LXP – The Answers you seek

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LXPs. They continue to muddle up the learning system space. Not by their choice mind you, rather by the total amount of confusion among potential buyers, prospects, businesses, etc.

There is a lot of information to digest here on the whole LXP space, what they do, what they do not do. What they are and what they are not. What makes the unique, and what is common. Where did they start, and why as a direct result, they have become the one thing they push they never wanted to be.

And where LXPs will be – i.e. my group two overwhelmingly.

What is really an LXP?

If you ignore the “learning experience” angle, which is nothing more than a moniker, they are a content aggregator with a platform of features and functionality.

What do you mean a content aggregator?

To be an LXP, you must have 3rd party content providers as part of your marketplace. You should ideally have at least 10 or if you have less, then you also will have an actual 3rd party content aggregator such as GO1 or Open Sesame or both.

The way a 3rd party content provider works with an LXP (or any learning system that offers a marketplace) is that they have a partnership agreement – allowing the vendor to have them in their marketplace.

All 3rd party content is fee-based. Whether the term is pitched as “licenses” or “seats”, you as a client of the LXP, will pay for that content to appear in the LXP system. Your end-users get access to it for free. But, you, the client buy it (more like rent it, but that’s for another day). You can buy the content/courses for all your learners, or assign it to different groups, buy this provider’s leadership content for this group, and buy tech skills for that group. You do not have to buy the content to give to everyone – maybe 100 seats of content for X, and 2,000 for Y, and then for the rest of your employees nothing.

When is 3rd party content free?

The content has been created by the vendor (learning system) themselves and they are giving it to you OR it is from sources such as TED or the 3rd party content provider has agreed to give X number of courses for free to every client (based on the agreement set forth by the partnership). For example, GO1 has provided five courses/content in the past for free for some vendors.

How is this difference from say an LMS or any other learning system that isn’t an LXP?

No difference. If an LMS offers a content/course marketplace they will do the same thing. If it is a learning platform and they offer a content/course marketplace they will do the same thing. Talent development platforms? Same approach.

Were LXPs the first ones to offer a course/content marketplace for clients to purchase 3rd party content for their end users?

No. You could purchase 3rd party content as early as 2000. The original method was you would buy your system, then the salesperson would ask, do you need leadership or business skills or whatever courses. If you said, “yes”, then they would sell it and immediately add it to your system. The same of seats for X group for this content, Y for this, buy all or not, followed suit. You did not see – i.e. the marketplace yourself.

Docebo in or around 2011-2013, was the very first vendor where you could see – virtually the course/content marketplace and buy the content. They had their own – which was free and then had partners. The unique angle was that you buy it, click it and it goes into the system immediately. Today, it is the format most vendors follow, including LXPs.

What if an LXP doesn’t offer 3rd party content providers?

Then they are not an LXP.

Why do vendors, say LMSs, say they have an LXP?

Because the market now demands it. They push it as something unique as different than their LMS, but as I will present shortly, what LXP functionality-wise offers, may exist already in the LMS. There are some vendors who slide their content marketplace under the LXP moniker, and others who list it as a separate content marketplace, then the LXP. A vendor who is savvy will now push the “learning suite” angle, something I strongly recommend.

Okay, I think I am getting the content angle, but what about features/functionality, it has to be unique right?

Well, some of it started out that way, but what has happened over time, and we are talking about only a few years, is that what was once unique to the LXP space is no longer, adding to the confusion.

History Lesson for LXPs

To understand how we got to where we are today with the LXPs, you will need a bit of background. There is one, and only one specific factor which as a direct result, has pushed the LXPs – with some functionality to be ubiquitous to other learning systems, specifically the one, they argue they definitely are not – an LMS.

LXPs Initial Push – What they said made them different

  • Learner-Centric – The learner drives the learning experience, they choose what is of interest to them or not. They select the skills/interests and then the content only for those interests/skills will appear.
  • No formal learning – No assigned learning – which they pitched an LMS only does or is designed for that (This is a fallacy, LMSs were not developed for that, and why they have it, it is up to the client to decide whether to use it or not).
  • Informal Learning – Social driven, learning tapped into the whole social scene. Again, a fallacy that they were the first or only ones to do this. LMSs have been doing it for decades (okay most of them).
  • After they started to appear, Skills made an appearance – again, tied to content (which included micro-learning – been around since 2000 BTW, content the term itself – LXPs were the first ones to push out this term in greater numbers, and courses). Some LXPs did a far better job than others when it came to skill features and functionality. Skill gap has always existed in most LMSs, just wasn’t openly said in marketing, and the import of skill dictionaries for example first appeared in the LMS space. However, other skill features, such as skill ratings first appeared in the LXP space. The first vendor to do this? Degreed.
  • Degreed was a trendsetter in the LXP market. It was why, and still is in some minds – they think they are an LXP – uh, not Degreed themselves (they push the TDP angle), but consumers. First with the playlist approach. First with the push of recommended content tied to an algorithm. First to push recommended content base on variables. They were also the first to have an algorithm that only pushed content if you completed the content (the learner just clicks complete whether have or not – and yes it still exists, i.e. content has to be completed) – And it is something I am not a fan of, because other vendors have adopted this too. First with skill ratings. First with the bookmarklet extension to tie what you search for on the net and tie it into the existing content and/or to capture the page and bring that page back into the system, beyond just a link. First to have metrics focused on web content – such as the number of views of an article for example. This is not the same thing as metrics around content/courses, LMSs were – they started in 2000.
  • Playlists/Channels – Content that appears on a playlist/channel based on the interests/skills of the learner (Yes, LXPs were the first ones to follow this approach)
  • Playlists -included Most Popular, Most viewed – which may not be the same metric as most popular, highest rated.
  • Content Curation – Total mixed bag here, but that the learner can curate content from a variety of sources, PDFs, articles, web site – articles, posts, videos, etc. LXPs were the first ones (as a whole, because early on, not all of them did this) to push this narrative and approach.
  • Recommend Content in a playlist/channel (some show it in a grid format with blocks), based on the actions of the learner. It did not mean that it was built on machine learning. LXPs were the first to push the recommend content playlist angle, not the first to have either a) course catalog in a grid format or b) courses/content appear in a grid format on the learner’s home page. Course catalog – grid design, has existed from the early 2000s.
  • Machine Learning algorithm that based on the actions of the learner, the content would appear tied to skills, interests, recommended, and so forth. They were not the first ones to have machine learning in the space, but they started out, Degreed being the first, to tie it around the recommended content and content tied around interests. Degreed was the first true LXP in the market. I should note, they are no longer an LXP, rather a Talent Development Platform.
  • Pushed narrative of topics of interest, out of the gate – it appeared before the learner went to the home page, often after they logged in. Yes, LXPs were the first ones to do this. Eventually, they added skills as the key piece for the topics of content, and Interests – the term waned, in some LXPs, they no longer even offer the term “interests”, rather they now focus on skills – heavily, and job roles.
  • Saw themselves as an add-on, bolt-on to an existing LMS. It was rare for an LXP to be standalone, i.e. the client did not have an LMS or if they did, it was not a bolt-on. Today, it is mixed, some clients use it as a separate platform, perhaps their only one – and do not have an LMS or another learning system OR they have another learning system and bolt-on or API connected (the term, “connected” is more widely used). And as earlier noted, plenty of LMSs are leveraging LXP as a sort of unique solution, different from what they offer.
  • Focused 100% on the L&D community and said it openly. They were not interested (partially because they were unaware that Training was a different community and not the same as L&D) in also targeting Training. This is the key reason, why you see what they have become. It is the core reason.

Why did the whole approach change or did it?

Yes, yes it did and you can go right back to their target audience – L&D. LXPs pushed the idea of learner-centric and tapped into L&D departments using their LMS (if they had one) only for compliance, regulatory, and required – assigned learning. The L&D departments doing this (and its majority, but not all), saw the LXP as a way to provide their employees, personal and professional development courses/content – which they were not providing in their LMS (and yes, there were and still are L&D folks who offer personal and professional courses/content in their LMS).

The problem though was that typically in L&D, they have a background in Organizational Development (OD) and were providing learning internally in a method they have always done – focus on the job role, and skills tied to it, leadership development, required learning. The idea that they offer ILT or e-learning for that matter for personal and professional development was as a whole, a non-starter.

L&D clients started to ask for certain features they were used heavily in the LMS. Specifically, assigned learning aka formal learning.

LXPs then started to offer it. Not just one LXP, the vast majority of the market. Learner-centric messaging of it started to disappear (LXPs will still say it in a pitch, or internally, but go find it on their website or other external messaging).

Formal learning arrived in the LXP space. The key feature/approach the LXPs were abhorrent about, made its mark. It still exists.

Formal learning tapped into not just courses and other types of content assigned to the learner but went next to tied to skills that the learner had to learn for their job role. Then this was tied to the content being pushed out in various playlist options, not just recommend (which was the first), but then suggestions based on what the learner either completed or did not – but looked at content around that skill or skills.

Next came content wrapped specifically around that job role. Again, interests started to disappear.

Soon, other features that existed in an LMS (majority of the market), began to appear in the LXP space. An LXP added e-commerce. Then another added classroom management. Next, a few started to offer compliance feature sets. Followed by a variety of mobile features. Initially, they were way behind with hierarchies tied around various administrators (option) tied to rules. Now? Most have it.

Multi-Tenant appeared. Although it is still not universal.

The one area of weakness that continues to plague the LXP space is metrics. Compared to many LMSs (and trust me, not everyone), metric segmentation was poor. Reporting pushed out metrics that really are not relevant nor add any value to understanding learning – I mean views? What does that tell me? Nothing.

The metrics tend to be very so-so as a whole. Completed appears – but sort of defeats the whole purpose of why e-learning (WBT) was created in the first place, fails to tap into knowing what folks do not know, and where you as the head of L&D, Training or whatever, can create content (inc. courses) that target those areas to develop the skills or interests for that learner.

What do LXPs do well now, that helps them stand apart?

This isn’t an easy answer, because it is all over the map. This is because skills platforms began to appear in earnest in 2019-20, and continue to show up.

However, due to I believe Degreed, other LXPs began to add more skill-building and development features. Eventually, no surprise here – several LMSs started to do the same thing. Just as the LXPs, some LMSs do a far better job of it, some are horrible at it. LXPs though on the whole, offer it. Not every LMS does. This is a key point.

Compared to an LMS that does a great job at it, or a skills-dedicated platform, for example, many LXPs are behind. This is a direct result of them starting to land more folks who wanted the connection to an existing LMS or wanted the LXP as the standalone away from whatever LMS or other learning systems they had/have OR the LXP is the only system.

As mentioned earlier, if your focus is to add more functionality like most LMSs, and continue to expand on playlists, then you will take your eye off the ball when it comes to skills.

When it comes to metrics tied around skills, it continues to be a mish-mash. Not every LXP identifies on the admin side, metrics around what are the most popular selected by learners of the company (which is often listed as a top ten). For those who do it though, it is rare for them to tie it directly to specific content or playlists for example that can be visibly seen on the screen. For many, it is a downloadable report only.

LMSs as a whole have totally messed this whole thing up when it comes to metrics tied around viewing it with top ten skills or skills metrics tied to various content, and the content topics.

Of course, this even with the LXPs all comes down to what 3rd party content you have purchased. If you purchase zero, then even with an LXP, you won’t see the metric.

Skill ratings tend to appear more in the LXPs, but this is starting to change. In a year, I believe LMSs as a whole, will surpass the LXPs market in offering this. A direct result of the skills-specific platforms who crush everyone when it comes to this, especially the skills-measurement only platforms, who dominate the whole skill rating – self-assessment (their term, not mine), and manager assessment (of the learner, again, the term is theirs, not mine – as everyone knows I believe the term should be validation).

From an extensive metric standpoint around skill ratings, LXPs lag. It’s not pretty. Heck, LMSs are in the same boat. Again, the ones who dominate all, are skill-measurement platforms (after all it is their forte), and skills-focused only platforms.

Coaching/mentoring around skills should be something every LXP offers, but they don’t and for those that do, it is all over the map. The vendors who do the best job at it, including the video skills validation tied around digital coaching and scenarios (something you want), are LMSs (who offer it, and it is very minimal, but of high interest to every consumer – business, org, association, etc. that I talk to when they inquire).

Coaching tied around skills should be another dominator for the LXPs, but it again, is not. Another missed opportunity.

However, skills functions as a whole, again, plenty of exceptions, when you compare LXP to an LMS, a slight edge of LXPs. Those who do it and do it well, are far higher in terms of the others, which results in a Small Top group of LXPs and then a drop-down to the middle then a big drop to nearly non-existent.

I should add, this is exactly what is happening in the LMS space, a small group at the top of the sector, then a drop-down to the middle of the road, and then a steep drop to the bottom. And just like the LXP space, the bottom rung will never get to the top rung, and the middle rung likely will never get to the top rung, I think only a few will figure it out.

Skills tied to Job Roles and that heavy play

Look, skill platforms, who only do skills, are the leaders here. Followed by Talent Development platforms, then a tie between LXPs and LMSs (as a whole). This is because some LXPs are really good at this, and a lot are horrific or non-existent. Ditto for LMSs, and frankly other types of learning systems.

EdCast XP is very close to being a TDP – but they EdCast pitch it as an LXP. Once you add the add-on career mapping, you jump into the TDP scene. It is only available with XP. Now, EdCast Spark is an LXP, but the heavy push of skills tied to job roles is so-so.

The essential for a heavy dose of skills and job roles, requires a skills/roles library. It has to be constantly updated to reflect the corporate market (that is its focus, especially white-collar). This is why, even with the vendor basing it on clients providing it, or their own competency model or scrubbing of job board data or LinkedIn data (or a combo of all or some), many will go third party deep integration, with the two king kongs being EMSI and Burning Glass.

LXPs as a whole, are not strong here when it comes to skill libraries/job roles. The extensive mapping of skills tied to job roles slides toward the LMS market (again, as a whole, and it is growing, so not everyone does it, and not everyone does a good job at it). LXPs are all over the map. Some do a solid job, but nobody is WOW, WOW.

Actually, I’ll take that back, EdCast XP with the career mapping add-on will get you there – plus they offer extensive customization to go further. And again, once you add the add-on, you now are playing as a Talent Development Platform.

Who does an awesome job at this?

Cornerstone as an LMS, does a very good job at the whole skills mapping tied to job roles. However, they are a) not an LXP and b) not a TDP.

I note this, because as a market, TDPs do a great job at it. Degreed, Schoox and Juno Journey are heads above the other TDPs, and I’d argue ahead of any LXP and the majority of LMSs (there are plenty of exceptions, for example Cornerstone Learning does a very good job, Docebo? No – and I say this, even though I like the system as a whole, but they lack a strong skills platform component. SAP Litmos? NO)

Learn Amp is close, but they lack the robustness of a skills library/job roles thing.

And for folks, who have asked, regarding Cornerstone and whether they are a TDP, the answer is no, unless you have the four-pack – Cornerstone Learning + Cornerstone Develop – which is strongly a skills platform (they pitch it as their LXP) + Content Anytime (their content marketplace) + Cornerstone Careers.

If a learning system vendor, such as an LMS says they have an LXP, and they have a content marketplace that is separate, what then is the LXP really?

Skills Platform pushed around playlists and similar. This is skills-focused heavily, even if the LMS itself has strong skills components and capabilities, but may or may not have strong content curation, or playlist approach and mechanics.

On the LXP side, their future will be tied around three essential items – beyond what they offer today, which is of course the content curation and playlist pieces:

  • Heavy does of Skills platform capabilities – They have to match the skills platforms. Ideally, do things that even surpass them. Skills specific only platforms, as a whole lack 3rd party content for example. Exceptions exist including Pluralsight for one – but it is only technical skills and their own content, plus experts, so not 3rd party per se, and Skillnet is close (by end of Q3) to go 3rd party content. Neither are LXPs.
  • Skills heavily tapped into the job roles thing tapped in with a strong dose of 3rd party content and free content that is scrubbed off the Internet. A few are there, EdCast for one which again XP does, Spark does a fair job, but XP surpasses it.
  • Skills tied to job roles tied to job opportunities – I know you are seeing where this is going. There is, as it relates to LXPs – by 2023, at least 50% will be talent development platforms, and by 2025, 90%. Sure there will be stragglers, and then others who will call themselves some other term, but there is a clear route here for the market as a whole.
  • As noted in my post on where the market is heading, they will slide into Group two. Now, will they externally push themselves as a TDP, I can’t say, that is up to each vendor, but once this point above is made, they are there. I mean the second point, gets you very close, the edge here, but when you think about it, they have the other components (as a whole) a) Learning functionality that has enough feature sets to warrant it, b) content marketplace, c) skills focused to job roles – again some do a better job than others, and strength is across the board, thus the point above. The fourth is what they are missing, as a whole. They will cross that line.

Bottom Line

This post presented you, the reader will a lot of information around the whole LXP market. What’s taking place, where is it heading, what differentiates it, what doesn’t and what impact has it had or will have in the coming years.

I’m sure some of you may have questions, after all, the LXP space isn’t something that can fully digested in one setting.

Marketing spin causes this. So does the vendor spin.

This post though promises you one thing

No spin.

E-Learning 24/7

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