Here are the top 10 trends that I have seen taking place in the industry, as well as a few forecasts.  They are in no particular order.  The trends apply to both LMS/LCMS vendors.

1. Extended Enterprise -  Vendors are expanding into the wholesaler/reseller/affiliates/sales agent sector with their solutions. The note of interest is that it is occurring with all size of vendors, albeit the charge is being led by mid size vendors. Not all of the big dog vendors have entered this space, despite it being a huge revenue opportunity.  That is expected to change.

Forecast: Continued growth and expansion, as this space has profit written all over it, especially if the vendor provides a skinned/branded solution, e-comm (with currency options inc. Euros and the Pound) and multiple flavors (one size fits all, will not work for a sizable chunk of the wholesaler/reseller/affiliate industry).

2.  Global markets

Often misleading in a vendor’s pitch is that they are truly global, when in fact nothing could be farther than the truth.  They show you a huge map, color in the countries they are in, and you assume they have clients there, when in fact it could be just a sales office.  Many vendors service international multi-conglomerates rather than companies that are based only in country x and no where else.   U.K. and European vendors interestingly enough, do not follow suit.  While they do incorporate the multi-conglomerate angle with their global perspective, they do so in limited fashion.  Companies in Australia and India – for the most part, identify themselves only in countries they have actually penetrated, rather than the inclusive sales office or “partnership” approach.

Forecast: Sadly on-going, thus will not fade away in 2010-11.  This trend is one of the worst in our industry and while not every vendor does this unscrupulous approach – with the appearance of worldwide dominance (even if they just have a sales office there and no clients), there are enough vendors who do this that it serves as a disservice to potential customers.

The way to stop it- ask the vendor specifically what countries they are – with clients, how many of those are international multi-conglomerates and how many companies/firms they have in a specific country (that they show on their map) that are only based in that country and nowhere else.   Even if your vendor is outside of the U.S./Canada,  if they show they are all over Europe and Asia, ask them specifically, because the “Asia” angle can be very misleading (more in a sec).

3. Europe, U.K., Russia, Australia/NZ

Two trends are appearing in higher frequency

a. U.S. and Canadian vendors are penetrating into the U.K. market (very high), Europe (moderately) and Australia/N.Z. (although more Australia) (moderate).  With over 200 vendors in the market, and 95% plus targeting the U.S., the market is becoming more and over saturated. Too many vendors of all sizes target the Fortune 1000, and a small select few have high penetration in the Fortune 250.  Thus, identifying and targeting new markets is an important driver.

U.S. and Canada firms (although primarily U.S.) are putting up sales offices in the U.K. and throughout Europe, although not necessarily Eastern Europe, rather more so in Western Europe.  The U.K. market faces real competition in that, the U.S., Canada firms are entering, while the U.K., Europe vendors already play there.   Put Australia and N.Z. into the mix, and now toss in vendors based in those countries, and see what develops.

b. U.K. and Europe vendors.  While they have penetrated and have strong market share in the U.K. and Europe, they are equally entering the Australia market and slowly the U.S. market.  More so however, there are vendors who will not cross the pond and rather stay in Europe. A smart move.  Some of these vendors have entered the Russian market and have clients.  Equally smart.  However, they have not necessarily hit the Eastern Europe markets – untapped IMO.

c.  Asia – misleading by LMS/LCMS vendors.  Many vendors will pitch they are in Asia, but in a sense they are not.  They do not have clients in China nor Japan.  Many have clients in Australia and a few in N.Z. , which they place under “Asia”.   I would not consider those two countries as being in the Asia continent.   With the exception of only a small handful of companies – and I mean minutia, no one has penetrated two monster markets – China and Japan – as in having clients, not just a sales office.

Forecast: Untapped growth in China, Japan and Eastern Europe inc. Russia.  Enormous growth possibilities in China and very good growth opps in Japan, although as a whole the country is having debt issues.  Australia is still a very good market to penetrate, but expect some real competition as other vendors – Europe, U.K., U.S enter. Europe – a gold mine opportunity, especially companies that are based or located in only one country.

U.K. companies are slowly implementing LMS/LCMSs, so there is a strong revenue opportunity.  Many companies in the U.K., have relied on COPs (Communities of Practice) along with ILT to drive their training. Some are starting to adapt web conferencing to their training.  Reason?  Lower cost and the locations of their personnel and other clients.

4.   Easier UI – front end – what the end user sees.  Vendors are finally getting it and realizing that the end user in fact is essential to the client’s success.  UI (User interface) is becoming more friendly and intuitive.  The growth behind this trend, is the charge of smaller size vendors.  Even some of the Big Dogs are finally getting it, albeit some have a way to go.

Mid size, is mixed, with some getting it and many still living in the dark ages.  If your employee or customer cannot figure out how to move around the front end of the system (what they see) then no matter what you place on the screen, they won’t use it.  Keys to success for UI from an end user perspective – navigation and ease of use.  Especially since a greater proportion of employees and customers have very limited tech skills.

Vendors and sadly, companies who purchase their products, believe that since someone can open up their web browser and click to view pages, they can figure it out.  Many people still have no idea where to find the address line on their browser, what a URL is, where to locate the “file” button on their browser, let alone change options.

Equally horrible, is that some companies are still using old versions of IE or an outdated computer system with Windows 2000 on it.  Explain to me how someone using those sweet options are going to figure out your navigation?  They won’t.  As a company you have one chance to get them into the system and use it.  Many vendors are finally getting it, but we still have a long way to go.

Forecast: Continued development by LMS/LCMS vendors making their front end UI (what the end user – i.e. employee or customer) more intuitive, easier to use and truly user friendly.  With 200 plus vendors in this space and continued growth, failing to adapt will result in loss of market share.

5. Wizards, Graphs and Administration side. Equally growing is the admin side becoming more user friendly, intuitive and requiring less and less tech skills.  Wizards is the new trend, enabling admins regardless of tech skill to create and make changes quickly.  Reporting capabilities are becoming equally more robust with the added inclusion of visual – graphs, bar charts. Ad-hoc reporting features are increasingly growing and will only continue to become an important choice.

Reason?  While some vendors offer over 100 canned reports, may do not.  Plus, a client will often seek data that info., that is not standard, as in they change their labels, add and remove columns, etc.  Companies are increasingly seeking true ROI on these systems and some canned reports do not deliver the slicing and dicing of needed data.

Another small trend is providing advanced admin capabilities in the form of admins who have CSS, Flash, .PHP or other languages. Personally, I think this is a mistake. It assumes that your admin is someone in IT/IS or you will have this resource available to make those changes.  A typical admin may be the person overseeing training (if the company is small) or someone in the department who is an instructional designer or more often then not, someone in your department who has been assigned this honor.

If they have been assigned and do not have a LMS background, the likelihood they will have these advanced skill sets are low, especially considering the current economic times.  Think about it. If I have those skill sets, why would I want to be an administrator of a LMS, when I could work free-lance or in some other programming capacity?

Forecast: Wizards will become ever increasingly popular on the administration side. Ease of use is the common denominator.  Anything that reduces calls into a company’s tech support (and thus lower the costs for that vendor’s customer support) will be incorporated.  Another trend – ability to make changes in a more quick fashion.  Time is short, productivity must remain high, even after the end of the recession.  Admins may have other tasks and responsibilities, especially after layoffs and the combination of roles.  Same is true for the person overseeing the training department or division.

6.  Expansion into the SBM (Small Business Market)Smaller size vendors already see this as a real revenue generator. Some of these vendors are only targeting this market and not anything higher.  Now, the mid size and big dogs see this as an equal revenue growth opportunity.  Some big dogs have focused and thus created products geared towards the plus 1,000 or 5,000 employees, which as a result, their solution does not offer the necessary features and capabilities to penetrate effectively into the market.  Pricing becomes an equal challenge to them, especially when they love to use add-on modules.  Many smaller size vendors identify the SBMs as less than 500 employees, others value it as less than 250 employees.  The challenge will be to truly define the SBMs space.

Forecast: Strong growth, regardless of vendor size, but the advantage is with the smaller size vendors.

7. Talent and Performance Management. Extremely high trend, especially in the mid size and big dog vendors.  Two approaches are being seen.

a. Modules that focus on recruiting, along with TPM

b. Modules that only focus on Talent/Performance Management

Some vendors are making this change in such a way, that learning (as defined by a LMS) is becoming smaller, while the drive to TPM is becoming stronger and is driven internally to make this happen.  While vendors are adding this module or it already exists, increased sales are being pushed into this space, as it shows enormous growth.  There are vendors who have incorporated or integrated with ADP and Taleo, while others have struck deals with those two companies.

Leadership development, HPI, succession planning and OD are increasing in the LMS market, due to a real change in having L&OD or HR leaders taking charge of the LMS/LCMS.  Toss in the integration of ERP solutions (Peoplesoft, Oracle, SAP, Workday) and HRIS systems into the mix and you will see why this is  growing. There are vendors who state they are “Performance Management” LMS/LCMSs, rather than just saying they are a LMS/LCMS vendor.

Forecast: Strong growth and increased costs to the company who purchases these solutions.  Typically these are add-on modules, whether pre-existing in the system with the ability to turn on when purchased or integrated either at the beginning of implementation or post. They are not commonly part of the system, i.e. included in the original price (always ask what modules are included in the price, never assume).  ERP and HRIS integration will play an important role.

8. API’s and WidgetsLMS/LCMS vendors wishing to a slight degree to incorporate social learning without fully entering are adding Widgets to the mix. Administrators can add these pieces into their system.  Some vendors are providing some widgets are part of their system, and then customers can go onto the web and locate widgets to add or more often than not, create their own.  Hence, a stronger tech skill is required.  The growth of open source and with Web 3.0 (another buzz word) coming into play, APIs (Application Program Interface) are showing up as well.

Strong tech skills are required for integration.  While you can locate APIs on the web (there are plenty of directories and they are free), vendors expect the customers to build their own APIs, rather than locate and add.  This is not to say this is a requirement, but many vendors have absolutely no idea, you can find API directories on the net nor widgets.  There are enough vendors who are not going into the widget space, but are enabling the integration possibilities of APIs, which are really offers a powerhouse potential (a future emerging technology topic).

According to the The New York Times, Facebook will soon incorporate location in two ways: its own features for sharing location and APIs to let other sites and apps offer location services to Facebook users.

Forecast: More vendors offering the integration capability of APIsWidgets is mixed and not as strongWhile smart phones and the tablets offer the widget capability, the market for APIs is significantly growing. Google maps is an example of an APIs. Linkedin tied into Twitter is an example of APIs. The use of geolocation – available in HTML5. You can also locate API and Mashups that can be created in the cloud, without knowing code.

9.  Mobile Learning.  Two levels of thought

a. Incorporation from the standpoint of smart phones but with limited features – ala see it as a collaborative learning tool, social learning angle

b. Tablets – Ipad (first and foremost), then other tablets.  This option, will enable courses to be taken via the tablet, plus social learning functionality/collaborative and even if the vendor so chooses access into their LMS.

Vendors are finding that end users have no true idea on what is mobile learning, and their is an assumption on the part of end users that they can take courses on their phones (regardless if it is a smart phone), or they can view something beyond documents, pdfs or similar pieces – which is really the true component of mobile learning, regardless of what many vendors push out in the space.

While it is true that some vendors are offering a mobile learning LMS, it is with limited features and honestly, no one I know really wants to take a course or view any type of LMS on a smart phone screen.  Plus for vendors who offer a mobile learning LMS, it is an additional cost.  Vendors who offer mobile learning solutions, need to identify what types of  Blackberrys can be used (all?), acceptance of Android (yes or no) and Iphone or Ipod (many state Iphone as a yes).

There are vendors in the e-learning space whereas an end user can create a quiz,  have it been seen on the smart phone and then after it is completed,  the data goes into their (whomever the end user’s vendor) LMS/LCMS for tracking and data reports.  That said, it requires integration from the mobile learning vendor to your system.  Challenges on the part of smart phones and even tablets are:

  • Who is your carrier and do you suffer from constant drops?  AT&Ts network is great in some cities, horrible in others.  T-Mobile has equal problems, as does Sprint. Even Verizon.  However, since the Iphone at this time is exclusive with AT&T, how will the vendor – mobile or LMS, handle this issue?  What about overseas – does their solutions work there? Not only for travel purposes, but for people who live there? And what carriers?
  • Do you have only WI-FI or Wi-Fi and 3G or 4G? How is that handled from the LMS/LCMS angle – in terms of their mobile LMS or mobile features?  Again, overseas where 4G is already common.  3G increases data download speeds, 4G more so.  The Ipad’s next rendition includes the capability of 3G.

Sprint’s 4G smart phone’s maker – HTC cannot keep up with the demand, and the smart phone is a back log.  Other tablet vendors are coming into the market – some are already there, others are entering in 2010-2011 including Google tied to Verizon. How will your LMS/LCMS vendor handle them?  Will they support all the tablet vendors or just some?  Will their product be based on the OS? Android? Windows 7?  iOS?

  • HTML5. What if your LMS/LCMS is using extensively or some component of Flash?  How will you handle HTML5? Granted it will take years for web sites to fully integrate into HTML5, but tablet vendors are supporting it, and in some cases using it exclusively.  Sure, it is an on-going development on the part of the tablet vendors, but it is here.  Since the browsers will support HTML5, how will the LMS/LCMS vendor handle that angle?  Will the multimedia capabilities and data transfer at some point outstrip the Flash angle?  Will the vendors support the new versions of all the browsers?

Chrome is already offering a beta version of their new browser with support of HTML5, Safari already exists.  Firefox, Opera and IE9 are in the pipeline.  Today, there are vendors who do not support Chrome or Opera.  Will this change, since there are smart phones who offer Opera as their browser, or even Google.  How will vendors adapt to smart phone apps and tablet apps featuring other browsers – such as Dolphin to name one?

  • Apps.  Huge. Will the LMS/LCMS vendor create apps for their solutions on the smart phone and more importantly the tablets? They should, but will they and if yes, what type of  apps?
  • Data costs. Right now the cost for a data package for everything is not cheap. For my droid on Verizon the additional cost is $25. AT&T has announced that they will start a tiered pricing structure for data – downloads, uploads, etc.

How will the LMS/LCMS vendors adopt, since other vendors in the mobile space are likely to follow suit (granted, not all).  Sure most end users will never hit the data limits of their tier, but how does this play into the LMS/LCMSs solution and features?

ForecastOn-going growth. Growth will continue to explode especially based on projections of tablet sales, where the LMS/LCMSs real potential exists in the mobile learning space. Yes, smart phones are growing as well, but as mentioned people will not take a course, regardless how it is presented on a smart phone and find it of use.  A tablet is a different story.  And yes, LMS/LCMS vendors may only focus on the social learning angle, but for those who see the future and see the future of emerging technology, they will explore the features and functionality of their system and end users taking courses.

10. Social Learning.

I conducted a survey, which found that 45% of companies planned to incorporate social learning into their LMS/LCMS by the end of 2010.

Additional data:

  • 52% have a Twitter account
  • 67% have a Facebook account

While you may be aware of Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin, there are over 300 social networking sites; over 20 different types of social media – inc. app sharing, livecasting, social bookmarks, social news and network aggregators, streaming video, video/audio, slideshare presentation, event management to name a few.  Each type has a good size number of companies in each space.

From Pew Research Center 2010

  • Linkedin averages a new user per second
  • Twitter 50 million Tweets sent per day
  • 73% of adult profile owners use Facebook and 14% use LinkedIn

Mass Mingling a new term. It already exists with Meetup.com which has 6.1 million members, handling 2.2 million RSVPs and 180,000 meet-ups, in 45,000 cities a month.

Some companies are blocking access to Facebook and Twitter to their end users, which LMS vendors cite as a reason not to include something similar nor offer access within their system to those solutions.  However, lets consider how many end users plan to access the system.  They are more likely to access off-site and not at the workplace.

Wouldn’t it then make sense to enable some type of features in your LMS/LCMS?  I surmise a vendor could create a block option or work with the company to block Facebook and Twitter.  The irony is many LMS/LCMS vendors offer the ability to input YouTube into their social learning pages and the companies allow that, yet won’t allow people accessing it directly via their workplace desktop/browser sans the system.

The issue that arises in social learning is how much to incorporate into a system. Some vendors feel a blog and wiki is more than enough. Others offer it as an add-on module and even then it has limited features.  Some view it as only a collaborative best practices tool.

A new trend is the SME Q/A option.  This is where end users in the company identify themselves as SMEs in a certain topic and then the learner in the system can post a question within the social learning section or pages and then the SME will respond and follow-up with the learner.  Basically it is Social Q/A, which is another type of social media.

It is a great idea, as long as the SME is dedicated to providing responses and quick follow-up and can assist the learner going forward, when needed.  That said, it makes sense and vendors who do not offer this option, should.

Vendors who believe social media is nothing more than a blog or wiki are living in fantasy land.  There are vendors who believe social media is just a Facebook like page, where learners can follow other learners, post comments, app-share and there is a RSS feed.  Time to wake up and move forward. If everyone is heading into this space, why should I buy your system?  Especially if this is an add-on and frankly it should not be.

Forecast: Social Learning must be incorporated into every LMS/LCMS system. It is only going to grow – add apps to a tablet or smart phone; since it can be incorporated into mobile learning.  Add social media functionality beyond the standard – how about a slideshare capability within your solution?  Adapt to the marketplace and be willing to embrace social media and emerging technology.  Who is on the forefront of this you might ask?  The small size vendors.

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