Q&A from Blog Readers on E-Learning

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There is nothing like interaction. Especially when it comes in the form of questions from readers of the blog and various followers on my social media channels.

I have done a segment like this in the past and it was very popular.  So, back for another installment.

Q I am curious on why Cornerstone On Demand, Saba and SumTotal do not appear in your top twenty lists even though they appear on other sites as the best products in the market.  Am I missing something?

A:  Great question. If this was a popularity contest, then sure they deserve it. Thankfully, it isn’t.  Every e-learning consulting/research firm, etc. – can offer a difference of opinion.  Some have the same opinion and that is fine.

But, I do not look at the number of users, number of clients (in terms of ranking as the best of the best),  I look at the platform as a whole – including those extra variables people tend to leave out –  user interface, customer service, support, training and a few other items. 

There is no doubt that they are popular platforms – but as noted above – popularity doesn’t mean best. My latest take on those three vendors (plus one) are:

  • Cornerstone On Demand – I have seen the new UI and I like what I saw. Lots of potential. The problem though is it is not throughout the entire system, rather it is in a few areas.  The administration side is uber robust, but again, it still has some work to be done on the UI side.  While the learning cloud and extended enterprise cloud are purchased by folks, I still see the platform – assuming you get all the modules as a HCM.  That said, they are in my top 40 for learning/extended enterprise cloud.
  • Saba –  A solid system, but IMO (in my opinion) better suited for talent/performance management.  It used to be that people would mention CoD, SumTotal and Saba when they were looking at those three platforms – at least to me they would – but nowadays, I don’t hear that.  I always hear “I’m looking at SumTotal, CoD, Expertus”, when folks mention it to me.
  • SumTotal – As for their system as a whole, the new UI for the learning side – is a major improvement over what was previously their UI.  I also see them more as a HCM, with strength on talent/performance management.  On the Maestro side (formally GeoLearning), I don’t understand how they could have dropped the ball on the platform. At one time Geo was a dominate player in mid size. Nowadays, it isn’t – although I’m sure SumTotal would disagree.
  • Taleo – Should be mentioned. Okay, it has been mentioned. Next!

Q: We use WebEx as our web conferencing tool.  Is there anything better out there?

A:  I think there is, but that is just my take. It depends on what features you need, what is your budget, how often you plan to use the product and how are people going to access – i.e via VOIP, mobile, telephone, etc.

The problem with the web conferencing tools that currently exist (as a whole) is that none of them are 100% perfect. I’ve been on web conferencing calls on multiple platforms, and have had the wonderful experience of being dropped, having to download a plug-in that takes too long, hearing the double voice – echo chamber, freezing – on my end and the other end – and some general issues. 

What is taking place in the space are the number of “freebies” that have arrived – not just for audio conferencing only, but also with web conferencing too. Some have ads, which can be a downer for some folks, others require the person to either use VOIP or call in with a non toll free number. 

WebEx has been around forever which doesn’t hurt from a marketing or biz standpoint. They also have a lot of partnerships with LMS vendors – so that adds to an additional distribution channel. 

Q: What do you believe are the biggest issues or problems with today’s LMSs?

A:  Another super question.  There are a lot of issues in the current state of the LMS market. This is now a mature market (as a whole) yet many of the issues have been around for years – which is befuddling.  Here is my list (both from a business and system standpoint).  It should be noted that this is not universal of every platform, rather in general terms.

  • Beyond bad when it comes to marketing. Again, not universal – some are quite good and even phenomenal. However as a whole, yuck. They miss the boat on numerous areas including digital marketing (which is a must and includes their web sites), mobile marketing (nearly non existent), e-mail marketing (uh, your drip campaign isn’t doing its job, unless you consider blasting every week success – spam folder – here I come), content aggregation and brand management. 

The web site (a form of digital marketing) and digital marketing in general should be quite obvious – since it is tied to strategy – especially in today’s business world.  Oh, and let’s not forget trade shows. So many to choose from and some vendors go to all of them – forgetting who their target audience is for their system. Waste of money.

  • Strategy – especially in the global landscape.  I am constantly amazed at the number of vendors who tell me they are only focusing on one country, yet have a SaaS platform. This means anyone from anywhere can buy and use your system. 

Additionally, some of the strategy especially when it comes to verticals and objectives – tends to be a hit or miss. This is why, you see some vendors doing quite well and others who are not.  What I see as a constant problem is lack of long term strategy. Short term seems to be a constant.  But with more vendors entering the space than ever before – that just won’t fly anymore.

  • User Interface – Still a huge issue. I’d say one of the biggest. Some vendors have finally woken up and changed it to a crisp and modern interface, but as a whole, dated seems to the choice. You can have all the features in the world, but if the learner can’t figure it out – due to your UI and the administrator has to spend a lot of time on the back end – because of UI – you have problems. 

I hear all the time – well, we have X number of users, and X number of clients and they all love our system. I say – “big deal”. Because your job is to attract new clients. The people you already have – selected you for a variety of reasons.  Also, let’s not forget that the percentile of clients who will contact you and complain is extremely low.  

True story: I had one vendor (shall not be named) who told me in a discussion that their current UI was good and that their clients loved it. In the same conversation not more than 30 minutes later, they told me they were changing their user interface.  So, let me get this straight. You just told me earlier that your user interface was great and in the same conversation told me you were changing the UI.  Clearly, it wasn’t that great.

  • Support and Service – A major, major issue and one that has always been around.  In fact, it is one of the key reasons, people leave the system.  I constantly hear from people that a few months after they sign the contract, support drops like a ton of bricks.  Service calls not being returned. Tech support lackluster. And what the heck is going on with charging people for better service, as in tiers. 

I just dropped a chunk of my budget on your system – I should get support and service for free.  The argument of course is that “support and service” costs money. Here is the thing, maybe instead of having four support people and 25 sales people, you should hire more support personnel.  As for the cost angle – wrap it into your setup fees – oh wait, you already do.

  • Setup fees – I’ve mentioned this in the past. But there is no reason to charge someone 60K USD or more for setup fees, especially in a SaaS environment.  Especially when some vendors use Rackspace or other server farms.  And the “updates, maintenance” included pitch – is totally bogus. Any vendor will do that – regardless of setup fees. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be around for long.

Q: Can you explain “seat” fees? When we looked at systems, we found the costs all over the map, depending on the system. How do they calculate those numbers?

A: By tossing it on the wall and seeing what sticks.  Seat costs are one of the hidden secrets in the industry. As one CEO told me, “it is completely arbitratry”, and I tend to agree. Sure, they can come up with all the reasons in the world, why it costs A versus B, but I am always amazed how some LMS vendors sales people (as in the same vendor) have different seat costs, depending on where you are located – Europe vs. U.S. (for example) and even in various regions of the U.S.  – I get the goal of making money, but when the pricing varies at such a high level, something is amiss. 

Each vendor is going to charge different pricing for the seats – as a whole. Factors include the number of seats. The more seats you purchase, the less it costs per seat. A seat is (a learner) and one user name/one password.  A new trend to help save on the costs is the “active” versus “in-active” user.  But in the end, seat costs will vary.

I always love the major drop in cost when you balk at paying the original street cost. I’ve had vendors say to me, “it will cost $40” per seat. Then I say no, and miraculously the price drops to $20 or in the case of a couple of vendors , under $10 a seat.  Here is the thing, they are still making money.  So, what does that tell you about the mark-up?

Q: I loved Authorware, but today I can’t find an authoring tool that can match it or even get close to it. Do you think this is going to change?

A: Right now, the answer is no, but I know you are not alone in that quest.  There are a lot of e-learning developers and instructional designers who either used Authorware or want an authoring tool that meets their needs – and which does not exist in today’s market. That doesn’t mean some vendors are not trying.

But the fact is the reason, rapid content authoring tools have taken off – is that their focus is for “anyone” regardless of tech skill set or ID experience to use them.  As a result, the ID purists and e-learning developers were left behind. 

I have always said that if an authoring tool vendor or someone wanting to enter the authoring tool space created a product specifically for instructional designers and e-learning developers they would do quite well – because frankly, it doesn’t exist and as a result – no competition.  My personal vibe is that a few of the authoring tool vendors who are adding more robust ID features will continue to do so in the next two years.