgering.
We do the research so you don’t have to!
Seven Types of LMS Solutions
Without a doubt, there are still too many LMS solutions. Personally, I’ve now reviewed and actively track 200+ solutions. In my mind and on paper, I’m constantly entertaining new ways to group like vendors, but I keep coming back to target use case specialization as the most valuable categorization for buyers.
Below are 65 LMS Solutions categorized into seven 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 and include 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. This group has been stealing the above Talent Suite LMS clients for the last five years in both employee and extended enterprise, but also competes stunningly well in SMB.
- Extended Enterprise LMS Vendors – This vendor group does not compete in employee opportunities and focuses 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, the EE vendors such as Thought Industries, Learndot, BenchPrep, BlueVolt, NetExam, Community Brands Crowd Wisdom, Skilljar and Academy of Mine shine.
- Association LMS Vendors – This group 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 vendors due to their 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 and focuses on making standard employee learning better 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 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. This group focuses 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 – A relatively new group created to capitalize on the poor learner experience of the Talent Suite LMSs. This type of vendor provides a “layer” that sits on top of an organization’s LMS(s) and uses AI to consolidate, collate 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. This group vehemently believes they are not an LMS but continue to develop more and more LMS like capabilities.
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 differentiation in cost, capabilities and technical prowess to support novice to expert buyers and your specific needs. Although a little daunting at first, finding your perfect LMS solution is very achievable. Everything is easy once you know how.
Thanks for reading!
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