Learning System TrailBlazers – Who’s Next?

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This past week on LinkedIn I wrote about four trailblazers in the early days of the industry, learning systems – and what made them special (one has since hit speed bump), and four who trailblazed and then hit a major speed bump into, well, lost their way. The latter included an authoring tool, too.

Numerous followers of mine on LinkedIn, and readers as well, reached out asking me who are the next “trailblazers” to watch for in the learning system space.

It was a great request, and one that I really had to ponder, because how I define a trailblazer in the “watch out” angle isn’t the same as early trailblazers in one way or another.

For example, Growth Engineering was a trailblazer as it relates to gamification and utilizing it within their entire platform. They weren’t the first ones to do it, but how they adapted and pushed it to a whole new level is why they were selected. Then, they hit some speed bumps, made what I felt were two strategic errors, and went from NexGen to well, just so-so. Could they turn it around, and become what they once were – sure, but they are an example of so many systems who out of the gate, you go “whoa”, and then strategic mistakes or slowing down or whatever, takes them in either the opposite direction or flatlining.

For those of you, who are not reading my daily postings on LinkedIn (in my thread) and no, you are not hurting my feelings, here were the initial four of Trailblazers and my comments on why, followed by the four who went downwards later on. I should add, that there are plenty out there, these four just stood out for me (feel free to list those you feel deserve it – but sorry, Instructure was not a trailblazer – good system initially, ideal for EdTech, but the Bridge LMS – go corporate system) decision was a strategic blunder.

The Original Four Trailblazers

  • Cornerstone OnDemand (for learning) – One of the early ones for corporate learning, still around, and despite what many think, they were a leader in 2020 for Tier 4 NexGen features. Yes, the admin side, needs a revamp, but feature-wise, they are top tier. I personally think what has hurt them in the greater market is the push by so many vendors (some of which are legit competitors) to refer to them as “traditional”, citing how long they have been around. I always say Google has been around since 1996, and no one says they are traditional. Anyway, to stop that “traditional” spin, they need a re-brand, something fresh, modern, new attitude approach – I just mean related to the learning system and so forth, not their name for example, rather the product/LOB.
  • Blackboard – Definitely a very early entrant into the EdTech space. EdTech driver, whose impact started to appear in the late 90s. Sure it looks like the system never evolved for EdTech, and their impact in corporate system-wise needs well an overhaul. WebCT was a direct competitor back then, but BB was far better.
  • Degreed – LXP success story, and the first to bounce into the TDP space. Never to be underestimated. The Pathgather acquisition, was a total customer buy, despite what they may say. Analytics continues to be a Jekyll and Hyde. As mentioned in other posts, the first legit LXP in the space.
  • Growth Engineering – See above (in the post). Knowledge Arcade makes up 50% of their sales (for 2020), and will likely do at least that for 2021. But KA is a mobile app thing, not the LMS itself.

Four Trailblazers that bounced into Dud (and not the Milk Dud way, either)

  • Plateau Learning – I never understood the love for this system. It looked archaic when it rolled out, was totally not user-friendly, and after the acquisition by SuccessFactors, the initial update was a vast improvement. SF seems more interested in trying an HCM route. Smart move. Learning though? Yeah. I wouldn’t buy it, nor recommend it.

I will add there was some confusion around Litmos and the whole Plateau thing. SuccessFactors acquired the Plateau LMS (way before SF was acquired by SAP). SAP Litmos was originally Litmos, and Callidus Cloud acquired LMS out of New Zealand, and then a few years back, acquired by SAP.

  • Learn.com – First a content aggregator, then jumped into the LMS market, acquired by Taleo, who promised to invest heavily. That didn’t happen. Taleo, then acquired by Oracle. If you ever wondered what down the tubes look like, look no further than Learn.com. Oh, how we missed you – Grovo followed the same approach as Learn.com, and how well did that turn out exactly?
  • Skillsoft – Dominated the course/content marketplace. Acquired numerous content publishers in the early to mid-2000s. NetG, Element K, being just two. Strategic blunder of major proportions in the acquisition of SumTotal has continued to hurt them (i.e., Skillsoft). Say what you want, but I still believe the SumTotal buy was a huge reason for the financial woes of Skillsoft, which lead to them entering then exiting Bankruptcy court, followed thereafter by acquisition from a SPAC. Fun fact – The new SumTotal front-end was from Percipio (Skillsoft’s LXP platform). Double fun fact – IBM Talent Watson first appeared in Percipio, then later showed up in SumTotal.
  • Adobe Captivate – They were not the first authoring tool in the industry; Authorware was the first commercial success, heavily used with CBT, and then even into WBT (web-based). Captivate, though, was one of the three to really get folks into a mix of rapid content authoring and the ability to go to the levels of close to it of Authorware. Lectora will note the same, but I never found it to be an RCAT. Anyway, Captivate lost its way.

Onto the Show

The Four Next Trailblazers in the Learning System Space

First and foremost, I focused on a couple of key factors, which I hope will reduce the number of “wait, we are, and they aren’t OR you have lost your marbles – which I admit is true, I lost a few in my backyard when I was a kid – whoever owns my childhood home, can you dig up your yard and find them for me?)

Here is how I define a “Trailblazer”

  • They are doing some things that are catching my eye – May not be super different, but the vibe, the whole approach, features/functionality, and sense of it all leads to the whole package. A system can be great, but what’s the internal culture like? Where is the R&D going? Are they seeing “it” or just trying to be “it”?
  • As a learner, would I find, whatever it may be, something I would enjoy and use? If I am the administrator, does the set make sense? Are the analytics worthwhile?
  • If they are relatively new, did they catch lightning in the bottle or at least did something that went – YOWSA?

There are systems that need UI/UX updates, but I’d argue that most of the market within the next three years, will need a refresh. Systems that are brand new are never wowow out of the gate. Too many systems, I see, rest on their laurels OR nice system, internally the culture is lacking – I mean, I know of systems that could be listed as a trailblazer who has horrific support. Or there is just so much spin, you debate between jumping into a washer (do not do this), to get the experience over with.

In a typical year, I see around 300 learning systems. On top of that, I monitor over 1,000 more – globally. I’ve seen some really cool feature sets and systems with lots of customers but are missing items. A trailblazer, to me, is not someone who raises capital (there are a lot of factors for this), nor a vendor whose valuation is high (especially when you look at the financials).

Here then are my four

  • Schoox – Investment firms always inquire who is the next system to watch – the next “Docebo” if you will – the lightning in the bottle. Schoox. Docebo took more than a few years to get where they are today, Schoox the same, although they changed their business model focus – from LMS to talent development platform, a smart move.

I love nearly everything with Schoox. Though not perfect, they need a video skills validation solution, some tweaks around the UI for the front-end, a few additional feature sets, and the continuance of segmentation of metrics (they have some now).

That said, the system is a screamer. Skills building/development/ongoing feature sets are awesome. They have an excellent 3rd party content marketplace, which is huge. They do the entire Talent Development Platform features and reqs to a T. It is a system I’d be a fan of using as a learner. The back-end is strong with administration usefulness (overall). Support is top-notch, multi-tenant, across the board, nice.

I’ve been watching them for years, and for a while, they were going sideways. Those days are gone. This is a legit force, not just in the TDP space (which they are definitely), but learning system space as a whole.

A Tie

  • EdCast and Degreed – Yes, two totally different systems, but I’ve written about Degreed before about everything they did first in the LXP space, and while their analytics isn’t as strong as it should be, plus the two different views – one is great and useful, the other reminds of me of Excel graphs, functionality for learners is top-notch. They are a 100% Talent Development Platform. They also lack a video skills validation solution (some vendors have it, the majority do not), and they lack a few features that make 100% total sense in the next level of skills validation(but then everyone is missing it); this is a firebrand of a system.

They are a direct competitor to EdCast, which makes it all so more interesting of two trailblazers. EdCast has two offerings, Spark, which they target for SMB, which is more of an LXP than EdCast XP, borderline TDP (if you add career mapping or whatever they call it). EdCast’s bookmarklet capability is a tad better than Degreed’s, the metrics depending on whether you buy Domo or not, are somewhat similar (there are differences), but EdCast plays in the customer education space too, and offers extensive configuration (which the majority of systems have gotten away from – oh it is fee-based).

EdCast just adds a whole new vibe to the scene of the learning system space. The support is top-tier, the system itself is top-tier, and the continued push towards forward-thinking is totally there. Again, not a perfect system, and I wish that they offered a higher and more robust metrics for clients, who do not want to buy Domo.

EdCast’s deep integration with MS Teams, the first to do in the space BTW, is outstanding.

  • Thought Industries – The customer education market is – and will be the hottest segment for the rest of 2021 and right thru 2022. It is a key reason you see so many combo systems (i.e., employees at least 40% and then customers) in the industry. On top of that, systems that never even looked at the customer education market, and now eyeing it like someone who sees an amazing Pitbull and screams I want him, I want her (Well, I did. Pitties rule).

TI hits everything – functionality is very strong (the Panoramas approach, the way it appears, and how it works was first, not that you couldn’t add your own logo, colors and so forth in the past – you could, it was just the entire package and design of it. Especially since you can do far more – this is for the multi-tenant. The support and culture of the company is fantastic. There is a drive there, a way to push the boundaries. The challenge is that for systems who play over 80% in the customer education market, is that certain features you would think they all have – like a 3rd party marketplace or very strong curation tools would exist, but the market doesn’t demand it.

The challenge the customer education market leaders face is that the combos overall do have it. And thus, you – as a vendor that strongly plays there, you have to add it too.

I will note that Thought Industries has a video skills validation component with digital coaching and scenario-based/role-play.

They are customer education leaders for a reason. And really the first one to truly get where the market is heading in this new business environment.

Little Lights of Brightness

Not full trailblazer, nevertheless some cool things taking place.

  • Rockstar LMS by eLearning Brothers – The new feature where any client in the system can create their own stream of content, put it in their marketplace, and then any other client can subscribe to it (for free) in the marketplace, which then is available to that client’s learners in the system is brilliant.

The system needs an update in the UI/UX, but considering they have only been out for like two months, not too shabby of a start.

  • Skills-Base – A 100% skills metrics platform. This is all data here; that’s it. And there is a lot to digest for it. The UI/UX needs a massive upgrade, which is really a downer, but I have that in the skills metric only platforms, a pretty consistent look, and a need for overall UI/UX.
  • Skillnet – Skills metrics platform with a slight twist – 3rd party content (it is coming soon). Metrics are robust, and they are in the midst of a new UI/UX – it is not out yet.

If you aren’t worried about UI/UX and are going strictly skill metrics here (and this is what skill metric systems do – its all about measurement) – then either will work for you.

Speaking of skills, a new hidden trailblazer is – my skills template. YEA! This is the template that lists all the skill features and functionality – from ones you want to ones that are limited to even ones that are not out yet (but will by the end of 2022, with systems that play heavily in skills development, etc.). Plus, questions you will need to ask any vendor who provides skills/job role libraries – regarding their sources.

Bottom Line

There you have it. The Trailblazers. Those who made an impact earlier on, or later on, and those to keep an eye or two on. The list could go on – Fuse, Learn Amp, Absorb, Eurekos, Biz Library’s soon-to-be-launched skills platform, and perhaps, a few others soon-to-be-launched as well (i.e. from other vendors).

Yes, I admit, your system, your vendor may not be on there, but this isn’t about whether a system is good or great at what they do, nor about how many clients or sales they have nor my rankings, nor pros/cons.

Any system that offers learning or training leveraging a different perspective and setting itself apart is a beacon of light.

And one that can shine

for everyone.

E-Learning 24/7


  1. How do you feel about Workday Learning? My organization is starting to leverage that part of our Workday HRIMS and it seems to have some potential as an LMS.

    1. Not good. The system is built on the old MediaCore platform and while it has gone thru changes, Workday seems more focused on their other offerings. Skills Cloud is available for everyone, so you do not need to buy Learning. The skills that they offer, Workday has never told me what “public sources” they get it from; it also comes from private sources. When asked to see the system (as of late), they decline to show it in real-time, and always prefer sending a video -thus their own narrative. WD Learning has had an issue with LinkedIn Learning, whereas data from LL going back into WD Learning wasn’t working. I do not know if this was fixed finally, but I can say that it was a problem for more than a couple of years. That is concerning. It is a so-so system, with the angle being you have Workday, so adding WD Learning will be so easy, and that if you go with someone else it won’t be, which just isn’t accurate. WD Learning added a multi-tenant capability, because WD clients who wanted a platform for their external clients did not exist, and thus WD was losing money. Then WD offers this, charges extra for it, and their whole premise that the power of WD Learning is the push/pull of all that data in their WD system – i.e. other modules. Well, it can’t work that way, when you have customer education. I have been told by others, and you may have encountered this as well, that WD has an approach of releasing updates, without full testing, thus leaving their clients to do Q/A. Finally, in their last convergence show WD, never talked about WD Learning. I found that odd. Pricing is a bit odd too.

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