What you need 2 know: 3rd Party Content

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There may come a time, when you need content. Content these days, well, it is an umbrella term to represent courses (micro too), videos, articles, materials, workbooks, other types of learning resources, podcasts and so forth.  If it can be consumed for knowledge, then it slides under content. 

When it comes to content, as a consumer you have a few options.  You can build your own via a 3rd party authoring tool.  You can hire someone or some entity to build your content for you.  You can find free content all over the internet and you can purchase 3rd party content from a content provider.

Nowadays thanks to the growth of Learning Engagement Platforms, whereas content is a requirement – an essential no less, LMS vendors are jumping head first into the content marketplace that is viewable by all clients (rather than pitching the content via the phone or other comm method).

And not only do they provide the “course marketplace or content marketplace”, but they are adding content for free, to when you buy the LMS or other type of learning system.   In addition to adding content, they are now expanding into additional platforms, authoring tools and so forth, but this is about content, so I’ll stay on the path.

If one was to look at the e-learning industry (online learning), learning systems make up the biggest share of the space.  Second? From a product standpoint – 3rd party content.   In general, custom development shops – but it is misleading because there are many folks going solo as freelancers which increases the pot, so to speak.  

Thus, a distinguishable point, as in product has to be made. 


3rd party content providers are not new.  They have been around as long as online learning has existed.  Heck, even before we had online learning, and courses were CBT (Computer Based Training), you could find 3rd party course providers. 

Back in the day, there were some big names out there. Who remembers NetG? Element K? Besides

The best Microsoft Office courses that looked like the product, with a show me, tell me, let me do it approach – came right from Element K.  Real interactive stuff.  The rest of their courses? Bleech.  But Office ruled.  

NetG, was the evil empire of the days gone past – ok, in my mind.  Anybody they acquired they ruined.  Maybe it was a magical spell, but I am still stunned that a company who created video courses with bookmarking capabilities, and run well at 38.8K speed with no latency issues would be acquired by NetG and shoved into the Raiders of the Ark storage facility, next to the ark itself.

Anyone who has been involved with WBT (the original name of courses, under the umbrella term of E-Learning), likely can recall their personal and despised favorites of the past.

As in now, you could contact an LMS vendor seek courses with your system, to which the vendor would say we have this or that, you agree to this or that, buy the seats and the LMS vendor would put the courses into your system.

If you went directly to the 3rd party course provider, they would sell the courses to you, then work directly with your vendor to add them. Many had zero issue doing this, after all, why pay the middleman, when you can have it all (the sale)?

But, vendors knew and rightly so, that very few folks would go that route, rather they would rely on the vendor – LMS that is, to have the content to sell to them (client) and save time as such.

Then and Now

Then – Client contacts their new LMS vendor or current one, says they need courses in Business, Safety, Software.   LMS vendor identifies possible options.  Sells the seats that you want or need, and puts the courses into the system.   Any updates are handled by the LMS vendor via the course provider who sends them the courses (initially on CDs for some).  

The courses sit on the LMS server, thus in a sense your LMS and not on the 3rd party course provider’s servers.  Thus there is no behind the scenes connection between the two, visible by an iFrame or similar in the system.

Now –  You can still do the call and we need angle, but more and more LMS and definitely LEPs have a marketplace of content.  You (client) go thru and look at the content providers whom the LMS, LEP, etc. has as partners and select the content.  Some may be free (TED) or some MOOCs, others are fee-based (Skillsoft, Skill Pill, Harvard Business, etc.).  

Some vendors have one-click, in that you see what you want, click and whammo it goes right into the system (The admin buys it, then it appears in the course catalog or listing of courses, depending on the platform).

The first vendor to do this successfully was Docebo.  Several years ago, I might add.  Now more are following that approach.  The difference, a lot more content provider partnerships, speaking of..

Then – A couple, usually at least three, often no more than five different course providers as partners for your “call us” 3rd party courses (marketplace)

Now – If you do not have at least five, you are not even in the game.  An LEP should have at least 10, 3rd party content providers, many have way more than that.  An LMS, 10 should work just fine.  If I was an LEP, I’d have 20 different partners, based on various categories, beyond the standard same ol same.  

Then:  The usual content included Business Skills (I include Sales here – some folks have it as a separate category), Compliance, Software – usually Microsoft related, and some technical programming stuff depending on who you went to, Leadership Development, Health and Safety.

Now – The same as above, along with industry specific content, content you can edit and add your own stuff too (in Compliance and Regulatory, but the courses are static), expanded technical especially SaaS products, and general info.  You can find micro-learning too, which is listed of course in time (no more than 10 minutes). Video is here. Workbooks (e-version), and other types of learning resources is on its way (some already have arrived) – but this type of content will be big in 2019. Along will come templates, worksheets, anything to help enhance the learning.

Then: Quality was mixed.  Some was quite good, most was average, plenty was poor.  Static rules!

Now: Still the same.  Difference? The term micro-learning is used repeatedly and some folks think that implies better.  It doesn’t. And BTW, online learning is based on the learner’s pace, so even if a course is three minutes, it might take you 35 minutes. Is it still micro?

Factoid: I’d rather see more interactive, scenario-based (Real World) courses, which is difficult to find, yet my own research  shows it is more successful in terms of retaining knowledge, higher test scores and synthesis is easily attainable.

Course Marketplaces online – not in your LMS, or LEP

There is quite a ton of confusion to platforms such as Udemy, Coursera, BetterU (one to watch BTW) and Lynda.com. 

All of them are course marketplaces.  They are not LMSs nor LEPs.  They sell direct to the consumer. If you want to have it in your business, they sell there too, but they do a lot of business direct to consumer.  As in, you, the person serving me food.  Or you – the person picking up dog treats at the grocery store OR you – the person who just cut me off and has now dropped down their speed to 35 mph, in the fast lane.

I have found that the confusion does not only appear with consumers (understandably), but also vendors. I won’t mention the vendor, but just last week, in a call with a company who is known for their content, and hence my call to them, basically saw Udemy as an LMS.  I had to explain they were not in fact that.

As a course marketplace, you can offer your content for free or fee-based.  The key takeaway is it is about the content – for the direct to consumer approach.  

And there are a lot of vendors out in this segment.  A segment that is regularly confused with an LMS or LEP.  I’ve seen this misunderstanding in newspapers, online news, business publications, and yes, PR firms.   As a result, it isn’t any real surprise that general observers would think the same thing.

I mentioned in a previous post about Amazon coming into the LMS space. A recent post on a Linkedin thread I started, came from a training manager at Amazon, who felt that the company was going more along the lines of Udemy.   I could easily see that. Because you now have excellent utilization of Prime users, with a direct to consumer AND still sell direct to businesses, etc. 

Then there are providers such as Open Sesame. Which works well with partnerships with other learning systems, or direct to businesses.  Open Sesame is what we call a content aggregator, in that they sell as one unit, but have content coming from various other providers into their solution.    The most famous aggregator back in the day was Learn.com.  Ah Horatio, I knew them well.  

The challenge with course marketplace providers and content aggregators is that someone or some team has to be in place to constantly review all the content, remove the bad or outdated, update what is needed, refresh when required and add new. 

Most vendors do the latter – constantly adding new – and well tell you as such, but overall, they stink at the important pieces – outdated and poorly designed content, update/refresh existing to make it better.

Hence, an analyst hint – Always ask what the 3rd party content provider their processes on removing outdated content, how often does it happen, and how often do they go thru a refresh or update with stuff that is more than two years old (i.e. cold-calling is cold-calling).  I should note this is my biggest gripe with Lynda.com, and thus Linkedin Learning. A lot of outdated and poor content, that is still there for you to buy and use.

But they are not the only ones.  I ran into another place at ATD that did the same thing. First saying they never remove anything, then realizing that shouldn’t have come out in speech, and then following up with they do, if it is not popular.  And what is defined as not being popular?  According to them, no one taking it.  So, if 10 pals take Lotus 1-2-3, you are in luck, it probably is still available for you.  Bring a floppy.

Seats + Content

When buying any 3rd party content whether it is direct from the 3rd party provider OR via your LEP or LMS, you should purchase only the number of seats you plan to have folks use it.  This is to say, you have 1,000 end users, but only 400 are going to get the content. Thus you buy only 400 seats.  If you are worried, you can cushion by another 50, so 450.

If you go direct to the 3rd party content provider, many will still cut out the middleman and work with your LMS provider to place the content in the system – but there is a catch.

Nowadays, 3rd party content providers want their content on their own servers and not the LMS server(s).   O’Reilly Media prefers this route. Skillsoft too.  And in fact, most do.

Can you negotiate to have it on your LMS per se, rather than sitting on their server?  Yes, but it will depend on the 3rd party vendor.

Skillsoft has in the past done it, and get ready, there are plenty of course providers out there, who sell direct to consumer, via online, but well sell to you and have it in your LMS. The key – chat with the person who runs Biz Dev.

Where is the market heading?

More partnership deals with LMS and LEP providers.  Expect an increase in learning resources including workbooks, ebooks (is Safari making a comeback – ok, it is still around, but at one time, more folks knew about it), templates and other pieces of content in some manner. 

Acquisitions.  Yes, but here is the kicker – by Learning System providers, especially LMS.  Think of it this way.

a. I have a marketplace

b. I want to provide my customers with free content

c. I want to generate additional revenue by having a direct to consumer offering too.

d. I buy the content provider library, then add it to all my customers, either as a fixed cost as part of the LMS, so you get X with X or X with Y (all of content, etc.)  And if the 3rd party provider was doing well with direct to consumer, I still offer that option BUT I know also offer or still offer if the provider had it to begin with – B2B.   Four bites at the apple.  Where right now, I get one – from the partnership deal. And even though it is not enough.

It already exists in the market and will continue in 2019.  Some vendors look towards buying out custom development shops, but I think that is a mistake. 

A big reason is that even with customers who already have been in the e-learning market for some time, content – the lack therof is still massive.  Even if they are on number two or three LMS. 

Bottom Line

There are plenty of 3rd party content providers in the market. None of them, that I have seen, have 100% awesome courses and content.  Its a mixed bag.  Later this year, I will be announcing the top 50 content providers (globally).

But until then, here are three that I do like, and depending on what you are looking for, maybe you will too (I cannot stress this enough, no one has 100% amazing, so please always trial – and pick a few)

  • Intellezy  – Direct to Consumer, B2B (business, so it can be on your LMS), and partnerships.  Prefers on their servers, but has in the past, had it on LMS servers.
  • Skillsoft  – B2B, partnerships. Prefers content on their servers.
  • Open Sesame – B2B, partnerships.  They need better culling/cleaning up of content, so you have a definite mix bag here.  I still like them though.  Not sure on their MO on where they want their content stored.  Best to ask. 

I am doing a webinar with them – so sign up here – it is this Wednesday and covers content (but even if I wasn’t doing a webinar, I’d still like them. And yes, I have told them about their content being mixed with some stuff needed removal – I’m like your friendly content garbageman. Recycle!).

Although content is a commodity and has been for the past few years, it is still an important and essential driver for online learning.

For your LMS.


And everything else


E-Learning 24/7



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