When you think of a learning management system you immediately focus on the features, ease of use (ideally) and more importantly how it ties directly to what you want to do in the short and long term as related to learning or learning/performance management.

Perhaps you see it as an extension to an already in place, ILT (instructor led training) program. Or as an extension to classes at your school or university.  Maybe you see it as a component within a blended learning environment.

But what if it was more than that.  Much more.

One stop shop

Offers a multitude of services to customers. Typically is a location or business.

Walmart Way

  • One stop shop – containing everything you need
  • Some Walmarts include groceries and auto services – including oil changes and alike
  • Net sales of 466.1 billion (Walmart, end of fiscal year ending in January 2013)
  • Amazon.com 13.18 billion dollars in revenue – Q3 2012 (Engadget, 2012)

Whether you like Walmart or not, it changed the retail landscape forever. As a result, numerous businesses started to copy its format. The biggest is Amazon.

So why am I telling you this? Because the one stop shops are now appearing in learning management systems, for the better.

The new LMS

If you are taking a deep look around the LMS market you may be hearing a new buzz word, “ecosystem”.  Some LMS vendors have used the term in the past because they themselves saw their platform as a one stop shop.  They probably offered you the ability to buy courses through them eliminating the need to go directly to the 3rd party vendor.

They also may have offered the ability to create courses for you, at a fee.

The problem though is that what was available in the past, no longer applies today.

Why? 

Because in today’s global market (not just with e-learning), the expectations of consumers has changed.

If they have a smartphone or tablet- they have downloaded apps.  If they are taking college type courses online for free, they are likely to be visiting a MOOC.

If they want to take courses on how to learn software or business or whatever, they may be watching videos on YouTube – for free or paying a fee to use such sites as Lynda.com.

If they desire to take courses through a marketplace or exchange they might be going to Open Sesame which offers the ability to buy and download courses – to use in any LMS.

Maybe they found a LMS that included social and performance management (assuming that is what they wanted).  Perhaps they wanted a human capital management platform containing various sub-systems including learning, performance, compensation, etc.

Or they decided to implement an ERP and interface it with a LMS.

Without realizing it, consumers (end users) were pursing one stop shops through e-learning.

The problem though is that none of the above constitutes a true ecosystem – a complete package wrapped into a system.

Ecosystems the LMS Way

I loved the term that vendors started to push in 2012 and continue to do so in 2013 – “scalability”.  It makes me laugh. What they are trying to do is to offer an alternative to an open source platform which allows unlimited users.   They assume that you will go “hey, I could have had a V-8 and a LMS that enables me to have unlimited users and all the features I want.”

The spin of course is that the open source platform you would download – and yes, it isn’t free after you customize the whole thing, can provide something that is only for you – designed the way you want and include only the features you want.  I know what you are thinking – I have created my own ecosystem – my own Frankenstein.

Yes it’s a monster, but it is not truly an Ecosystem

Right now you are saying to yourselves, “he keeps mentioning this ecosystem, but he hasn’t told me what it actually is and it is bothering me.” I hear you. No, I really hear you – telepathically.

My definition of an Ecosystem

For me a true LMS ecosystem consists of the following – all of it – not just pieces:

  • One click – they select it and it zings right into their platform – they can also remove it with one click
  • Courses included into the system at no cost – more than five – ideally more than twenty
  • Apps, add-ons, plug-ins or whatever terminology you want to use – the customer simply clicks what they want and whalla it goes into the platform – think ala carte without the hassle
  • A store or exchange – could contain not just the company free apps but also apps from other end users either for free or fee (the end user sets the price)
  • Within the store or exchange or perhaps they call it a marketplace – 3rd party apps/add-ons/plug-ins can be installed for free or purchased through a 3rd party – but again.. you do it there – and one click install.  Examples of the freebies would be perhaps the standard ones such as Skype, Slideshare, Evernote or less common ones such as MailChimp, 280 Slides, GradeGuru, EyeJot, Palbee
  • From the fee perspective – add-ons, apps or plugins could include Salesforce.com, Zendesk, Freshbooks, Echosign, Nimble
  • Course marketplace – LMS vendor offers courses from 3rd party vendors – you buy it auto installs, also end users can create their own courses to use within the system – either offer for free or fee based – one click install
  • M-Learning – native app, online/offline synchronization – supports HTML5
  • Social Learning – you can tie this back into the apps – that is how I would do it
  • Pre set list of APIs – again can be done numerous ways, and with some directories on the net having more than 1,000 of these things – you can get them and be ready to rock n roll
  • Features that already exist – event management, e-commerce and alike – again, the features that are already in place are there because it is a LMS. If you want to go more robust with your event management take a look at Cvent

I don’t see the performance/talent management and some functions of a human capital management as part of an ecosystem – because it is not universal. A lot of people do not want it – and even though it could be turned on or off, it often is an additional cost for each module.  If you want to include it at no charge within your platform – and end users can turn on/off or one click then it is doable.  But from my perspective it does not make this a true ecosystem.

What is great about the apps and add-ons is that you can offer a CRM, web conferencing tool, video messaging, etc. – that people can select from and one click into their system.  You do not have to include it, and as a complete ecosystem – it is customized to the client’s choice. If they want to remove the app, they simply click out or delete it (however you set this up).   If they want to add more – they can.

Where’s the App?

Here are a few places to check out apps, add-ons, extras, etc. – that any vendor could put into place if they wanted to, and yes, if you want to use them on your own, you can certainly do that.  These are my favorite sites.

Bottom Line

 People want choices, they want simplicity, they want easy – which offers them the ability to do it themselves and  they want a one stop shop. 

If you think about it, Walmart and Amazon offer the exact same things.

The difference is that they are not a LMS ecosystem.

But you should be.

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