The LMS/LCMS/Learning Portal market continues to be strong. Make no mistake about it, the worry signs that the LMS is near death is so wrong.  It was a myth.

In my latest directory, 402 LMS vendors – global, of which 34 or so are open source systems.

Here are five trends that are being seen in the market, but one of these trends can cause consternation, among current customers.

Trend #1

Acquisition and Memories

In a market this size, and with so many vendors overly focused on the U.S. and not necessarily worldwide (which should be the case), there is bound to be those vendors who are seeking new opportunities. Some of these opportunities are

  • Folding up shop and switching to a new market: Talent/Performance Management, new product lines not tied to e-learning, services
  • Folding up shop for good – goodbye and nice knowing you
  • Acquiring another LMS or e-learning vendor
  • Outside of the industry purchasing vendors in the space

For current LMS customers, any of these opportunities can be an additional stress factor, especially the first two, but make no mistake the last two can equally cause real pain. Why?

Well, if your a customer of the vendor who has been purchased, you may not be enthralled that your once beloved system is now part of a new empire, one which you detest.

Folding up shop and switching to a new market: Talent/Performance Management, new product lines not tied to e-learning, services

  • From a system standpoint – you will want to see if they still have your data – learners, course info, etc. If yes, then you will want them to send you the files. Some of the data may not be possible, such as where your learners were in the courses, but most should be.
  • If you do not have backups of your courses – your proprietary ones – contact them and have them send you the course files – they can do it, unless they decided to trash their servers with a sledgehammer.

Folding up shop for good – goodbye and nice knowing you

  • Same as above, but if they already sold off or no longer have their servers, from the system standpoint – there is little that can be done

What if I have 3rd party off the shelf courses?

  • Contact the course vendor and explain the situation – if they are unaware. Regardless, the off the shelf course vendor, will upload whatever courses you purchased into your new system. However, please note that they will not be able to place your learners back into wherever they were originally at or will they know if they completed them or not.  Because, they won’t.

Acquiring another LMS or e-learning vendor/Outside of the industry purchasing vendors in the space

If your system was with vendor X and they were acquired by vendor D and no longer want to be a sub-segment of Vendor D or if they consolidated, no longer want Vendor D as your new vendor, you have some options

  1. If you have an opt out clause, invoke it
  2. Re-review your contract to see if there is a loophole, if not and you really want out – talk to the vendor first to see if they will allow you to exit without penalty (because really, why should you have to pay if they didn’t tell you they were being bought by someone else ahead of time?) If they say no “exit” or you have to pay
  3. Have your legal involved

Side Note

I still recommend a three year contract – when seeking a new vendor – t0 land the best possible deal, but as I have noted before, every contract I have ever signed when I ran training departments or divisions or when I work on behalf of buyers  – has an opt out clause. No deal is made with any LMS vendor, unless there is an opt-out clause.

Trend #2

Multiple Editions

The days of having one system that suites everyone is over.  This new trend is showing an upswing in vendors who fall into one of the two options

  • Completely different LMSs targeting specific market segments or types of businesses – example – one targets retail, another targets academia, the system itself is usually the same base, but tweaked for the specific segments
  • Two or more systems sold by the same vendor, again, same base, tweaked but feature sets are very different – example: one system has m-learning capability built in, the other system does not

With the mass number of companies in the space, and with organziations (albeit still heavily education driven) using open source systems tailored specifically for them, a counterweight is logical.

From a financial standpoint for the LMS vendors, if the base is the same, but feature tweaks are for specific markets – the cost could be minimal to them.  Profit potential is excellent, but as with any thing else, marketing, UI on front and back end and feature sets that make sense are the keys.

As a customer of one of these systems, you now have one tailored just for your industry – not a “vanilla” system for everyone.

Trend #3

Extended Enterprise & E-Commerce

Just in the past six months there has been an increase in the number of vendors who now offer solely or via the editions (as noted above) for extended enterprise systems. Of course you need e-commerce as part of that functionality, so e-commerce is either included or some vendors actually charge extra for it, which is basically the ol you bought a computer and “oh, you need a computer cable to plug into the wall, right?”

Multi-tenet systems (it is an extended enteprise, but called under another name) use the same principal

  • Parent – this is the main system – typically your system – think HQ
  • Child (sub-system off the parent)- can be as many as you want, distributors, wholesalers, sales agents, etc.
  • Most systems include one child for free, then charge for any additional children – prices can range from a few hundred dollars per child to thousands of dollars per child
  • The parent can have a completely different front end look, including logo and the children have their own skins and logos
  • The parent can have their logo on each of the children’s systems if they so choose
  • You can set it up, so that the parent can see and has access to the back-ends of the sub-systems, but each sub system cannot see the others back end, nor reports (most common)
  • Sub-systems can be in their native language, while the parent is in another language –  most vendors will charge extra for this – but only because it is another language, systems typically provide the first language for free
  • A shopping cart is typically included for free, albeit some vendors will charge you to have a shopping cart either their own, or one you find outside (there are plenty of open source freebies out there)

Trend #4

Content Authoring tool, Assessment tool and surveys/quizzes

Built into the system, rarely charged extra for it, but sadly there are still vendors out there who charge you for the privilege of using it – specifically their content authoring tool.

Typically not robust content authoring tools, but they will do what you need to have done, that said I have seen a few of the authoring tools that rival Captivate or beat it, but this is low, although I expect it to grow.

That said, there are some LMS vendors who have integrated their system, with a content authoring tool vendor, which is very smart. Why build your own, when you can find someone already in the content authoring market who has a strong system and stick into yours.  The LMS vendors cost is lower to do this, because they do not have to build one.

What is cool about this option, is that it does not follow the web conferencing integration “charge extra for a license” garbage you see with so many vendors.  Why this still is running high, especially with free systems out there, is beyond me. Greed is the only reason, but that is another story.

The assessment tool, is commonly solid in these systems. The tool has the features you need, match some assessment vendors specific tools, and with a few vendors knocks them out. The survey tool is typically included.

The goal of placing all this into one system – is to minimize you going elsewhere. Saves time, and as noted for the majority of vendors who are following this trend, there is no additional cost to the customer.

Trend #5

Social Learning Stagnation

No real surprise here, because when it comes to social learning in LMSs, most vendors are stuck in some time warp believing the following is still worthwhile to end users (hint: it isn’t)

  • Blog, Wiki, RSS feed, YouTube, Facebook like page, profile, follow end user, chat room – text (are you kidding me?), repository – files uploaded into it, can be downloaded by end users, add comments, Twitter like feature, groups
  • The view counts and voting up/down or like/dislike is growing -but still underwhelming – I mean really?
  • A lack of understanding of what social learning is, what end users are doing in this space – i.e. social media and what you need to have to change the stagnation
  • Failure to realize there are over 25 different types of social media, which you need to create social learning – apparently social networking seems to be the only concept they get 
  • Typically the UI is awful, as though they have no clue you can use APIs or Mashups, to mimic what people are use to seeing on the net, i.e. if you are going to have a blog, grab the WordPress API and stick it into your system
  • Lack of getting it! Why should an end user use your social networking FB like page or Twitter like feature, when they can use the real thing

Social networking Realities

If you are going to place this into your system, then realize the following

  • One study that looked  specifically at employees who use Facebook, found that 89% are “stalkers”, i.e. they were checking out their fellow employees FB pages, reading it, not posting
  • Another study reported that most Facebook users, are lurkers – read, but do not post
  • Just last week, Facebook dropped in users
  • Linkedin is the fastest growing social networking site – it is called a niche social networking – business oriented – if you are going to use a social networking system, why not use this angle? Linkedin has an API. 

I am unsure why there is a lack of grasping here on social learning – clearly the vendors believe that end users will stay in these systems longer with feature sets that were hot 3 years ago.

Bottom Line

Yes, there are other trends out there ( a future blog post), but these are showing the new approach to tailor, albeit the social learning one is going nowhere.

People want options specifically to their needs, and systems are starting to deliver it. 

Some vendors believe their social learning is awesome and fantastic. This lack of “getting it” is creating a social learning experience that is worthless.

As worthless, as people believing that their autograph of Lee Majors  is going to sky rocket, because they have to remake the  Six Million Dollar Man movie. 

Just to let you know, they aren’t.

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