Let the Rants Begin – Learning System Edition

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If anyone has had a concussion and then suffered through post-concussion, you will likely bounce over onto the internet and see all those “medical experts”. Apparently, it can be resolved in one month. Wait, no, three months. Hold on. Perhaps a year or more.

For me, it has lasted nearly three months, which allows one to do a lot of pondering. I would try to figure out how I ended up with the concussion, what caused me to go airborne and how the wood table pushed back a couple of feet. But, just like so many folks who get a concussion, I can’t recall.

Which only adds to the frustration. I merely note this because a few times a year, I look at the e-learning industry, with a heavy dose towards the learning system space, and then a few droplets on other e-learning solutions.

Inevitably, I see a lot of wonderful things, and then items that I always refer back to the movie Network, with the line, “I’m not going to take it anymore.”

Here now are the items you shouldn’t take anymore.

Inflated Valuations and Unicorns

The industry is awash with valuations of systems, and content providers for that matter. The term “unicorn” is a business that is valued at more than one billion and is a tech startup, privately owned. It has absolutely nothing to do with cash flow, assets, or profitability.

Many people look at Docebo and think “unicorn”. But that just isn’t accurate. They are not a startup. They have been around for over a decade, to me that doesn’t scream startup.

But the term “startup” seems to vary depending on who you talk to. A good friend of mine in the industry still considers their own company as a startup because they haven’t reached their full capabilities yet. For myself, coming from the dot.com days, working at a private tech startup, with an over-valued valuation, I see it clearly different.

And therein lies the first challenge, what is or is not a startup. Thus, if you believe Docebo was a startup prior to going public, then they were a Unicorn. If not, then no they weren’t.


The term means “Monthly Active Users” and it is red hot in the learning system space.

Depending on how the vendor pitches it, will get you quite excited because it sounds so much like a pay-per-user aspect based on monthly use.

For me, it is a reminder of the three-card monte game, one could find on numerous street corners in NYC in the eighties.

Here is how it works:

  • Vendor says how many “active users” will be in the system in a given month?
  • Active user is defined as either a person who logs into the system for that month OR logs into the system and takes a piece of content (regardless of what it is, and regardless if it is completed or not)
  • Typically, folks will base active user on one person who logs into the system at least once in a 12 month period.
  • With MAUs though, that is the wrong way to calculate because after all, why pay for an activer user, who uses the system only once in June and you never see them again

That’s the kicker and part of the spin. It is alluring. It is enticing. It says “You are right”!

But (is there always a “But”)

  • Vendors who go MAU will always ask you – the total number of active users you are a projecting for the year (as defined as they have gone into the system, at least once over a given year). There are vendors who will ask what is your user base (regardless of ‘active or not”)
  • The “total projection” is the key
  • Your proposal will include two magical words ‘up to’ – which either appears right there with the total cost or down below in the text, which uh, most folks just look at the very big number.

Let’s play a game

I have 5,255 active users and identify active based on that person accessing the system at least one time in a given year.

The vendor says, “how many per month”. I am lucky because I have some data from my current system (I’m leaving them). The data says on average, the count is really 3,200.

The vendor then may say, “well, you really only have 267 active users per month” OR just re-state the 3,200. Why pay for folks who are not using the system?

Yeah, you are right. I’m salivating. This is a great deal.

The vendor goes thru their whole approach, and I listen. I’m thinking, I totally understand.

The proposal arrives. The cost for “Up to 5,225” is $85,000 USD. Seems like a good deal, because of the active user per month shtick that I have listened to over and over again.


  • You are paying “up to” – so whether or not you ever get to that total number doesn’t matter, because are are paying for the full active projection
  • One vendor goes with the MAU based on buckets of them. They will note they are completely different than others. Yet, they will ask the same thing – a total count. And when you get the quote it seems like they are – but if you go over the “bucket”, you pay for another bucket, and those seats in the bucket? Well, you may never reach that count”

The pricing that first came out in the industry (and is still very popular) is bundled pricing. The vendor asked how many seats you will need (they may have used a different term). You say I will need 5,255. The vendor would either quote you at 5,255 OR quote at 5,500 or 5,300 or whatever their range was (now called bands).

Then if you went over, no problem, they would sell you another bucket.

With bundled pricing, even if you never hit 5,525 users, you would still pay for that amount.

Sounds familiar?

There are a lot of vendors in the industry who go with MAUs. On one side, I have no issue with their pricing approach – it works. On the other side, I wish they would just be very clear, that if you do not hit that total number, you are still paying for it.

Then again, I wish everyone would recognize that climate change is real.


Lemmings. I’m sure many of you remember the Wonderful World of Disney (those in the states) and the episode of the lemmings following each other over the cliff. Granted, it wasn’t all that accurate (the details are worthy of a read – but be forwarned not for the timid), but the premise that everyone or every whatever does the exact same thing, replication to a T, is a constant in the e-learning industry.

When a vendor does something unique? Then within the year, others follow suit. Come up with a marketing price spin? Loads of vendors follow suit. Establish a new capability that seems unrepeatable? No worries, others will find a way to develop something either quite similar or near enough to wait, for it, follow suit.

When I would attend trade shows, I’d invariably hear from someone, “Where is the innovation”? It has been a valid point, year after year.

But, I have seen in the last two years, some offerings, solutions if you will, in the learning system industry that is innovative. It adds to the delight of the space, that I care so deeply about, and hope, that others will follow suit – not in replication, but in innovation.

Here are the Shining Stars of Innovation

  • Fuse – Their natural search within their system seeking content – not just be tags or keywords or roles, but including questions – “How do I become a manager?” – And content tied to that direct question appears. “How can I establish benchmarks in sales?” – Zing – the content tied to the question appears. It’s natural quite honestly, because many of use, will use their favorite search engine for all type of questions around business, leadership, sales, pizza making and even jackets for dogs during storms (okay, maybe just me). And yes, I found a great one.
  • EdCast – This doozy came out a year ago, and I still marvel at it. There are numerous vendors who have an extension that goes on your browser address bar, so that when you search on the net for some topic or something, the content that you have in the system shows up within the vendor’s tab screen – think mini window. EdCast did it a bit different. Rather than having it appear within the extension screen per se, the blocks of content tied to whatever you inquired about, appears at the top of the search results in blocks. Even above those “sponsored” ads. No matter what search engine you use, the blocks will appear – just make sure to have the extension installed. Thus, if you are using Google, then decide to switch to Bing, no matter, the blocks of content will appear, based on what you searched for.
  • D2L Wave scores an innovation point – with their system listing colleges, and universities based on the skill you are interested in acquiring – whether it be one course or an exectutive education program. D2L Wave is a standalone, but it can be tied into the D2L system if you want, and down the road, integrate into other learning systems. To pay for the courses – the learner has a few options, including a common one, of a virtaul credit card – the amount deposited by the company (uh- you, not them). Wave is a visual feast and for its debut, impressive compared to few others. They are not the first to have a virtual wallet, nor the first to have such a search for coruses at uni angle, but they I believe are on to something with exectutive education programs – which I see as the “magical unicorn of opportunity” – like the horse with a horn, and not the biz type. If you doubt – think of this – Learn in has within their search catalog – exec education programs too – and folks can pay for it via a virtual wallet (if they so desire).

But neither has fully leveraged the power of executive education programs and what they can bring to any system.

Microsoft Viva Learning

Let’s be very clear here. I have no idea on how good or not, Viva Learning will be – and neither does anyone else for that matter because it is not live. It was scheduled to be launched this summer, and well, it is August, so maybe they will meet that date.

Viva Learning is already being seen by fervent supporters of Microsoft or “other experts” in the L&D, community and e-learning, and learning systems – as the greatest and most amazing solution that will change your life, and that of your learners.

An upskilling revolution – with an LXP twist.

I have serious doubt that will happen, because of a few factors:

  • It is 100% tied within MS Teams. If you – the company does not use MS Teams, then buying Viva Learning makes no sense.
  • If you are offering content to your clients, and want to tap into Viva Learning – then those clients will all have to be using MS Teams – each learner.
  • It is not free. I can see how someone will think this, because MS Teams is free when you buy Microsoft 365

It is truly an LXP – remember the 3rd party content publishers? In the last analyst preview Microsoft had for VL, I inquired if LinkedIn Learning content/courses will be free – as in the entire library. I was told no. You will get some courses, but then if you want the whole library it is an extra cost.

Okay, well in the demo they show Pluralsight, Udemy, and Coursera – any of that free? Nope, an extra cost.

Topics, which honestly I haven’t been overwhelmed, you can buy right now for MS Teams, – and I can’t see why you would – without having Viva Learning’s core system – the Viva Learning part. The analytics – available right now – worthless IMO without the Viva Learning component.

The health and wellbeing component is just frankly odd. In the preview of Viva Learning, it was just a blip in their entire presentation. No deep dive. No insight into how this will work wonders as part of the Viva Learning Ecosystem. I can see this component getting a “toss in” in say two years. I still am trying to think why Microsoft thought H&W is a great idea for a component for an LXP, err upskilling platform.

Especially when they could do far more damage with, wait for it, innovation in the learning system space.

Because, what I saw – at least what they have shown the majority of analysts, is something that does not remind me of innovation. In fact, the very first time I saw Viva Learning, another system came to my mind. EdCast with their deep integration within MS Teams, specifically.

Will folks buy Viva Learning? OMG – YES! It’s going to be a hot seller. To fully maximize it, you will also need to buy Topics and Analytics. But do not confuse hot sales and some analysts seeing this as something nobody has ever done before or tried.

Maybe VL will be amazing. For me, the jury is out. Because what I have seen doesn’t remind me of something new or unique. Not for Learning and not for MS Teams.

Bottom Line

There you go four rants to consider.

To Ponder.

To Ascertain.

Some vociferous in nature.

Others, well.


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