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The Rise of LMS Specialists: A Tour of Learning Tech Innovation

Exploring LMS innovation - learning management systems in an era of specialization

Welcome to the Era of 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.  These days, the aim is to provide the best solution in a well-defined niche.  Why?  Let’s explore and then I’ll introduce you to some illustrative examples of how this “specialist” movement is expanding traditional LMS boundaries.

LMS Specialists: Why Now?

In the last decade, the rise of the SaaS business model, cloud technology and extended enterprise learning has opened the door to more than 650 new learning platforms.  So far, I have formally reviewed and currently track 120 of them.

As an LMS selection consultant, I’ve had a front-row seat in the rapid shift toward specialization.  Because I help organizations effectively define their requirements, identify qualified vendors and select the right LMS for their needs, I’ve seen repeatedly that when relevant LMS specialists are introduced to the selection process, generalists rarely win.

Although old-school generalists are still on the scene, I find that the most exciting innovation is coming from this new breed of learning technology specialists.  These LMS specialists tend to leverage their founders’ unique experience and industry expertise to develop tailored solutions that address fewer problems, but with a high level of efficiency and creativity.

For learning organizations, the trade-offs are clear.  While a one-size-fits-all LMS may seem appealing in terms of its potential to adapt to various requirements, finding a perfect fit with an LMS that is designed for your specific needs offers undeniable business value.

LMS Specialists: What’s So Special?

Among LMS specialists, differentiation tends to start with the target learning audience: employees, extended enterprise (customers, channel and other business partners who interact with an organization from outside its walls), academic institutions, associations or continuing education.

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.

Interestingly, because the founders and senior execs of specialist LMS companies are typically so deeply invested in the market they serve, it’s not unusual for them to participate actively in the sales process.  This gives buyers a sense of comfort and confidence that is rarely achieved with generic LMS alternatives.

LMS Specialists: Noteworthy Examples

So, who are these LMS specialists, and what is so unique about their products?  For a thorough understanding of “who’s who” in today’s learning technology space, we have published the LMS Almanac, which includes (among other tools for LMS buyers) 75 in-depth vendor profiles.  But for a taste of how I evaluate vendors, here are my “notes” introducing you to a sample of eight LMS specialists I’ve recently reviewed (in no particular order):

 


Thought Industries is the “Shopify” of LMS vendors.  It’s a totally mobile responsive, ecommerce-centric CMS, LMS and authoring system, designed specifically for running a commercial learning business.  Training companies, publishers, continuing education providers, bloggers and corporations can design a polished LMS storefront using WordPress-type capabilities, easily create interactive learning content and deploy instantly in the LMS.  There are dozens of configurable “commerce” rules to facilitate sales, including a la cart pricing, subscriptions, promotional pricing, ad delivery and the ability to up-sell complementary learning and physical products.


Learndot by ServiceRocket is a customer training platform, and it is probably one of the most focused specialists.  98% of its customers are software companies that need a better way to train their customers.  Training leads to higher customer satisfaction rates, higher renewal and complementary purchase rates.  Learndot is designed to maximize those very measurable results.  Training content can be provided for free or fee, and online content can be assembled directly in the LMS.  The user interface is professional and clean, and integration with CRM systems like Salesforce.com is one of its most popular capabilities.


Knoitall is a learning and content platform blazing a new path that can be thought of as a “Dropbox” for learning.  Organizations can use it for free to consolidate all of their media assets and learning resources in one digital location.  You can create catalogs, schedule classes, tag content and serve unlimited employees or extended enterprise users.  Organizations can sell proprietary premium content to their users, and also to any organization in the Knoitall ecosystem.  All Knoitall customers can easily buy and deploy content from other Knoitall customers, and use it to augment their own content library.   All content can be tied to organizational outcomes and competencies.

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Scitent has a zest for helping healthcare associations and non-profits sell their courses through distributed channel reseller networks.  Many healthcare associations sell their continuing education content to their members and potential members.  The next step of ecommerce sophistication is to resell content to relevant international associations that, in turn, sell to their individual and corporate members.  Scitent manages the whole networked business.  In addition to a strong organization and ecommerce-enabled learning management technology, Scitent provides the services clients need to analyze market demand, design and create courses, and provide sales, marketing and customer support.


Maestro Mobile Agility is an enterprise mobile app suite that is built to improve an organization’s sales channel.  Through a series of integrated apps, an organization can push continual learning to its internal and external sales people, as well as mentor, role play and leverage sales material in shoulder-to-shoulder selling.  Learners can subscribe to “Learning Lists” similar to media playlists, record video of themselves handling objections, rate and comment on others’ videos, take notes, document ride-alongs and other informal training.  Maestro can share user/completion data with existing LMSs, Salesforce.com or SharePoint.  If 20 seconds is too long for your sales people to access content via a traditional LMS and instant mobile access is more your style, Maestro is a good option.


CD2 Learning is a modern, great looking LMS and talent management platform, complete with a powerful integrated authoring tool.  Much more than just “asset assembly” the seamless authoring allows for the compilation of micro learning assets tied to organization objectives, which can be transformed into highly interactive simulations and learning content.  Content management features provide workflow for approval and publishing, version control and clone type update and replacement.  The UI is streamlined and useful for learners, managers and administrators.  CD2 Learning is great for small or medium-sized organizations or associations in the retail, restaurant, hospitality, faith and life science industries.


Wisetail is the hipster LMS with clients such as the Cheesecake Factory, Smash Burger, Zoe’s Kitchen, Soul Cycle, Jamba Juice and the Shake Shack.  Extremely modern and sleek, Wisetail does a fantastic job at incorporating the best functionality of social media and learning directly into the user interface and learning content.  Walls, user profiles, friends, who’s online, community pages, share content, polls, star rankings, “wall of fame” features are all popular.  One of the more unique capabilities is support for learning participants to upload or link their content, tag and add to a “user generated content” catalog that can be searched, curated and distributed.


Conclusion

We are living through the most revolutionary time in learning technology history.  The explosion of vendors and specialized solutions is moving learning innovation in countless directions.  Specialists are adding a level of expertise and guidance to their core product that hands-down provides more value than jack-of-all-trades software.  These LMS specialists are driving measurable business results and competitive advantage for buyers, which in turn, fuels the innovation fire.  And all of this translates into a tremendous business opportunity and a significant challenge when buying or selling learning management systems.

Thanks for reading!


Have You Seen The LMS Almanac?

If all of this sounds confusing, well, it is.  No sane person can keep up with this market place without help.  That’s why we wrote the LMS Almanac:  Corporate Edition 2016.  We wanted to provide a fiercely independent and unbiased guide for LMS buyers and sellers.

We defined the types of corporate LMSs, top features, business case, and case studies.  We also compared over 75 vendors in business, functional, technical, industry, support and other criteria.  With these combined resources, you won’t find a better way to jump-start your LMS success. Check out the details!


New Webinar Replay:
The Economics of LMS Replacement

Stuck with a learning management system that no longer meets your needs? Do you pay for annual maintenance and hosting, but haven’t upgraded in years, and rarely use tech support? Want to expand your learning program reach to customers, channel partners or others, but can’t afford the incremental licenses? Ready to move up to a new solution, but unsure about what it should cost? If any of these scenarios are familiar, this webinar is for you.

Join Talented Learning lead analyst and CEO, John Leh, as he shows you how to take charge of the LMS replacement process and lead your organization into the modern learning age. You’ll get insider perspectives and research-backed insights to help you overcome internal inertia, speak the business language of executives and get approval to replace your LMS.   In this fast paced, information packed session, you will learn how to:

– Analyze what you’re currently spending (and why)
– Define what you need in a new LMS
– Outline the best license model for your intended use
– Develop realistic budget expectations
– Create a business case your stakeholders can support
– Find vendor intelligence you can trust

Replay this on-demand webinar now!

John Leh
About John Leh (98 Articles)
John Leh is CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning, LLC. John is an LMS selection consultant and eLearning industry blogger focused on helping organizations plan and implement technology strategies that support extended enterprise learning. John has almost 20 years of experience in the LMS industry, having served as a trusted adviser to more than 100 learning organizations with a total technology spend of more than $50 million. John helps organizations define their business case, identify requirements, short list vendors, write and manage the RFP and negotiate a great deal. You can connect with John on Twitter (@JohnLeh) or LinkedIn.