Learning System Awards – Reqs, Specs and Information

Well, hello there. I’m a bot named Zerblock. I’ve been asked to explain the process, approach and criteria for the 2022 Learning System Awards and the 2021 Platinum and Diamond Picks.

I’m happy to answer any of your questions, with statements such as “What are you asking?”, “Do you want to read a document?”, “Is this the answer you are looking for?, and my bot favorite, “I do not understand”.

The great thing about my retorts is that they will provide you with witty banter about the awards, followed by snarky comments. It is as if, Craig, is the individual writing it under the nom de plume of Zerblock.

I will not deny this.

Learning System Awards

A lot of folks always ask me what I look or at when considering a system for a client, or when conducting an analysis, as part of my role as an analyst.

Well, there isn’t just one item per se, nor two or three, rather it is a series of capabilities and functionalities.

I’ve seen so many systems, and know exactly what to look for or focus upon, that in the first 90 seconds, I will know whether or not this is a system that will be in the “above average category” or in the “average and below category”.

The “What I am looking for” or “focusing on” plays a big role of course, when identifying any type of learning system and where it falls.

There are systems that score high on the learner side if you will, but average on the administration side. Or vice versa. Overall though when tied into the other capabilities, and responses to my inquiries – covering a variety of questions and understanding the vendor’s response or lack thereof, will identify where they slide.

If I see them in the above-average category and considering them for say a client, then they complete an extensive document, and from that, in combination with the “viewing of the system”, it will place them into a final slice of where they end up in consideration.

A few items I’ve learned over the years

  • Does not matter whether the vendor raised capital or not – Seriously, I have seen great systems that have zero in raised funds, and bad systems who raise a lot of capital
  • Client list means nothing. I can not stress this enough, if you are basing your decision on the vendor’s client list, you are going to be unhappy. Nobody ever provides me a list of clients, that are like “Barney’s House of Flies”. They will be well-known. I will look at them, and always ask “are you the exclusive vendor or the only learning system vendor, they have?” – Unless you ask specifically, they won’t share. It has no bearing on whether a system is good or not – this is because…
  • I see systems that in mind leaves my mouth “gaping” as in “what? Someone actually bought the this? And likes it?” Yes it is true. There are systems out there so uh, let’s just say Wallpaper from 1974 with that avocado fridge is considered modern compared to them. I just saw a system a few weeks ago, that slides into the “Yowsa” and not in a good way category. And there are systems that are “wowoowowoow” at a elite level that should have more clients then they actually do”. The point is, people pick systems for a variety of reasons, and unless you are them, you won’t definitely or at least usually know. There are vendors who do extremely well, who are super cheap. And there are systems that are elite, not cheap, and thus, do not have the a high number of clients.
  • Consumers rarely ask in-depth questions around end-user access from their home, especially when so many folks are working from home. I will always ask what is the minimum browser version your system will work with (and browser name) is very relevant. If I can’t see or maximize the system, because my browser version is outdated with the min specs from the vendor, then how beneficial is it really? Browser-agnostic is a misnomer.

Deciding Factors

Where a vendor slides into for these awards will be based on the following in addition to the completion of my entire template, targets, and something new this year, “skill level ratings”.

  1. UI/UX Learner side – Slick is nice, but slick doesn’t tell the whole story. What does the learner see on the home page, can they move it around – i.e. static or not, is it relevant or just “there”. How do they find the content/courses? What does the catalog look like? Search? Types of filters? Navigation – user friendly or not? How do I get back to my learner home page? Easy or challenging? Browser click or quick click? Grid or Hierarchical look?
  2. UI/UX – Administration side. Does it look dated or not? Can an administrator find/locate what they need quickly? Is the information/what it is – easily identifiable? Is the design user-friendly or not? What does the administrator home look like – this is when the admin logs in, what do they see?

When vendors redo their system, they usually focus first on the learner side. This is why you will see systems where the front end is amazing, and the admin side, is an avocado stove.

3. Learner Environment – Playlists/channels? AI? Content curation? And what can each of these do in the system? If the algorithm requires an end-user to complete a piece of content, which defeats why WBT aka online learning was created in the first place, that is a minus. On my template, you see quite a bit under LE, but when viewing a system, I zero in on these items and the learner experience too.

4. Skills – What skill functionality do you have? The more is yes, in this case, the better. Skill ratings – okay, do you explain what each level means? Self-validate, manager validate, others validate? Skills tied to content/courses? Skill or skills playlist? Can I select my own skills at the beginning before entering the system, or somewhere during my experience in the system? Can I change or add skills? Skill coaching? Skills tied to boot camps or scenario-based learning or some other type? If you offer interests on top of skills, definitely a nice add.

5. vILT and event management – This is the new world where webinars, are going to be huge versus ILT F2F (excluding blue-collar, front-line – where ILT will still be a must). Beyond the basics, what else can you do? SMS notifications? Whatsapp notification? Ability to accept 3rd party external training?

6. Admin Functionality – I want it all. Okay, not all, because that can be overpowering like skunk surprise. To get an idea, look at my template under admin and you will see what I look for in each and every system.

7. Metrics – Can’t get any bigger than this. All the other items above along with some other features such as social, gamification, compliance, and so on, data drives learning and training. I need to know what you – the learner does not know, needs help in, faces challenges, acquires or is missing skills and the list goes on. What metrics come with the system? Views? Worthless. What else do you have? Do you offer advanced analytical – could be similar to a BI (Business Intelligence) or not. Does it cost extra or is it included? What about data visualization? Does it look like Excel pie and bar charts or something more modern, such as heat maps, spiders, and so forth? Can I see the data points? Slice and dice? Do you have an LRS? If yes, what data can be extracted from that, that you are not showing in your system? Can you turn that on? I’ll toss in reports here, but they really based on, hold on, data – which comes from those metrics.

8. Intangibles – Do you have a mobile app where I can get a digital signature, after certain items are completed, as a way to validate and verify that they have been completed satisfactorily? (A must-have for compliance). Can I white-label your mobile app? ( A huge you want if you are providing customer education/training – I mean do you want your customers to see WidgetLMS or your name in the Google Play or iTunes Store? Do you offer deep configuration (the majority of vendors do not)? If yes, how/what can be done? There are vendors who can totally overhaul their LMS, so what you get looks nothing like what everyone else sees or gets. I should add – that Deep config and white-label mobile apps are not free. And that deep configuration goes way past what you get whenever you =buy a system.

Can I share content on social media sites beyond Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn? I can count on one hand the number of vendors that offer the ability for you to share content on Instagram, Whatsapp, and others. Tik-Tok? Same hand. How long does it take you to implement a system – assuming deep configuration does not apply. Nowadays anything longer than three months from signing off on a project plan is too long (excluding deep configuration). Do you offer online proctoring? Do you offer managed services? (This is going to be big in the next two years, and a competitive advantage for vendors). Do you have a content marketplace? If yes how many partners?

9. Support and Service. It continues to be the number one reason people hate/dislike and/or leave their system. Yet, buyers rarely go in-depth about it. I do.

Support and service always play a role in my ratings/rankings and this year, those vendors who have agreed to a stringent certification program around support (with checks and balances) will get increase weight and points in this category than others. You will never find a vendor who tells you their support stinks or is awful. It won’t happen. Yet, I can tell you that I know vendors who are fully aware of how bad their support is, and yet, they continue to tell prospects it is outstanding. The CEP strips that away and shows you the vendors that will go through an independent process to validate. Hence it should carry additional weight and consideration in terms of support.

True Story

Once a day, I take my dogs for a car ride and go to McDonald’s to get a Coke. One MCD is 10 minutes from my home (one-way). Another is 20 minutes (one-way). I drive to the one, that R/T will take me 40 minutes. Why?

Because that one has outstanding customer service. They are friendly, polite and professional. They can brighten your day, just by a smile. You can tell the owner of that location, sees customer service as very important. The other location, the one closer? Rude. You get a lot of “Yeah, what do you want” when you go thru the drive-through. They make mistakes. You can leave angry and frustrated. They just don’t care.

I think we wall want that MCDs that does care. And that is the value of real customer service. Not just saying it, but showing it as well.

NexGen is looked at and while I have not yet published my Tier 5 of NexGen, I will in the coming month. There you will be able to see what I define as Tier 5, but feel free to look at Tier 4, which is considered under NexGen too.

Targets

This isn’t something you will notice when you look at a system, but I do. If I see a system that says they focus on the customer education/partner training segment, then I am expecting certain features and functionality, such as multi-tenant and e-commerce. If they are focusing solely on employees then I am looking at other functionality, such as the “job role” component. Job roles tied to skills, tied to content would be one.

If I am targeting employees, I might offer a career mapping component or “opportunities” option, normally add-ons.

Since the majority of the market are combo systems, then I should see a duality of capabilities each focused on those specific targets. A combo system will always skew more towards employees. That’s just reality.

System Types

It is not fair to compare a TXP to an LXP or an LXP to a Skills-focused platform or an LMS that focuses solely on compliance against an LMS in general.

If you are a vendor who says they are an LMS with an LXP component or vice-versa, then by golly you better have those features that clearly show that. The former is more common these days when it comes to that, and yet, I see vendors who do not have all the basics to be an LXP (there are four).

Vendors can call themselves whatever they want, but for my awards, I based them into one of the following:

  • LMS (can also be LMS with LXP)
  • LXP (can also be LXP with LMS)
  • TXP – These are talent dev systems with LXP components. Degreed is a TXP. EdCast XP is a TXP. Schoox is a TXP.
  • Learning Platform (can also be a Digital Learning Platform or Adaptive Learning Platform or Skills Platform)
  • Training Management System (There are like five that are legit TMS – which is heavy around scheduling)
  • Skills metric platforms. It’s all about metrics. UI is not strong here. Not at all.

Skill Level Ratings

Something new this year.

Each system will receive three skill ratings.

  • Learner – What kind of skill level will someone need to utilize the system to its full capabilities on the learner side?
  • Administrator – What skill level will someone need to successfully use the system with the items/function they will need to deliver and achieve what they want and need to utilize the system to its full potential?
  • Overall Skill Rating

Award Opportunities

Besides the 2022 Learning System Awards and sub-categories that are within, I have added two new awards – that cover the end of 2021.

The yearly awards are predicated on the upcoming year, obviously, and based on trends; but let’s face it, a vendor can be a shooting star at the beginning and for whatever reason, fizzle out, or be never heard of, and wham – sign me up!

Hence two more awards.

Platinum Pick

You can be an award winner for 2022, and still be a Platinum pick for 2021. Or you can be a Platinum Pick and not an award winner for 2022 (Which covers only the top 10 learning systems, but 11-20 are presented too via my blog and mini-report).

The Point is, if you are awarded a Platinum Pick you are in the top 30 learning systems in the world.

Diamond Pick

You are in the 31 to 50 range in the world. Not bad company, I would say.

Platinum and Diamond Picks will be covered and fully announced in mid-October – with a special blog post. But don’t be surprised if you see winners being slowly announced via my thread on LinkedIn.

The Bottom Line

They say you can’t go home, and yeah, that is probably true, but folks still do it anyway. But as with anything, what they remembered back then, isn’t what it looks like today.

The farm land has been replaced with homes and commercial buildings. The sound of silence, replaced with noisy cars and trucks.

Awards are sort of like that. They do change – year after year. One minute you are in the land of Twix bars and the next, you are chilling with Necco Wafers (which should be banned planet wise, sorry Mom).

Bots for example, should not be allowed in learning systems, yet here they are.

And humans, writing a blog,

Should not be acting like a bot,

But here,

He is.

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