Learning System Awards #11 to #20 (2023)

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Let the sunshine in. Let the sunshine in. Oh, let it in, fa, la, la. I bet that is the first time you have seen a mashup between music from Hair (great musical, bad movie) and a holiday tune. It’s a perfect segue into the 2023, Learning System Awards.

Why announce the winners in December for the following year? Initially, I was going to present the systems that took off after mid-year, and list them, but I realized the same list would then appear for 2023.

I went with a different angle to reduce replication because time is so valuable these days. I’m all about change, and I do not need to read “Who Moved my Cheese” to show me. Speaking of which, does anyone read that anymore? Change is fun. And if you are someone who just can’t get over an announcement in late December for the following year, then clearly you haven’t read any car publication, which always announce the new cars for 2023, in the summer.

What about the Top 10 for 2023?

Next week’s post my dear friend. Of course, this sentence will be updated, when the top 10 rolls out, since not everyone will be reading this, at uh, this week.

Are those about to be announced aware they won?

No. Well, one is aware because I announced it via LinkedIn, but everyone else? Nope. That’s the beauty of these rankings, it’s like the secret Santa that your company loves to spring on you, and then they say “no more than $10 gift”, which you follow, but some of your fellow office workers go higher than that. And you sit there afterward thinking, I should have done that until someone picks your gift, the Dolly Parton Sing-A-Long CD. Then you snicker (quietly to yourself, otherwise, they will know it was you).

The Criteria

Below is the crib notes version. If you want the longer version, you can review past criteria, mash it up, and extract key details. After all, most folks just want to get to the award winners, and will glance at this, will others, will eyeball it to such an extent, you would think they were trying to decipher the Voynich Manuscript.

Questions – Each learning system vendor was asked a series of questions. Based on their responses, points were awarded. These questions/responses will be available at the end of next week via the Learning Library.

  • UI/UX Learner and Admin side. I recognize that not everyone – i.e. vendor has the funds to invest heavily into the UI/UX, and thus I put that into context when reviewing a system. That said, those who push the narrative of generating a lot of funds, or raising capital, should be expected to have a better UI/UX, than something I have seen in 1997. For example, I saw Workramp the other day, and despite them having a lot of clients, they lacked any social (besides a discussion board), any machine learning, and the front end was dated, badly. Their next version will now include event management (with functionality, that many systems had going back 15 years). The back end, woof. This is a company that has raised quite a bit of funding (40M USD alone, Series C in March 2022), which proves that you a)never know what someone is considering when buying a system, and b) the industry continues to get a lot of funding. Needless to say, they are not in the rankings.
  • Functionality that aligns to “standards that exist for more than a decade”, NexGen (ideally Tier 4, but Tier 3 and Tier 2, scores some points; clearly 3 and 4 score more), Skill capabilities (understanding the industry as a whole is still in infant stage, and if a system is heavily focused on the customer ed/partner training space, their skill capabilities will be lower than a vendor who focuses heavily on employees – or at least it should. That said, if your system lacks skill ratings, you are way behind the curve. It is becoming quite common – now, being great at it, and being poor at it, is common too.
  • Functionality on the Admin side. This should be a no-brainer and yet time after time, the admin side is an afterthought. If you have drag and drop, you score higher. If you allow the admin to set various rules especially if you are in the customer ed side, with the sub-portals, then you score higher; on the employee side, rules is quite common – but how many rules can you set, what rule options are there and so forth impacts scoring. Can you allow so that each learner can change their learner home page, via widgets they can pick from, or drag and drop – score more. If you – the admin can change each home page, but via a group aspect, or subset of learners, adding widgets/blocks to it, but the learner themselves doesn’t have full control – you still score more points, than just a static page or limited changes, but you do not score as high as the true level of personalized that so many vendors love to espouse.
  • Metrics – This is always big for me. Your metrics, should tell the story of learning. How many licenses or seats you have on the main metrics page, means nothing. That should be in settings or uh, in your brain. Views? Means what exactly? What is the context here? It is views plus where the learner went into, plus how long and how many times OR is it just views – which only means they viewed it – doesn’t mean they looked at everything. Way too many metrics focus on completed or assigned angle, even with some customer ed platforms – which in this case, makes no sense. If your whole focus is on completion due to assigned, you need to re-think why you purchased system X, and push the narrative that it is learner-focused, because it’s not. Yet, systems have this – and some, it is the main metric. What I am seeing more and more, are vendors whose out of the box metrics stink – and I stress that, not from a camembert standpoint, but from the lack of really telling you what is relevant. The better metrics? It’s an add-on, i.e. you pay for it. The reason, they do that? Besides generating revenue, the favorite line is “not every client wants this, or needs it” OR “only large enterprises need it”. Okay, in that case, the next time you buy a car, tell the dealer you don’t want all those new features, because not everyone wants it. Then go across the street to the used car lot and buy a Pinto. Data visualization plays an important role here – not for buying a Pinto, for the metrics. Why do I keep seeing Excel appearing Pie Charts or graphs? I see this in pricey systems, systems where the vendor has a lot of sales, generates healthy profit, etc. There are systems in these rankings, top 10 included, that still go this path. The higher end (add-on metrics)? Not seeing it there.
  • Add-ons – I cannot stand this. I can see if it is a performance component (some vendors are trying to do a combo learn and performance), or a connect offering (API to APIs, think Workato as a perfect example of what I am talking about). Other than that? Why? Here is the take vendors love to say, 1. Clients tell us they do not need it, now or at the current time. Okay, what about six months from now? Or when they read about it, and say, “I want that” or fail to recognize that then you buy a system, you should think three years from now, where and what do you want? 2. Clients are not told, or do not know, that you can turn off most of these add-ons (because they are in your system anyway). 3. The person who buys the system, wins the Lotto and leaves OR goes somewhere else, and that system doesn’t align to their vision. This always goes over well. If our system has a lot of add-ons , you lose points. If it is a couple, you lose less. Sorry, Charlie Tuna, but at some point, it is this vendor’s responsibility to lead here, not follow. Oh that, price reason? Trust me; they can generate that elsewhere. Pricing is arbitrary in the industry.
  • 3rd party content/course marketplace – If you have it, you score more points. The more providers, which thus means more selection, the more points. Always remember that the content isn’t free; you, as the client, pay for it and then give it to your learners. Some systems give free content – usually, they create the stuff themselves.
  • Training and Support. I have talked quite a bit about this. But support is the number one reason people hate/leave their system. And over and over again, folks looking to buy a system never ask support questions or seek data – which the vendor has around their support metrics.
  • Reports – I’m tired of the “well, they download it to slice and dice it” – hey, how about they see it on the screen with ad-hoc filters, and then they can download if they want – via a PDF, .XLSX and .XLS, .CSV.
  • Mobile – Let me be clear here. I am, and you should be tired of hearing mobile first. It is worthless. It sounds excellent marketing-wise but means nothing reality-wise. Ditto on mobile responsive. All that means is you can see it on a mobile device – Yipee! Do they have a mobile app with on/off synch? They score more points. Can they white-label it? (this is always fee-based, and it should be), more points. Do they, at least, offer SDK files and others so that someone can build their own? Scores some points. What features can someone do – learner-wise, in the app?
  • Content curation – Can the end-user pull down free content tied to whatever tags they add or seek? What can they do in “content curation”? Can they upload their own content, user-generated? Can they share it?
  • Miscellaneous – Everything I didn’t include in the above, but list/consider in my template.

Last tidbits

  • How many clients they have is irrelevant to me. Now, if they are losing them, at a rate that shouldn’t exist, okay, I’m concerned. As to who the client is? Means nothing. Vendors love to show off the big names or names of their clients. Next time they do that, ask them are you “exclusive” to that client – which means you are the only system there AND if they say no, ask them what department/division/LOB – line of business, they are in. If they say, we will get back to you, expect the probability of that, being very low. And this should tell be a red warning for you.
  • They did not pay a fee to be in here, nor was their any application fee, or any fees whatsoever.
  • They did not have to be in FindAnLMS.com to be in consideration. The goal of FAL is to have the best systems, the nextgen systems and the systems that are up and coming, and we continue to do that, but it is never a requirement. In fact, in the Top 10, a vendor isn’t in the system.
  • Their “reported” sales numbers. While I would love to actually see their books, the numbers or range they offer (and most refuse to disclose), isn’t a factor for me. As a whole, I can ascertain who is making what, just by their pricing, and what I know of them. Plus, as an analyst, studying the market, you can extract key data points. NPS score? Who cares. I’ve never met anyone looking to buy a system, who says “I am buying this system, because they have a high NPS score!” – plus, vendors love to announce their promoters, but when you try to find out their passives and detractors – they never tell you.

The Rankings

This is the moment you have been waiting for. Every vendor will have at least a line or two of insight. If the vendor is in FindanLMS.com it is noted as FAL. If the vendor focuses on employees and customers, it is noted as “Combo”. If they heavily focus on employees (at least 80%) – noted as “employees”. If they heavily focus on “customer education/partner training, B2B/B2C, even associations would slide here) – noted as “CE”. The majority of the industry is Combo.

This is in order. If you feel your system should be in there or disagree. I understand and respect your perspective. This is mine. Finally, every analyst uses a different methodology and calculations. Thus my rankings are unlikely to be the same as X analyst or Y analyst.

11. Brainier – (Combo) (FAL) An affordable learning system that packs a lot of punch. The UI/UX is very slick. Big wins include – Ability to capture external training (non-company specific) data (for vILT and/or ILT), Video text transcript – 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 connect/integrate with Google Workplace, Video streaming, Administration/Manager scored 100% (based on my template), QR codes which can be attached to any piece of content, learning objects – so the learner can scan it, and it takes them right to that piece of content (this is not common), perfect score in learning environment for skills, machine learning with skills, and skills taxonomies (you can check out this via my template – HERE). They do quite well with skill ratings. Multi-tenant, can do nearly all except custom domains – but custom domains really means your own URL, without the vendor’s name; the majority of vendors include their name, and call it a custom domain. Brainier can do the latter, but at least they made it clear, from the true meaning of a custom domain (which is the actual approach), they can’t. I respect that.

12. Valamis (Combo) (FAL) – The days of them being heavy focused on customer education are gone, which I surmised would occur once they made that acquisition of the employee-focused solution. Now, they are combo, with a strong focus on the L&D side, but still enough for customer-education. The UI/UX is super slick. Learning Environment is quite good. Administration is strong. Will be adding the Bongo (outstanding solution – a high recommend BTW) in 2023. Continues to be a power system.

13. Uqualio (Combo) (FAL) – They have been around for a few years, but really caught my eye this year. A video learning platform that just blasts it out of the park. I have to admit, that what I saw just made me go “wow, wow, wow”. Thus they win “NextGen System of the Year”, . The marketing on the site, especially the home page, doesn’t do the system justice – it definitely needs tweaks. I have to show via video – this ability the system can do with micro-learning content and the splicing angle, because words cannot alone show it – Content Editor – “Creating A Course, watch the video that is in uh, this video”. Screenshot learner view

14. Bridge (Combo) (FAL) – The majority of their business is employees, but they have around 25% customer education. The irony here, is that the system has a lot of cool functionality for the customer education side. The admin side is easy to use yet solid. The learner side, is good too. The one thing, that I am not a fan of, is that to use the customer ed – for e-commerce, you need to have a Shopify account. Bridge does include middleware to help. The solution, formally known as Instilled is in the platform. The downer? It’s an additional cost. Ditto with the LRS, and the authoring tool, even though the same company that owns Bridge owns Watershed (LRS) and Gomo (authoring tool). Hence, the logic behind that strategy makes no sense. I’m a big fan of Instilled. The system has way too many add-ons.

14. Schoox – Yep, a tie with Bridge. (Employee) (FAL) – Schoox is a talent development platform (strong amount of learning tied to talent development – skills, opportunities, job roles, etc., you must have the majority be around learning – I will be posting specifics in the Learning Library – later this week) that is extremely robust. The biggest knock has been the UI/UX for me, and it continues IMO to be a challenge. Nevertheless, they are rolling out a new UI/UX with even the “dark theme” option, like you see nowadays, but it isn’t expected until late Q4 2023, early Q1 2024. I’ve always been a big fan of Schoox, but they dropped in the ratings this year, due to that UI/UX and some functionality. Skills is strong here. They offer multi-tenant, so you could do customer education BTW, (they lack e-commerce), and they include white-labeling and as many tenants as you want (at no charge).

More Ties – This means the point totals were the same. (thus, 15, 16, 17, 19 – have more than one vendor)

15. Acorn LMS (Combo) (FAL) – Big wins – SMS notifications – Holy Mackerel – how many vendors offer this without an integration? Not many. With Acorn, your SMS notifications (this means Text notifications via your mobile device) are self-registration/onboarding, enrollments, and MFA. Dedicated MS Teams app, external training capture (vILT, ILT), multi-tenants, can do it all, again, their custom domains are with their name in it, and the ability to connect/integrate with Google Workplace. Skills are better than most. 100% for skill capabilities for my administration section (on my template). They skew more toward L&D, but they are a combo.

15. LearnUpon (Combo) (FAL) – What can you say that hasn’t been said? The UI/UX is slick. Functionality wise, they do quite well. Another vendor who can capture external training (non-company specific) data (for vILT and/or ILT) – I want to stress this is a new capability for many vendors, but it is not in the majority, hence a win; they can track CEUs/CPDs – again you may say, “this is in the majority” – ha, some say it can be, but to the level, LearnUpon can, not “majority”. You can also integrate with Google Suite – now known as Google Workspace, which is a plus. Affordable system. They play well in the association space, and especially in the small business space.

16. TopClass (Associations) (FAL) – A super strong player in the association space, far better than Crowd Wisdom (for folks who buy the community brands association management platform and think CrowdWisdom is the way to go – it’s not). CEUs/CPDs is essential in an association system, and they have it. Another capture of external training, again a requirement for the association market. Skill capabilities are very low at present, however, skill functionality – quite a bit actually will roll out in 2023, and since these rankings are for 2023, you get the picture.

16. Knowledge Anywhere (Combo) (FAL) – UI/UX is quite good. On the administration side, nearly 100% – they lack the ability for the administrator to assign multiple roles – I do hope they add this in 2023. Analytics (again, using my template 100%), strong in the multi-tenant angle. You are not buying this system for skills because it is poor, hence the lower ranking, but still deserving of the Top 20. There is a lot to like here.

17. MATRIX (Combo) (FAL) – Very slick UI/UX, easy to navigate. It has mobile apps for iOS and Android, but only on/off synch for iOS, which, since Android has about 70% market share, is odd, to not have on/off synch. Administration has a lot but lacks the administrator to assign multiple roles. Has some features of cohort-based learning – more than the overwhelming majority. Customer education/partner training capabilities are outstanding. It has all the skill taxonomies features in my template, ditto on the learning environment for skills. Otherwise, still in the early stages.

17. Gyrus(Employee) (FAL) – Not the most affordable system in the industry, nor the most expensive, but it heavily targets Large Enterprise (you can see how I define that – HERE). Very rich system, UI/UX is solid, and functionality overall is strong. Skills are average in the industry (better than most).

18. AccessLMS (Employee) (FAL) – This is a system if you want compliance strength. The UI/UX is okay, but the capabilities around compliance, especially for those in regulatory are elite. They have an excellent mobile app with lots of options, a win. Their quiz – a game-like thing, is the best I’ve seen. Built-in authoring tool far better than most in the space.

19. SmarterU (Combo) (FAL) – Skews employees, with various of features including some performance components, yet still has features for the association, thus B2B side. It continues to get better every year. UI/UX is great, I love the ease of use and navigation. Administration and Manager scored 100% (with my template). Skills drops them, because there aren’t that many capabilities. A vendor to watch in 2023.

19. NetEx Learning Cloud (Employees) (FAL) – They slide in here, because a)UI/UX is slick and extremely different from the usual “look,” b) it is ideal for small business, and c) potential. They have a lot of functionality rolling out in 2023. When I consider systems, I do breakdown who their target market size is, because it isn’t fair to compare a vendor who zeroes in on 900 or less versus someone who focuses on 10,000 or more. That said, there are systems that rock in small businesses and could easily knock off some of the large focused enterprise systems. NetEx does have a mobile app for iOS and Android and plenty of feature sets that people will like. Easy to use. Very affordable.

20. Learnster – (Employees) (FAL) – UI/UX is slick on the learner side. Easy to navigate on the admin side. They are another vendor that can capture external training (non-company specific) data (for vILT and/or ILT). They have quite a few features coming in 2023. Mobile is better than most. You are not buying them for skills, which is the reason for the drop. A system with potential.

Bottom Line

You can find my template here (RFI/RFP NEW Template is the title) – Please note that some items in the awards sheet are not in the version you see, but the majority are.

On the 21st, the Top 10 will be officially announced. You can get a few hints if you follow me on LinkedIn, as I will be slowly dripping them out. Already #6 (a tie) has been published.

The award analysis was based on 1,000 systems, around the world. I scaled that down to 500, then 250, then 75 – which is listed BTW, on this blog. Open-source systems were removed early on, same with vendors who heavily focused on EdTech, but have gone into Corporate. Systems that use WordPress were eliminated early on. Two vendors – Skills-Base and KREDO, just missed the rankings barely, one point separated Skills-Base from #20, and KREDO was two points. Others that just missed the cutoff included G-Cube, LearningCart, TalentLMS, and IMC Learning Suite. Each of the systems is worth your time to explore, especially Skills-Base, which is all about skill metrics – you are not buying them for anything else.

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