Perception in the E-Learning World

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Hyundai had a problem.  They were about to launch a luxury vehicle in the 40K range, in the United States to attract the customers of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus (to name a few).  They recognized though that these same customers were unlikely to buy because they would be unlikely to have a Hyundai in their driveway.  Back then, the brand was different. 

What then should they do?  They came up with a solution to solve the perception problem.  Remove any mention of the brand Hyundai on the car.  Give it a logo that is eerily similar to a Bentley logo.  Then launch it.

The name of the vehicle? Genesis. 

And where at one time, the name Hyundai was mentioned in the ads for Genesis, just recently that is no more. 

Perception issue  – solved.

In the e-learning space there continues to be in some sectors, a perception problem. Often self-inflicted by the vendor themselves, it nevertheless continues rampant. From Talent Management systems with learning as a component, to learning systems in general, to new learningtech tools, perception really creates conflict, where it doesn’t have to be that way. 

Let’s first take a look at the term e-learning itself. When coined all those decades ago, it was an umbrella term for online learning.  And under that umbrella, was LMSs, LCMS, authoring tools, assessment tools, web conferencing and so forth.  

Nowadays?  Vendors use the term as a term itself, calling content within their learning systems as e-learning, to differentiate from classroom training (i.e. ILT). 

That is a perception problem, that isn’t totally solved, rather it is a band-aid solution.  Why not reference it similar as WBT compared to ILT?  Or just call it courses, videos (which they do) and so forth, since you will be viewing it uh, online.  Then ILT is face to face or call it classroom training.   Systems will refer webinars as webinars and seminars as seminars, so the whole online learning courses are the only ones where the term itself creates confusion. 

Authoring Tools

One sector that implies that it doesn’t have a perception problem are authoring tools, and in some ways it is true.

When a vendor calls themselves an authoring tool, consumers looking for an authoring tool, knows what that means.  Now, they may not know the functionality or capabilities, but they know this tool enables them to create courses.

Brand recognition of course is very strong in the authoring tool space, so much so, that many buyers are only aware of a couple of vendors that have been around a long time.  Yet, I have never heard of a fellow vendor or even a consumer say, “you know, I do not want a traditional authoring tool or we are not a traditional authoring tool.” 

There are plenty of authoring tools that try different things, and some have come up with some original ways of trying to appear one way versus another.  Many buyers of Articulate think that Storyline is an online authoring tool, it isn’t.  You can upload a Storyline built course into Articulate’ online tool, but you are not building the course 100% online.  Storyline is still a desktop authoring tool.

Lectora on the other hand, has an online authoring tool, but for whatever reason continues to have it lag behind in features to their desktop tool, and continues to push their VR authoring tool more so, in my opinion, then the authoring tool itself.  Strong proof of this was seen at Learning Solutions, whereas their main authoring tool was not the focus, it was the VR authoring tool.

Many authoring tools have removed the ability to use storyboards as part of their product, but talk to any instructional designer or e-learning developer and a storyboard is a very useful tool.  Simulations is all over the board in authoring tools, with some vendors showing it in a better way to do it, others in an awful way.

Remember when I said authoring tools imply there isn’t a perception problem and that in some ways that is true?  Well, in other ways it isn’t.

However, the perception that an authoring tool will enable you to create an unbelievable course is there.  The reality though is you need to have certain skill sets (which you can learn), to achieve that.

So, vendors in the authoring tool space pitch the perception that creating a course is easy to do.  Fast and thus, by doing this, their product will have a course that your end users will love.

That is false.  Easy sounds great, but I’ve never seen a course built in two hours that will get folks to come back to it.   It just won’t happen.  

The perception though is far from different. 

Web Conferencing Tools

Ahh, no perception issues here.  Every web conferencing tool will enable you to do a webinar.  Some do a better job than others.   The perception issue though isn’t what a web conferencing tool does or it, it is that many vendors refer to web conferencing as a virtual classroom.  

Why not call it, what it is?  A platform to have webinars, which are similar to seminars, but online.   Seems to resolve that perception that a virtual classroom is somehow vastly different than uh, doing a webinar.

In the corporate space, if someone says “seminar” consumers know it means in a physical location.  Now, not everyone knows the term “ILT”, but pretty much everyone knows that term, seminar. 

A virtual classroom, reeks of education and especially K-12.  And when you think about that, how good is that memory to you, especially if you received a lot of spitballs to your face during that time?

Assessment tools

A perception issue exists. Again, not from the name itself, well the tool itself, but, the name.  Assessment is a scary term in the eyes of anyone who has every had one.  Some people perceive them as a personality or business assessment, like so many people are required to do at the job. 

Mention assessment in a course, and many end users, freak out thinking that somehow this is going to impact their job, if they do poorly.

Training folks know that the term “test” isn’t much better, so some call it a “quiz” as if the term seems so much less of pain.  This is due to the fact that in school, a test would send shivers down your back, a quiz?  Not so much.

Vendors in this space would do so much better if they conjured up a term that shows the positives of what an assessment can do, rather than the implication of negative.  If you call it Skills Improvement or something like that, nobody would perceive the negative connotation of an assessment, and the same applies to you having it with your course.

Digital Learning Platforms

No idea.  No, I mean the perception here is that no one has any idea on what this really means. It is so ambiguous that it could mean you have gone back to the days of online radios with how to play hang-man.  Vendors for some reason, think that calling a learning system, a digital learning platform makes it sound so groovy and modern that folks will flock to it.

Digital Learning isn’t what you think it means, this post explains why.  And here lies the biggest issue in the entire e-learning space, learning systems.

Learning Systems

If there was a way to create a perception problem, congrats to the many vendors in this space, because they themselves have created it.

There is no other sector in the e-learning industry that creates more confusion, more issues and significant perception issues, as the learning system space.

Terms alone add to this confusion and this perception, because what the space calls something doesn’t always mean what folks think it means. 

Mobile learning.  Most consumers think it means the vendor has a mobile app.  It doesn’t.  It simply means you can access their system via your mobile web browser.

Mobile-First?  Means nothing.  It just is great marketing copy.  Mobile responsive? Everyone can do that.  Means nothing. 

Social – ahh, folks think it means something so different than, what you think it means.  The term social learning was established based on a simple premise – social media tied to learning, equals social learning.  

Discussion boards, forums, chat rooms?   Been around since the early 90’s and isn’t really social as much, unless you think chatting in the lunchroom at your workplace is a form of social learning.

Vendors embraced “Facebook” like, and blogs and wikis – to reinforce social.  Yet, social as I often note, still is stagnant.  A stream of people communicating with one another, isn’t social hip, it is been there, seen that.  How many vendors offer an Instagram like experience?  The same number who offer social engagement on steroids? Zero.

Analytics?  You might think it means extensive metrics, but it doesn’t in the learning system space.  It just means a few metrics, often ones, that will not help you with effective analysis to deliver better results with your employees or customers.  Views means nothing, unless you are into SEO and see that as a measure of learning.

Data visualization?  Vendors love to pitch it, but it does not mean a histogram, graph or pie chart that you can do in Excel. 

An LRS?  Don’t even get me started.  What it was created for, and what it is being used for, are two different things.  

Learning System Types

Oh, the worst.  The absolute worst.  No wonder the entire planet of people are confused.  A huge perception problem. 

Instead of making it simple, vendors have found new ways to make it difficult, so much so, it creates confusion even before people start to look.  I won’t blame vendors alone for this issue, plenty of “experts” and others, have only stoked this confusion, leading buyers to perceive one thing, when in reality it is far from different.

I note often, traditional as one such term, which has been driven so often into folks, that they actually think it is synonymous with systems that have been around for a long time and thus means they are antiquated.

When someone says traditional, I know they are thinking of SumTotal, SuccessFactors and Cornerstone.  Yet, on my NexGen grid for 2018, Cornerstone was in the upper right quadrant (the best quad to be in). 

And to be fair, each of the platforms are HCMs (Human Capital Management systems), where learning is a key component, and in most cases the one that drives the most revenue. 

None of them have a built-in business intelligence tool, yet 99% of the learning system space, even the newbies, do not either.  One vendor who does? Spoke.  And they are not brand new to the space.

Learning Systems Market

One vendor I know was quite accurate when they said that if they were to ask their customers what they were  (i.e. type of system), it would be all over the place.  An LMS. An LXP. A digital this. An employee that. 

And yes, that is fair.  But to be quite honest, it happens because the vendor themselves fails to stay true to what they are.

If you are an LXP, say it and stay with it.  If you have features that are over 90% like an LMS, then you are in essence an LMS.  You don’t look at a car and say, well it has 90% of features like a truck, but it is a car.  No, you will say, it has features like a car, but it is a truck.

LMS for whatever reason, has a huge perception problem in the space, and I refer back to the folks who jumped in early on (as if that is a bad thing), built up huge brand awareness, which in some ways surprisingly been a detriment to them.  

It is weird to say the least.   Do you know which vendor in the learning system space (online) has been around the longest?

Blackboard.   Yet, I never hear those same terms that are tossed towards the folks such as Cornerstone and SumTotal.  

Consumers will tell me frequently that they are confused when it comes to learning systems.   Ask them if they have heard of Sales Enablement Platforms for sales training? Blank stares.   LMS? Yes.  LXP? Mixed, with most unaware.  Learning platform? Ambiguous enough to work.

Training management system?  Sure, but it is more of use for training operations, such as scheduling much more so than for you to conduct online training courses, like an LMS, LCMS, or LXP.  

I saw a briefing last week by a well-known vendor who had on their ‘content’ marketplace page, a training management system.  I mentioned it, and I think they were surprised, since I surmise many people are unaware – i.e .consumers, if they show that to prospects.  

The learning system space also has a problem attracting folks who what a system specifically for customer training.  I know some vendors call it customer education, but it is customer training.  Customer education sounds dated, and refers back to well, education.  Yuck.

But, talk to folks who walk the trade show, and so many will say they can’t find a system that focuses on customer training or B2B/B2C.  Why?  Because the vendor themselves and their salespeople push employee training and learning as the primary.  Their literature, messaging, marketing all say employee.  And while it is true, that there are employee only systems, that message often gets lost in marketing speak.

If I provide only customer training for my system, say it.  If I do B2B, say it.  If I offer B2B/B2C and employee training or learning, then that is what I offer and say it.  Don’t call it workforce learning platform, because it implies you only offer employee training.

When a vendor calls themselves a mentoring or coaching platform, many buyers know what that means or at least have an inkling. 

But even there, those vendors seem to thrive on terms that make zero sense. 

Bottom Line

If your learning system can do quite a bit, why not call it a learning ecosystem?  It says that it can do this now, but you can build on as you grow and expand. 

That vendor I saw last week, has decided to slide their LXP under the header of their name and the term “cloud”.   Why?  I’d follow the Hyundai route and give it something new, and exciting.

I know vendors who have “learning” as part of their company name.  It screams to me custom development shop. 

Drop the learning part. 

Want to change the perception of your brand?  Replace the name with something that attracts attention and exudes whatever you are trying to say.

It isn’t that difficult.

In fact, as authoring tools like to point it,

It’s easy.

E-Learning 24/7








  1. Hi Craig,
    Good article explaining how we have a problem explaining what we do.
    Can I just pick up on a couple of small thiggs?
    Mobile first is a term used a lot by developers of Web applications. And to them it means something very specific. It’s a development methodology where you design and build for the small screen first, and then think about how you can enhance for the larger screen.

    And, on mobile responsiveness, you say everyone does it… We’ll, I’m afraid to say that, in my experience, some of the older, enterprise platforms have a real problem with responsive behaviour. With one application in particular really struggling to catch up.

    1. I’m referring to Learning system vendors. Now, whether it is perfect is another matter, but they all say they can do it. As for the mobile – again, referring to e-learning here. When a vendor says mobile learning, consumers – that is big audience here, believe it means that the vendor has a mobile app for it, not that it only means again, in the learning system space we are talking about, that you can view the system via your mobile we browser. It is like a vendor says we are mobile-first and then doesn’t have on/off synch for their mobile apps. You can’t be mobile-first and not have that – and again, specifically related to e-learning and consumer perspective.

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