Forget Buying Multiple Systems – Go One with All

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There is a wonderful ad out there from Expedia, where Ewan McGregor talks about how much we love stuff. And he is 100% right. I love stuff. Tech stuff. I buy way too much of it, most of it sitting somewhere at my home, in closets or storage. Show me some Los Angeles Rams stuff, and if the interest is there, zing – I own it. So much so, that I turned my office into a Rams Shrine, and another room in the house too. There is so much, that again, I have some waiting in a closet to be added to the collection. Autographs? Check. Rare collectables? Check. Rams pins? Check. Season Ticket stuff I get? Check. Pennants? Check – even one from the 50’s. Signed Jerseys? Check. Football Cards, with some players who were awful? Check. And the list goes on. Way too much stuff.

I surmise that you have a collection or collections of stuff. A percentage is viewable, and the rest? Closet or garage or storage. It is who we are, I think as humans – although my dogs have a lot of stuff too, and we continue to buy them stuff, because, they need more stuff. If you have a pet, I bet they have lots of stuff.

When you go to a trade show, I bet you get a lot of stuff. Most hits the garbage can before you even leave the hotel – again, all about what ever you are checking out at the show. Then add in that stuff they shove in those bags you receive, it is a lot of stuff.

I blame this whole thing around stuff, due to college and grad school. How many of you, purchased textbooks that you never opened, but were afraid to sell back, because the professor may one day, mention it? I had a grad school professor once recommend I read an article in a textbook, to provide futher enlightenment on something I was doing. He asked me, if I still had the textbook. I did. I used it for a door holder.

In the learning system space, there is equally a lot of stuff, some of which you either have purchase, plan to purchase or are considering purchasing. Authoring tools. Learning Tools. Digital mentoring or coaching solutions. Web conferencing offerings. Assessment tools and the list again, goes on. You might even have stuff you are not using. Manuals anyone? Who can recall the manuals we provided employees or members thinking they love this stuff? (Hint, they didn’t, and most used it as a backstop for their chair)

We provide our employees with a lot of stuff – called content. We ignore the fact that a large percentage of that content will never be opened, because it is a lot of stuff. How many out there, have a swath of courses/content on your learning system? How many of those courses and content are sitting there – on a virtual shelf, with virtual dust added.

It’s all stuff.

I bring up the stuff argument because your company, organization, school, entity or association may unknowingly have a lot of stuff – when it comes to the number of learning systems you own.

Learning Systems are like Streamers everyone has more than one

If you have two or more learning systems which one of these categories do you slide under?

  • Department – Every department/division at your company has their own learning system
  • One for me, one for you – One learning system for your employees, and a completely different one for your customers/partners
  • We Share – unless it is you – Departments may share one system, other departments share a different system
  • Government – We are a state or a county or a province and every different department/office has their own learning system. We gripe how much it costs, but hey, did we mention everyone has their own system?
  • Association – We have chapters – congrats – everyone has their own learning system


For the two or more, have you experienced any of these issues?

  • HRIS can’t connect to one of the systems, it connects with others
  • You want the systems to talk to each other – vendors claim they can do it – they can’t. Then you are in a quagmire with zero options, except Slack, Teams or e-mail sharing. Awesome.
  • You need to connect to a variety of other systems (non learning) but at the company – and everything has to be connected with the other learning systems all tied to the same solutions, invariably, not all can do it, data gets missed, or lost in transition and then the blame game happens
  • You can L&D or Training, put the system in charge of some other department, who knows nothing about learning or training, so they pick a system similar to tossing darts, and that system is not like the other systems already in the company. The key here – the system they have is antiquated, and employees gripe privately, will other employees love the system the other entity has.
  • SharePoint is our Friend – You tap into SharePoint, but have other learning systems. The reason being? It’s SharePoint, we always had it, and we know how to use it. This premise goes over like someone still trying to use a Diner’s Club credit card at a fancy restaurant in 2022. Fail.

Role the Tape

The details are in the pudding, as they say – they say that right? Who remembers the episode where Frank Burns says he loves the raisins in the pudding, to which Jamie Farr’s character says, “What raisins”?

  • A company I once worked for, had 46 different learning systems. Each department got to select their own, the contracts always favored the vendor, pricing was nuts, and none of these departments had any real sense of what was really going on.
  • Vendors love to tout Big Name companies when they make your pitch to you. Based on my experience, I have found that the majority have more than one learning system in there, and you will know this if you ask the vendor – sadly, the vendor won’t tell you, unless you do.
  • Vendors who are in Google, love to mention they have Google. See above for what is really going on.

Can this be resolved?

Absolutely. You can have your cake and your ice cream too. Because I’m going to let you in on an option, that will resolve everything you saw above in the “use cases”.

Multi-Tenant -The Answer you have never considered

The old school, legacy term is “extended enterprise”, but this term is often used when referring to customer education or partner training. Not so much with the above use cases (sans the customer education angle).

A multi-tenant follows this approach (I won’t get into the tech stack or other technology angle here, rather I am going to focus on the capabilities/features and tap back into the use cases).

It’s usually is a copy of the instance of the learning system (i.e.) same features, capabilities, etc. The difference? Each sub-tenant can have their own look, logo, branding, theme.

  • Some vendors refer to multi-tenant as portals and sub-portals, or business hierarchy with separate tenants. I always prefer saying Parent and Child, where there is one parent, but each sub-tenant is a child. You can have as many children as you want (i.e. sub-tenants).
  • As the parent (the main tenant), you can assign rules to each sub-tenant, which means you decide what they can and cannot do in their own tenant.

If you want X number of tenants to be able to upload their own users, but others cannot – you can set that rule. If you want the sub-tenants to be able to add their own content, 3rd party or created themselves, etc. – you can. You can even do the user angle, but with content, so X can upload/add and others cannot.

If you have an employee or member or student and want them to be not just in one tenant, but in another tenant you can. Again, you set the rule.

If you want to have X or all sub-tenants be able to see their own data and what data specifically, you set the rule (as the main tenant, i.e. parent). A sub-tenant can only see themselves, they cannot see any other sub-tenant (think child). You as the parent, can see everything, all the sub-tenants, all the data, etc.

If you want to allow each sub-tenant or specific sub-tenants the ability to have SSO, or people can go right to the sub-tenant and register/login – you set the rules to do so (again, as the parent).

If you want to have e-commerce is one tenant, and not the other – you can do this. Some systems it is a simple click – turn off for that sub-tenant. Other systems will do this for you, as part of your setup.

Want to change the labels, tabs, etc – for each sub-tenant or a group of them? If the system allows you to do this as a parent – i.e. as the main system (some vendors do not offer the ability to change labels), you can do this for each sub-tenant.

The connections issue? Goodbye. Because the system, the one learning system is connected to those connections you need, and the data streams are all pulled (for each sub-tenant) into your HRIS, ERP, CRM, birthday contact list, as a push-pull. The multiple purchase system angle and issue is gone.

Multi-tenants are the top option for customer education, because you may have clients who want their “own look and feel” and not your look, so you can have them as a sub-tenant. The rules, etc. still exists, and they can see only themselves and no one else. Ditto on data. Ditto on the ability to upload their own users and content if you so choose.

Custom domains? Again, a vendor with multi-tenant usually can do this – always check with the vendor, but the ones I am huge fans of, can.

Common Questions

When folks are considering going with a learning system that offers multi-tenant, I find these to be the most common.

Q: Does it cost extra for sub-tenants aka sub-portals aka as children?

A: Totally depends on the vendor, but there are many that there is NO COST for any of the sub-tenants aka children. You can have as many as you want. There are other vendors who will give say five for free, or the first child for free, then charge either as a bundle for the next set or per. I know of a vendor who gives 20 children for free, then charges thereafter.

Q: If we wanted to brand each child, with a different logo/skin, is there an additional fee?

A: For the majority the answer is no. However, there are vendors who charge a flat yearly fee for white-labeling when you go multi-tenant. Personally, I am against the “charge extra for white-label”.

Q: What about security and privacy, any difference or impact?

A: No. The same level of security and privacy you receive from the learning system itself, covers the children too.

Q: Does it take longer to implement when you go multi-tenant?

A: If you require the vendor to do customization beyond the usual skinning/branding and basics, then perhaps – plus it costs for that. But for the vast majority, there is no difference compared to the time it takes if you went with the learning system, without choosing to use the children (sub-tenants).

Q: I have content already, and we plan to purchase 3rd party to provide to our learners. Can we push this down into the sub-tenants/children if we want to?

A: Yes. The time to do so doesn’t take that long to do. And it is simple(for the majority of systems).

Q: Can we integrate our LXP with a multi-tenant learning system?

A: Yes. You can integrate an LXP, an SIS, HRIS, HCM, Payroll, SaaS Authoring tool, etc. to use with the multi-tenant.

Q: Does every learning system offer multi-tenant (with sub-tenant/portals/children)?

A: The majority do, however, not everyone does a great job at it. I find that many vendors do not understand the term multi-tenant from a learning/training experience, and instead think you are referring to multiple servers or tech stacks. Thus, saying parent-child or portal-sub-portal, may have to be used, if they can’t figure out the term. And yes, there are LXPs that are multi-tenant.

Q: Do you have any favorites, where you as doing an excellent job?

A: Yes. Absorb, D2L, Thought Industries, Eurekos, Schoox, Bridge, Cornerstone LMS. Gyrus Aim, Learn Amp, Fuse, OnPoint Learning and Performance System, Pluralsight, Docebo, LearnUpon, Biz Library, Access LMS, Knowledge Anywhere, The Brainer LMS, Skill Jar, Intellium, Valamis, SAP Litmos, Top Class, enabley, Meridian KSI, SmarterU, Learning Cart and Talent LMS.

You will notice that systems that are customer-education primary are on this list. They do accept employees (i.e. non customers) as clients, they are just heavily tilted on the CE side of clients. Still, I would recommend them. As for ZERO fees for additional tenants(children) and skinning – my favorites are Bridge, Eurkeos, D2L and Schoox.


Okay, you are eyeing the multi-tenant and are wondering to yourself is this going to cost more compared to the multiple systems I have. Assuming you are not using Moodle or another open source system OR you landed a deal where every user is 25 cents, then one system with a multi-tenant should be lower. I say should, because you can still pick the wrong vendor OR you need mass configuration, which is never free. In my experience though, one system with lots of children is still less expensive than multiple systems.

As for administrators, the need of having one for each system, can go bye-bye. If you have five systems, with five administrators, and you move to one system that does multi-tenant, you could easily drop two administrators at the minimum. Number of users will always drive the admin numbers and what is entailed.

Bottom Line

We love stuff.

We love it so much, that we purchase multiple systems, under the guise that you have to have one for this unit or this division or employees only versus customers or multiple institutions (under one main institution).

But what we are failing to realize is that this stuff, isn’t necessary, when one system with multi-tenant (aka multiple instances, sub-tenants, children, portals), can handle it all.

The decision is in your court.

Or for those who still believe multiple systems is a better route to go,

Your Storage Closet.

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