2020 Learning System Awards (by Vertical/Industry)

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Stop the presses! There is a bat on the loose.  Ahh, remember the days when you could attend a movie without ever seeing one commercial ad as though you are watching television?  Which reminds me, I often wonder how many people are even watching live TV (and not recorded) when it is not a sporting event or a commercial-free movie?

Does this have anything to do with these awards? Absolutely not.  Nor does my wonderful video of some Javelinas enjoying my property’s fine abundance of desert plants.

It’s all about good cheer and tidings, and wonderful gifts that I am willing to accept on your behalf.  No need to thank me, it is my way of saying thank you for being a reader of this blog, and get ready, of this post.

And now, it is time for the 2020 Learning System Awards by Verticals/Industries

So most folks – clients will refer to their industry, rather than say, “our vertical is”, but with vendors in the e-learning space, and especially with learning systems, internally they usually refer to it as “vertical”.  This is by far not across the board, and some use both terms.  I often will note it as “vertical”, so just be aware when the awards are announced by “vertical” it is the same as “industry”.

Not every vertical is included in my awards.  There are so many out there, the World Almanac could easily create a chapter on it.

I selected the ones that are quite common in the space, and that vendors tend to point towards, whether they see it as “taking everyone” or focusing specifically on one vertical or what I always recommend – three.

For 2020, the awards will be given to the “Best in Vertical”

  • Association
  • Retail
  • EdTech
  • Healthcare
  • Manufacturing
  • Medical Care – which is different than healthcare
  • Technology
  • Financial Services
  • Government 

Couple of Points before the winners are announced

  • There was no award submission here for any of these, this is based on my analysis of 1,000 learning systems worldwide (although they are more than 1,300 – but I prefer to use a smaller sample)
  • No money whatsoever exchanged hands – in other words there isn’t a pay for play here or anything else.
  • Many of these vendors are on my Findanlms.com platform – however, not everyone is.  And it had no bearing on whether they were or not.  While we continue to reach out to vendors to be on the platform – we want only the best,  being picky takes a bit longer than opening up the flood gates.  In fact, the best system for medical, for example, is not on the platform.
  • These findings are based on 2020 specifically, starting on January 5th (when I started my 2020) through Dec. 12th 2020, which was when the analysis wrapped up.
  • Feel free to disagree, you won’t hurt my feelings, although I know a couple of Javalinas just waiting to stop by and eat your garbage or anything dropped off at your doorstep.  They seem to enjoy wrapped gifts for some reason.

The Awards



And the winner is

D2L – Strong system with features across the board, from multi-tenant – which you want in the association market, especially for trade associations, to CEU/CPD tracking and notifications, to metrics that are relevant, to skill development/building – hello professional associations and trade, to outstanding support – trust me, this is huge.  System continues to get better year after year.  The UI needs some tweaks, but this is by far a robust system, that is streamlined enough that you could buy today, be live in say a few weeks, with ease.


2. CourseStage by WebCourseworks – Very good system in the association market. Features geared to the space and knowing the space are keys for me, and they both fit here.  A Gold Pick in my book, you can’t go wrong here. If there as a minus, the UX on the admin side needs some improvement, but will work for many folks.

3.  Thought Industries – Ideal system for B2B/B2C which associations can slide under, I had them there, until I went ahead and placed them as a separate category.  That said, when I bought an LMS for the association I worked at, I went with one that played heavily in B2B/B2C.  Thought Industries is my #2 Learning System for 2021.  You can’t go wrong here.  They are someone to watch in the association market in 2021.

I know a lot of folks think association management platforms that offer an LMS are ideal for learning, but I am here to tell you as a former association exec in training, they are not. They are strong it a lot of things, membership for one, and running the association, but learning is never a strong point, nor the focus in terms of R&D.  If you have an association management platform you can integrate into a chunk of learning systems including those above.  Plus many many more.


I’d say 99% of folks believe I only focus on the corporate side of the house, but I do look quite a bit on EdTech, mainly because when you track over 1,300 systems worldwide, some of them cover EdTech only. Some Corporate systems play in EdTech and uh, Corporate, and of course, there is just corporate.

EdTech is a bit wonky for a couple of key factors

  • Moodle dominates – from a market share, and user base – it was built first and foremost for Academia, and it is open source, which is free, and so anyone can build a system with it.  But most are not great looking by any stretch, which is why you should go with a commercial Moodle provider to make the UI and UX better.
  • Besides Moodle, there are two commercial vendors that a lot of folks eye – Blackboard and Instructure Canvas.  Many times, they flip – i.e. customers, going from one to another.  Now, this does not mean they are the best, rather it means, that most folks know who they are and assume that being well-known means elite.  It doesn’t.
  • For K-12, many of these systems UI/UX is depressing and very clinical.  An eight year old is not going to see this UI and go, “This looks fun”.  If you are K-6 there are other systems to consider that at least offer a cool UI/UX for kids.  Actually, let me re-state that, K-8 or primary and partially secondary.
  • In K-12 land, Schoology is very well-known, but as of late, not in a good way. There have been issues with some school districts.  I always found it interesting that there were/are school districts that use Schoology as an SIS, and Instructure for the learning.  SIS means Student Information System.  Weird. BTW – to check the status of Schoology and whether it is down or not, go here 
  • On systems going down in K-12, Schoology wasn’t the only one, there were reports of Blackboard crashing and even Instructure.

And the winner is


Brightspace Core by D2L  – This is for their EdTech version.  Feature sets are rich for those in the K-12 and higher education market, albeit I think it is a bit stronger for higher grades in K-12 and universities and colleges.  See the above in terms of UI/UX which is why I point more for high school (9th-12th grade) and then universities and colleges.


2. K-6th grade – DB Primary 

A tie at #3 Moodle –  I’d recommend vendors such as Learning Pool or Open LMS if you are going to go commercial system with Moodle.  The price points aren’t high IMO, and I have yet to see a very nice UI/UX with someone building with Moodle themselves.  Plus, when you have support issues who are you going to call? Jen in the computer lab?

And also at #3 Edtek Services

Financial Services

This covers the whole gambit of banking, insurance, and uh, other financial services industries. To reduce the amount of reading here, I am going into some detail on the winner, then just listing the runner ups.


And the winner is

Access LMS –  Three-Time winner here.  Still the best in the FS market. Content is geared heavily toward the FS space, the system as well. This is not a system for social or some of the latest NexGen feature sets, but if you want compliance powerhouse, regulatory strength, CPD/CEU and capabilities that are essential for the FS market, this is the system for you. UI and UX has improved greatly. Still out of the fence around the whole Access Platform workspace, but that shouldn’t deter you, as it has nothing to do with the system itself.

Runner Ups

2. GyrusAim 

3. Meridian KSI 


A new category for me.  So many vendors play in the Government market it is sometimes a bit overwhelming, because it is a vertical that a lot of vendors want, even with the enormous red-tape, long drawn out close deal times, and expectations of dropping the price to have them.  Moodle plays big in Government too, as an added twist.  Fun fact – Blackboard plays in this segment – betcha you didn’t know that – now you do.

And the winner is


Absorb LMS UI/UX is top tier in this fully functional system with lots to like.  Big fan of where they are going, NexGen On The Risers Grid, Top 10 Learning System for 2021. Compliance and regulatory is good, Skills development is quite good, multi-tenant is available (a plus for those want say by department or by state or whatever).  Content component has a lot to like.  They have a brand new built-in authoring tool that is very good, for beginners and those experienced.  Yep, we are talking ecosystem here, which is a good thing.

Runner Ups

2. SumTotal Learning Management  – Feature rich system, very strong in compliance and regulatory, knows the space well.

3. Moodle I won’t bore you with the details, as they were covered up in their in EdTech, but a lot of governments worldwide use Moodle.  You can’t ignore that. Or, I guess you can – you choose!

I’d add that Blackboard was very close here. They do quite well in the Government sector, and I think their system plays well here, because of its design and its approach to government entities.


If you are in the healthcare spectrum, my guess is that many of you have heard of Healthstream, a bloated uber expensive system, who once told me “Why are you so focused on UI?”  – Uh, I don’t know, maybe because something called navigation, ease of use and user experience is quite relevant?  Plus, when was the last time someone used AOL?  I rest my case.

They lure you in with the “content” as an added bonus – it is not free, BTW.  And for the record, if you really want to keep your Healthstream content, they will allow you to move it into another learning system – do they make it a challenge? Absolutely, but it is doable.

Anyway, while they dominate the Healthcare market, specifically because it is their core segment, they are not the best, not even by a long stretch.

And the winner is


Cornerstone Learning  – #2 in the NexGen Leader’s Grid and #2 in NexGen Rankings, but I know Healthcare doesn’t always focus on that.  So, let’s focus on a couple of items – they have a dedicated team for this vertical, which isn’t always the case with other systems, the feature sets for compliance and regulatory are outstanding, skills development top tier, CEU/CPD is very good, a well-rounded system, that with their content anywhere, which needs a name change, you get a strong listing of content providers that offer industry specific content plus personal and professional development.  They need to update their admin side, UX can be cumbersome, but that said, metrics and data you need to capture is very good.  A lot of folks knock Cornerstone because they have been around a long time, and I admit I was one of those folks a few years back. But in the last two years, I have seen the awakening of a new approach, and attitude from them, with a strong focus on the NexGen side, which I believe is essential in today’s and tomorrow’s learning environment.  A Top Five Learning System for 2021.

Runner Ups

2.  PeopleFluent LearningI like where they are going. Very strong in compliance and regulatory, understands the Healthcare space quiet well.  The metrics can be quite robust, especially if you purchase Watershed, the best LRS on the market, and owned by LTG, who also owns Peoplefluent. Why it doesn’t come as a freebie as part of a suite per se, is beyond me.  The same applies to the Gomo, SaaS authoring tool, an add-on, not free, but can fully integrate and yes, even with Instilled, a wonderful LXP that has Watershed built into it.  Could this be made simple by just having these items as packages included at no additional charge when you buy the system? Absolutely and there are vendors who do this (not with the same solutions though).  Anyway, each version of PeopleFluent Learning is better than the last.  CEU/CPD very good.

3. EdCast LXP A quick preview for my 2021 Top 10 Learning Systems here (which will be covered in more detail, the second week of January) – but EdCast is my #1 Learning System for 2021.   EdCast is truly a learning ecosystem by far, rather than just an LXP, thus content plays a key role here.  They understand quite a few verticals and one is Healthcare.  Mobile app rocks. Skills Powerhouse too, has feature sets that can mimic an LMS for those who are curious.  #1 Learning System for NexGen as well.



And the winner is

CrossKnowledge Learning SuiteNexGen Leader Grid, Top Five Learning System for 2021. Outstanding system that can do it all, content marketplace is quite good, understands the manufacturing space very well, which again, I believe is crucial.  CK Connect comes with the suite, and it is just one of my favorite new systems to come out in 2020, with lots of potential. Analytics is elite, #2 best I’ve seen in the industry, it is that good.  Feature sets are rich, with strong in compliance/regulatory.  Another ecosystem.

Runner Ups

2. IMC Learning Suite Every year I find at least one system, that is super super robust, from this to like that and then the kitchen sink.  Sometimes, they are too unwieldly, which thus backfires in such a way, people should stay clear.  IMC is not such a system.  There is a lot here with this system, and while the UI/UX needs some tweaks, and I think metrics can improve a bit,  this system will not leave you with the “does it have this?” approach.  It does.  Plays very well in manufacturing and worthy of being a runner-up. 

3.  Blue Volt A stunner in the making. Revamped with a true understanding of the employees on the plant or warehouse floor, an area often overlooked with other systems that seem heavily targeted to the white collar workforce.  Of course you can still go that route with Blue Volt, but to me, they play well in trades and manufacturing.  Lots to enjoy here. A system I am keeping a close eye on in 2021.

Medical Care

To save some time here, I am just going to announce the winner and runner-up without a lot of details.  Otherwise, we might be looking at the Blah Story which ran 7,312 pages long (yes, it is a real novel, and no, I never read it. I did read the Stand though, it was only 1,168 pages).


And the winner is

Relias Learning 

Runner Ups

2. Ethos CE

3. Agylia 


I slide hospitality under this category as well, and as such, I can see how some folks might say this isn’t ideal for hospitality, and that’s cool.  Retail sometimes goes into the franchise route which goes more into B2B/B2C, so that should be something to be aware of, doesn’t always happen but some retail folks do follow this approach. 

Retail is another vertical that an extensive number of learning systems have as a “target”.  For example, with the FindAnLMS platform, 80 vendors will appear if you select “Retail” in “Industries Type”.  

Some of the same vendors who won or are runner-ups are here again, many many vendors do not just have one or three verticals, they will have dozens 


And the winner is 

SAP Litmos Top 10 Learning System for 2021, often seen as a top tier system only for technology (and they are #2 for 2020), but retail is one they are not always known for, well now they are.  Feature strong, UI/UX is very good although some folks might say it is streamlined, I am one, who does not.  I’d like to see the analytics improve and stronger metrics (but again, that is just me).  One of the few vendors who has the new video assessment capability which can be tied to coaching/mentoring – it is going to be a hot feature in 2021.  

Runner Ups 

2. Absorb LMS

3.  Fuse They are about to launch a series of new features that I am a big fan of, and were under my “I wish a vendor would do this” statement I often make.  They are close to an ecosystem IMO, another plus for retail and hospitality.  Best analytics and metrics/reporting in the industry.  Seriously.  Top 10 Learning System for 2021. 


The last vertical to be covered, and another one that a lot of vendors play quite well in.  I mean there are so many vendors that easily could be slotted in the top tier, and were under serious consideration. These three though stood out. 


And the winner is

EdCast I covered them a bit in the Healthcare side, but this is as I noted in LinkedIn, a Rolls Royce with a Ferrari built into it.  They stand out above everyone else IMO, which is not to say, that the runner ups are not as good, but to me, they are not at “elite level”, they are at very good level.  EdCast is at Elite level.  #1 NexGen Learning System. #1 LXP for 2020. #1 Learning System for 2021. Tied for #1 for Large Enterprise Plus (which I consider 25,000 and higher).   

Runner Ups

2. SAP Litmos 

3. Docebo –  Nearly an ecosystem.  A lot of features and capabilities, ideally suited for retail and hospitality. There are some weak spots though, metrics overall for one, but individually which is seen in each learner’s profile page is nice and relevant.  They have a very good content marketplace, with such providers as GO1 and my top rated one, Open Sesame.  UI/UX is quite good, although the administration side needs a major update.   That said, this is a strong system, Top 10 Learning System for 2021. 

Bottom Line

There you have it, the vertical/industry awards for learning systems in 2020.

Until next time, 

E-Learning 24/7