Hands down, our learning technology “predictions” list is our favorite post to develop each year. These aren’t Nostradamus-style prophecies. Rather, they are educated guesses about learning technology trends, based on our continuous market research, our consulting interactions with countless LMS buyers and sellers and more than 20 years of experience we’ve accumulated in the learning industry.
As with all of our advice and opinions, we’re not aiming for abstract, futuristic ideals. Instead, we prefer to focus on practical, concrete intelligence that will support sound business decisions in the coming year. So, with our feet firmly planted in the fertile soil of LMS innovation, here are the 15 trends we think are most likely to shape learning technology this year…
#15 The LMS Will Never Die
It is not going away, folks. For more than a decade we’ve been hearing about the demise of the learning management system, yet its presence is more widespread than ever. Market demand has grown, along with the number of vendors, business uses, integration points and related feature sets — and with good reason. The LMS has evolved from a cost reduction tool to a profit-making engine for many types of organizations. Although the definition and application of the LMS has expanded, its core mission is essentially the same — there will always be a need to bring learners and content together in a measurable way. Instead of dismissing the LMS altogether, I think people mean to say that they have had it with big, boring, complex, expensive, talent management LMS systems that look like databases, are socially unaware and ignore informal learning.
#14 Large-Scale Employee LMS Market Lumbers On
The problem with the global employee learning solutions market is that the big, boring talent management LMSs we just mentioned are the standard for managing enterprise-wide learning complexity. It is incredibly tough (impossible?) to simultaneously orchestrate multiple business units, countries, catalogs, languages, regulations and integrations, while keeping system owners, administrators and learners happy. In many organizations, the same LMSs have been in place for a generation. They have cost a fortune to install and maintain, and they are tightly woven into the broader cultural, technical and business process ecosystem. It is financially, politically and practically prohibitive to replace the LMS alone, or the overarching talent suite, so it doesn’t happen often or easily. All of this lethargy will contribute to a continued lack of large-scale employee LMS innovation in 2017.
#13 If You Can’t Beat Them, Avoid Them, Then Innovate!
Trying to proactively dislodge Cornerstone, SumTotal, Saba, SuccessFactors or Oracle as a business model is a fool’s errand. The most popular competitive strategies are to avoid the big guys altogether, or coexist by providing an incremental solution that shares data with the organizational LMS and offers measurable value. New solutions like Degreed and EdCast offer a learning experience that “sits on top” of the LMS and consolidates content from inside and outside the core system. Other organizations such as Maestro and Allego have created specialized mobile applications for internal and external sales force learning that can’t be replicated by a traditional LMS.
#12 LMS Specialists Are On Fire
By far, the most innovation in the industry is happening among LMS specialists. Not long ago, everyone who developed learning management systems wanted to be all things to all buyers of every size, location, industry and training challenge. Not anymore. In 2017, the aim is to provide the best solution in a well-defined niche. Among LMS specialists, differentiation tends to start with the target learning audience: employees, extended enterprise (customers, channel partners and other non-employees), academic institutions, associations or commercial training companies. All facets of the solution strategy – functional use cases, pricing and license models, implementation and setup services, productized integrations, as well as support offerings are designed to win a particular type of customer, often in a particular industry.
#11 Get Ready to “Right Size” Your Learning Solution
If you bought your LMS more than six or seven years ago, you are most likely paying too much for your LMS today. If you own a talent management LMS and only use LMS functions, you are paying too much. If you have a named user license model, but are an extended enterprise, association or commercial training company, you are paying too much. With the emergence of the specialist LMS options, 2017 is a buyer’s market. If you haven’t rebid your LMS solution in the last few years, you are leaving money on table that could be invested in other critical aspects of your learning business. Due to specialization, new buyer-friendly license models and decreased set-up costs, 2017 is the year for smart organizations to determine if they are paying too much for too little and then do something about it. Want to know how much you can save? Reach out.
#10 Workday Learning Wins the “Not-as-Easy-as-it-Looks” Award
Although Workday has released a new modern LMS, for reasons I mentioned above, it is nearly impossible to sell into its talent management competitors’ backyards. This means Workday Learning needs to be included in broader HR and financial systems opportunities, or focus on selling into its existing customer base. Selling standalone LMS deals against specialists is tough in today’s open market. I’m interested to know, is Workday Learning knocking anybody’s socks off with its value/cost proposition?
#9 Market Consolidation Gains Momentum
More than 700 LMS vendors is too many for the market to sustain indefinitely. (Although it is good for business if you are an LMS selection consultant!) With so many solution providers competing for dozens of niche applications, it was only a matter of time before the consolidation starts on the extended enterprise side of the market. Winners are getting scooped up by complementary vendors who want to expand and fortify niche applications. For example, Litmos acquired extended enterprise specialist View Central last year. And in the association management market, YourMembership and Abila acquired Digital Ignite and Peach New Media, respectively, to shift the AMS/LMS landscape.
#8 Adaptive Learning to Improve
Adaptive learning is the process of automatically recommending content to users based on user profile data, stated interests, content they like/dislike/comment on, data on their calendar, and mandatory learning – usually displayed via a personalized “wall” concept like Facebook or LinkedIn. The content can be formal learning like micro-videos or informal content like posts, articles, blogs and research papers. The problem with today’s adaptive learning is that it is too rudimentary. The idea that practical, real-life, non-human curated content can be driven dynamically to learners during their daily work day– in consumable quantities (not overload, not useless) to improve performance is admirable, but still a work in progress. Look for improvement in 2017.
#7 Intra-LMS Authoring on the Rise
The age-old argument of built-in vs. third-party content authoring tools continues to rage on, but in 2017, the issues are more nuanced. Content assembly, management, and authoring capabilities continue to grow inside of the modern LMS and rival stand-alone tools. With content authored or assembled within the LMS, there is the advantage of better interoperability, ease of authoring, one-tool to learn, no awareness nor concern of SCORM or xAPI, tighter tie-in with ecommerce, and social learning extensions to and from content. Also, for non-HR LMS buyers (such as channel, customer and for-profit training owners), one-stop shopping is easier and faster, because they don’t have to navigate the authoring tool market separately. Vendors like Thought Industries, iWise2 and CD2 Learning are leading in this arena. The disadvantage is the same as always — lack of content portability if you leave your LMS platform.
#6 LMS Gamification Levels Up
In the last 3 years, gamification has gone from zero to everywhere. Almost every LMS we reviewed in 2016 had some concept of LMS gamification including points, awards, badges, levels and in more advanced systems, leaderboards. Points can be awarded for interacting with the LMS, content or other learners. The most innovative vendors are rolling out advanced gamification feature sets for 2017, including contests, rewards and interrelation between content games and overarching LMS gamification. One of the best business application example comes from channel learning: When partners achieve a certification, they automatically receive an increased commission percentage for related products and services they sell from that instant forward. LMS gamification companies to watch include NetExam, BlueVolt and Growth Engineering.
#5 Productized Integrations Bring Plug-In Access to Technology Ecosystems
The modern LMS is not an isolated point solution. Instead, it is an integral part of a broader business technology ecosystem. Finance, ecommerce, taxation, single-sign-on, CRM, AMS, social media, survey tools, digital marketing, virtual classroom, Google Analytics, HCM, talent management and other cloud applications are increasingly becoming productized. This means that instead of an LMS vendor recreating a custom integration time and time again, and charging each new customer for that solution, vendors provide a simpler integration that can just be switched “on or off” for a fee or at no extra cost. This isn’t just LMSs. This is a revolution in all cloud-based software that shifts the focus to quick results. For example, check out Zapier.com – it is a “broker” for hundreds of name-brand productized integrations that a learning/training business can snap together in countless variations. LMS vendors who are leading the way with integration capabilities include Docebo, TalentLMS and Administrate.
#4 Video Is Just Another Tool in the Kit
Throughout my career, there has always been the next “sizzle” feature or delivery medium that promises to change everything and eliminate the need for live instructor-led training. CBT, WBT, eLearning, LCMS, distance learning, virtual learning, social learning, mobile, gamification, social learning (a second time), adaptive learning and now video. Video is a useful, affordable tool, one of many in the instructional design kit. Like always, the decision to use video and/or any instructional media will be a combination of audience, learning objective, business goal, timeline and budget. I predict the next big thing will be the same.
#3 Mobile Apps Will Add Incremental Value
10 years ago, when the mobile revolution caught the LMS industry flat-footed, major LMS players rolled out apps to claim the innovation mantle. In reality, it was to cover up the non-responsive nature of their core application, so mobile users got a watered-down version of the LMS. Over the last five years, old vendors have modernized and hundreds of new vendors were born in the mobile age. Now it is difficult to find an LMS that doesn’t work on most devices, browsers and operating systems. As a result, mobile apps are becoming value-add, providing features not available in an LMS such as “presence sensing” live registration, disconnected content, texting, sales apps, informal learning recording and more.
#2 eCommerce LMS Specialists Ignite Commercial Learning
Selling learning content is not the same as selling laptops online, but it is close! You need to attract potential customers, convert them and keep them coming back to buy more. None of those activities are areas of expertise for HCM or learning professionals, so the industry is learning from the online ecommerce industry in general. eCommerce LMS “specialist” solutions are designed to drive content sales, integration with marketing automation, coupons, discounts, subscriptions, trial offers, free content, bulk purchase discounts, conditional pricing, selling advertising space and more. Nothing says “profit center” more than sales revenue and profit. eCommerce-supported learning is here to stay!
#1 Extended Enterprise Continues to Propel the Learning Tech Market in 2017
I’ve been saying this publicly since March 2014. Extended enterprise (EE) requirements are driving the learning technology market. However, EE is an HR term that assumes the “extension” of the employee LMS to non-employee audiences such as channel partners and customers. In reality, LMS vendors and learning organizations have been slow to recognize and adapt to non-employee audience needs. So slow, that hundreds of learning technology providers have flooded the market to sell to extended enterprise audience owners directly and bypass the HR LMS. These vendors are not constrained by decades of common knowledge about how learning technology should/should not work. They structure their solutions to align with business-critical needs and they focus on helping organizations maximize learning revenue and profit. In 2017, extended enterprise learning will continue to gain momentum as a tool to achieve competitive advantage and deliver measurable financial business impact.
Thanks for reading! Fun times ahead.
Want to Learn More? Free Webinar
1/27/17 from 1-2 p.m. ET
In recent years, innovation has radically redefined the term “LMS.” Yet even as organizations replace old-school learning management systems with next-generation alternatives, exciting new solutions continue to emerge.
What does it all mean? How can you make sense of this complex world where more than 700 learning platforms already compete for your business? Join John Leh, CEO and Lead Analyst of Talented Learning, for his annual LMS market review — including key trends and vendors to watch.
John will explore topics of interest to both learning technology buyers and sellers, including:
- A snapshot of today’s diverse LMS landscape
- What trends are driving LMS development and buying decisions
- Which vendors are leading in each LMS category
- How innovation is shaping market dynamics
- What buyers should expect to see as 2017 unfolds
(Even if you can’t attend the live event, we’ll send you a link to the recording.)