Psst.. You wanna buy some features?

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LMS vendors are continuing to add some very unique features in an effort to set themselves apart from the competition. These expand past the standard feature sets, which I call 90/10.

This is to say that 90% of features most folks seek are nearly universal in a LMS – low cost or otherwise. Sure there are exceptions, but they are exceptions to the rule.

In an effort to grab some market share and of course acquire new clients, unique feature sets, robust feature sets and even some new marketing spin are becoming reality.

While UI on the front and back end of a system continues to be all over the place – from generally awful to very nice – regardless of the price point, its the features that stand out (or in some cases -you should stand clear off) in the space.

We Will Rock You

Sometimes just adding a feature because you think it is “cool” may not be beneficial to your audience.

Funky Features in a Good Way

You don’t have to go to funkytown to see some feature sets that put the “WoW” back into learning.

  • Built in E-mail that blocks viruses, spam plus you can send out of the LMS
  • System that offers 300 APIs that the client can pick and choose from
  • Virtual printer
  • Desktop sharing (appears with a few vendors)
  • One click SMB edition to Enterprise
  • SMS notifications (growing in the market, mind you)
  • Online book clubs
  • DVD to video conversion for creating courses
  • Dropbox – finally!
  • File lockers for each student (education solutions)
  • Integration with Skype – finally!
  • Integrates and works with Google Apps (education systems)
  • Support for ELL/ESL students (education)
  • Help desk integration (a few systems)
  • Immediate multilingual personalization -i.e. each end user can choose their own language to view the entire platform (a few systems)
  • P2P sharing (peer to peer)
  • Video camera
  • Video and audio streaming
  • Video and movie streaming (basically video streaming is growing)
  • Notepad, sticky notes
  • Assessment tool with plagiarism detection (education system)
  • Recommends other courses based on what learner is taken or completed
  • Recommends materials, books, etc – based on what learner is taking in terms of courses
  • Google checkout
  • e-book publishing
  • Podcasting
  • Gamification (slowly growing)
  • Widgets (slow growth)
  • Section 508 (still shocking at the lack of vendors that fail to offer this feature)
  • Integrate with web based e-mail calendars – Gmail and Hotmail
  • Integrate with Outlook (upward swing)
  • Proprietary web conferencing – finally! (more common is partnering with a web conferencing vendor)
  • Regulatory agencies integration (only a few systems offer this)
  • Audit trails (slowly moving upward)
  • Digital signatures

Features that are becoming common (not universal, but clearly in major growth mode)

  • Some type of compliance features
  • Whiteboards, chat rooms
  • Tutoring, mentor tools
  • Certificates – the difference with some systems include ability to upload your own templates
  • Wizards
  • Course templates
  • Parental portal, student portal, teacher portal (education systems)
  • Supports IDP (education)
  • News & Announcements
  • Custom domains (big increase in last few months)
  • Ratings, reviews and comments – ranking too
  • Multi-tenet, multi-portal and extended enterprise (basically it is all the same thing)
  • Event management inc. waitlists
  • Branding – the only difference is some vendors still charge for this – my question: why?
  • HRIS integration – At one time systems said ERP integration with SAP, Oracle, Peoplesoft for example, now the new buzz: HRIS integration – Lawson. Real surprise the number of vendors who make no mention of Workday or even know who they are
  • Instant messaging
  • Social learning – snooze fest, but few vendors now offering Facebook SSO and Twitter integration. How many have Pinterest integration? ZERO
  • Assessment tools – big question – how many don’t include them at no additional charge? Guess what some vendors do.
  • Pre and Post assessment as part of their tool
  • E-Commerce
  • E-mail notifications
  • Authoring tools (built-in or interfacing with a 3rd party vendor) – this is different then uploading courses from a 3rd party authoring tool – which nearly all do – except those who offer only proprietary capabilities
  • SaaS – the norm, what no longer is the norm – hosted on the client’s servers only

Here mobile, mobile, mobile

In my latest LMS directory with 425 vendors (yes, we lost some in the past month – either by switching to another business line “common”, folding or being purchased by someone else), the numbers are surprising

  • 18% support mobile learning in some fashion either via smartphones, tablets – the majority support only smartphones
  • Two vendors identify mobile but clearly state it is only for laptops
  • One vendor supports the Blackberry Playbook – maybe they know something the rest of us don’t know (that Playbook will become the hottest tablet on the market – kidding, its not even in the realm)

Feature Factoids

Systems that offer CEUs are in the minority. In order to vendor to accept CEUs for specific accreditation they need to go through a rigorous series of steps, which often includes:

  • Meeting specific state and agency requirements – no easy task
  • Association accreditation -meet specific requirements which often includes a lot of paperwork – unless you are focusing on the association marketplace or have a lot of association clients, then don’t expect this to be common – it isn’t.
  • The amount of time to receive accreditation is quite long, tenuous and time consuming

Features that the Spin Cycle is “ON”

Every system is going to include updates and maintenance.  Some vendors are now starting to make it as though this is special only to them. It isn’t.


  • Secure – always has existed since SaaS has been available online – which is more than 13 years
  • Backups – common
  • Support – the only question is whether it is included at no additional charge or is fee based
  • Training – common includes online webinars, walkthroughs and tutorials, sadly sometimes vendors charge for online support

RFPs and Features

If you are going to do a RFP, remember the five golden rules:

  1. Should be no longer than 8 pages
  2. Should be specific – ambiguity just doesn’t work – its all in the details
  3. Focus on features that you feel unique – asking for a curriculum learning path and batch uploading are now standards. Asking for streaming audio is not.
  4. Set a date and time stamp for return. Allow 7-10 business days and set a time deadline – i.e. by 2 pm. Saying it is due by 3 p.m. without the vendor knowing the time zone is just wrong.
  5. Do not accept any RFPs that go past your date or time stamp. If they can’t meet your deadline, do you really want them as a your provider?

More expensive means better features

Actually it doesn’t. People often ask me why I seem to dog the big players in the space, ala SumTotal, Cornerstone and alike. The reasons include:

  • They aren’t the only players in town.  I’d rather have a vendor who charges me 20K for 1,000 users than one who charges me 70K or more.
  • Features are quite common – IMO you are paying for a name and that’s it. Of course if you want a HCM, than you are paying for a HCM, but from a LMS standpoint is just a name.
  • High price doesn’t mean its better. This isn’t like buying a Bentley or a multi-millon dollar house because you can afford it, rather it is about buying a system that in the long run is going to be better serve you. As a whole, I have found small to mid size vendors more quick to change and add valuable features.

Bottom Line

Most people focus on the features first and the UI second, and that’s fine.

If you are going to focus on the features, than be sure to see what is different and what is standard.

After all features are like flowers.

Plenty about, but only a few that stand out.

E-Learning 24/7

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