NexGen Tier2 Learning Systems

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A year ago I wrote about NexGen functionality in any learning system.  The reason behind it was simply that so many vendors pitch they are NexGen (often referring to it as Next Generation), when in fact, they are not.  It is similar to the pitch of Modern UI, even though I have seen some whose Modern UI is from 1995.  Netscape anyone? 

As with any learntech and in this case functionality and approach, as time moves on, so should it – as in, moving forward.  Moving forward isn’t just mimicking what another platform is doing OR matching some commercial consumer entity in design (i.e. Netflix, and years ago, Amazon search). 

Before diving into NexGen Tier 2, I recommend to those who are curious to re-read NexGen functionality, which I now dub as Tier 1.  

This is to say, that any learning system vendor who tells you they are NexGen, should have Tier 1 functionality (in its entirety or at least 60% of it).  To see who were the leaders in 2017 for NexGen, here is my 2017 NexGen Grid.   2018 NexGen will appear next month.

A Couple of Notes

With the strong growth of Learning Engagement Platforms, LMS vendors (who make up the largest segment in the learning system space) are diving in head first and adding more LEP capabilities.  This in turn is leading some LMS vendors to call themselves LEP like or state publicly they have an LEP within their LMS. 

Please be aware of what an LEP is (see here) and recognize that at the minimum to be an LEP you need to have a content (inc. courses) marketplace where folks can purchase content (the folks being the client) And where the system is learner-driven (which on a side note, you could have done with any LMS or other learning systems since the late 90’s – and which you usually see from folks whose background is Training).

I mention LEPs because yes, they can be NexGen as well, and should be in all honesty.  If there was any learning system that screams going NexGen it is them. 

In the NexGen Tier 2, one component expands on the content (courses inc.) marketplace and thus, any LEP should follow suit (and a few have).  Just as there are LMS vendors already with this NexGen T2 capability. 

NexGen Tier2

Learning Ecosystem Overdrive

A Learning Ecosystem is where you truly become a one-stop shop (which many LMS vendors say they are, and to a degree they are – to a point) and achieve this via the following

  • Content marketplace (Offer courses and content either for free and/or charge. The content including courses can come via 3rd party providers – where a partnership exists, or via TED and similar freebies (a combo of the two is highly likely)  The marketplace is visible to any client – either in the system already OR outside.  Some enable the one click rule, whereas you buy, click and whammo it is in the system.
  • The marketplace expands to include other types of learning systems, e-learning tools (i.e. online learning) too.

This is not saying it can connect to Salesforce and such (because that exists already), rather, learning systems in the space – such as an LEP, micro-learning platform, LMS (if it is an LEP, and if it is an LMS then they have a partnership with an LEP, for example), and so forth.    As for the e-learning tools, examples would include SaaS authoring Tools – I state tools, because it shouldn’t just be one tool (again that exists with some vendors), online assessment tools (including Proctoring ones), video coaching platforms, skill-building platforms, training operation systems (if applicable).  

Web conferencing already exists and has for dozens of years, so that isn’t part of the Learning Ecosystem.

  • Content via your customers. This is where your customers (i.e. clients) have created content (incl. courses) and can either sell them or give them away for free to other clients of your learning system.   This approach existed in the early 2000’s with a couple of vendors (I did it with mine), but was way ahead of its time and petered out.  I would state again this is not, via a 3rd party provider nor some boutique shop who has created courses and sells them in a marketplace.   This is only your customers.    There are a couple of vendors already doing this, and they are reporting success with their customer base.

Micro-Credentialing aka Digital Badging 

Micro-Credentialing has been around for quite a bit of time, especially with individual companies such as IBM.  What makes this part unique for NexGen is that the Digital Badge comes not from the vendor of the learning system, rather it is due to a partnership arrangement with a 3rd party organization, most notably a university or college.  Secondarily from entities such as Microsoft Certification.  However, as noted in this section, its primary is from a university and/or college (an institution of higher learning).

Here is how it works (in its basic form)

1. An end user completes a course or set of courses in the learning system from a university/college that has agreed to place said courses in that learning system.

2.  Upon completion, the end user receives a digital badge from the institution, and not from the learning system itself.  Thus, in the best example I can give, Toolwire (an LEP) has an arrangement with Boston University School of Business.  Once an end user completes one of the courses (I think there are eight), that is in the LEP,  they receive a digital badge from BU School of Business.   It says it in the digital badge.  

3. The end user now can do a variety of things with that digital badge.  Not only does it exist in the learning system, but the end user can add it to their Linkedin profile.  They can add it other social media.  And here is the kicker, they can add it to other job sites, such as CareerBuilder, or Indeed and so forth. 

4.  Think of it this way, what is going to be more valuable to a potential employer, a digital badge with the name of the learning system on it OR one from a university or college?  I say the latter. 

Secondly,  let’s say you complete a course in Agile Project Management from a university (again it exists in the learning system) and you are seeking a project management job, whereas they are seeking someone with Agile PM experience.   In this scenario, having a digital badge from a university will weigh more than one from a learning system itself, especially if the employer has never heard of that learning system. 

It is a natural perception that a course from a university would be of higher quality than one say from Widget learning or in a real-life example, Linkedin Learning (no offense, but not all the content from is what I would consider high quality).

With the push towards more skill-based learning and statements of such in any learning system, you can’t go much higher or better with one via a digital badge from a university/college, even an organization (3rd party) that is relevant to said skill or set of skills.

Other NexGen T2

  • Deep Learning aka Machine Learning –  The algorithm must be open. 

This means that someone does not have to complete a course or a piece of content to be rewarded or weighted poorly in the algorithm.  There are plenty of learning systems, including LEPs who do not include courses/content that is not completed, which is an oxymoron when you consider that an LEP’s core philosophy is learner-driven, where end users focus on what they want to learn based on their interests.

If my interest in how to do macros in Excel, then I am only going to go in a course to that specific subject.  I am not going to want nor care to complete an advanced Excel course.  As I always note – do you read every article in a newspaper?  No, you read only the ones of interest to you. 

  • Machine Learning creates automatically a learning path based on content (inc. courses) whether completed or not.  This is a form of AI (although a caveat here, this is not truly pure AI, which is a pitch some vendors love to make). 
  • Machine Learning can identify specific pieces of content for that learner based on variables including what exists in their profile – interests, skills (using a skills rating mechanism – another NexGen T2), job role (if applicable and it does not have to be a variable, if you do not want it to be – the admin decides), location and so forth.  Even HRIS data becomes a variable (again admin decides). This goes beyond the recommendation of content based on completed or non-completed content.

Outside sources of content is placed into the learning system via a bookmarklet.  Once captured either via a link (a basic NexGen) or in T2 the entire page now appears including any images, videos, etc. in the learning system.    If you want to push into NexGen T2  (super advanced), the end user can select specific pieces in the article, or on a web site for that matter and it appears in the learning system.   And wait for it, with NexGen T2 plus (let’s call it that), tools such as OneNote can be used fully integrated or tied to the learning system.  Evernote would be another example.  

I see a T3 angle here, which could appear with some vendors in T2, whereas the end user can leave notes on the web page, article that exists on the net, that another end user can see and leave their own comments as well.   This is not the same thing as having the article or materials in the learning system, and someone leaves their notes or comments (that has existed for years with some vendors).  

Bandwidth Detection

System automatically identifies the speed and thus bandwidth of the end user and thus will change the Frames Per Second of the video, including pixels and size.   This is a feature that exists in the mobile app, preferably with on/off synch, and thus a self-contained app.

PWA – Progressive Web Apps but with On/Off Synch

Yes there are vendors, notably in the LMS space which have had PWAs as their mobile app for years, but what they were missing was the ability for on/off synch which can exist (via code) in a PWA.

Progressive web apps eliminate the need to have a native mobile app specific to a mobile OS, and thus eliminate the need for someone to go into the Apple store, Google Play and so on and download the native mobile app.  They are mobile responsive.  They can be HTTPS://.  They can have the look and feel of the learning system OR their own look and feel.

You can push notifications via a PWA.  You eliminate the need for updates, downloading – which you need with a native mobile app.  You can link and share them too.  There is a lot to like with PWAs. 

The challenge though is the level of development, a learning system puts into their PWA and as noted, for NexGen T2, it must have on/off synch capability, otherwise, it is like someone having a native mobile app where you have to be connected to the Internet at all times.

Video Bookmarking

This is achieved not by building the course via your 3rd party authoring tool (although it can be at some level), but rather, via the learning system itself.  You upload the video, it is a video itself and not contained within a course wrapper, and on the admin side, enable the ability for the end user to pick different points in the video to watch.  This can be achieve in a couple of ways.

a. Via a text transcript on the screen – they select the lines or words and zing it goes to where it is in the video

b. They can click at various parts of the video, and it leaves a point i.e. bookmark.  They can leave and go back to that as much as they want.

While some VLPs have done this, it has yet to really catch on with LMS vendors, for NextGen T2 is must exist.  I should note that it does exist in Linkedin Learning (as far as I can remember) and there are a couple of other learning systems too. 

It eliminates the need for someone to watch the entire video, regardless of its time length.  And trust me, I’ve seen videos that are as exciting as me watching the Golf Channel (Zing!).

Skill Ratings

There are two parts here.

  1. Skill ratings are listed by the end user.  They rate themselves, but the manager reviews the skill rating and can tweak or change it to what they see as the rating (if the admin allows that).  And/Or the skill rating is based on content the end user is currently taken, regardless if it is completed or not.   There might be a pre-assessment and post-assessment too, to further define the actual skill rating. 
  2. The data on the back-end can do a comparison of skill ratings to job role or job possibility within the company (if the company posts opps within the company and if the vendor offers some depth of performance management or a mod or ties into an HRIS platform).

I am a fan of skill ratings and tying them more so, to a target related to the content to improve said skills, than say tying it to seeking a new gig within the company – because there are additional variables at play here, although I know some L&D folks want it in that fashion.  Personally, I think it is a disservice to anyone who sees the value of online learning and why it was created in the first place.  

Equally, I believe that skill ratings can work in B2B and B2C, which in this case job roles would not apply.  If you think of using it for example with machine learning, that content could be pushed out based on the skill rating – and here is where I see a huge win, and BTW a NexGen Tier2 function.    Thus, it isn’t just about finding a new gig at the company, nor the need for having performance management in an LMS (because I believe an LMS should be about learning only). 

  1. The data can be viewed via a heat map or similar to see how the rating goes up or down based on the skill itself.  I see that Steve has increased his sales by 35%, and can compare that to the level of his skill in cold calling for example.  As Steve takes more courses/content in cold calling or other sales topics, his rating at that initial level should also increase.  I can do a comparison.   This enables you to have a true ROI.
  2. You can add more variables to the equation as it relates to skill ratings.


The system incorporates more learning technology thru various means in the system.  There is more automation than before.  The system achieves this, not just by you adding rules (which you can do today), rather and here it comes – yes, full AI.  I see this more as T3 NexGen, but there is no reason, you cannot have more automation even with some machine learning – and this is on the admin side BTW, not learner side.


Forward Thinking

It goes without saying that to be NexGen Tier2, you must continue to be forward thinking.  This is not about replicating Netflix experience because at a certain point, that will become same ol’ same and thus something new will replace that, nor is it about being a lemming – can we say Facebook like social?

Adding Smart Home Assistant Capabilities

I am going to put this into NexGen T2 Plus, whereas you can add Alexa Skills and/or similar, since Google Home now is the leader by a lot in the smart home assistant market.   This is perfect with the coaching/mentoring components in any learning system.   I note Alexa because most folks are aware of it, but again, it could be Google Home, and other players. 

Bottom Line

There they are – NexGen Tier 2.  I did not include Gamification tied to skill ratings, tied to social and tied to machine learning outputs, but yeah that is NexGen T2 too. 

At least at the minimum tied to skill ratings and even output of content based on the viewing of content whether it be courses, videos, articles on the web or in the system, web sites and so forth.

Nor did I include data with dollar amounts on how much folks are saving due to online courses and content, or some other mechanism output to show ROI as a metric, a huge need in the space.  Again, another NexGen T2.

And I did not note, more data being viewable on the administration side

Using more data visualization than before, tying it with comparisons to some other data, maybe the skills, topics of interest, and so forth.

Data should be seen by topics of interest, whether again, they complete it or not.  While I like that Degreed shows how many articles someone viewed, what it cannot tell me is whether they actually read part of it or whether they clicked to see the article, looked at it for three seconds and left.   The latter is worthless.  The former, how long they spent on it and how often they returned back to me – is invaluable

From there, I can create more content towards that subject.  I can devise new training and/or learning opportunities for them, and others if I see patterns.

And from there, I can leverage the data to what it should be used for.

To enhance the learner’s learning.

Just as NexGen Tier 2 will do.

And shall.

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