Published On: September 25, 2014By
What are the 5 LMS categories in 2014? Learning technology analyst John Leh maps the learning systems market

I sold high-end LMSs for 13 years and never dreamed there was so much variety in the LMS marketplace.  LMS vendors get used to competing against the same vendors for the same type of opportunities, and it’s easy to ignore the other LMS segments –mainly because the potential segments and opportunities are ignoring you!

As an independent LMS market analyst and selection consultant, I’ve had the opportunity to review 50 LMS solutions in the last nine months.  It’s exhilarating to learn about LMS solutions at a much deeper level than I ever could as a competitor.  I spoke to LMS executives, marketers, sales and technical representatives as well as their clients.  I watched tutorials, webinars and videos and read project manuals, blogs, case studies and websites.

I loaded content, consumed content, built curriculums, created business rules, received awards, ran reports, poked and prodded to see what’s out there, how it works, what’s unique and who’s buying it.   I asked every vendor about their target market, unique value propositions, learning technology trends and their top competitors.

I was amazed by the large number of viable LMS solutions.  How can 700+ LMS vendors exist with more joining the race every day?  What do they all eat?  Turns out it is just like nature – specialization is the key to survival and ongoing success.

Although it could be argued that there are dozens of types of LMSs, I grouped all the LMSs I’ve researched into 5 broad categories and have listed them in terms of extended enterprise suitability.


5) Talent Suite LMSs

Talent Suite LMSs have been around for over a decade and they look like it.  Many former tier one LMS providers such as Plateau, and Certpoint were acquired and integrated into the big HR and talent management providers over the last 3-4 years.   Talent suite LMSs have deep, configurable LMS capabilities but are behind on mobile, social, gamification and other modern feature sets.  They are also expensive.

By their nature, Talent Suite LMSs are internal employee focused.  Although they have strong domain segmentation and other features to support extended enterprise training, due to cost and lack of “marketing” sizzle they are generally not a first choice for channel partners, customers, members or other volunteer audiences.

Talent Suite LMSs leaders include SumTotal (Skillsoft), SAP SuccessFactors, Saba, IBM, PeopleFluent, SilkRoad, Cornerstone, Oracle, Infor and IBM.

4) Stand-Alone LMSs

The stand-alone LMSs used to be the tier 2 LMSs before the above talent suite LMS acquisitions.  They are now the tier 1 LMS providers in the industry and they command the most complex, strategic and high user opportunities poached from the Talent Suite LMSs and each other.  They all have experienced professional services groups to help transition vendors off their current solution, migrate the historical data and content, configure the new system, train the administrators, build content and provide ongoing support.

The stand-alone LMS providers are focused on learning, integrate with any talent management platform when necessary and provide excellent support for an organization’s internal and/or extended enterprise audiences.   Stand-alone LMSs are either deployed in a vendor-hosted (private cloud) or on the customer’s premise.

Leaders in the stand-alone LMS group include Expertus, WBT Systems, Totara, Accord, eLogic Learning, Intellum, NetDimensions and IMC.

3)  Cloud LMSs

Cloud LMSs go by many names including NextGen, Social, Mobile, eCommerce and Gamified LMSs.  They are typically less than three-five years old and are only available in the cloud for lease in both a multi-tenant and private deployment models.  Because the Cloud LMSs are newer this group is not as technically and functionally advanced as the Stand-Alone LMSs and 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 provide low cost, easy to use, modern solutions and are perfect for extended enterprise (non-employee) applications.  They are built with the end-user experience first and administration second.  They look and feel like Facebook or Amazon and lead the LMS industry in the cool factor feature sets of mobile, social and gamification.

The best Cloud LMS providers include Docebo, TalentLMS, BizLibrary, Litmos, InteractYX, DigitalChalk, Digital Ignite, MindFlash and Saba.

2) Industry LMSs

Industry LMSs are turnkey solutions focused at – you got it – a specific industry.  The industry LMS solutions can either be homegrown or rebranded (white labeled) stand-alone or cloud LMSs.  In either case, they include preselected industry content, competencies, certifications and functionality needed that an organization can use to get going in a hurry because it has been proven in other identical organizations.

Industry LMSs are usually founded by people who are experts in a particular industry and that expertise is the key reason why you buy an industry LMS vs. a general purpose stand-alone, talent or cloud LMS.   Industry LMSs are provided by associations, university education outreach and for-profit training companies and can be focused either on employees or the extended enterprise.

Many of the 700+ LMSs are industry LMSs.  Industry LMS leaders include BlueVolt, Healthstream, RISC, CAE Learning, BAI, KMI, Digitec Interactive and Convergence Training.

1) Pure Extended Enterprise LMSs

Many new LMS vendors over the last five years have tried to figure out how to market to that elusive group who trains the extended enterprise (non-employees) but are not part of the HR or training organization.  These professionals are unpredictably diverse.  They can be customer service, channel managers, marketers, sales professionals, executives or operations professionals who have been tasked with educating or certifying their extended audiences.

Extended enterprise LMS vendors try to target these unique extended enterprise owners and needs.  Their solutions are not intended for internal employee use so they leave behind all terminology and concepts that do not apply to channel, distributor, member, customer or public audiences and add in a dose of cool and marketing.  Extended enterprise solutions can be deployed in the cloud, private cloud and even on premise.  Extended enterprise LMSs focus on the business of training.

Extended enterprise LMS leaders include Skilljar, Instancy, Bluedrop, EthosCE, TalentLMS and QuestCE.


I admit it, it’s confusing.  No vendor fits neatly into any one category nor are the solutions equal within categories.  Do you need the HR focus of the talent suite?  The power of a stand-alone?  The ease of a cloud?  The industry expertise?  Or extended enterprise focus?  It’s tough to know.

No LMS is good for everyone, but every LMS is good for someone.  My best advice is to clearly define your business goals, measurable success criteria and functional, technical, professional service, ongoing support and business requirements.    Just going through the process of collecting and organizing the data will lead you to good partner choices in any of the above 5 LMS types.

Thanks for reading!


Want more LMS insights? Check this on-demand webinar:

Insider’s Guide to LMS Selection Success

The LMS landscape is crowded, complex and difficult for potential buyers to navigate. What should learning technology buyers do?

Join Talented Learning Lead Analyst John Leh and Docebo North American Sales Director Corey Marcel as they explain what you should know before you choose the right LMS for your organization. You will learn:

  • What an effective LMS selection process looks like
  • The factors that matter most in choosing a learning platform
  • Where to find the most reliable LMS vendor intelligence, and
  • How to avoid common LMS selection missteps

If you’re selecting a new LMS this year (or are only thinking about it), replay this on-demand webinar, and start putting your selection strategy to work!


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About the Author: John Leh

John Leh is 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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