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LMS, LXP, Talent Suite, Learning Platform…these learning software acronyms are hell.
After I founded 360Learning in 2013, I spent two years immersed in the learning market. I ran the company, pitched two separate funding rounds, signed 100 customers, and still, struggled to understand what acronyms like LMS and LXP meant.
And based on feedback from clients and stakeholders, I’m not the only one. It turns out a lot of people are confused.
To be fair, the distinction between software categories isn’t always readily apparent. For example, 360Learning started a collaborative learning movement, but we claim to be both an LMS and an LXP (a pretty good one, actually). We also boast our collaborative learning Academies. And yet, we call ourselves a learning platform.
That’s quite a few different concepts to hold in your mind at once. The easiest thing would be to ditch all these acronyms and just define ourselves as the learning platform to upskill from within. But these days, we can’t avoid those fancy acronyms and corporate monikers: LMS, LXP, Academy, Talent Suite, and so on—even if we’re recognized as a leader in every Learning at Work category.
The key to understanding this rainbow of different terms is to think of LMSs, LXPs, and Academies not as software categories, but as feature sets. Talent Suites and Learning Platforms, on the other hand, are categories of software which companies fall into. Once you make that distinction, everything becomes clearer.
The key to understanding this rainbow of different terms is to think of LMSs, LXPs, and Academies not as software categories, but as feature sets. Talent Suites and Learning Platforms, on the other hand, are categories of software which companies fall into.
In this article, I'll clarify these various categories and highlight our vision for the future of eLearning: upskilling from within.
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Although the LMS and LXP categories are often billed as stand-alone products, in reality, they are best understood as sets of features. Some companies only offer these features, while other companies include them alongside a wider array of capabilities.
Here’s a look at what LMSs and LXPs do, and why you probably need both—and then some.
With a Learning Management System (LMS), you can optimize and reduce the L&D busywork through automation. You can streamline compliance training, optimize live training, automate user management, and efficiently monitor and report on all of your learning activities including with your very own custom dashboards. Bottom line: Your LMS should be working for you and putting time back in your day.
An LMS can help you orchestrate and automate your compliance training by:
An LMS can also help you automate parts of your face-to-face training by:
But there’s a major limitation with an LMS. They aren’t engaging for employees to use. They cater to L&D departments, not to learners. And by themselves, they’re not going to upskill your entire workforce. To successfully do this, you need more.
That’s where the LXP feature set and Academies come in. (More on the power of Academies later!)
The Learning Experience Platform, or LXP, evolved in response to the limitation described above: LMSs are made for admins, not users. Despite the name, LXPs focus not on the learning experience, but on the content delivery experience. They are much more attractive, and are more comfortable for learners to use.
LXPs are especially helpful for:
When speaking about LXPs, you’ll often hear about how they have the power of reskilling and upskilling your workforce. It’s true, they play a major role in this. LXPs can help companies manage career paths to fuel their workforce, accelerate career paths and make them more efficient.
But I believe most LXPs often fall short of this ambition. They don’t really empower learners to model their career paths, tag each job within these career paths with the right skills, or elect their own career paths (with input from their managers, of course). They also don’t actively shape training recommendations to each employee to help them move on to their next internal job. Instead, they only create recommendations based on users with similar attributes, which aligns much less with your organizational goals, and tends to recommend the same course to everyone in a team–even when people actually have different aspirations.
The best LXPs work on the basis that upskilling starts before the learning even begins. Companies need to align their training paths with career paths and their company’s future needs. From there, they need to map their peoples’ skills and identify knowledge gaps that prevent growth. Sounds exhausting and spreadsheet-heavy, right? Not with the right LXP.
The best LXPs work on the basis that upskilling starts before the learning even begins. Companies need to align their training paths with career paths and their company’s future needs.
The best LXPs differentiate themselves not just by offering endless generated recommendations based on similarities in learner role or background, but by leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to address specific business skill gaps and using skills mapping to suggest the right growth opportunities to employees. The goal here is to foster internal mobility by aggressively training people not just based on similarities, but with the goal to move them up their elected career path, based on identified skill gaps.
But is this really enough to upskill your entire workforce?
While LXPs can help you leverage AI to identify the skills you need in your business, they have a few limitations when it comes to acting on those skills gaps you’ve identified. Similarly to an LMS, LXPs can’t upskill your workforce by themselves because they simply can’t provide all the tools you need.
The learning experiences driving real improvements to performance and filling strategic skills gaps are built by internal experts, in collaboration with their peers. LXPs can help you collate deep and comprehensive off-the-shelf learning libraries, but without internal experts powering your libraries, you won’t be able to upskill employees in the context of what your organization needs them to increase their performance within their roles. So, what do you need to do this? You need Academies.
At 360Learning, we’ve realized that skills taxonomies and intelligent AI-based skills systems can only get you so far. To foster internal mobility and upskill your workforce, you need collaborative, cohort-based learning to develop new skills. You need human connection: experience, coaching, and feedback from your peers. That’s why we introduced Academies.
A familiar experience for an L&D manager is to be flooded and overwhelmed by incoming requests from business leaders: I need a new sales academy, a new engineering academy, a new managers academy, etc. Or sometimes, because they are launching the new product X, they want L&D to launch the Academy of X. L&Ds become the bottleneck as setting up and launching such an academy takes months of work. And they only have one option: saying no.
Josh Bersin often refers to the term “Capability Academy.” He describes them as “rather than building a course catalog or a “University” of training, a Capability Academy is a place where people can go to advance the business capabilities they need to thrive.” The two best examples he highlights are Sales Academies and Leadership Academies.
But I believe Academies can be dedicated learning centers for any functional or topical area. They are sponsored by business leaders, not L&D leaders, and these senior figures decide what capabilities–the proprietary combination of skills, knowledge, and experiences employees need to succeed within their company–are most important. Yes, you read that right: your internal subject-matter experts lead your Academies.
So, why should you invest in Academies?
Yes, you read that right: your internal subject-matter experts lead your Academies.
Instead of relying on vast libraries of generic content, Academies focus on building real business capabilities in a scalable and transparent way. But more importantly, they drive employee performance through iteration and peer learning.
While the idea of peer learning is not new, collaborative learning experiences have never been so important for organizations. Why? It’s because today, leadership teams need to know what skills they need right now, what skills they’ll need in one year and in two years. They’ll even need to predict what skills they’ll need for jobs that don’t exist yet. This makes it inherently difficult to map out and plan skills. But if we can focus on capturing and sharing collective internal expertise, we can help our teams upskill from within and stay ahead of the competition.
Here’s the breakdown of Academies and how invaluable they are to L&D leaders who are serious about upskilling:
So, now we understand why we need Academies, how can we roll them out in our organizations? We need Talent Suites and Learning Platforms—and we’re going to look at them now.
In contrast to the feature sets I described in the previous sections, Talent Suites and Learning Platforms are two categories of employee development software.
These categories may include LMS, LXP, and Academies feature sets, but that’s only part of what they have to offer companies and other learning organizations.
Talent Suites typically serve an organization’s need to attract, develop, and reward its workforce. The broad use cases for Talent Suites are attracting and retaining talent, developing workforces, and pay-for-performance compensation.
Companies that fall under the Talent Suite category may contain an LMS and an LXP, along with skill analytics, talent marketplace, and succession planning modules. But what these Talent Suites lack is the ability to properly upskill your learners. They’ll teach you where the gaps are, but they don’t provide space for learners to truly upskill.
Talent suites are great options for companies who are looking to hire external candidates, get them onboarded quickly, view skills within their organization, and effectively compensate their employees based on performance.
Now, let’s take a look at Learning Platforms.
For our last stop on this tour, we have Learning Platforms. These Learning Platforms are ‘point solutions,’ which means each one covers a variety of use cases.
For example, 360Learning has use cases for Sales Enablement, Partner and Customer Training, Onboarding, Mobile-First Field Training in retail and manufacturing, and several other cases aimed at developing corporate culture and growth. Each platform also serves specific customer profiles: some target sales teams, others target small teams inside organizations, and others target very large organizations.
Learning Platforms typically have a built-in authoring tool that allows you—and your internal subject-matter experts—to create training in-house without technical training.
Learning Platforms can also have both an LMS and LXP feature set but most are missing the ability to create collaborative learning Academies. They don’t necessarily encompass all the features found in a Talent Suite, like hiring or employee performance management. Still, it’s possible to integrate the two for the best of both worlds.
At 360Learning, our goal is to enable companies to upskill from within by turning experts into champions for employee, customer, and partner growth.
We focus on collaboration: team members can work together to co-author courses. We also let L&D teams quickly build programs by curating courses from leading content providers, such as Coursera or LinkedIn Learning. This way, they can tailor this content by adding it to custom-built in-house courses.
Our collaborative learning Academies are also the home for learning communities. You can curate learning programs and invite your learner communities and sub-communities.
So, after all that, what’s your best option? Which platform(s) will best support your teams to learn and grow together?
If you’ve made it this far, you may still have more questions than answers. And that’s okay–distinguishing between all these categories and functions can be tricky.
Let’s state upfront that as the CEO of 360Learning, I’m not exactly unbiased. Still, here is my advice:
You need to consider what your goals are and align them with a platform that will help you achieve them. For example, if you have big ambitious upskilling goals for your company, a comprehensive learning platform may be your best bet. If your strategy requires you to hire new external employees, a Talent Suite may be a better solution for your business.
Once you understand your goals, I recommend shortlisting 2-4 different vendors (any more will be information overload!). Make sure you get a demo of the software—or even better, look for a free trial to get a feel for the platform.
And remember, no matter what we might call these different Learning Platforms, we’re all chasing the same ultimate goal: a better way to drive their culture and grow together!
I hope this article has helped you make sense of what can sometimes be a confusing set of learning solutions. For more information, take a look at how we make upskilling from within through collaborative learning a reality. And if you’re ready to get started, you can start using 360Learning today.
12-minute video tour of the platform
Overview of the UX for learners, authors, and admins
Inside look at collaborative learning in action