Five LMS Lists

Posted by

Everyone loves a good list.  Whether it is a list of the top food that make you ill or the top 1o of worst flops in learning history, people love to read them.  This is especially true when it comes to e-learning. (Okay, maybe not true, but just go with it)

So, I figured, let’s do it. Let’s put together a series of e-learning lists that will surpass any other list out there. A list that will make you sing, “la, la, la” and have you show up to work wearing a clown outfit (note: please do not do this – unless you work at a circus).

The Lists

  • Six System Categories (most folks just say “LMS” without realizing that not all LMSs are alike)
  • Five buzz words in the space – Read them now, before they sting you later (get it.. buzz..bee, oh never mind)
  • Five Misnomers in the e-learning space
  • Bonus Topic List

Boom..Boom.. Here we Go

Six System Categories (at last count, 605 systems in the market)

1.  Learning Management System – has the standard feature sets found in the majority of systems.  Supports at least one of the compliance standards.  Enables you to upload not only your own courses, but also courses via a 3rd party authoring tool and/or purchased via a 3rd party provider. 

Must include analytics and reports.  Also contains some type of mobile, an assessment tool or survey tool and social (or at least it is on its roadmap).  A new feature is gamification (but the vast majority of LMSs do not have it yet as a component).

Price is all over the board and number of users as well.

There continues to be an increase in the number of systems, that have the parent-child-child relationship (extended enterprise, multi-tenant).  Regardless, the standard systems are the most common ones out there. 

Under this category are NextGen LMSs which are starting to show up.

Note:  Most LMSs (okay the majority) do not have talent mgt/perf. management, and similar modules.   They can though interface with any ERP, HRIS, Salesforce, etc. (okay a few can’t, but they may not tell you that).

2.  LMS Lite – Has most of the standard feature sets, but not all.  Similar to the above, but tends to have a lot less reports and most often just the ability to generate graphs/histograms identifying usage and a few other items. 

May or may not include social, gamification and on/off synch (although a couple have it on their roadmap). Continuing to grow in the market.  Most people assume that price is a factor in determining whether a system is Lite or not. 

This is completely, erroneous.  It is not a factor.  Nor is the number of users, although you will tend to find these systems focusing on 500 or less employees.

3.  Learning Platforms.  Similar to the Lite system but they are more geared as a proprietary system.  There are three types of  systems that slide under “learning platforms”

The most common one supports PowerPoint, and videos and other content – and can track it, but they DO NOT support any version of SCORM, nor do they support AICC, PENS, Tin Can and so on.

The 2nd type is the same as the above, but the key here – is their solution is built around their authoring tool.  So you have to use their authoring tool to create courses.  You cannot use a 3rd party authoring tool. Nor can you upload content from a 3rd party provider – example Skillsoft.

The 3rd type is similar to the first type, but the two wild cards are:

  • Supports at least one compliance standard
  • Built-in authoring tool as the core
  • May or may not be able to use 3rd party authoring tools
  • Rarely can you upload 3rd party provider content

They also tend to focus on 1,000 users or less employees, but it is not universal.  They also tend to be rather inexpensive, especially at the 200 or less users.   I am not a fan of proprietary based systems of any sort.  In fact there a few out there, who have their own proprietary standard – yuck!

4. Social Learning Management Systems -While I coined the term in 2009 to represent systems whose core features were geared towards social, some of the newer SLMSs, seem to have just enough to place them under this umbrella. 

Most tend to have standard features and similar capabilities as a LMS, the big differentiators though is more social.  It should be noted that there are plenty of LMSs with strong social, who do not call themselves a social LMS.

5. Mobile Learning Management System – The key item here is “Standalone”.  Systems that fit under this category, are not tied to any LMS, rather than can stand out there on their own BUT if you have a LMS and want to use these platforms in association – you can. 

  There are LMS vendors who offer a standalone MLMS, but also can interface it with their own system and may just pitch it as a “mobile” component.

6. Learning Content Management System (LCMS) – A dying breed but there are systems out there.  The challenge is that there are LMSs who provide the content versioning, archiving content, etc.  

 You are such a busy bee

Five Buzzwords making the rounds

1.  Learning Mastery – starting to show up in a few LMSs – the keys are:

  • Tends to have a pre-test before learner starts taking content. After they complete the test, the system shows areas that need improvement or areas the learner does not know.  The system may show the other areas – and the learner can go to the sections, but the key areas are bolded or somehow identified as the areas to focus on
  • Often provides a day to day task list (checklist) of what they need to complete – This can also appear on a mobile device, but it does not have to.  I know of one vendor that is adding learning mastery with a gamification twist to it
  • Some have a post test – but this is not universal
  • In reality, any content can be built for learning mastery including the pre and post tests
  • My big concern with “learning mastery” is tied to the day to day checklists.  The whole point of WBT is the ability to go anywhere as often as you want and as many times as you want.  When you require someone to complete a day to day checklist, this strips the real benefit of WBT and makes it more like forced homework.

2.  Go Online in minutes aka Express aka Quick and Easy aka Setup in minutes –  Basically you purchase the LMS and then go immediately into the system without having to wait for any type of implementation.  You skin it yourself, and so on.  Think “buy and launch”.  I always identify these systems as self-service systems.  Support with these systems has been mixed.  Same with training. 

3. Easy to use –  Self explanatory.  The funny thing about this buzzword is that I’ve seen systems that are not easy to use – but hey, why start a new trend, “systems that are hard to use and will make you want to punch someone in the face?”

4.  Gamification – Again, self-explanatory. 

5. NextGen LMS – next week’s blog. I will provide you the insights into what this is, what are the best NextGen systems on the market, who to watch for and trends tied to this sub-category of LMSs.

Abracadabra – Now you See it

Five Misnomers in the LMS World

1. Interoperability – A wonderful pitch that is often heart, but rarely true.

2.  Big Name Client Effect –  A term I use when I see vendors list clients that also appear on other vendor sites.  The latest ones to show up frequently include Google and Microsoft. 

As a potential customer you will no doubt be impressed with seeing such a big name as a client.  However, many people are unaware that this “big name” might have more than one LMS.  I am aware of one company (not listed here) that has over 40 LMSs.   To find out if the LMS vendor’s “big name client” is exclusively with them and not with anyone else – ask the vendor. 

Please be aware that some vendors who provide custom content development will list those clients on the entire client list and not break it out, so unless you ask, it is easy to assume they are LMS clients. 

3.  All LMSs have a built in authoring tool –  The vast majority of systems do not have a built-in authoring tool.

That said, this item has gone from everyone having an authoring tool to nearly no one having a built-in authoring tool to “slow come back” on authoring tools with a twist.   The twist?

  The LMS vendor does not build their own authoring tool – rather it comes from an authoring tool provider via an API.  In this scenario, you pay a separate license fee to use the authoring tool (just like the web conferencing integration that many systems offer).  

Personally, I would just use a 3rd party authoring tool and not one in a LMS, regardless if it is a partnership or not. 

4. All LMSs support at least one compliance standard – As you saw above this is not universally true, and on a sad note, there is an increase in those who do not.  If you are seeking at least one compliance standard go with SCORM. 

I am a big fan of PENS because of what it can do, but a PENS supported LMS is rare and not common  (if they offer it, they will support another compliance standard too – often SCORM).  The same with authoring tools BTW. 

Get one with at least one compliance standard.  If you can find one that supports SCORM and PENS, to me you hit a home run. 

5.  Talent Management and Learning – There are a swath of people including some LMS vendors (who have TM components) that will tell you that TM in a system is the new standard or norm AND in a few years, this will be a must need.  I am here to tell you that they are feeding you gruel.  

Yes, there are systems that have TM/PM and yes, there are TM/PM systems that have learning as a component.  But the “universal” and “future” angle they are stating is just not showing up in the data – as in the number of systems in the market with the number of systems in the market that either include TM features or offer TM as a stand alone.

Top Five Education LMSs for Q1 2014

Ha, you thought this article was only going to provide the items above.  Before you say, hey where are the lists for other top systems in general, in association space, in this or that space and so on.. I will let you know those are coming the week of the 28th (and are the 1st in a series of three ranking lists over the remainder of the year).

Specific details will be presented for the top 10 rankings in two weeks, along with criteria.

1. Instructure Canvas – Back on top!  Let it rain apps oh wait, they do.

2. Blackboard Learn – Their mobile while better than before, still has a way to go. 

3. Edvance 360 Never heard of them? Well, now you have. 

4. Desire2Learn Learning Suite –  A staple in the education space, but they need an overhaul in terms of UI. I mean it’s okay, but it was okay a year ago and two years ago and so on. 

5. My Big Campus   Who are they?  Well, how about sweet UI, very cool features and finally someone who says “you know, we might be on to something here..”

Bottom Line

There are three reasons why people love lists:

  • They get right to the point, provide interesting facts and open up the mind for exploration.
  • They can energize, engage and mystify.
  • They can even make you question what you thought you knew.

So enjoy this list.

Which one?

This one (“three reasons why people love lists”).

E-Learning 24/7






  1. 1. Interoperability – A wonderful pitch that is often heart, but rarely true.?

    Sent from my iPad


  2. “LCMS is a dying breed” – why? How is everyone else doing document management, version control, archiving? And what are the other benefits/features of an LCMS? It drives me nuts that our current LMS cannot tell us what files we have uploaded, what versions are published or not, what aliases we have assigned, which files should be retired.

    1. Couple of options – there are some LMSs that offer that capability – Expertus for one does.

      Some folks are doing it via SaaS authoring tools or within their authoring tool. One authoring tool vendor who does it is dominKnow Claro, which BTW synchs with several LMSs already.

      With the power of APIs, people have a variety of options that can be utilized with a LMS

  3. I’d love a top 5 list of LMSs geared towards the corporate world and not so much the education world. I’ve lived in the higher ed space in a previous life, but now in the corporate world, the learning needs are just different, especially in a highly regulated industry. I’m not at all interested in a “grade book” as much as I need to know, what videos did they watch (and that report–how many videos did my users watch listed out all in one report is one HARD report to find). I also cannot take advantage of social learning situations due to compliance. Right now, I’m using one of your Q1 Top 5s and for me, it doesn’t really come close to meeting my needs.

    Any thoughts on you who like for companies that need a little bit of power, in a fair cost, with actual data that can be used? Oh, and I have a fairly small active user group (250) with a potential of another 250-500 non-active users.

    So far, I’m looking at Litmos, LearnUpon, Greenlight, ExpertusOne, Absorb, and eLogicLearning. Can you think of pitfalls I may hit with these?

    1. Earlier in the year it was posted the top 10 for corporate. That said, a new version will be available in June for purchase. It is actually the latest top 50 rankings, inc. 50 mini reviews, additional insight and top rankings for specific verticals.

      The cost will be $599. You will be able to purchase it via the blog or my site at

Comments are closed.