As 2017 draws to a close, the learning community is buzzing with chatter. Why? It’s time again for the annual Talented Learning LMS Awards!
Sure, there are lots of other awards in our industry – probably too many – but our awards are very different. The Talented Learning Awards are not a money-making affair for us. Vendors can’t buy their way onto these lists. In fact, there is no cost to participate and no way vendors can influence the outcome directly. We won’t even confirm if we’re considering a vendor for recognition. Most importantly, we aren’t swayed if a vendor is offended by their position (or lack of position) on the final list.
The Talented Learning LMS Awards are not chosen by marketers, or designed for marketers. They are intended to help buyers navigate the uncertain waters of today’s learning technology marketplace. These awards are different and valuable because they’re based on insights from the front lines of LMS buying and selling. The only way to be considered for this list is through:
- Executive briefings with Talented Learning analysts
- In-depth product demonstrations
- Participation and performance in real-life sales opportunities managed by Talented Learning
- Feedback from customers who have chosen and deployed these solutions
- Feedback from current and former employees of these vendors
2017 LMS Awards: Best of the Best
Last year, we counted more than 700 vendors in the LMS space. Since then, the breadth, depth, and texture of the learning technology landscape have grown even more complex and nuanced. Anyone who has recently worked with or around these solutions can sense the shift. Our job is to identify excellence and adaptation to this shift for the benefit of buyers. We stress over these awards because they do in fact influence buyer decisions and we take that responsibility incredibly seriously.
There are so many dimensions to consider when choosing a modern backbone for instructional programs – especially in an environment of broader digital transformation. So how can buyers pick the best? Never settle for someone else’s “Best LMS.” Instead, pick a solution that fits best with your specific requirements!
We make it our business to understand all the nooks, crannies and niches that define the LMS landscape, as well as the innovators who are challenging industry norms. Then we map those capabilities to practical use-case categories. That’s the intelligence we bring to the LMS selection process. And it’s the intelligence we bring to our annual LMS Awards. So, if you want to know which LMS is “best” for modern learning, don’t expect only one answer. Because in truth, it depends! To help guide you, here are our top choices in 12 categories:
- Best Multi-Purpose Extended Enterprise LMS
- Best Channel and Partner LMS
- Best Customer LMS
- Best Compliance LMS
- Best Talent LMS
- Best Continuing Education LMS
- Best Association LMS
- Best Academic LMS
- Best Learning Tech Innovator
- Best LMS Thought Leader
- Best LMS Demonstration Expert
- Best LMS Sales Star
BEST ALL-PURPOSE EXTENDED ENTERPRISE LMS
Extended enterprise LMS solutions are designed to support the diverse needs of internal and external learning audiences in a corporate ecosystem – employees, contractors, customers, prospective customers, channel partners, franchisees, dealers and others in the value chain.
Solutions in this “all purpose” category facilitate planning, delivery, tracking and measurement of training content and activities at scale – often developed and managed by different training departments and delivered to vastly different learning audiences. These systems must balance flexibility with proven industrial-strength functionality.
Mandatory features include robust administrative capabilities, extensive domain and audience segmentation, globalization and localization, ecommerce, mobile delivery, sophisticated reporting, and API-based integration with other business systems and resources. To make this list, your platform must be solid in all respects – a virtual jack of all trades, even if you’re master of none. Our “All-Purpose Extended Enterprise” LMS Awards for 2017 go to:
- eLogic Learning
BEST SALES CHANNEL & PARTNER LMS
If you need to support sales channel and partner learning programs, you may prefer a solution designed specifically for this purpose. Many vendors have developed platforms focused on education and certification of internal and external sales personnel and business partners.
The goal is to empower sales professionals to increase sales velocity and volume, create new revenue streams and improve customer satisfaction. HR is often not involved in corporate channel and partner learning processes or technology. Instead, stakeholders, budgets, stakeholders and program managers typically are located within business units.
Winners in this category offer varying degrees of sophistication in core channel functionality, such as integration with CRM/PRM, domain segmentation to support multiple partners, organization-level ecommerce, globalization, certification tracking, badges and leaderboards. Our choices for 2017 “Channel & Partner” LMS Awards are:
- YourMembership – YM Learning
BEST CUSTOMER LMS
Customer education is the hottest segment in the corporate learning space today, in both B2C and B2B environments. Organizations are discovering that education is a strategic tool that can attract prospects, convert them to customers, onboard them, and help them succeed – all in a way that is highly personalized and measurable.
Most LMS vendors say they support customer learning, but solutions designed specifically for customer education are truly unique. A customer LMS must be super easy for customers to understand and use. The most effective interfaces resemble a social media environment, or fit-in seamlessly with the overall digital customer experience.
Customer activity such as a course purchase, renewal, webinar participation, or whitepaper download should trigger relevant content recommendations or delivery. Therefore, these systems must be tightly integrated with CRM software, marketing automation and survey platforms, social media, ecommerce tools, accounting, finance, customer support and other systems. Here are our choices for best customer LMS 2017:
- ServiceRocket – Learndot
BEST COMPLIANCE LMS
Regulatory compliance is typically the reason why organizations buy their first LMS. Federal, state and local government jurisdictions enact workplace safety, ethics and cultural diversity regulations, and then audit to verify that employees have completed required training. 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 training, and be prepared to prove compliance at any time.
Compliance LMS solutions tend to focus on administrative functions. They typically include skills and competencies tracking, workflow management, audit trails, electronic signatures, strong ILT management, facilities and resource management, broad content support and powerhouse reporting. Our awards for best compliance LMS in 2017 go to:
- eLogic Learning
BEST TALENT LMS
A talent LMS typically includes the features of a compliance LMS, but it fits into a broader HR/talent/financial management suite. The world’s largest organizations typically standardize on these systems. Once they choose a system of record, it rarely changes, given the massive investment in time, money and politics invested. Small and medium-sized buyers often think the complexity and cost of these systems are overkill.
Typical use cases include global employee learning management from hire to fire through shared data and workflows that drive relevant content recommendations, skills and competencies development, succession planning and performance reviews. Here are our choices for the 2017 talent LMS Award:
- SumTotal Systems
BEST CONTINUING EDUCATION LMS
The continuing education LMS is also known as a commercial LMS or an ecommerce LMS. It is very different from an employee compliance or talent LMS. It is the engine that powers training businesses of all types. For-profit continuing education providers need to create, deliver and manage accredited and non-accredited content easily and efficiently for every industry and geographic region.
Products in this category are designed to look and feel like popular consumer shopping websites like Amazon or Best Buy, so customers can quickly find, buy and consume content and communicate about it. Not surprisingly, ecommerce capabilities are essential. These systems also feature traditional instructor-led training management, CRM integration, virtual classrooms (native or through third-party integration), sales tax management, complex CEU administration, exam preparation, accreditation and proctoring. Hundreds of vendors offer continuing education solutions but these are our choices for 2017 LMS Awards:
- YourMembership – YM Learning
- Thought Industries
- eLogic Learning
BEST ASSOCIATION LMS
Association learning technology is hot. For decades associations have been providing specialized educational content to members via live events or publications, but were forced to make ill-fitting talent, employee or academic LMSs work. No longer. 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 for associations. This is vital for their survival, growth and relevance.
Association LMSs require tight integration with association management systems (AMS) such as iMIS, NetFORUM, Your Membership or Personify and community systems such as Higher Logic. There are many important features, including B2B and B2C ecommerce, digital libraries, robust authoring, globalization, audience segmentation, mobile design, social learning, virtual classrooms, webcasting tools, podcast support, video libraries, performance support, exam preparation and event management. In our opinion, the best association LMS vendors in 2017 are:
1. WBT Systems
2. Blue Sky eLearn
3. YourMembership – YM Learning
BEST ACADEMIC LMS
Along with the employee LMS, the academic LMS has existed since the dawn of digital learning solutions, and it is just as specialized. K-12, vocational and higher education institutions have long relied on learning systems to manage information about students, classes, teachers, and their relationships and class interactions. Academic LMSs continue to advance their feature set to facilitate better learning experiences through in-class questions, polling, surveys, assignments, breakouts as well as quizzes, test prep and practice.
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 and deliver formal online courses. The winners of our 2017 Academic LMS Awards include:
- Instructure Canvas
BEST LEARNING TECH INNOVATOR
Learning tech innovators bring new ideas to industry. They may or may not have sorted out their business model, but that doesn’t matter. They’re changing the way the industry thinks about learning technology and best practices. Often their ideas are quickly replicated – for example, the idea of presenting content libraries in iTunes graphical format or offering subscriptions to personalized content feeds.
But innovation doesn’t focus solely on incremental improvements to existing functionality. Many developers are taking bold strides with technology that not only pushes boundaries, but disrupts the LMS as we know it and related tools. We welcome these new solutions – not as a threat to industry standards, but as an opportunity to expand the LMS category at its core.
To encourage a more expansive learning systems worldview, we want to acknowledge this year’s most noteworthy learning tech pioneers:
BEST LMS THOUGHT LEADER
With more than 700 LMS vendors vying for business today, the learning technology echo chamber can be deafening. But some vendor voices consistently rise above the expected in ways that deserve a buyer’s attention. We think those vendors deserve our attention, as well.
Here’s how we separate the “signal” from the noise. On an ongoing basis, we engage with vendors through social media. We immerse ourselves in their blogs, videos, webinars, case studies and white papers. And then, based on metrics that reward value over volume, we identify companies that exemplify “thought leadership.” How clear, consistent and distinctive is their messaging? How useful and compelling are their communications and resources? How successfully do they articulate customer needs and respond to these interests?
This year, we narrowed the field to 60 finalists. Then we more closely evaluated each in several categories: social presence, brand authority, and the quality of their website, blog and resources. Although many more companies received high marks, these ranked highest this year:
- ServiceRocket – Learndot
BEST LMS DEMONSTRATOR
Delivering demos is a tough task. Many tech startups assign demos to a junior salesperson. (Mistake!) The most sophisticated vendors realize that great demo talent is rare – and perhaps expensive. Demo drivers are expected to deliver a high-impact product tour every time, and do it better than the other 10 organizations a buyer is evaluating. LMS demonstrators are in serious demand these days. The best must understand the learning discipline, the LMS and business objectives, but also possess the talent to deliver a information in humorous, engaging way that is tailored to their audience. Here are the best we’ve seen in 2017:
- Raja Venkata – EthosCE
- Mark Benton – Community Brands – YM Learning
- Linda Bowers – WBT Systems
LMS SALES STARS
I’m a recovering LMS sales guy. I spent 13 years fighting the uphill battle and now as an LMS selection consultant, I recognize the best. Selling LMS solutions is no easy task in 2017. With 700 competitors, every win is a challenge – a big challenge.
In our role as learning tech analysts and consultants, we meet dozens of LMS salespeople 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’re also excellent writers, even better at delivering presentations, and have the patience to 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:
- Amber Bovenmyer – Web Courseworks
- Travis Hudelson – Saba
- Julie Ann Lenox – Community Brands – YM Learning
Closing Notes: The LMS Landscape Looks Better Than Ever!
We may not have all the answers, but we know an attractive learning platform when we see one, and we’re not shy about giving credit where it’s due.
Congratulations to all the 2017 Talented Learning LMS Award winners! You’ve worked hard to establish yourselves as leaders in your category, and you deserve all the recognition you receive.
Thanks to you, learning systems continue to thrive — evolving along with market opportunities and technology advances. Your success should be celebrated by everyone in the learning community, including buyers, sellers and others involved in educating individuals and organizations. We look forward to seeing what comes next, as you continue to define the learning landscape in 2018 and beyond.
Thanks for reading!
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