Expect 2 C in Learning Systems 2021

Expect 2 C in Learning Systems 2021

Some of you are thinking, why is he using “2” and “C” as the title of the piece?  Well, why not?  I mean, when you consider that “communities” in learning systems are roaring back (although in all honesty, they never left), as though it is some whiz and wow thing, having a “2” to represent “two” and “C” to represent “see” isn’t so outrageous is it?  

Now, knowing that Bananas Foster in dairy-free ice cream is an actual flavor you can buy at the grocery store, when such flavors as Rocky Road dairy-free is not, now that it is outrageous.  I demand an investigation.

COVID and Learning Systems

One would think that learning systems as a whole, would recognize the vast implications that the virus is having on the entire corporate market.  Sure, they realize the whole “remote workforce” to a whole new level of ad nauseam with their pitches to entice you to buy, because expecting your workers to actually have to take learning/training via online at home it wasn’t even conceivable before this, even though data has shown for nearly 20 years, that most white-collar workers take online learning, wait for it, at home!  Shocking. Just shocking.

And you would think, that every learning system in the world, would realize that

  • A worldwide recession, with every industrial country showing a negative GDP for 2020
  • High unemployment levels in the two most popular markets (by country) the United States and the United Kingdom
  • Cutbacks in many L&D, Training and HR departments – along with sales, product and customer service (the latter three could also be buying a system for their specific departments for example – and tend to be the top three for outside the usual two – L&D and Training, with now HR making a run at it too.
  • Consumer spending is down everywhere
  • Many companies will allow their white-collar workforce to remain at home, even after they “open” to having employees (white-collar) return

I provide this list because it leads to the obvious you would think every vendor is doing as we speak, err write, err read, but are not.

Pricing Drops – Not Happening

In the financial recession of 2008-12,  the majority of systems scaled back their pricing. They tossed in APIs at no charge, they either reduced, lowered, or provided at no charge setup.  They cut back professional service fees.

Therefore, one would expect the same to be happening, now.  You would think that pricing restructuring is taking place, and that “Extras” are included as freebies.

Nope.  Not. Happening.    Sure, you can say, well “Free” was really hidden somewhere to offset the cost, but when you realize that vendors do not use some secret formula to calculate their pricing for “per seat”, and “setup” fees, that the whole “hidden message” angle, doesn’t really fly. 

Not that some will say the reason for not cutting pricing is because they are transparent and are not hiding costs elsewhere. Ah, okay.  Look, I just found a $2 coin under my chair.

What is happening

Trend Line 1 –  I’d like this one, please (hold the ketchup)

There has always been some spin with numerous vendors that if you are in a small business, your training/learning needs are not the same as if you were in a 2,500 size company and so on. 

While the employee size will play a role, providing training/learning in online learning, and focuses comes down to the person running L&D or Training, and the companies learning objectives/training goals.   It is similar to the notion that if you are a 5,000 size company, your budget is going to be higher than a company with 750, which I can state is not always the case (more common, than one might think).

Anyway, what is transpiring in the learning system space is the “one size” does not fit all approach, whereas the following is showing up (and growing quickly)

  • Same System but some features are turned off  – This is the SMB audience (Vendors may push it as a small business, the common user base is 900 or less, why isn’t it 999 or less, no clue, but let’s roll with it).  And yes, there are vendors who think SMB means less than 1,000, which, okay….
  • Same System as that “SMB” one, but features – all of them are turned on – targets Enterprise audience.  

Here is where it gets tricky on user base (for employees).  Enterprise means whatever the vendor wants it to mean, thus, if someone says we have 500 Enterprise customers, do not automatically assume it is the larger number, one would think.

The Top three Most common numbers for “Enterprise” minimum

And making a push – wait, wait,  2,500+

One of the most well-known vendors in the learning system space considers any company above 300 employees as an Enterprise but they are an outlier.

Getting back to tricky – if a vendor sees Enterprise as 5,000, then they see mid-market at a much lower number, the 1,000 to 5,000 route.  If the vendor sees Enterprise at 1,5000 users, then mid-market is sort of tossed out the window, I mean, who is going to say mid-market is 1,000 to 1,4999, because SMB is 999 or less?  Wait, many do!

Okay, they just use SMB (small business, mid-size) as the turn.

Regardless, the “other version” for Enterprise is the same as the one for mid-market, just marketed as different than mid-market, it is though usually different than the one for small business – feature-wise, not UI/UX angle, and in most cases, not the admin features or mobile, or okay everything one would think comes standard in a system.  

What you tend to see different than say SMB edition versus “Enterprise”, seems to be:

  • Metrics and Reporting.  The term “Streamline” is a pitch vendors will use, but what it really is – reduction in reports and metrics.  You should have more than enough in the SMB version, including some segmentation, but in the Enterprise version, they are skewing to more metrics, more segmentation capabilities, more reports.
  • More APIs available –  Vendors are starting to add APIs that exist already out there, so you are not having to go find the API key on your own, this is good, but even though it is occurring, they may not offer all those wonderful APIs to you – without charge, because you are in the SMB version, and Enterprise needs way more than you (hey, that’s not my personal feeling on this, its the vendor).
  • Setup tweaks – everyone gets the usual logo branding, color themes, with some vendors going beyond with additional tweaks (at no charge), but with the editions angle, more configuration is included – this does not mean the days of extensive configuration, because in the edition route, this is only available to Large Enterprise.
  • Support – SMB receives basic support. E-mail, chatbot (if available), and perhaps office hour (the vendor, not yours) time support.  Of course, since your employees are working remotely, the office hours think is somewhat of a joke, but let’s not forget that there are vendors who still think a ‘chat room’ is cutting edge.  Enterprise – support is better, e-mail, chatbot, time- office hours (vendor) is the same, but some vendors offer 24/7 support, faster response times on the weekends, and quicker turnarounds with e-mail.   I will add that with support, it can vary, so there are plenty of vendors who offer the above with their SMB edition too (again, this is for vendors going multiple edition route)

Large Enterprise – Top three minimum audience size numbers by vendors

And making a run out of the gate – 100,000+

If you are a betting person the 25,000 number is the most common.  Although I am unaware of any Fantasy betting for user bases at this time. 

Large Enterprise Edition

Okay, get ready to see the perks – oh, did I mention that not every vendor who pushes the Large Enterprise Edition (they may say it), but not actively pushing it, nor may even offer this exclusive benefits as a result to you because the LE version is really about pricing.   Yes, it is that confusing.

  • Extensive configuration  –  Depends on the level and the vendor, some will eat a chunk of the costs, some will eat the whole cost, others won’t and will charge you, but extensive config. is available. 

With SaaS systems, many and I mean many vendors (majority) will do the basics, but it is for all intent and purposes, pre-packaged (in the Degreed, Fuse vs EdCast post last week – Degreed and Fuse are pre-packed.  Docebo is pre-packaged, Linkedin Learning is pre-packaged – and BTW you cannot change the colors on it, and your logo appears with theirs – and the list goes on – for pre-packaged. This explains why when you go, “can we config this and that or can we have this custom report” the vendor says no.  One change for you, and the whole system gets out of whack when they push out updates is the most common reason.

  • Remote administrator services – The vendor will handle admin services for you, or give you an additional admin (on top of the admins you already have).  This service is available at no charge (note – not every vendor in LE edition space offer this, so if you want it, ask – trust me at 500,000 learners – any vendor would have to be a moron or a member of Parliament/Congress – to decline)
  • Managed Services –  Extensive options here.  BTW – my hot pick for 2021 is Managed Services across the board for systems as a whole (but that comes later)

Pricing Tiers

Even if the vendor is not pushing different Editions or has internally a listing of “different Editions”,  the one universal is pricing tiers.   This isn’t something new, but for the Editions angle – if noted via marketing either on the site or in some other form of messaging, Small Business is identified with what you believe are lower price points. 

When you combine pricing tier with what you get in each edition – and the vendor notes in on their site (some make it hard to find),  it is clearly visible on differences, etc.  Large Enterprise though is often a “Contact us”, although many list Enterprise as “Contact Us”.

HINT – Do not be taken in by visually seen low price per seat that plenty of vendors post on their sites.  That is per seat (i.e. per user)/per month.  Thus if you see $3 per user, what they are really saying is that for 12 mths your cost is $36, which frankly stinks.  Oh, and when the pricing is this above example is visible, it is paid up-front – you will find it in very small print.

Trend Line 2 – Get it quick, get it now.

Self-Service is back, let’s all rejoice.  Well, okay, then it is not the days of self-service as you remember in the mid-2000’s – up to say 2016 or so,  rather they still want to talk to you – the usual self-service was bounced into a trial, then if you want to buy, you can and zing, you are live.

In this new iteration, the system is ready for going live, in less than a month.  In some cases, we are talking about one or two weeks if that.  How you may ask are they able to move so quickly – pre-packaged.  As I said it is extremely popular and vast of majority vendors systems are either already designed in this way, OR the vendor has an edition that is ready “out of the box”  or “turnkey”, and so, whammo you are off.  What you get is what you see.   Or as Willy Wonka said, “reverse that.”

If you purchase  (as the client) 3rd party off the shelf content thorough the vendor i.e. if they have a marketplace (visible is gaining steam -finally), once bought it just goes into the system, easy peasy.

If your HRIS, HCM, Payroll, CRM or whatever has an API that is already set to go – i.e. the vendor may have it in-house for a quick connect,  then this still is very doable in the Get it quick, get it now.

Trend Line 3 – Tiptoe close to internal recruiting as a feature (add-on)

This will continue with some vendors teetering very close to the missing feature of “recruiting” as part of their system – it will be an add-on cost if they offer it.  This is of great concern to me, it is one thing if you are an HCM or a TM that has added learning because you have to, it is another thing if you are an LMS, LXP, or some other type of learning system who is so focused only on the employee market, you feel you need to offer recruiting (in this case it is for internal-only tied to the internal-job openings thing).  I already believe that one vendor sees this in their path. 

Trend Line 4- Skills up, Video Assessment up, Digital Coaching up

A huge fan of each of these (again, VA is not the same as sticking an assessment in a video), skill ratings are big here, and more things tied around job roles with skills (which skews heavily towards white-collar jobs – something I wish wasn’t occurring, but it does), but by doing so, loses out to those people who want to learn new skills without having to tie it to their job role, which is a worry, because vendors that are tying heavy to job role, are ignoring one of the most essential reasons why people want to learn – to learn new skills. 

Trend Line 5 – Customer Education (aka as Extended Enterprise) is on the rise

It’s been around for a long time, and for years have harped that it is a very profitable market for any vendor to be in, but the light bulb has finally shown up with more and more vendors. Vendors who only focus on this segment, have an advantage over those who are jumping in, from feature sets best suited for the segment, to the right messaging, to even pricing.    This is why, I believe the smart way is to have a second version (a copy of the instance of your system), tweak feature sets behind, brand it a new name, and sell it as different.   It is hard to get someone to buy your “customer education” system when you have job roles, and employees focused so heavily on your pitch.  If you are missing e-commerce and multi-tenant, then you are in serious trouble here.

Especially in this segment, vendors have to be flexible in their getting money up-front approach.  A vendor who does well here, needs to structure a say 25% upfront, then 25% in X month and so forth.

Plus pricing must be structured differently as well.  And here is where vendors who are jumping in, fail to recognize.

Trend Line 6 –  We can stretch out those payments

The vendors who do realize that pricing needs a revamp here during the virus, are offering these type of terms.  A big fan.

Trend Line 7 – Add-ons

Once just the domain of about 10 vendors in the entire industry, now gaining steam for a larger swath of vendors, and not the ones you normally think of.

What’s the hot ticket items as add-ons (excluding HCM systems, TM, etc.)

  • Communities – The vast majority of features that exist in the communities are ones I have seen for years with numerous systems.  Share with fellow community members.  Share all types of content with fellow community members.  Group chat, discussion board, tied to a course/content, or a group or groups or the system.  Boorsville.   There are a couple of vendors who are including communities tied around a skill or a set of skills, interests (makes sense honestly),  job role, and so forth.  In other words, segmentation is the game here.
  • Business Intelligence (aka as BI) –  EdCast is a vendor who offers this as an add-on for those who are in Enterprise and Large Enterprise.  They are by far not alone, this is showing up more and more. 
  • Integrations with 3rd party systems –   In this angle, you receive say 3 integrations for free,  if you want say, 5 or 10, it is an add-on fee.  A vendor may use API as the term here instead of integrations.
  • Digital Coaching – Personally, I think this is an awful idea.  It is a feature set systems are including at no charge, I mean it is not like the person is showing up at your doorstep.  Bad, bad idea as an add-on, same as a few vendors offering advanced skill capabilities like skill certification as an add-on feature.  What this tells me is they invested a bit into this feature, and need to recoup the costs, because only a few really wanted it, and well, you get the picture. 

Trend Line 8 – Learners are Content Creators

This is not the same as content curation, although they are intertwined, I mean if you are creating content, you will be curating it, and sharing it with others (one would assume).  The messaging goes back to learner-centric, learner-driven, but it is a slippery slope since as an admin you will need to decide if you want this on for your learners or not.  The systems that push this message, “content creators” should have this feature on as default, since most people do not “turn off” the default and just keep it as is.   I haven’t seen any system offer a variety of rule-based options here in the content creator. A bookmarklet/browser extension is a must for here, and there are a few vendors who offer this including Learn Amp,  Degreed,  SumTotal, and EdCast. 

Of the four here, EdCast goes a bit further, because once the extension is on, even when you are conducting a web search for anything, right below the search, and at the top of the page, a series of “blocks” if you will, appear with content tied to that specific search.  Regardless of the browser and search engine (although I admit I have yet to test it in say Duck Duck Go). 

Extensions tied to social media for content creators.  Cornerstone has one for Instagram – okay it is a plug-in via a 3rd party site, which will allow you to integrate Instagram into the Cornerstone platform, which is awesome.  Awesome, I tell you.  The number who offer such an extension to Instagram is seriously awful.  I think you will find more people who believe Atlantis is off the coast of Bermuda, then vendors who have an extension for Instagram. 

There are more than 200 social media sites out there, dozens of sites for streaming with plenty of folks using restream.io (including myself).  Why not offer an extension/integration tied to them for example? 

You can’t go more “Big” then an extension to a streaming site(s) including YouTube Events, Facebook Live, and so forth for content creators then this.  LinkedIn can be tied to restream too – but right now, the waiting list is about six weeks, they have a big set of requirements, and you have a better shot of meeting a lizard person hiding in an underworld lair, than being on it.

Bottom Line

Two trends not listed, but frankly need to change, is the continued lack of feature sets especially tied around skills and job roles for blue-collar workers. When vendors talk about digital coaching, no one has ever said to me, this is perfect for the person working in the warehouse or the factory floor.   For skill development, I’ve never heard, nor seen, roles such as maintenance or electrician. 

Granted there are way too many L&D and Training, even HR who seem to believe that if a person is working in the factory or warehouse, for example, has zero desire to work in the office in a new job role that is white-collar.   Nor are they future leaders in the company, thus are left out of leadership development programs.   Sure the features are there in the system, but sorry, not for you. 

Another trend is the continuation of charging higher pricing for Europe (as a whole) than the states.  For whatever reason, companies in the UK and Europe for example, have no problem paying extra for a mobile app, when in the U.S. that would lead to laughter on the other end of the call, followed by a dial tone. 

With Zoom as the most popular and thus most added integration in the industry (another trend), the level of metrics that can be pushed into systems, as a whole is minimal.  Why is that? 

Perhaps it is because clients are not asking for it.

Then again, no one asked Bananas Foster as an ice cream


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