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 SCORM meant for a long time.
In my defense, it isn’t readily apparent. For example, 360Learning started a Collaborative Learning movement, but we claim we are both an LMS and an LXP (a pretty good one, actually). And yet we also call ourselves a Learning Platform.
That’s quite a few different concepts to hold in your mind at once. If it were up to me, I would ditch all the acronyms and define us as a Learning Platform focused on Collaborative Learning. But you can’t avoid those fancy acronyms and corporate monikers: LMS, LEP, LXP, Talent Suite, and so on.
The key to understanding this rainbow of terms is to think of LMSs and LXPs not as software categories but as feature sets. Talent Suites and Learning Platforms, on the other hand, are categories of software.
This article attempts to clarify these various categories and highlight what I believe the future of eLearning will be.
Think of LMSs and LXPs not as software categories but as feature sets. Talent Suites and Learning Platforms, on the other hand, are categories of software.
Although both LMS and LXPs are often billed as stand-alone products, they are sets of features. Some companies only offer those features, while other companies include them alongside a wider array of offerings.
Here’s a look at what LMSs and LXPs do, and why you probably need both, and then some.
To understand what a learning management system (LMS) is, you need to understand SCORM. SCORM stands for Sharable Content Object Reference Model (super helpful, no?).
SCORM is a set of technical standards used to create LMS-compatible programs. It makes it possible to purchase a third-party course and use it on the platform of your choice.
SCORM training courses were initially designed for flash-based animations. Even though the rest of the world has moved on to HTML 5, Flash is still the standard for many SCORM courses because updating every SCORM course out there would be too costly. So most SCORM-based learning materials look a bit retro and lack much of the modern web functionality. You’re not going to see bookmarks, comments, collaboration, starred reviews, or versioning.
In 2020, a SCORM eLearning course still looks like what you see below. This is how most companies are doing digital learning:
As you can see, they look pretty clunky and old-fashioned. Probably not something you want to train your people with, at least not if you expect completion rates above 20%.
To host these SCORM courses where your employees can view them, you’ll need an LMS. An LMS lets you host courses, manage users, and, most importantly, implement your business rules (manager approvals, course registrations, compliance certification management, etc.).
They can also help you orchestrate and automate some aspects of your face-to-face training: organize room calendars; manage physical assets from a video projector to a specific machine you need to book for the training; send invites to trainers; and handle learner registrations and business rules, like maximum attendance seats.
The major problem with LMSs is that they aren’t engaging for employees to use. They cater to L&D departments, not learners. So while they offer excellent back-end features, they are pretty lackluster on the front end.
The Learning Experience Platform, or LXP, evolved in response to the problem 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 more comfortable to use; many in the past few years have opted for a Netflix style interface, with easily accessible, browsable content portions.
LXPs let you integrate and display content from an LMS. You can subscribe to content providers like Coursera, Udemy, or HarvardX and show their courses to your employees using the LXP as a front end. Many also offer AI-based recommendations, similar to how Amazon uses AI to make product suggestions. The idea is that AI can help employees further their skills and their career.
Let me digress briefly on this idea. To make relevant recommendations, Amazon leverages data from Facebook, Google, and other tech giants. It knows your interests and your friend’s interests. It also knows where you’ve been, what you’re looking at online, and what you’re talking about with your friends.
A corporate LXP does not have this kind of information, nor should it. Remember, data is the consumer internet gold, but the corporate software tools aren’t allowed to use it because then it’s not gold—it’s more like dynamite. You don’t want to fuel more third-party companies with your employees’ data.
I could build you a breathtaking piece of AI. But to do it, I would need unlimited access to your employee’s information, their calendars, performance reviews, and geolocation data, along with business presentations, CRM data and more. My AI would recommend the right course to every person at precisely the right time. But it would be pretty creepy and invasive.
Without that, your LXP will not have an Amazon-like level of accuracy. Instead, with minimal data to go on, it will mostly recommend the same content to everyone with the same job title. Unless, that is, you have a silver bullet, like 360Learning does with our Collaborative Learning DNA. But that’s for another article to explore.
Again, LXP is not a category; it’s a set of features: content discovery, skills indexing, content paths, and recommendations. But Talent Suites and Learning Platforms are software categories, and we're going to look at them now.
In contrast to the feature sets above, Talent Suites and Learning Platforms are two categories of employee development software. They may include LMS and LXP feature sets, but that is only part of what they offer companies.
Let’s look at how Josh Bersin describes the popular Talent Suite, Degreed:
Degreed claims to offer learning experience (LXP), skill analytics, and career mobility. They’re offering a hat trick of features with the aim of performing a reskilling magic trick.
Now, let’s look at Cornerstone. They also offer LXP, skill analytics, and career mobility features. Like Degreed, they want to address the pain point of “reskilling” your workforce. They have been attacking this angle for over a decade, and they have 12 products across an HR stack to help achieve this.
So this market pain point is nothing new. As Josh Bersin points out, it’s been there for nearly 20 years. Degreed, Cornerstone, Workday, SAP SuccessFactors, Oracle, and others have developed very similar feature sets to tackle this issue. LXPs are just one component of their suite of tools.
These companies make up the Talent Suite category, and most of them contain an LMS and an LXP, along with skill analytics, talent marketplace, and succession planning tools.
Lastly, we have Learning Platforms, which include Docebo, Absorb, LearnUp, Lessonly, and 360Learning.
These Learning Platforms are “point solutions.” Each one covers a different variety of use cases.
For example, 360Learning has use cases for Sales Enablement, Partner Training, Onboarding, Customer Training, Mobile-First Field Training in retail and manufacturing, and several other use cases aimed at developing corporate culture and growth. Each platform also serves specific customer profiles: some target sales teams, others small teams inside organizations, and others target very large organizations.
Each also serves a specific type of customers for which they are specifically built for: while some target sales teams, other target small teams inside big organizations, and others target full scope in quite large organizations.
Learning Platforms typically have a built-in authoring tool that allows you to create content in-house without specialized training.
At 360Learning, our goal is to let enablement teams make and ship courses as fast as possible without having to mess around with SCORM compliance.
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 a 3rd party LXP like Coursera or Linkedin Learning. They can customize this content by adding it to custom-built in-house courses.
Learning Platforms typically have both an LMS and LXP feature set. They don’t necessarily encompass all the features found in a Talent Suite, like hiring or career mobility. Still, it’s possible to integrate the two for the best of both worlds.
If you’ve made it this far, you may have more questions than answers: Which of these things do I need? What is complementary to what? Should I pick two vendors? Is it normal if I decided on three? Just tell me what to buy!
Now we’re getting real.
Let’s state upfront that as the CEO of 360Learning, I’m not exactly unbiased. Still, here is my advice:
Talent Suites compete with each other. Pick one. Not many. If, for legacy reasons, you are running two, it’s possible. But it’s probably a situation you want to get out of sooner rather than later.
Learning Platforms compete with each other, too. Same as above. Pick one.
If you’re a company with more than 30,000 employees, you need one of each: a Talent Suite to manage skills across all HR touchpoints, and a Learning Platform to enable performance, drive your company culture, and have a platform for regular training. Pick a Talent Suite, and integrate 360Learning to it! ;-)
If you have fewer than 30k employees, you may not need a Talent Suite just yet, but you need a Learning Platform.
Start using 360Learning today; and we'll help you pick the best Talent Suite to integrate 360Learning with when you're ready. Enjoy the fun of Collaborative Learning, and get ready for the future of work.
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