It’s time. The Best of the Best Customer Education Bracket for 2022. To review last year’s amazing competition, take a look at the 2021 Results.
I prefer a bracket because it adds some vibe and experience that is completely different than a grid. It tells a story, and well, is visible so there is no mistaking where X is versus Y, and why C is over there in G8, and not D3. I admit I find some grids so confusing, just as I find it confusing why anyone would get excited that the best their football club (soccer) can do in the premier league is 5th (it’s dominated by four teams). This would not be acceptable in the states for American Football unless you are a Lions fan (Zing!).
Bounce into the 2022 Bracket
Here are the 16. Just as in 2021, vendors were seeded on two sides – let’s call one side – “A”, and the other side “B”.
These are seeding not rankings.
- #1 Thought Industries (2021 Champions) – Nickname – Breakers (okay, I decided to have some nicknames) (Mascot – A person in a giant wave outfit)
- #2 Valamis (New Entrant) -Nickname- Vamps (Mascot – Nosferatu)
- #3 Docebo (R2, 2021) – Nickname – Dragons (Mascot – A dragon)
- #4 Raven360 (New Entrant) -Nickname – The Ravens (Mascot -A Raven who dresses like Edgar Allen Poe)
- #5 Cornerstone LMS (R1 2021) – Nickname -Quakes (Mascot-A person wearing rollerblades and dressed like George Kennedy – an actor who appeared in the awful but worth a view, Earthquake film of the 70s – he also appears in a lot of disaster films of the 70s)
- #6 LearnUpon (Just missed the cut in 2021) – Nickname – Flames (Mascot- A person dressed like a fiery arrow)
- #7 Skill Jar (R1, 2021) – Nickname – Blue Scorpions (Mascot – Scorpion)
- #8 D2L (New Entrant) – Nickname – Banshees (Mascot- A banshee)
- #1 Eurekos (R3, 2021) Nickname – Vikings (Mascot – Odin) – On a side note, you can see a full Viking ship fully restored that they found off the waters – nearly intact. It’s in Denmark – worth a view.
- #2 Intellum (R3, 2021) Nickname – Mustangs (Mascot – Mustang)
- #3 Absorb (R2, 2021) Nickname – Sasquatch (Mascot -Sasquatch – aka Bigfoot)
- #4 Meridian LMS (Just missed the cut, 2021) – Nickname – Marbles (Mascot – A very scary looking marble)
- #5 Fuse (R2, 2021) – Nickname – Cannons (Mascot – A mishmash of a cannon with a fuse on its head)
- #6 SAP Litmos (Just missed cut, 2021) – Nickname – Steel Blazers (Mascot – A beam of steel with a tweed blazer)
- #7 Workramp (New Entrant) – Nickname – Whispers (Mascot – Invisible the Whisperer)
- #8 CourseStage (New Entrant) – Nickname – Packers (Mascot – The state of Wisconsin)
Opening Round 2022
Background – The Methodology
As previously covered in other posts, the industry has splintered into audience-focused types if you will, as in systems whose focus is employees, customer education, or a combo – employees and customers. The majority of learning systems are combos, which usually skew towards the employee side – there are a few exceptions. To be fully customer education-focused, the client makeup is at a minimum of 90%, which means 90% of the learning system’s clients are using the system for customer education/partner training/B2B. The old legacy term would be extended enterprise. I slide associations under B2B, because you are providing education/training to an audience base that is external (the main focus).
Employee-focused means that 85% or higher of their client base is for employees.
In our bracket, the systems are either “Combo” or “Customer Education Focused”. The latter market is now that large – system-wise, compared to the Combo, which adds additional features you usually wouldn’t find in a CE-focused system. This is changing, because a client can look at a combo and see features that are geared towards employees, like it, then compare them to a Customer Ed focused system and expect the same thing, not realizing that external audiences do not need workforce development for example. Skills are a key area in this example. Skills should be strong in Combos and Employees, not in CE-focused systems. That said, across the board, skill capabilities across the entire segment are still at the infant stage.
There are systems in this bracket that are actually doing far better than quite a few systems in the employee-only, and two vendors who are Customer Ed that have surpassed Combos. That’s the nature of business today.
Customer Education Focused Systems in the Bracket
Ignore the marketing hype that some “Combos” pitch as customer education-focused, here are the actual players (in our bracket)
- Thought Industries
- Meridian KSI
- CourseStage – Association heavy focus
- Skill Jar
- Cornerstone LMS
- SAP Litmos
If you wanted the NCAA tourney, as I did, why should teams get extra timeouts, because the refs are reviewing the replay? They should be required to just stay on the court. I’m not griping, okay, I’m griping.
With any bracket (or old school grid) there is a methodology for selection. I always hear from folks saying, well so and so doesn’t have this vendor, but you do, and thus, this and that. No analyst or firm will use the same methodology. Nor the same approach. I mean, look at Burger King? Flame-broiled. Mcdonald’s – Fried. Pete’s Burger Joint – Layered with chia seeds and grilled.
Customer Education Systems, even combos should recognize, some key capabilities and functionalities that will make a huge difference. The majority of clients sell courses/content – now sell can be free or it can be fee-based or some combo of it. Anyone who oversees the CE for a company, entity, association, or training provider knows they have one chance to roll this out and make it look slick. Archaic and stale won’t cut it. It has to be easy to use for some, but it can have some additional robustness if the client wants to push it forward as their audience grows or even as they desire additional flexibility.
When putting together the methodology, I tapped into what I know about this space – customer education – which is extensive, what folks are looking at today, and what is needed in the coming year.
- UI/UX – You have one opportunity to make this look good to an external audience, whomever that may be. Folks are used to finding places on the web, with slick websites. Why would they think differently about your system? Every vendor says their system is modern, clean, and user-friendly. I can tell you, that a lot is not. On the Learner Side – the end-user needs to be able to go to the catalog to pick courses/content – so the navigation has to be there, the selections visible on this page, playlists should exist – again, it is not universal, but at least a Grid view, – think “What are these folks seeing every day in their non-work world?” Netflix and other streaming sites. Lots of content. Lots of new experiences and exploration.
- Admin side – Should ideally have a home dashboard, just as you would have a learner dashboard. Navigation is huge here. Fluidity and Agile are a must. Drag and Drop is a big plus, the majority of systems lack it.
- E-Commerce – Included at no charge. We are not talking about a payment processor like Authorize.net, but some e-commerce is tapped into Stripe, which will work. You need to be able to have discounts, promo codes, send invoices (a nice plus), bundling, subscription (again, depends on the audience), VAT, and accept credit cards – VISA, MasterCard is a must. AMEX is a plus – because a lot of companies have corporate AMEX cards. Discover – ehh. It cannot be limited to just PayPal (that’s not what I consider full e-commerce). If you want to take it to the next level, I’d seriously look at adding Venmo and Zelle (which are being tested by various banks as payment in retail locations, such as Walmart). Amazon Pay is doable, again, the options are nice. If a vendor isn’t using Stripe or similar, then I have yet to see someone offering Apple Pay or Samsung, or Google Pay. Cryptocurrency is a wild card here – I’m not seeing a lot of folks overseeing training using crypto. Several years ago, there was one vendor who accepted bitcoin.
- Multi-Tenant – It has to be there. And it should be free. If you can’t go free for as many sub-tenant as the client wants (and yes, there are vendors who offer it), then include at least 10 for free, and then charge in bundles, but do not overcharge – a lot do.
Under the Multi-Tenant (some vendors refer to them as portals. TI refers to them as Panorma)
- Skin your colors/add logo – aka as white label or branded (Everyone offers this)
- Ability to decide if each child (that is how I refer to sub-tenants) can add or remove their courses/content, set up rules for managers (if applicable) other entities, what the admin can do, instructors, etc – hierarchy rules (Every system offers this, some do a better job and offer more flexibility than others). Always remember the parent – The main tenant – i.e. you, set the rules for each of the children. A child can only see themselves, no one else. This means they can’t see the data from another child or access it (unless the parent allows that, which they never should). The parent – you, can see everything, all the data, etc.
- Parent when viewing the metrics, data – can break it out by each child, and drill down into the data – it isn’t limited to just reports (I’ve seen the latter, and trust me, you want to see it on your screen, not via a CSV – Excel file). Some systems do an aggregate of all the children – and that’s it. I hate that. It tells me zip when it comes to customer education.
- Custom Domains (Every system does this, but it gets tricky on what they see as a “Custom Domain” and what you may think it means.
A lot of vendors say they offer custom domains when it comes to the sub-tenants, and even the main tenant as well, but what I have found, is that what they consider it to be, and what anyone who has ever had a custom domain (and knows what it is) are not in alignment. Again, there are exceptions with some systems.
The common way, when I hear custom domain is that the vendor will say yes, but then explain it as
- Yourname.vendorname.com – or something similar. The vendor’s name is in the domain. It is not just your name and only your name. So, if you have a tenant called Pumpkin and your main tenant or site is called WallaceUniversity, the custom domain would look like – WallaceUniversity.Vendorname.Pumpkin.com or again something similar. Think about it, you are providing this to customers, members, partners, etc – do you really want to have the vendor’s name in it? Sometimes you have no choice because the vendor doesn’t offer that capability, but if they do, then you want it. What is worse, is when a vendor charges for this. Many vendors include “custom domains” and what they are referring to is the example above. Docebo follows this approach, but they are not alone- it’s very common.
A custom domain really means
Yourname.com – Pretty simple. You go and purchase a domain and then have the vendor help you with the server setup (since the domain sits elsewhere). When your customers come, they will be in the learning system, but with a branded URL – i.e. domain. I do this all the time, and I did it when I ran customer training aka customer education. An example: WallaceU.com – and let’s say, for a child, you are going to partners – generic, so it is WallaceU/Partners.com OR let’s say you have a client who wants their own name. No problem. It is Theirname.com (again a custom domain).
There was a time when vendors would offer the above at no charge and set it up for you. It’s difficult to find now, and thus, for me, with my methodology, vendors who offered the true custom domain option scored higher – in points than the “custom domain” angle. The majority of the vendors in the bracket, go with the first example – their name is in the domain.
FWIW – If you want a custom domain, another option is to see if the vendor can do URL Masking. I did it one time, and the end-user can’t tell. Nowadays vendors stay away from it, but if they can, that may be an option for you. It didn’t have any bearings on the methodology or points – this is more just for you to know.
- Customer-Education systems should offer metrics that go far beyond what you usually see in a system or should. If you are doing CE, and selling courses/content – the end goal is to generate profit, find out what courses/content are selling, which ones are not, how much usage (how often someone goes in), if you offer a Table of Contents in a course, which sections/chapters they are going to – which will help you when it comes to adding more courses on specific areas, than say generally.
- Additional metrics should include trend lines or similar to show over a period of time, with filters, usage, content purchase, access – each should be a trend line, aggregate but breakdown by day, and then you can drill further down. Quite a few do the above, but really drill-down is a different scene.
- Does the data tell me, a story? Data should always do this. If you can look at the data and say, I can show this to someone above me, the CEO for example, and say “this is why we do this and look at the revenue”, then the data offers a good story. Profit centers will open up budgets and get you more you need. Remember the old, ROI-prove-me attitude? Okay, here you go. Even without money tied to it, showing trend lines are relevant. Telling me only views – is worthless. And I don’t care that I can see how many licenses are being used (put that in settings and not on the home dashboard).
- Modern UI/UX for data and reports. I’m a big fan of “Favorites” and dashboards that go beyond pie charts. Data visualization is called that for a reason, not a bar graph, which is a bar graph. Vendors who did well here, received more points.
I used my Learning Systems template for this area, looking at features I knew are needed in a customer education-focused system. Items such as the ability to add CEUs to a piece of content (continuing education units), the ability to generate certificates, multiple ones even tied to one course/content, learning journeys (different spin/approach with curriculum paths or learning paths), peer to peer learning, and the list goes on.
Scored higher if you have a mobile app – that is available in iOS and Google Play with on/off synch, and can be white-labeled. You did all four – you got 12 points. You did three – 9 points. You did two – 6 points. You did one – three points. You did none – Zero points.
White-label if your vendor offers it, I recommend it. The fee at the high-end should be about 10K USD. But it removes someone having to use VendorX app, and instead goes to WallaceU app in their app store.
Cornerstone does a lot of nice things with its mobile app, but you cannot white-label it. So, using them, they scored 9 points. Intellum – they do it all, 12 points. Docebo can do it all – 12 points. Thought Industries doesn’t have a mobile app (as of April 8th, 2022), they didn’t make a basket. In fact, the biggest minus on TI, is the lack of the app.
It should be noted that there are vendors who have an app in Apple but not Google. And there are a lot of vendors who have the app in both but do not have on-off synch. Rule of Thumb if you have to explain it to them, then, they likely do not have it. You want On-Off synch.
- Notifications – very relevant as reminders for maintaining certification (if applicable) and just reminders in general. E-mail is common in the industry, SMS is very rare. Notification schedule i.e. times you can send it, etc – is a must.
- Event management – vILT/ILT – Waitlists are a must, auto waitlist is even better – you want this if you are doing vILT or ILT
- Ability to capture data and add it to your system for external is a must for CE systems. I mean, I may have attended online nine events that are not by you, but as the client – you see value for them doing it.
- Gamification – Customer Ed can do well here – depends on the perks – I mean, I get 75 points – what do I get for that? A 30-second email?
- Skills – I went really low here – if you have skill ratings with the ability to explain what each number means, you scored two points; if you offered more skill capabilities then think of it as free throws. A lot of bricks were tossed (which means they missed). Skills should be tied to the content here, job roles shouldn’t be relevant. The goal here is to educate and train folks, not by job role and oh by the way, not by assigned learning – which is a BIG NO-NO for customer education.
- Support – This is massive. It’s major regardless, but for folks using the system for customer education/associations/B2B even B2C, partner training – you need good support. There are vendors on this list that outsource implementation/configuration – which isn’t ideal, especially since you – the client have no idea – about how that partner handles support or their track record. Anyway, support should include not just onboarding (everyone does this), but ongoing sessions when needed (for the admin or head of the dept or both) for free, videos, a knowledge center, and a discussion area that is checked frequently. Nobody is checking out your FAQ or Help section. I can tell you there are vendors who are in the bracket, whose support is below avg to poor. They did not score any points here.
- Aiding the client in best practices to generate revenue (if that is your goal) or whatever. This goes beyond just your use case. And it is rare. Two vendors in the bracket offer it.
- Messaging – Marketing is huge here, and so does the vendor message Customer Education in their pitch, on their website, beyond SEO purposes. This is a major problem in the CE space, or for anyone who seeks a system for customer education. The reason being is that vendors as a whole, believe L&D is the only game in town, forgetting that in the Customer Ed segment including Associations, its people with a background in training, or education. In fact, it is rare to have someone in L&D oversee customer education/partner training/B2B, even an association’s education dept. I can tell within the first 60 seconds if a system’s salespeople even the CEO know the difference. And I can tell you, there are a lot of vendors whose CEOs, even founders have no clue. And it should be a wake-up call because when you walk the trade show floor and the vendor is pushing “employee learning or employee development” and you want customer education – you will not stop and check them out.
I cannot say this enough, L&D and Training are not the same things. Different modalities, different approaches. Ever heard of OD? And as one vendor found it, there are companies that have both departments, and they do not talk to each other, nor like each other. I never met anyone who was in L&D wanting to report to Training, nor Training report to L&D, and nobody wants to report to HR.
The Games – A system could score up to 110. Nobody did.
Round 2 Results
- Thought Industries 95, D2L 86
- Cornerstone LMS 90, Raven360 89
- Valamis 84, Skill Jar 76
- Docebo 93, LearnUpon 82
- Eurekos 94, CourseStage 80
- Fuse 90, Meridian KSI 86
- Intellum 92, Workramp 79
- Absorb 93, SAP Litmos 82
- Meridian LMS’s biggest weaknesses fall into two areas – Data/Metrics – which on one side are extensive, the other side, the UX is very dated and needs a massive update; plus some of the data I found missed some key CE indicators folks I think would want. The general UI/UX for the system itself is dated – which is a shame because this is a very solid system. I like a lot of it, but these were huge areas to overcome. Lastly, the forward-thinking I’m not seeing it. And they lacked in a few areas around functionality.
- Thought Industries biggest miss is mobile – they lost 12 points right there. The admin side when it comes to their new dashboard is a vast improvement, but there were a couple of areas that needed tweaks. Panorma is outstanding.
- Valamis is a work in progress – they will build it (you will pay), but the key tidbits that are essential, are missing a couple. The LXP spin is a joke – I remember going thru it, and what they thought an LXP is, and what it really is, are two different things. And what with the buy of a vendor who plays in employee development – that has me worried. I still like the system, they offer a slick UI/UX, and lots to like, but those areas probably will catch up with them – in the bracket.
- LearnUpon is a nice system that plays well in association and customer education. I wouldn’t buy them if I was Large in user base, but that wasn’t a factor here. They just missed in a few areas, specific metrics for CE a big clanker (off the rim), and the sub-tenant capabilities need an improvement.
- Cornerstone LMS – Probably the big upset in R1 over a very good Raven360, which is under the radar for so many people. Cornerstone LMS, is a nexgen system (so forward thinking is there), I didn’t consider the EdCast acquisition (the bracket was done before that, and anyway as it relates to CE, it makes no impact whatsoever). Minuses for Cornerstone – Marketing/Messaging around CE is really poor. If you doubt me, go to their website. A white-label mobile app is unavailable. They do need an update on UI/UX on Learner and Admin side, and the metrics again for the CE specific are subpar. That said, this is a very robust and strong system, and it just slides by.
I should note that “pricing” was not a factor in the bracket. Add-ons dependent on whether they are a need or just a nice to have. When reviewing Absorb – I based my analysis on the following (you will want all) – Absorb LMS, Engage, Analyze and Create LI – their authoring tool, for CE market, having an authoring tool really helps – it won’t ever be a deep threat to a commercial, but they are not designed to do so). For Docebo – I based it on Docebo Learn, Discovery/Coach, and Share (an add-on with Docebo Learn, you need and want), Learning Analytics – but dependent on what widgets you select and Docebo Flow – there are metrics that are key for CE space, and then those that are not). All of them are add-ons, i.e. additional costs on top of Docebo Learn.
Round 3 Results
- Thought Industries 95, Cornerstone LMS 90
- Docebo 93, Valamis 84 (Fans were leaving early in the 2nd half)
- Eurekos 94, Fuse 90
- Absorb 93, Intellum 92
Fuse, the #1 learning system overall for 2022, is a great system, but for the customer ed segment, it is still just not fully there yet, compared to Eurekos. Eurekos has a couple of things in the works (two of which do not appear in any system in the CE let alone the Combo side). The system has come a long way, in just a short time, and continues to improve. I like the authoring tool – a lot you can do, and ideal for beginners, but folks with experience can do a few more things too. Fuse has an authoring tool too, but the systems are just structured differently.
Absorb’s add-ons definitely made the difference here, and again, they were included in my analysis. That said, if you want heavy skills today, in a CE-focused system, Intellum does the best, of any way, with the exception of the Combo system – Cornerstone LMS, which is the #1 in skills capabilities in the entire industry. But this isn’t a bracket for the entire industry for skills, let alone employee-focused.
Round 4 Results
- Thought Industries 95, Docebo 93
- Eurekos 94, Absorb 93
What more can be said, than what is listed above. They are all outstanding in their own right – for the CE segment, although, I’m not fully sold on Flow – the metrics for CE are very good, the rest – I mean flow of work? Great, but how is the messaging for the CE segment here? That’s a miss. I recommend additional practice.
Best of the Best – Championship Round
Thought Industries 95, Eurekos 94
Both suffer from the mobile app issue, which made an impact as you can imagine. Remove that though, and you are watching two Titans stack up. One has been that way for a bit, gaining more traction in the CE space, the other an upstart.
If I was Thought Industries I wouldn’t be waiting around to see what Eurekos is up to, I would be pressing forward. And I was Eurekos, I know that a few things here, few there, and well, who knows?
Very few people who watch college hoops had ever heard of this school named Gonzaga when they started to appear.