It’s time.

Two equal fighters. One the former son of the reigning champ. The other, well, uh, the reigning champ.  Both hungry for the title.  Can there be only one? Of course, not, but this fight analogy is fun.

They can both be successful and in fact, they already are.

Before this battle begins, let’s take a look at each fighter.

Wait, you say.  There is a difference? You might be scratching your head or staring at this screen mumbling to yourself, go ahead, we can stop.

Nope, we can’t.

Why the break.

I have spent the last year and a half, looking to see if there were any differences between a LMS and a learning platform. Was there anything or things that really set them apart, to such a degree that one could say, “that is a LMS” and another say, “that is a learning platform”.

Before you go, oh, yeah well the modern ones are learning platforms and the “traditional” is LMS, I’d like to remind you, with no disrespect intended, that thinking is erroneous at best.  We will discuss that in short order.

The difference is rather subtle, but to me, it is enough of a difference to finally set them apart.  You can disagree and that is fine, and I’m sure some vendors will, but this is my take.

The Difference

Analytics and reporting.

That’s the big difference and yeah, you could argue more feature sets, but I found that to be tricky at best – some true, some not so true.

The real separation came in the form of the administration side – and analytics and reporting.

I found that in LMSs (on avg), there were more analytics, more ways to break it down, slice and dice, than there were in the learning platform space (on avg.).  Sure there were learning platforms that had more analytics, just as there were LMSs who did not, but there were a higher percentile in the LMS area that did, than did not.

For example on the learning platform side, there were a higher percentile, actually quite high of learning platforms who had a few histograms or graphs and you could find out in many of them, basic user (learner) data.  Was there a lot of data you could generate? No.

Reporting was the same as well.  More reports, more filters, more ways to slice and dice.  Again, some LMSs did not and vice versa, some learning platforms, did, but the norm was LMS yes, learning platform no.

Administration side in general, there were more things that could be done and capabilities on the LMS side than the learning platform side.

In some cases, there was WAY too much on the LMS side and while I would like to see some streamlining done, overall, I think for many folks the extensiveness isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since we tend to find people using the same things over and over again on the admin side.

I would add that on the learning platform side, there are WAY too many systems who do not have enough features on the admin side. A key point I might add, but sure, there are those who do have robust admin and vice versa.  Just the higher number do not.

They (learning platforms) could state this is a good thing, because people want less than more, but I disagree in the sense, that I think it really depends on that client.  There are people who could be fine with less than more, but at some point might want more.

I’m not saying that LMS vendors overwhelm people on the admin side, I’m just saying they tend to offer more feature capabilities than a learning platform. I would also say that there are – as aforementioned above – too many LMSs who just have too much info available for the admin to such an extent it can be a minus, rather than a positive.

What are NOT the differences

Before you (some learning platforms/LMSs) start blasting away “we are not this” or “yipee we can say we are leaner more modern” that, it is imperative to know that some of marketing hype you see is just inaccurate, but makes good copy.

Myths

Here are the myths of learning platforms, that many will tout and equally many LMS vendors will too.  Why? Because it sounds nice and wonderful, and nice and wonderful is a good thing. I mean, would you buy, nasty?  Not me.

Myth #1

Learning platforms are non-traditional. Not true.  There are plenty, plenty LMSs who fit that term. Actually, it is a total marketing term, but hey it works.

Myth #2

Learning platforms are more learner oriented than LMSs.  Again, totally bogus. In fact, I would argue that as a whole, LMSs are more learner oriented.

As with anything, there are quite a solid list of learning platforms that are learner oriented, but there are significant differences that speak loud enough to me, that in order for the entire learning platform space to hit the same note on average with LMSs(again there are those who frankly stink, okay there are more than some).

Myth #3 – Feature sets more abundant with LPs

Learner and admin features are stronger and more than a learning platform (on avg.)

  • Multilingual options higher in LMSs, but there are enough oFut there to say – “What in the heck are you waiting for? Santa Claus to send you a gift on that?”
  • Predictive Analysis is seen so far only in LMS vendors. Granted it is quite small number, but I have yet to see a true predictive analysis capability in a learning platform. That is likely to change.
  • Learner features –  More tend to exist on the LMS side (again on avg.) than learner platform side.  Equal on the admin side – clearly more on the LMS side (on avg.).  You may say, we just need the basics and hey that is fine, but I’m stating the differences here in general.
  • Admin features – Hands down LMS side. Again, more than enough who do not have it on the LMS side – but I can’t force them to change. Some people still think the buggy whip is more advanced that a car.
  • Forward thinking – I would say that there plenty of learning platforms willing to try more things at a faster rate than say a LMS (on avg.), but there are an extensive number of LMSs who are forward thinking, and as a whole, more than LPs.  I mean one LMS enables their users to use their voice within their mobile app to do stuff.  No learning platform offers this. You could slide this one into a tie, and I’d be fine with that.  It’s close, really close.
  • Gamification – LMS leads.  Robust gamification features – for the systems who have it and there are not that many, so far they more on LMS than learning platform.
  • Compliance and Regulatory – Total LMS domination. Not even close.
  • Competencies – LMS leads. I have yet to see robust on this
  • Salesforce.com – LMS by a wide margin.
  • HRIS integration – LMS, but many many learning platforms over it. So, if you are in a tight debate, look around.

Learning Platform Matches or Exceeds

  • Streamlined – Overall, more streamlined for the most part than most LMSs.  There are plenty of LMSs who are quite streamlined, but I find as a whole, the learning platform side is higher. Part of that is due to not as many admin features and features in general.
  • Less is More – Totally learning platforms. If you want less, go learning platform (again, on avg.).  I would say that sometimes less is not better. I would add that the “standards” in the space are not even being met in some learning platforms which is shocking to me – but more than not, they are being met.
  • Mobile – Equal to LMSs.  The number who have on/off synch is lower than LMSs, but the number who have native apps is higher. Mobile feature sets though, the LMS side wins hands down.
  • Social – Learning platforms slightly lead on this, but barely, really barely. I see more than enough, whose social is super weak compared to the LMS market. However, you will find “social learning platforms”, which focus more on social and surprise, not really, less on analytics.
  • Quick turnaround and push forwards. Totally learning platforms.  I like that they are causing the LMS space to add more and change quicker.  Nothing like pushing grandpa to use a BLU-RAY, rather than stick to a VCR.
  • Modular in design – I’m not talking add-ons here.  Learning platforms lead on this. Again, there are plenty of LMS vendors enough to start to close the gap, but learning platforms have the lead.
  • Rumbling into the market – It’s learning platforms. Overwhelmingly so, just at the moment most are calling themselves LMSs – and hey, until this post, that was acceptable, and it will take time for more to “acknowledge” what they are.  Everything takes time.
  • Modern. Learning platforms totally rule on this. LMS side is closing the gap, b – which means you can find a significant chunk who are not just modern, but quite modern, but there are way too many who are super slow to get going here.   And when I say modern, I mean modern UI.

Who leads B2B/B2C

LMS. That is not to say there are not learning platforms, in fact, I’ve seen a few learning platforms that dedicate only to B2B/B2C.  But as a whole, it is LMSs.

Course Standards

I was actually surprised at the number of learning platforms who either had ZERO course standards. That said, it is a tie. If you are seeking PENS, LMS. SCORM/1.2/2004 – tie.  AICC – slightly LMS – personally AICC should be on the next satellite to go into space never to be seen again, but that’s just me.  xAPI  – It’s LMS, but it is razor close.

I’m not saying universal, but for those LMS vendors who offer it compared to learning platforms who do, LMS has the slight edge.

Add-on modules

This might shock, but it is nearly a tie. I find that in general, learning platforms tend to lead only in the sense, that you may want social for example and it is an add-on, stuff like that. For talent mgt, recruiting, HRIS related,  LMS.  I would add that in the TM/HR specific sets that are listed as add-ons, there are like 10 vendors in the entire LMS space that has those type of add-ons. So if you are worried about that, don’t be.

Performance Management

If you want it and some do – and this is related to included in the system. LMS.  Again, more do not offer it, so if that is not your thing, don’t worry.

Features I do not want

You can turn them off, regardless if it is LP or LMS.

Built-in authoring tool

LMS leads by a wide margin. Not that these authoring tools rock mind you, I’ve only seen three that do, but more have it than LPs.

Apps and Widgets

For those who offer it, and its not an extensive set overall, it is close, I see a slight edge to LMS vendors, but not enough to make me go – them, them, them.  I would say that learning platform vendors as a whole are willing to add APIs at no charge, compared to their LMS buddies. Thus if you go LMS, use it as leverage for those who want to charge you.

Pricing

If it is less than 500 users – learning platforms rock on it.  More than 500 users – say up to 1,000 – it is close, but learning platforms have the slight lead. This is due because there are LMS vendors who started SMB, then landed more mid size and jumped to mid-size. Personally, I think that is a mistake, but hey it’s their business model – uh, good luck with that.

Infrastructure – as in support

LMS on the whole leads it. It goes back to users, if I am a learning platform targeting under 500, then I should be able to handle support calls. Where I get into trouble is if I have 5,000 or more users, I may not have the infrastructure to do well.

On the other side, I see way too many LMS vendors targeting mid size who do not have the ability (although they will say otherwise) to handle repeated business of 10,000 or more, especially when it hits the 50,000 or more users.

Training their customers

My dog wins it.  Okay, seriously, my three dogs win it. Can’t leave the other two out. Learning platforms are all about self-service, you buy and you go live – if you want today. Training is not a strong suite by any stretch. Support is e-mail driven for the most part.

Self Service Model

As noted above, totally learning platforms. There are plenty of LMS vendors who offer it, but it rules in the learning platform side.

SMB

Close. The issue is that learning platforms pricing is geared more along the 500 user route, but as with anything too many can’t help themselves. They land mid size and large size clients and/or get clients from the Big Dogs and say – “hey, we are equal with them, so we are more mid size”. – No, they just have lots of customers. Stay with what you do best. That’s my motto – and it should be theirs.

Mid size and up

LMS. That said, you can expect many learning platforms to under bid. But never assume that every LMS is going to be a lot of money, because frankly it is not true. Robust doesn’t mean high cost – never, ever forget that.

Education

LMS. Next.

Government

LMS. Double next.

My Top 50 for 2015

I went back and reviewed the number of LMS vs learning platforms in my top 50 list, as in how many of one versus another.

Here are numbers – and no, I’m not providing their specific names, except in some cases to identify some folks you may or may not recognize. If you want specifics and finding out who else, my wonderful Top 50 LMSs for 2015 report does that.

38 of the top 50 are LMSs. 10 are learning platforms, one is Moodle. – which yeah can be a LMS or you could make it a learning platform and one is sitting on the fence – Litmos.

Litmos’s analytics are the reason they set on the fence. It is really close. But right now, I am giving them the edge to LMS.

In my top 10, one learning platform.

Examples of learning platforms, for those curious and I know I will get “no, we are not”, which hey is fine, but I see you as “yes you are”.  Note, not all are in my top 50.

  • LearnUpon
  • Tessello – Brightwave
  • Mindflash (not in my top 50)
  • Spoke – Unboxed technology
  • Percolate – Michael and Associates
  • iSpring Online

Examples of LMSs (in no particular order, although Growth is #1 for 2015)

  • Growth Engineering
  • Docebo
  • eLogic Learning
  • ExpertusOne
  • Unicorn Training
  • Saba
  • IMC-AG

Bottom Line

There you have it. The two fighters, both of which are under the “e-learning” banner. Each fighter provides customers with more options than in the past.

Will we see more LMSs – that truly hit the bill – as we say – enter the industry, I think yes, but right now, the leader is learning platforms, although many are calling themselves LMSs.

Hence the breakdown.

Otherwise,  you might end up with a Gerry Cooney (fight fans, remember him?) or on the other side of the house, Larry Holmes or Evander Hollyfield (minus an ear).

For non-fight fans who know any of the above – you could end up with a rock or a rock star.

Me, I’ll take the rock star.

Regardless of who or what platform they are.

E-Learning 24/7