The NexGen Learning System Rankings for 2021

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Is it me or does it seem that people are really nice around this time of the year? Some of these folks can be well, let’s just say coal is quite popular, the only time of the year.  When I first went to the UK, I remember seeing happy Christmas everywhere I went.  Nowadays? Merry Christmas.

I still do not get the whole boxing day event, over there, even though it has been explained to me, and I read up on it, to be in the “know”.  Christmas pudding is, definitely, or can be a delight. The first time I heard of it, I thought, Fruit Cake, which in the states, could be used as a fine paperweight or a lethal weapon (do not try this at home).   Yet, I found Christmas pudding to be quite delicious. It’s not pudding, it is a “cake” that some people make months in advance and let sit there on their counter.

I bring up all these fine festivities because this is the time of the year to remember.  To look back. To ascertain. To wonder, what gifts they will receive.  Perhaps it will be some Moose toys for their dogs (thank you, D2L).  Or a series of good tidings from a variety of folks you are fortunate to know.

And if you are lucky enough, maybe just maybe, this holiday edition will include THE wonderful gift. 

Here is mine to you, actually it is not a gift, it is the Top 10 NexGen Learning Systems for 2021 

NexGen Learning Systems 2021

In the past, I did a grid, then a T-Grid, then a series of box grids. The last being, Leader, Solid (I think), and Risers.  For 2021, I initially pulled away from doing any type of grid, been there, done that, kind of approach.

However, for this post, I am still NOT DOING a grid.  Rather, a series of bullet points, under each header.

I base this analysis on four key factors.

  • Every system says they are NexGen. I can say unequivocally that is a misnomer and misstatement.  They may see themselves like that, because they have a shiny and slick look, and are relatively new, but that doesn’t mean you are NexGen.   I ignored these statements.  Just like my dad ignored the carrot.
  • It is based on my Learning Systems Template, with the items I have highlighted (in my latest version of my template – yellow)/and some are listed below, which I deem as Tier 5 NexGen.  For Tier 4 and Tier 3 please review previous posts for those years.  Thus, I focused on at least 50% for Tier 5 (although the higher the better, but even today, vendors are still a work in progress on these items), 85% or higher for Tier 4, 100% Tier 3.
  • Every item received points.  Tier 5 is worth more points than Tier 4, and Tier 4 is worth more than Tier 3.
  • I added an additional factor, that in the past when it comes to NexGen, I didn’t.  Admin UI/UX, – how updated it is, and in relation to 2021. This is where some people think only of agile, ignoring the functionality and design for Administrators and their knowledge and expertise in this field (remember the 20%).

Although not considered for this year’s NexGen, if you download the template and see “Rose” filled cells, this means Tier 6 (Now that is FutureGen).

Tier Five NexGen

I saw a system a few months back, that told me they were NexGen and had all the features that I had for Tier 4.  I can state that is not true.  I won’t say who the vendor is, but they are big into adaptive learning and push that as the key for their system. Adaptive learning doesn’t mean you are NexGen.  It’s interesting, but interesting doesn’t qualify as NexGen, just as interesting.  For the record, I like the system, but it still lacks some capabilities.

There are systems I should add, that have been around for nearly two decades that many vendors often cite as not being NexGen.  Why? 

Because they have been around for a long time, and I guess, the assumption is they never update their system.  Which is of course, ludicrous.  But, no surprise, it works – the term “traditional” gets attached, and no matter what some of these vendors do, it stays with them, just as the holiday chili stays with you, thru the new year.

Tier Five Functionality

You can consider the following areas, categories if you will as Tier 5, there are functions within them, okay with the “coaching” section, that are Tier 4, but overall, a chunk of it is Tier 5.  In the latest template, I note this on the side.

  • Digital Coaching – I also included the “experts” area here, although in my 2022 template (to be released next month), this will become a separate section
  • Skills Functionality (second tab on the template – This is really at infant level, again some vendors are further ahead than others.  I highlighted a few yellow, and a few “Rose”, but think NexGen overall.
  • Video Skills Validation with Scenarios/Digital Coaching- Tier 5 – NexGen, again, a few are highlighted “Rose” for Tier 6
  • Microsoft Teams – Totally Tier 5. Remember an integration is far different than deep integration.  Integration just means a link connected, deep means that you can take content/etc within Teams, never have to leave it, and all the data gets pushed back into the learning system (this is what you want)

Tier 5 by Area – Functionality

Workforce Development 

You are not likely to see a whole mass of these features in a learning system that focuses solely on the customer education market.  So, keep that in mind if you are comparing a combo system versus say Thought Industries (focuses solely on CE market).

  • Skills mapped to content/courses
  • Skills mapped to content for a career path
  • Content tied exclusively to job roles/job level
  • Ability to create assessments (validation) tied to specific content with a skill or set of skills to be taken and completed by the employee

Learning Environment (This is for the learner side)

  • Learner drag and drop functionality (usually seen with widgets/blocks) on the home dashboard – The admin sets this up ahead of time (i.e. you can do this, by each learner), and then the learner, can move the widgets around.  There are systems that default this way – a huge plus.
  • Search by Ratings (example: Five-star content) – This is Tier 5, but as you saw in my Degreed vs Fuse vs EdCast TXP, the latter two have it on their roadmap for 2022.  I think this is more common, thus I debated is this Tier 5 or Tier 6.  I went Tier 5 but did not dock anyone for not having it, since I can see Tier 6 too.
  • Search by type of content (Duration, Video, eBook, etc.)
  • Search by content related to a specific or set of skills/interests (Example: Leadership)

Machine Learning

  • Recommends courses based on previous courses/content that has not been completed (nor is required to do so)
  • Recommends content/documents/videos/etc. based on completed courses or content  – I am personally not a fan of this option, because it defeats the purpose of why WBT – online learning with courses was created in the first place – and IMO skews the recommendation playlist/data because of the completed only angle.
  • Ability to include other items to enhance recommendation of courses/content


  • Learners can add Podcasts to their playlist – This means a link to a podcast or series of podcasts via Spotify, Apple, or any other podcast site


  • The system uses ratings or voting from other end users to identify the most popular or trending courses
  • Content excluding courses can be listed in the trending/Most Popular and/or Recommended

Video Management – This means capabilities that can be achieved with a video contained as a separate piece of content

  • Video content can be extracted as a text transcript seen on the same screen (either below or next to the video). This is different than “Closed Captioned”
  • Video text transcript – the learner can click on different words or sentences and the video will go to that exact point, enabling the viewer to watch that specific segment
  • Ability to bounce/move to different video points in a video without having to go in a linear (straight) approach. Appears as pointers. End-user can leave and go back at any time to that exact point in the video


  • Ability to capture external training (non-company specific) data (for vILT and/or ILT) – This is going to be hot in 2022, it started to appear more in 2021


  • Ability to send (SMS) – text messaging – Seriously it is 2021, what are learning system vendors waiting for? I for one, and I am not alone, will look first at text messages and prefer them, over folks calling me. This is still rare in the industry. Why? Again, Why?


  • Open ID (Example – Able to login with your G-mail account, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Outlook 365, etc.) – Many people do this every day out on the web.  Another, come on, it is 2021 (soon to be 2022).


  • Drag and Drop on the administration side – People love this when they can use it. Vendors apply the “nobody is asking for it” on this capability. Trust me, when people see this, especially when they can select from some “widgets” or their own personal favorites, they will use it.  The static is out. Most folks I will admit, even with this capability will not use it. Then again, less than 30% of all functionality on the admin side, is ever used by admins.  Vendors seem to forget that but know it.


  • Analytics include not only content within the platform, but also web site links, articles posted on the net, eBooks, etc.  – Another could be Tier 6 too, but there are enough vendors who are not LXPs, adding it, so Tier 5.  If you are an LXP, this is a must.
  • Built-in business intelligence component or connection to a 3rd party business intelligence tool (included at no additional charge to the client)  – Very doable with a connection.  The trend though as a whole for a vendor to have it built-in is to charge extra for it.  There are exceptions.
  • Type of access – identifies if mobile or desktop and browser type – I like this, especially if I am pushing a lot of video or other data hogs of content out there.  Mobile access will impact what you can do or not do.  Especially if you have a mobile app and want to know its usage of it.
  • The learner can view a report or set of reports (defined by administrator) – They – the learner – sees this on their learner view, not the admin side
  • The learner can view a set or series of metrics (defined by administrator) – Ditto to above

Other Features

  • Includes templates (can be edited) for Terms of Use/Privacy terms/Etc. – that can be added to the system, when a user logins the first time  – This is one, that I find a lot of vendors do not know the difference between a “Template” that comes with the system and one where the client creates their own or uploads a document.   I’m referring to the system having this capability, and not the client.  You find these all over the internet, on some law firm sites or others that have been vetted by attorneys. Yes, always check with your legal, but terms of service – which most people never look at – protect you.
  • Comes with digital assets (stock photos, clip art, video clips, themes, etc.) that the administrator can use in the system.   The vendor has collected these assets and provided them to the client, free of charge. Back in the day, it was cheezy clip art.  And I mean lame.

Skills Validation – I noted that skills as a whole is Tier 5 mixed with Tier 6, a lot more towards Tier 6, which is why it is limited here, but one area that is definitely Tier 5 is skills validation.

  • Learner can self-validate themselves on a skill or skills  (often referred to as self-assessment)
  • Manager can provide a skill-rating validation of an employee (who has completed their own skill validation rating)
  • System includes skill ratings (1 to 5 scale)  -There are vendors who will be offering a 1-8 and 1-10 scale (Tier 6).
  • Administrator can edit/delete what each skill rating represents
  • System provides proficiency details for each skill rating identified 1-5, thus someone who is 1 means they are proficient at only this and so forth.  I always recommend vendors have some default text in here OR work with each client as part of their setup to fill in these areas.  It can be edited by the client at any time.   – I will stress this – YOU WANT THIS FEATURE, along with the scale of course.

Here is the Grid for 2020

The Leader List in 2020 (they were in the Leader’s Grid for 2020) (yes, this is by ranking per se, by points)

  • EdCast XP (now called TXP)
  • Cornerstone Learning Suite
  • SAP Litmos
  • Docebo
  • Degreed

On The Risers List for 2020

  • Learn Amp
  • D2L
  • Absorb LMS
  • Tovuti
  • Thought Industries

The Steady list included Fuse, SumTotal, IMC Learning Suite, Agylia

2021 – 2021 Alert – Here they are.

The Top 10 for 2021 

  1. EdCast TXP (This includes their add-on career mapping or whatever they call it)
  2. Fuse
  3. Cornerstone LMS (Does not include xPlor)
  4. Learn Amp
  5. Degreed 
  6. Absorb LMS (Included Infuse, Engage and Analyze) – They are all add-ons and you want them. 
  7. Docebo (Includes Learn, Discover/Coach and Share,Learning Analytics, Learning Impacts) – Learn is the LMS, so you want that, Discover/Coach and Share is an add-on for Learn, and you want that, Learning Impacts is far better than what comes with Learn, so you want that, Flow is a nice but not needed, Learning Analytics is like a BI sort of, a nice plus, Connect is hard to explain, it is an-add on, but basically allows you to create some APIs tied to the data push and pull, it goes with Learn.  For my analysis I based it on the following – Learn, Discover/Coach and Share, Learning Impacts and Analytics).  All are add-ons to Learn, although you can purchase Learning Impacts and Analytics as standalones (i.e. without having to buy Learn). 
  8. Schoox 
  9. D2L (You will want their Video Skills Validation/DC add-on – they have a name for it, but you want it)
  10.  Thought Industries (You will want the Video Skills Validation with Digital Coaching add-on)

These two, just missed the cut into the Top 10. 

  • SAP Litmos
  • IMC Learning Suite 

Bottom Line 

There you go, the Top 10, with two that just barely missed the cut, NexGen Learning Systems for 2021. Three of the “On the Rise” cracked the top 10, which just shows how a vendor can be HERE one moment, and be THERE for the next moment. 

Cornerstone is a vendor that gets tagged the most as being traditional. Yet once again, Tier 5 and Tier 4 functionality wise, they are NexGen. Does the UI need an improvement? Yes.  But I could argue that these vendors need a UI/UX refresh too –  SAP Litmos, IMC, D2L, Schoox – big time, PeopleFluent,  SuccessFactors, Area9, CrossKnowledge and the list goes on. 

One vendor that didn’t crack the top 10, but nevertheless, is the first vendor to pre-map all their courses/content to specific skill, skills and job roles is Biz Skills, which officially rolls out in early 2022, they started with a soft launch now.  No one has done this before. So, when you buy the system, bam, you are ready to go.  This I believe is HUGE, and I expect other vendors to follow suit. 

But is it NexGen, and to me, that is something to recognize.  Just as I want to recognize the list of the first group of learning systems to become Certified in Customer Support, based on a rigiourus certification progam.  You can find them here.  If you do not see your vendor’s name on the list, then they are not certified in customer support. 

I wish you good tidings, and for all of you who list your favorite holidays movie classic, I say shame on you for thinking Home Alone, Love Actually and Elf should be at the top of the list. 

No, it can only be one

A Christmas Carol, the 1938 version. 

Although Mr. Magoo’s Christmas is right up there too.

E-Learning 24/7












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