When is a LMS not a LMS?

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Over the course of the past few months, I’m seeing something. Okay, not something but SOMETHING.  It just isn’t going away. Not that I expected it to do so, mind you, because I recognized late 2011 that it would be big. I re-affirmed it in my forecasts for 2012.

Yet, something has changed. Not the products – they are still the same, but rather the “anti-” that they preach is nothing more than a previous incarnation of the past, sans the message.

It’s time for the real message.

Next Gen Lite Learning Management Systems

I’ll be frank, what is the best way to pitch your solution without saying you are like other systems?  Declare yourself the “anti”. 

If I am not really looking for a learning management system but want some basic things, I’d consider that route.

But make no mistake about it, they are learning management systems, albeit the next generation of lite LMSs. 


Take a deep dive of these systems and you are starting to see similarities.

  • Some base analytics – who took the course, completed the course, maybe progress
  • Grouping – the newer tier of these products are offering the ability to place x end users into groups – basic not robust
  • E-mail notification – auto notify end users when they sign up for a course, when they are assigned to a course and now my favorite – sending the end user a direct link to take the course – no need to go actually into the system
  • Reports – just a few
  • The analytics often are just a couple of histogram charts, but simple
  • Built in authoring tool – very very common. I should note that you cannot use any 3rd party vendor authoring tool to upload courses into these systems. However you can upload PowerPoint, Word and similar.
  • Just as in any product nowadays, add video, audio, media files
  • Assessment tool – basic but doable for most folks
  • Select colors from a palette or themes, add logo
  • Customize e-mails, maybe even include the ability to send via SMS (new)
  • Learner profiles
  • Ability to sell your own courses – starting to see more and more in this next gen space
  • Upload users from a file
  • Cannot upload off the shelf content from a 3rd party vendor – say Rosetta Stone or Skillsoft or in some cases e-learning marketplaces
  • Newbie trend – custom URL domain – irony: it is a trend that is being seen across the entire LMS space, with more and more vendors offering it at no charge
  • Low cost – again there are plenty of LMS vendors out there whose pricing is comparable and in some cases lower

Okay, so explain to me how this is not a learning management system? Here’s a secret: there are more learning management systems that do not shove the entire kitchen sink into their product, than those who do.

There are more learning management systems who offer robust features without breaking the bank in any economy than those who charge over 60K for 500 users.

There are more learning management systems who offer that – BUT you can use any 3rd party authoring tool. You can also upload off the shelf content.

Who are they?

Let’s take a quick look at some of the players in this next gen of lite learning management systems who may pitch themselves as not a learning management system.

  • Mindflash – the leaders of the entire bunch. For the longest time they called themselves a training management system.  Now they are “easy online training”
  • ProProfs “create online training and courses easily”
  • Coursepark – “learning networks” you need to scroll down to learn more
  • Digitalchalk – count the number of times training is mention

Who pitches themselves as a LMS – rightfully so, but hmm seems to offer more in alignment with the above

  • Coggno – has open ID which is a big win and some social learning
  • Zenler Online – you can only use their authoring tool – that said, I do like the system

Not sure who they are

  • Articulate Online – leaders of the pack. Some people will say to me, “oh we picked AO because it is a LMS”, others will say, “we picked them because they are not a LMS”.  I would argue that initially they were an online authoring system, but have moved slightly into the new genre.
  • Knoodle – I wish these guys would make up their mind on what they are in terms of their system. At one time they pitched lite LMS, now its social learning platform. My take? Online presentation system. But hey, I can live with learning management system – since who said a LMS had to use only courses as its push out product?

Bottom Line

Take any marketing class and you will hear it’s all about the message. 

Get the message right and they will come.  Get the message wrong and hear only crickets.

For learning management systems they are in “buy mode”.

So why hurt your brand with a different message?

Because it won’t last forever.

Then what will you do?

Change it?

E-Learning 24/7


  1. Thanks for trying to write on this developing topic area. You seem to be having trouble actually expressing something tangible without getting lost in the imagery and hyperbole.

    What is this article about? The opening comments outline the product providers you are exposed to and your interpretation of them. Likening them to pancakes and crepes and somehow missing the value of the metaphor.

    Then there is a product list, with explanations that are perhaps only coherent to yourself.

    The hope is in the “Bottom Line” that provides an executive summary and take away thoughts. Sadly, nothing tangible there either. Disjointed sentences and rhetorical questions stop well short of providing any clarity in the intention of this article.

    I was keen to find something – anything that I can learn from and then draw attention to in order to support your writing and efforts. Regrettably there is nothing that I can take away from his article that I can bring traffic toward.

    Do you have something more tangible about Learning Management Systems that is newsworthy and worth promoting?

    1. My writing style is called new journalism. It is a recognized journalist style. I typically add components of gonzo journalism as well, since it is a sub-genre of new journalism.

      Thus the approach in which my blog articles are written align accurately to the mechanics of this type of journalism style.

  2. Craig – I liked your article because it takes a contrary view of what is very common thought – “all LMSs should be (and are) the same.” Still, Mark’s comments are worthwhile…in my opinion, sometimes your points argue against each other. It isn’t clear if you are saying there are true anti-LMSs or their are not.

    In any case, you are correct that any vendor’s sales or marketing message claiming their product is different should be challenged – “Prove it.”

    Example: If you can’t articulate why your LMS which is author tool neutral is different from well, “Articulate”, which is not neutral, along with the significance of that difference then don’t claim to be different.

    Consider this – if LMS has become a commodity with few significant differences among them what do we all have to offer the market? In my opinion, any LMS evaluation team should begin with the premise that they are not buying a commodity. To do so cheapens the process and reduces their chances of a better than average outcome.

    1. A couple of notes.

      1. The style of my writing is gonzo journalism which is a sub genre of new journalism, another style I use quite frequently. Authors of this style have included Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote and George Plimpton.

      While I am not at their level, I prefer this type of writing to that of what you read in most blogs, magazines and newspapers.

      As someone who holds journalism degrees and taught journalism at both high school and college, I understand it is not for everyone and I’m cool with it.

      For those who are interested in new journalism and gonzo journalism, both of which are recognized style formats of journalism, I recommend three great reads:

      a. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
      b. Hell’s Angels by Hunter S. Thompson
      c. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

      2. The article I feel does make its point that while one camp argues that they are “anti-LMS”, they are actually a LMS, albeit the next generation of what I deem a Lite LMS.

      It is all about interpretation. I see them as arguing one angle but then when exploring the feature sets it aligns to that same angle that they are saying they are not. Yeah it is confusing, but that is the point.

      Thanks for the comments and I appreciate the time you broke away from your day to post.

      At the end of it all, if the article stimulates thought, then it has achieved what it has set out to do.

      1. 1. Thanks for introducing me to the gonzo concept. I’m a fan of Wolfe and Capote. I know a little of Thompson but haven’t read any of his stuff. Bottom line – I stopped downloading so called “white papers” long ago, finding most of them tedious and over-hyped. (Often provided only to capture e-mail addresses to boot.) So, I’m in your corner.

        2. The software sales/marketing/evaluating space is indeed confusing. I think we reap what we sew. Both vendor and evaluator have created a kind of schizophrenic environment wherein we simultaneously expect high levels of customization along with adherence to a lengthy list of specific (and often cross-purposed) requirements. We surround this precarious balance with the desire to reach our implementation goals by expending a minimum of resources; both monetary and not.

        At any case, as I said, I appreciate the pragmatism of your comments and look forward to more.


  3. I think VIncent’s complaints about Craig is his analysis is weighted and oriented around vendors representations and who is speaking the loudest. If enough vendors approach him with a low cost LMS, he sees a trend. It’s an easy call, but it’s blogging on herd movement. His analysis might cut a little deeper. Is such an analysis the place for a blog post, beyond some glib opinion, probably not.

    For example, a vendor with a 5K LMS has to sell 20 LMS apps for the single 100K LMS app. Such a vendor as a pureplay LMS vendor is not sustainaible unless there is volume. (Nor is the 100K vendor if no one is buying.) Such a vendor cannot deal with variance meaning your range of options is heavily opinionated and silos the need. That’s bad. Such a vendor ignores the learning infrastructure need hence it is absent from their sales pitch. That can be a fatal mistake for the buyer. To be sustainable, your options as a user are intentionally limitted, everyone is the same, if you need a feature, NO or the services costs gets expensive.

    1. First of all, your assessment is erroneous. I review over 500 systems on a bi-monthly basis, breaking down everything. I also look to see where areas are heading – hence mobile learning, hence talent management systems, hence human capital management systems, hence video streaming and video management systems for learning. I do not accept pay for play and anyone who knows me, is aware that I am 100% independent. If you look at the latest number of vendors you will see that lower price is a trend. Granted it is based on number of users, but the number of vendors in 2012 who charge 60K base versus the number who charged 60K base in 2011, has dropped. In fact it has dropped for the last two years.

      As for those who speak the loudest? Many of my top 25 are vendors you have never heard off, so that is an interesting statement. If the “speak the loudest” was true than I would be singing the praises of the biggest vendors out there, “Cornerstone”, “Saba”, “SumTotal”, “SuccessFactors”, “Oracle (taleo0. but I don’t.

      Anyone who has ever written anything will tell you that if the writing provokes thought – whether positive or negative, then it has served its purpose. I’ll let you be the judge on that.

  4. Craig… Hold on one second. Never, ever meant to suggest anything challenging your integrity. Talk the loudest was meant in the context of marketing the loudest. You’re very talented at picking up on trends. When I say reading the herd, that is a compliment not a criticism. You’re opinionated, yes at times rather glib in your bluntness, but it is your schtict.

    I don’t think the elephant vendors do a particularly good job at marketing based on profitiablity factors. Other than Saba, what are they cash-flow positive? Whoopdedoo. You want a good blog post, post on their financial statements, not their technology. What happens if we enter hyper inflation, they’re toast. Likewise, these small LMS vendors have some niche technologies, but are they sustainable. Many good apps have come and gone because the business model is unsustainable.

    1. Very True. Saba btw, have you seen their stock price? Yowsa! And CoD, yeah they list the $$$$., but it is paper. The last time I looked they were still in the red. I would love to post financials, but the industry is heavy on the private side and no vendor is going to say “hey we are unprofitable”. They might as well as close up shop, because no one will buy the product. It is the same reason no vendor will ever say

      * Our product stinks
      * Our retention rates are 80% or lower
      * People are leaving us in droves

      Nope, everyone is over 95% which is hard to swallow. I just don’t buy or believe it. That is like telling me the Yugo was a fun car to drive. Maybe to someone who is used to driving a tricycle.

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