Published On: August 15, 2014By
What is a Cloud LMS? (And what isn't it?) Independent learning tech analyst John Leh sorts through the confusing language of today's LMS market

“It is nor Social, nor Mobile
Nor NextGen, nor Gamified,
Nor any other LMS Belonging to the Cloud.

O, be some other name! What’s in a name?
That which we call a Cloud LMS
By any other name would be so sweet? “

That’s some good poetry.  I’ve always been amazed that Shakespeare blogged about learning management systems way back when.  He’s the reason I got in the LMS blogging business.  If he were around today, I’d imagine he’d be blogging about how ridiculous it is to have 5 names and endless awards for the same thing — a cloud LMS.  It’s really difficult to keep it all straight but let me show you this math equation I’ve been working on:

Cloud LMS = Mobile LMS = NextGen LMS = Gamified LMS = Social LMS

That should simplify things for you as you research options for your next LMS.  I think Shakespeare would be proud, though mystified by my succinctness.

What is a Cloud LMS?

There is no formal definition, so here is mine.  Cloud, NextGen, Social, Mobile and Gamified LMSs are learning platforms born in the last five years.  They are the modern LMSs built using all the modern tools and techniques.  The solutions are available in the cloud, and are “leased” in both multi-tenant and private deployment models.

Cloud LMSs are the most exciting group in the LMS industry.  Because cloud LMSs are newer, this group is not as technically and functionally advanced as standalone LMSs and HR/talent suite LMSs, however, they have their foot on the accelerator and are making progress at a faster clip than the rest of the industry.

Cloud LMSs go by these self-imposed marketing names as a way to differentiate themselves while they are growing.  Regardless of how the new cloud LMS vendors brand themselves, they all have a “nextgen, mobile, social, gamified, ecommerce, extended enterprise” vision of LMS life.  They also lead the industry in those feature sets.  Because cloud LMSs are easy to access and easier to use, they are a natural fit for voluntary learning users in extended enterprise environments.  All cloud LMSs share the following product traits:

  • Cloud LMSs are fully mobile responsive meaning that the LMS scales, reorganizes menus and the user interface to work on any mobile device or browser globally without squinting and scrolling.  (Resize the browser you are reading this blog post in and you will see what fully responsive is.)
  • Social learning is integrated into the main workflow for a user vs. going to a separate place in the LMS for collaboration which is common with the pre-cloud LMS providers.
  • Gamification is a core feature set that assigns points for the completion of content or social interaction.  Accumulated points lead to badges or awards that represent experience on a user’s profile.
  • They use out-of-the-box API “connectors” to integrate with anything in the cloud like CRM, HR, Talent, Virtual Classroom, Social and eCommerce applications.  This allows them to extend their applications without the overhead of R&D.
  • The user interface is designed to look and feel more like Facebook and Amazon than traditional LMS solutions making it more engaging and familiar.
  • They all use the term “next gen” (next generation) to describe the above feature set.  What they really mean is that they are not a traditional, clunky, legacy LMS.  LMSs in every type of LMS category self proclaim their “next gen-ishness.”

Who are the Best Cloud LMS Providers?

No, this is not a list arbitrarily ranking unlike vendors in a made up category. Here are the most popular cloud LMS vendors I’ve identified while I’ve reviewed dozens of LMS providers:   Docebo, Litmos, Mindflash, LearningCart, DigitalIgnite (now YourMembership), TOPYX, Expertus, Saba, DigitalChalk, Cornerstone and Growth Engineering.

Each has its strengths and weaknesses from a technical, product, business, professional service or support standpoint.  The “best” cloud LMS for you is the one that meets your requirements in those five categories.

The Cloud LMS Business Model

Building an ever-growing reoccurring stream of “license subscription or leasing” revenue by adding and then keeping clients is the core cloud LMS business model.  All cloud LMS providers have the following business commonalities:

  • Cloud LMS vendors want their prospects to self-educate themselves so they will learn all the information, all the product features, unique value propositions, try the LMS out and then subscribe to the LMS at the end of their trial – hopefully with minimal live sales support.  To support the self-education, their sites are loaded with content.  The more self-education the better, salespeople are expensive.
  • They are all experts at “inbound marketing” meaning they constantly publish thought leadership articles and content and consequently attract qualified leads from around the world.
  • It is extremely easy, inexpensive and fast to get started.  Shoppers are encouraged to take a free trial, upload content and users and then start paying for the service in a few weeks.  This is really opposite of the Talent LMS and Stand-Alone LMS providers who always want to “demo first” and hold the “sandbox” experience as the last step for fear of scaring away prospects with their complexity.
  • They charge a reasonable monthly or annual all-inclusive fee to use to their platform.  This fee could be based on user records in the database, active users, course completions, course launches or registrations.
  • Cloud organizations follow an “Agile” rapid design and deploy model to grow their multi-tenant solutions. As a result, the level of complexity supported literally grows weekly. They apply these changes to all customers, at the same time, as part of their subscription fee.


Every organization that wants to educate its extended enterprise or internal employees needs to have an LMS.  If you are shopping for an LMS,  don’t get caught up in all the marketing noise about the labels of best “Gamification” LMS or the best “Social” LMS.  The first step is for you to build the business case on why you need an LMS, and clarify the business metrics you are trying to impact with technology-supported learning.  The second step is to analyze your anticipated user audiences and define how you want them to use the LMS as indicated in your requirements.  If your requirements include social, mobile, ecommerce, gamification, and a cloud-based content delivery and licensing model that’s great.  But rarely, if ever, do those feature sets alone drive a strategic LMS purchase.

Thanks for reading!


Want more insights? Replay the webinar!

Choosing Your Next LMS: How to Kickstart the Process with an Independent Consultant

In a complex market packed with 700+ possible solutions, how can you be sure your next learning platform will work for your organization? What kind of functionality is essential? Do you know what’s available? What budget parameters makes sense? How can you avoid overpaying? Do you even know if an LMS is the best solution?

Where should you start?

Before making your next move, why not tap into the knowledge and experience of a successful independent learning technology consultant? Join John Leh, CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning as he tackles today’s trickiest LMS buyer challenges:

  • How to make sense of today’s expansive LMS landscape
  • How to determine if you can afford a new LMS
  • Why requirements definition is essential to sort through the learning tech “specialist” market
  • How to narrow your options from 700+ vendors to a qualified shortlist
  • When and how to use an RFP (or not)

Replay the webinar now!

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About the Author: John Leh

John Leh is Founder, CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning and the Talented Learning Center. John is a fiercely independent consultant, blogger, podcaster, speaker and educator who helps organizations select and implement learning technology strategies, primarily for extended enterprise applications. His advice is based upon more than 25+years of learning-tech industry experience, serving as a trusted LMS selection and sales adviser to hundreds of learning organizations with a total technology spend of more than $100+ million and growing. John would love to connect with you on Twitter or on LinkedIn.

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