I remember the very first time. The first time that I saw myself appearing in ads in Mexico with some pretty spiffy bell bottom jeans, striped no less. Then there was the entire ensemble, shirt and jeans. I was only seven. A star in the making. Just as I remember those fond memories (okay, I don’t recall them, just remember seeing the ads when I was much older), I remember the day I said, there has to be more to this, when it came to seeing rankings of learning systems.
Top 10 is quite common (yes, I do one too, actually two – end of the year and beginning of the year). Top 20 – been there, done that. Years ago, I created lists internally, Top 50, Top 100, Top 250 – but never made them public, well, not until last year, when I published the Top 100 Learning Systems for 2021.
As for why are there is a second top awards, for the start and end of the year, is because a system can change or a system that isn’t known or hits my radar as “ooh, let me see”, may shows up later that year. Or it’s new.
The list represented systems around the world, in different industries/verticals, target audiences, implementation time frame, budget and minimum active user bases.
Learning Systems on this list are from (Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, France, Sweden, England, Scotland, Ireland, Nigeria, Ukraine, Spain, Australia, United States)
Takeaways to Remember
- There was no fees, no monies changing hands, nothing – I identified the Top 75, reached out to each of them, to let them know, and then requested additional information to be considered for the Top 10 (tada) for the end of 2022, and 2023.
- I couldn’t care less whom these vendors have as a clients. Not relevant. The vendors as a whole, not just the 75, will always show big names. Unless you ask are you exclusive which means “the only learning system” at the company, association, etc – the vendors won’t cover that, while showing you the clients. One time a vendor showed me a client, and I reached out to that client to see what they thought of the system. The client wasn’t a client of the system anymore. Surprise!
- Use Cases – Not relevant. Honestly, what you think as a “unique” user case, is highly likely to have been another a similar use case if not exactly with another client the vendor has. If you are seeking customer education/partner training, those systems hear the same use case over and over again – sure there are some minor twists, but the general use case does exist. Ditto for L&D. Ditto for associations – trade and professional. On top of that, a use case, is your use case, and thus, if you want to buy a learning system whose focus is employees, and you want to use it for customer education, the vendor won’t stop you. They may say, early on, that isn’t what the system is designed for, or may say we are not a fit, but that isn’t common. At the end of it, it is how you the Client uses the system, and not the other way around. You drive. They are just passengers.
- Specifically for L&D – Nope. There are systems in the list ideal for customer education/partner training (thus training), systems for employees (L&D and Training, often L&D more, but both can co-exist – albeit disliking each other, HR), systems for associations (usually slide under customer education/partner training, but again) and systems for other departments – marketing, sales, product, compliance. You could own a coffee shop, and what to provide training to your employees, that slides under employees (for whatever reason, people tend to think employees means corporate – office only).
- How long the vendor has been around. Not relevant. Some cutting edge systems in 2022, started to appear in the early 2000s, and there are some cutting edge systems that rolled out last year, or this year. Just as there are systems outdated and landing clients from 2022, 2021, 2020 and backwards. Never make an assumption that a newer system is better or more this or that, than say a vendor who has been around a decade. Vendors love to use this as a marketing spin, but it’s just spin.
- Where the vendor is located. Not relevant. This year’s list includes a vendor from Africa, and three from Denmark. I monitor over 1,400 learning systems in the world. I can’t see them all, and a percentage is EdTech, apprenticeship (yes they do exist), but I monitor and thus when it comes time, I will reach out.
- None of the vendors in this list or any under consideration for rankings, awards, have to be in FindAnLMS, my learning system directory featuring what I see as outstanding systems and brand new ones to hit the market – again, located around the world. There are vendors on this list, who are not in FindAnLMS.
- Capital raised. Not relevant. Vendors raise capital for many reasons, and there are plenty of vendors who never seek it. Plus there are vendors who raise a lot of capital, and go out of business within a few years, OR get acquired for peanuts on the dollar.
- Number of end users or clients. Relevant only of you are sliding downward. Makes great marketing and sales copy, but from an analysis standpoint – not really, I should say, if I find out you went from 200 to say 25 clients, okay, that’s relevant, otherwise, nope.
- Reviews on other sites – Not relevant. Did you know there are people who get paid to write positive reviews? Or that Amazon recommends you read 3-star reviews to get a more accurate perspective? Vendors love to publish high stars especially with G2, Software Advice and Capterra – all are owned by Gartner. Hey, that’s good for you, but reviews should not be your deciding nor play any role in your decision making process. How many times have you chosen a restaurant with great reviews, only to find it is horrible. Do you think to yourself, “you know, I shouldn’t rely on the reviews, because the last restaurant was equally awful.” Watch YELP Bully to see how Yelp works with those reviews and how they generally operate.
To be Considered in higher rankings, say Top 10, Top 20 for the end of 2022, and best for 2023 (which is posted in Jan 2023)
- I have categories for vertical/industry, target audience size, 5 to 999, 1,000 to 2,500, 2,500 to 5,000 and so on; Enterprise, Customer Education (the legacy term is extended enterprise), Association, and newcomer of the year (this is new for 2022). Every vendor in the top 75 is in consideration. Think of this as the pool; here are all the fish swimming in the pool. Not a lake, ever been in one? If it was Lake Mead, that sand may have some bones in it- I’m just saying. Who really knows?
- Each of the 75, – received a packet, which included a streamlined down template that will be used as a checklist to verify what they say they have – with what is actually in the system – because a demo is also required – and is covered in Oct/Nov time frame (for those vendors who are not in the usual box of learning systems, a demo with my own checklist – will suffice – i.e. they do not need to complete the template – example: Mentoring platform.
- I see a lot of systems, and many, regularly, but there are systems who will, uh, skirt around by saying we have this, and they have sort of shoved something like that as saying they have it. It’s hard to catch unless you have been in this space a long time, and see/know how some vendors work. On top of that, I have found that folks in product do not necessarily tell the folks who oversee sales what is in the entire system, especially new stuff rolling out, or has rolled out. This is common – especially on the latter – i.e. rolling out. Oh, and those RFPs you send out – you should ask the folks you blast it over to, whether they have the person who oversees product, review it. They should always review to verify. I once had a CEO, who showed a system to a potential client, and the CEO didn’t know what was in the system. Or the time, a vendor provided information and it turned out that some of it was wrong, and the CEO had to get involved. It’s never cut and dry.
- Each of the 75, were asked to complete a survey (whose results will be published, without the vendor’s names and as a per single data point for each question. Example: Do you sell t-shirts? 63% said yes. Uh, this isn’t a question, I made it up)
- Each of the 75 were asked a series of questions they have to complete – the questions are listed below (and yes, will play a role in deciding which of them crack the top 20 and 10)
They may not seem relevant to you, but to me, it tells an entire story – from the culture of the company, to whether they truly empower their employees, let alone use the system and other data items. A system may be an ideal fit for you, but you find out the culture doesn’t align to your company culture. Do you still buy?
- How does your company define teamwork and cooperation?
- How does your company define leadership?
- How does the company decide who internally could become a leader in your organization. What is the criteria? Is the criteria made public to all employees? If yes, how?
- Do your employees, access/use your learning system?
- Do you require/assign learning courses/content to them?
- What courses/content do you usually assign to your employees?
- Do you have any 3rd party (off-the-shelf) content on your system, to be accessed by your employees? If yes, who are the providers and what are the topics/categories?
- Referring to the above, which/what are the top three categories and course titles that employees access the most?
- Can your employees select their own skills/interests with your learning system?
- If yes, what are the top three skills that your employees want to learn more – or acquire specifically?
- Do you offer the content for them to achieve this?
- What social function/capability do your employees use the most in your learning system? (May not apply to everyone, i.e. say a skills-based measurement platform, and thus it doesn’t impact)
- What one feature/function that your learning system offers to your employees, they use the least?
- What one feature/function that your learning system offers to your employees, they use the most – i.e. what is the most popular?
A collective whole is what I am assessing here. Any vendor who skips this, or any of the questions, definitely would leave me to pause. Some vendors probably will say they can’t provide any of this information, but if you can’t say how you define leadership, then why should someone buy your system? Or that your employees do not use the system. I know of companies who make/sell a learning system, and not everyone in the entire company accesses it, only some departments. I think that would be useful for a buyer, don’t you?
What is some of the criteria?
I state “some” because it is a lengthy list, and will be covered more so, on August 16th. The criteria below may not be the criteria you use, and that’s okay. I am looking at it from two perspectives – a. Analyst – I want to know the nitty/gritty and my assessment of seeing the system and questions asked upon is based on 22 yrs of experience in online learning in multiple verticals/industries, size of companies, etc., and seeing so many out there, all the time. B. Buyer perspective – if I was to buy the system (and yes, I do represent folks looking to buy a system), I am going to be looking for certain items.
UI/UX – We often think modern as the crucial step here, and yes, I am checking that out, but the vendor may have updated UI in one area, and not another – it’s common, Or they are in the midst of an update (which thus requires them to show me wire-frames or screens or a beta). Or because of the size of the vendor, and their approach, may not align with modern, but it works for them. If you have a lot of money dedicated to product and another vendor doesn’t, why should the latter be penalized? I’m more intrigued by navigation, ease of use for the end user, and equally for the administrator. It should be logical, make sense – everyone loves to espouse the two clicks angle, I’ve seen many that are not as simple as they say.
Metrics/Analytics – Do they align to where someone, anyone could look at this data and have it tell them a story about how effective their learning/training is to an end-user? Can I look at it, and extract the gold or am I looking at worthless information – such as views. A view means nothing. It tells you nothing, from the success/failure or gaps you want to know about your learners. If you are a search engine, different story.
Design of the metrics – is it visually appealing or does it look like Excel? I see the latter often, even with upper tier, cost wise systems. Metrics always seems to be last area, vendors update and enhance UI wise, yet it is a crucial, should I say, extremely crucial component of a system. You, your administrator, maybe both – look at this data. If you are not looking at it, then you, as the person overseeing this entire e-learning program, should not be allowed near sharp objects.
Functionality that aligns to what type of system you are selling. Pretty simple and straightforward right? Yet, I see systems that lack anything from LXP capabilities (despite the vendor saying it exists in the platform), to features that your end user would find useful for their learning journey and knowledge transfer. Ditto on the admin side. A dashboard should be the first screen I see when I log in as an admin, with wordage that anyone, not just someone with a background in L&D or Training would be able to figure out.
Next tier feature sets – Are you forward thinking, a dullard, or waiting for a time warp to arrive? You want the former. Vendors love to say their system is “NexGen” or some other spin to show they are something magical like finding a secret decoder ring in a box of cereal. I often find, only cereal.
Training – It’s very relevant. If the vendor has a training department that is relevant, versus someone who has their salespeople only.
Support – I ask a few data points here. Sadly, the Customer Support Excellence Certification program has ended, but there are vendors who truly have great support, and plenty who do not. Yes, you can have a bad experience, and someone else has a great experience, but I’m looking at the whole pie here. And vendors keep data on the customer support/technical support. Always find out said data; it will make a huge difference.
Types of Learning Systems
If the vendor is a talent development platform or TXP (similar), and they have learning as a core component, they slide under a learning system. If the vendor is an HCM, whereas a module or multiple OR they have learning as a core/essential piece, then that module slides under a learning system. An HCM does not.
Skills-based system, learning platform, LMS, LXP, learning suite, skills-measurement, coaching, mentoring, and video-based are all sides under a learning system.
Remember I see learning system as the category, with different types underneath it. Like a TV is a category, there are different types like 4K, Plasma, LCD, OLED, 8K, big box one your grandparents won’t let go of, etc. I admit, I still have small color tv, with dials including UHF sitting in storage. Haven’t used it in 25 yrs, but it remains – because I saw Evel Knievel fail miserably at trying to jump snake river/canyon. Who let’s such a memory go away? Yes, he lived, probably broke only 50% of his bones – but it made for great television.
The 75 – What the word means in ( )
Who they target – (Combo) – Means that they go after employees and customers. Tend to skew more towards employees, but there are vendors whose latest data shows they have more clients using it for customer education than employees. Docebo is a combo, but are 40-60, with the 60% (at the time of seeing the data, from two months ago), customer education. If you see “Combo” and you are in L&D, Training, HR, Sales, Marketing, Product, the dog house – and want to use it for either employees, customers, or yes, both – you can.
Employee-focused – I constantly update the percentiles, but I place it at 85% employee-focused. L&D, HR would be the core audience here. But again, it could be training or the owner of a chain of coffee shops.
Customer Education Focused. 90% or higher – use the system for customer education/partner training. Associations slide under here (trade and professional). B2B/B2C too. If you are a training consultant, or consultant or instructor or whomever and you sell content to folks, then you slide here.
Combo, Employees, Customers. The majority of the market is “Combo.”
The List (Alphabetical Order)
- Absorb – (Combo) This includes all their products – the entire package.
- AcademyOcean (Combo) – First Learning System from Ukraine in the rankings
- Access LMS (Employees)
- Acorn LMS (Employees)
- Adaptive (Employees)
- Agylia (Combo) – From Civica
- Archipel Academy (Employees) – Not sure why they say “EdTech” when the system is corporate-focused.
- Area9 (Employees) – Adaptive learning platform
- Axonify (Employees) – First they were a gamified learning platform, then micro-learning and now – “Frontline” and “Mobile-First and Communications” – Not sure why they constantly re-message, solid system for learning. Fun fact – every learning system can accept micro-learning – and they could all the way back to 2000.
- Biz Library (BizSkills) (Employees) – First system to map all skills to the content – nice!
- BrainCert (Combo)
- Brainier (Combo)
- Bridge (Combo)
- Centrical (Combo)
- Chapter (Employees) – Includes LMS, LXP, Skills Library – And no, I do not know why their URL has the word “vitamins” in it. They don’t sell them. Learning – Yes. Vitamins? No.
- CoachHub (Employees) – Coaching Platform
- Continu (Combo, but skews more towards employees)
- Cornerstone LMS (Combo – but to me, this is heavily tilted to employees, especially since they refer to the entire Cornerstone System as an HCM) – They refer to it as CBX internally for sales purposes. #1 for Skills Management (feature sets) for 2021.
- CourseStage (Association) – Plays heavy in the association market, association-focused
- CrossKnowledge (Combo) – Skews heavy towards employees
- D2L (Combo) – Strong in the association space too. Expect to be cohort-based learning by end of 2023.
- Davton Learn (Employees) – First vendor in the rankings to come from Africa – Very cool!!!
- Degreed (Employees) – They push as an upskill platform, and that’s fair. Add the opportunities module, and now they are a TXP.
- Docebo (Combo) – Skews towards customer education. I included Docebo Learn, Discover, Coach and Share (Add-on to Learn), Docebo Connect, Docebo Learning Analytics in the analysis. I have seen all their modules, but these stood out.
- Eduson (Employees)
- eLB Rockstar Learning Platform (Combo) – Formally known as eLearning Brothers- This is for Rockstar Learning Platform.
- eloomi (Combo) – Skews employees
- enabley.io (Combo) Skews more toward employees
- eNet Enterprise – eCom Scotland (Employees)
- Eurekos (Customers) -In the Customer Education Bracket for 2022, they finished runner-up (i.e. #2), don’t let the web site be the factor, they are in the midst of a redo.
- Fuse (Combo) – Skews towards employees. Expect to see them fully cohort-based learning by end of 2023. #1 learning system for 2022 (the start).
- G-Cube (Combo) – Skews employees
- Growth Engineering (Combo) – Skews employees – this is for the Impact Suite
- GrowthSpace (Employees)
- GyrusAim (Combo) – Skews heavy toward employees
- Hive Learning (Employees) Refers to themselves as Peer learning. Pretty close to full cohort-based learning. Not there yet.
- IMC Learning Suite (Combo) Skews employees
- Intellum (Customers) – Has a minimum for active end-users, 4,500. If you are less than that, not the system for you.
- Jollydeck (Employees) – Different UI than you are likely to see, not for everyone.
- Juno Journey (Employees)
- Kallidus Learn (Employees)
- Knowledge Anywhere (Combo) – Quite robust, under the radar
- KREDO (Combo) – Skews heavy towards employees
- Lambda Solutions (Customers)
- LearnAmp (Employees) – Repeatedly Top five learning system, multiple years
- LearningCart (Customers)
- Learnster (Employees)
- LearnUpon (Combo) – Plays in association space too
- LMS365 (Employees) – If you are into SharePoint, the system is built upon that, but integrates into Teams and Microsoft 365 too.
- MATRIX LMS (Combo) – Skews employees
- MentorCloud (Employees) – Mentoring platform with learning pods, and many cohort-based feature sets. Newcomer of the year 2022.
- Myskillcamp (Employees)
- Netex Learning Cloud (Employees)
- NorthPass (Customers)
- NovoEd (Employees) – Cohort-based learning system – has a majority of the feature sets
- OnPoint Digital (Combo) – Skews towards employees, a vendor that strip down to the studs – which means fully customizable (not free, though)
- OpenLMS (Combo) – Skews employees
- PeopleFluent (Employees)
- Pluralsight (Employees) – 100% technical skills-based system. It’s tech skills all the time.
- Raven360 (Customers)
- SAP Litmos (Combo)
- Schoox (Employees) – Although if you don’t mind basic/extremely limited e-commerce, they could go customer ed too.
- Skilljar (Combo) – Skews customer education, however, they do not achieve 90% or more for customer ed clients
- Skills Base (Employees) – Skills measurement platform. Metrics driven.
- SmarterU (Combo)
- Spoke (Employees)
- Stream Learning Suite (Combo) – from LearningPool
- StudyTube (Employees)
- TalentLMS (Combo)
- Thinqi (Employees) – LXP, plays in EdTech too (actually a lot of corporate systems will accept EdTech clients)
- Thought Industries (Customers) – Best in Customer Education Bracket 2022, Customer Ed system of the year, 2021.
- Tovuti (Combo)
- Uqualio (Employees) – Video Learning Platform
- Valamis (Combo) – Skewing more towards employees, but they do have customer ed clients.
- WBT Systems (Associations) – From TopClass
Plus One more
- Training Orchestra – 100% training management system, which means heavy focus on training scheduling.
You may look at this list, and go where is my learning system Or I had this system on this list and I hated it. Again, I look at the systems in many different ways; thus, if your system isn’t on this list, there is always next year. And if a system on here is one you hated or caused problems, I understand; things happen. Despite vendors saying everyone loves their system, that isn’t the case. Some stay because they do not want to conduct another search OR they have a larger entity owning them, and they won’t let them change OR whatever.
I often hear, “well, so and so doesn’t have this or that system,” to which my retort is always, “I have no idea about their process, and every analyst has a different methodology and approach and analysis.” We are not robots here, although I suspect so and so maybe (and leave it at that).
Some vendors fail to realize that L&D isn’t the only game in town, which is why for training folks who provide internal too, you probably won’t see “Training”, but you will see “L&D”. There are vendors who say “Education” but focus only on corporate, sorry they are not the same thing. Nowadays, you are seeing learning technology, digital learning technology, and others with “technology” in their heading. Nice marketing spin, but every system is technology driven too.
When a vendor says “organization, ” many folks think “employees only, ” and the vendor might go after customers and employees. Some vendors still have no idea why WBT (known as e-learning today) was created. I can see it immediately when I start to ask a few questions. PXP – people experience platform is starting to appear – to which I ask why? Say talent development and move on. It is the same thng after all, and if I wanted your system for customer-ed, the moment I saw PXP that is employee driven anyway.
I know of one vendor who is adamant they are not an LMS. Fine, but why is it when I type in LMS in a search engine your name appears? Their response? “We use it for SEO purposes to get them on our site.” Sadly, I have found out that many vendors pull this maneuver, even though they heavily message anti-LMS or not an LMS.
This returns to the whole learning system umbrella term I use and types as sub-categories.
The reality is that systems that invest a lot in marketing will land way more customers than those that don’t. This industry is driven heavily by marketing. I’ve seen amazing systems nobody knows of because or poor or lack of marketing, and average systems who are marketing hitters.
Always do your due diligence. Don’t buy into the marketing hype.
Sometimes, the real gold isn’t visible.
Until you start to