It is not easy choosing the “best LMS” for 2016. In fact, it is impossible to choose just one. That’s because the learning management systems market has never been stronger or more diverse.
LMS specialists of every size, shape and focus continue to enter the space with impressive new capabilities. Buyers see exciting ways to rethink their learning infrastructure, while incumbents are being challenged to up their game. But it wasn’t always this way.
In years past, the same dozen or so vendors competed for all the LMS market share. Nearly every vendor earned its bread and butter by selling to employee-minded buyers in HR. Now, more than 700 solutions claim at least some piece of the LMS pie — and for most of them, employee training is not a mainstay.
Finding the Best LMS in a Complex World
From where we stand on the LMS front lines, these changes are signs of a vibrant, sustainable industry. But they also create complexity and uncertainty. That’s why we founded Talented Learning, an independent research and consulting firm for learning technology buyers and sellers.
Our mission is to map the uncharted learning tech world and provide buyers with resources to find solutions that will most benefit them. We have spent the last three years meeting more than 125 vendors — learning who they are, what they do, why they are unique, and who their customers are. Then we’ve boiled-off the marketing fluff and scientifically compared solutions by tracking and evaluating hundreds of LMS product, service and business characteristics.
In parallel, we have helped dozens of learning technology buyers carefully define their unique requirements, and we’ve introduced them to vendors whose solutions address their business challenges. Every day, we see LMS vendors in action, selling their products. We listen to their value propositions and help clients weigh pros and cons. We participate in LMS demonstrations, study RFP responses and interview customer references. We follow every winning vendor’s implementation and setup process, and we monitor ongoing success.
Throughout this journey, we have profiled more than 10 different types of LMS solutions designed for specific business functions and unique audiences. In all fairness, we could probably identify 25 categories but we had to stop somewhere!
So after deep study and deliberation, we’ve compiled our 2nd Annual LMS Vendor Awards. This year we narrowed the finalists to only 5 in each category, so our choices would not be diluted. There are many other excellent vendors who arguably could be added to each list, but a tighter list (3 winners and 2 honorable mentions) shines a stronger spotlight on the best-of-the-best LMS vendors.
In the future, we look forward to expanding the pool of candidates as we meet and evaluate more vendors in depth. But from our perspective, these are the very best LMS vendors in 12 key categories. Congratulations to all!
BEST ALL-PURPOSE EXTENDED ENTERPRISE LMS
Solutions in this category support all aspects of the corporate learning function for internal audiences (employees) as well as the so-called extended enterprise. These “all purpose” LMS platforms are used to deliver, support and measure online and classroom training programs for any combination of employees, channel partners, dealers, franchisees, customers, business prospects and others. Because extended enterprise LMSs must address diverse audiences, business needs and technical requirements, they must balance flexibility with proven industrial-strength functionality. Mandatory features include simple-but-powerful administrative configuration, domain and audience segmentation, localization/globalization, ecommerce, dynamic user grouping, multi-device online/offline content delivery, sophisticated reporting, and API-based systems integration. Our choices for world’s best Extended Enterprise LMS in 2016 are:
BEST CHANNEL & PARTNER LMS
When organizations educate and certify their external sales channel and business partners, they often increase sales, create new revenue streams and improve customer satisfaction. HR usually is not involved in corporate channel and partner learning processes or technology. Instead, the sales organization, business unit or channel relationship function responsible for the partner relationship is the LMS buyer — and they typically choose a specialized channel/partner LMS over employee-oriented training technology. Winners in this category offer varying degrees of sophistication in core channel functionality, including domain segmentation, ecommerce, social learning, globalization, broad content support, mobile readiness and ease-of-use. Channel/partner LMSs also include strong integration and shared workflow capabilities to work in conjunction with dealer management, incentive management, ecommerce, order fulfillment, CRM, PRM and ERPs. Our choices for the world’s best Channel & Partner LMS solutions are:
BEST CUSTOMER LMS
Most LMS vendors say they support customer learning, but LMS solutions designed specifically for customer education are truly unique. A customer LMS must be super easy for customers to understand and use. Ideally, they resemble social media environment, rather than a clunky database. Integration with CRM software ensures that any customer activity (such as a course purchase, renewal, webinar participation, whitepaper download) will trigger an intelligent recommendation of appropriate/related learning events. Here are our 2016 choices for the world’s best customer-centered LMS:
BEST COMPLIANCE LMS
Employee and contractor compliance is a big problem for many organizations. In fact, it was the reason LMSs were originally developed several decades ago. Federal, state and local jurisdictions enact training, safety and harassment regulations, and then audit for compliance. Non-compliance can result in significant penalties and fines. High-consequence industries such as pharmaceuticals, biomedical, manufacturing, transportation, energy, finance and retail are required to deliver (or refresh) mandatory compliance training, and be ready to prove it to auditors at any time. Compliance LMS solutions are administrator-focused and typically include skills and competencies tracking, audit trails, electronic signatures, strong ILT management, facilities and resource management, broad content support and powerhouse reporting. Our choices for the world’s best compliance LMS in 2016 are:
BEST TALENT LMS
Talent LMSs are integrated into broader HR and talent management suites — products that support employee recruiting, succession planning, goal-setting, performance management, time tracking, payroll and more, throughout the employee lifecycle. These LMSs provide higher value than standalone compliance LMS solutions. Typical talent LMS use cases include employee onboarding, skills training, performance support and leadership development, where the most productive workflows tap into performance management, career paths and other aspects of talent management. Within these suites, talent and learning modules share data that influences content recommendations, skills and competencies development, succession planning and performance reviews. Here are our choices for the world’s best talent LMS:
BEST CONTINUING EDUCATION LMS
The continuing education LMS is the engine that powers commercial training companies of all types. Countless for-profit training companies create, deliver and manage accredited content for various industries and regions in a continuing education LMS. The products in this category are designed to look and feel like Amazon or Best Buy. They also build-in depth B2B and B2C ecommerce capability and the strategic capacity to dynamically group users for target marketing and ongoing promotions. Some of the advanced features from vendors in this category include sophisticated administrative support for traditional instructor-led training management, CRM integration, virtual classrooms (native or through third-party integration), ecommerce, sales tax management, complex CEU management and accreditation support. Numerous vendors offer continuing education solutions but we believe these choices are the world’s best:
BEST ASSOCIATION LMS
Although the association LMS space is extremely specialized, it continues to experience explosive growth and innovation. Any association of any size or budget can now support member education with sophisticated learning technology. Selling accredited professional education content to members and managing related learning activities generates non-dues revenue — and this is big business. Many LMS providers think their solution is perfect for associations, but many are wrong. Association LMSs require tight integration with association management systems (AMSs), B2B and B2C ecommerce, digital libraries, globalization, audience segmentation, mobile responsiveness, usable social learning, virtual classrooms, webcasting tools, podcast support, and event management features. They are also designed with ease-of-use in mind, so the learning experience appeals to a variety of users. The best association LMS vendors in the world today are:
BEST ACADEMIC LMS
The academic LMS market is very distinct from the others. K-12, vocational and higher education institutions have long relied on special systems to manage information about students, classes, teachers, and their relationships and interactions. More recently, these systems have extended their functionality to enrich the educational experience, with tools that help instructors assemble content, record and deliver their sessions in video format, introduce assignments and reading materials, engage with students about homework assignments, deliver formal online learning, as well as massively open online courses (MOOCs). Our choices for the best academic LMS include:
BEST LEARNING TECH INNOVATOR
In today’s dynamic LMS environment, innovation is everywhere. These advances are not focused solely on incremental improvements to existing functionality. Instead, many developers are taking bold strides with technology that not only pushes boundaries, but promises to re-imagine the learning platform as we’ve known it. We welcome these new solutions — not as a threat to a long-standing industry worldview, but as an exciting opportunity to expand the definition of the LMS category at its core. To encourage a more expansive view of the LMS, we want to acknowledge this year’s most noteworthy learning technology pioneers. The following vendors are high on our radar this year:
Honorable Mention (3-way tie)
BEST LMS THOUGHT LEADER
Our research does not stop with evaluating LMS product features. We also consider how well LMS vendors support their product vision as industry thought leaders. We engage and interact with them on social media. We read their blog posts, whitepapers and case studies. We watch their videos and attend their webinars. This helps us detect shifts in industry trends. But more importantly, it helps us identify companies who excel at advancing the learning community — those who develop a clear, coherent brand narrative and breathe life into it with original, compelling, high-value content. As our 2016 list indicates, “thought leaders” come in all sizes and occupy all corners of the learning technology universe. We have been impressed with the caliber of many more vendors than we are able to include on the list below. However, when we look across the LMS landscape, these voices have earned our highest recognition:
BEST LMS DEMONSTRATOR
Being an LMS demonstrator is tough. They are heroes when they win and “zeros” when they lose. They’re expected to deliver a high-impact demonstration every time, and do it better than the other 10 organizations a buyer is evaluating. LMS demonstrators are in hot demand in the industry. Great demonstrators must not only understand learning, the LMS and business objectives, but also possess the talent to deliver a demo in a humorous, engaging way that is tailored to their audience. Here are the best we’ve worked with in 2016:
LMS SALES STARS
Selling LMS solutions is no easy task in 2016. With 700 competitors, every win is a challenge. High-quality sales representatives are critical for any LMS vendor’s success. In our role as analysts and LMS buyer consultants, we meet tons of LMS sales people from around the world and we see how they sell up close. The best LMS salespeople listen more than they sell, are energized by solving business problems, and are super-responsive communicators. They are excellent writers, even better at delivering presentations, and have the patience to successfully navigate a long winding sales cycle. We don’t know if the following salespeople are the best in the world, but they are the best we have encountered in 2016:
The LMS Never Looked So Good!
Congratulations to all the 2016 “Best LMS” award winners — you deserve the recognition. Because of you, the LMS market continues to thrive — morphing, evolving and expanding along with the value of learning in all its forms. This is promising news for everyone in the LMS sphere, including buyers, sellers and anyone involved in creating content that educates and empowers individuals and organizations.
We look forward to seeing how you continue to shape the learning technology universe in 2017.
Thanks for reading!
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