December 11, 2023

A Look Back at 2020 for E-Learning

Author: Craig Weiss
Go to Source

It’s that time of the year, when perspectives from all types of entities are published, reviewing 2020, from insight to best of this or that to why, your local sanitation person continues to leave a trash item in your can, after they supposedly emptied it – a travesty, I say, a travesty. 

I always found it disturbing on the number of people who send out those “What we did in X year” reviews.  It was odd to see people refer to themselves in 3rd person, as though they are narrators for a holiday documentary.  No one ever seems to have misery or suffering.  Everything is awesome – which reminds me is that what Facebook is for? 

Well, this isn’t going to be on of those “look backs”, nor one where I talk in 3rd let alone fourth person (is there such a thing? If not, I’m the first to announce it).   

I will zig back and forth, not staying with the typical linear method so many folks find endearing.  You desire that? Hallmark is for you (do people even send them anymore? I’m too e-oriented to know).

I will go thru several areas for e-learning, not just learning systems, although by far, it will be the most, since a lot has happened in 2020. 

In the end we can all recognize that 2020, was split from the angle that there was Pre-COVID19 for most of the world, and then COVID19 – and its impact of course is devastating.  

From a vendor perspective there was a huge impact, but what was odd, is that some vendors still are living in the past, as though, this is a minor blip, and in 2021, everything will go back as it was – corporate wise that is.  Sorry to disappoint – but it won’t. 

Then there were vendors who expected a bad year sales wise, but instead found themselves doing far more than they expected – which was due in no small part – because companies now found themselves with remote workforces, and thus needed a learning system NOW.   On the flip side, vendors in specific verticals took a big hit sales wise, with numbers that were not surprising given the impact in those said industries – i.e. retail, hospitality including tourism, manufacturing to some extent and so forth. 

EdTech by far was huge in sales and in funding (raising).  But overall, in my opinion, EdTech also showed all its weaknesses front and center, and way too many vendors were unprepared for the numbers of schools, universities, colleges, etc. that needed a system.   I found that of concern, especially when server crashes were constant.   It wasn’t just small names either, we are talking well-known vendors who experienced this first hand. 

Everything EdTech suffers from, and has for numerous years – in terms of how students learn, showed up, which resulted in really this indignation that online learning or as folks refer to as remote learning is a dud.   It is not, and can be quite successful, if we recognize that shoving the classroom online, and instruction in the same manner is e-learning, it is not.  It is a syllabus and Zoom or whatever web conferencing solution you are calling a flipped classroom.  Synchronous based learning is ineffective – yet a main approach with EdTech, whereas asynchronous is far better, and widely used in Corporate. 

In the MOCC world, it continues to be pretty awful in terms of completion rates, although folks still swarm to it as though being free ensures wonderful content.  

Two big aggregators of content folks can take, Coursera and Udemy made huge strides and sales.  I still wouldn’t use them, but if that is where you see your learning coming from, then go for it.  If you are going this route for your customers, trust me, there are far better options.  

Authoring tools continued to be a mish-mash, with many continuing to forget what their number one goal truly is – creating content/courses. I know it seems odd.  Yet for the SaaS tools, analytics, and offering folks a way to bypass a learning system, as though these tools will more than suffice, shouldn’t be their top, let alone top three objectives.  Articulate Rise, is a cloud-based authoring tool, not a hybrid – and will fully admit as so.  It is still a work in progress.  

SaaS authoring tools, well the ones I think are top-tier, are offering more and more templates than ever before, especially for B2B/B2C such as product training for example.  A couple offer exchanges whereas the client, can offer their templates in an area, and other clients can download and use it, at no charge.  I wish everyone would do that.  I’d love to see it with assets too, but that isn’t yet available.  

What I see though in the authoring tool space, as a result of the analytics and sort of hybrid approach (which has been attempted in the past, with SaaS RCATs – Rapid Content Authoring Tools), is that they fall behind in terms of the latest trends in the space – i.e. video editing (beyond the basics, if they offer even that), the full creation of a video course with a table of contents, and so forth. VR is out there, but is it true VR as some would think, the answer is no.  Where is AR you might ask? No where.  MR? Ha, did you find that Golden ticket yet?  

What was equally visible is the continuing gap between top tier and everyone else.  Entry into the space is still occurring, but to get to the top tier is extremely difficult.  My favorite, albeit from a sad perspective is the authoring tool vendor who didn’t know what ID meant (uh, instructional design).  Knowing that people are likely buying that authoring tool, as their authoring tool, should be a sign of concern. 

 Desktop authoring tools are still out there -and yes, I too, ask why.  

A leader, at least in the early 2000s, Lectora is no longer part of Trivantis, because Trivantis the company was sold to eLearning Brothers (where Lectora now sits).  A weird twist to this whole saga is that LTUK in Feb 2020 (and I was in attendance, along with many, many others), was that Trivantis’s booth was pushing their VR tool, with zero mention of Lectora.  I say no more.  

Best Authoring Tool for 2020 – Elucidat – Although the push for big companies, should not dissuade any customer, regardless of size, so the messaging I think is off, plus kill the instant music that plays, please. I am trying to forget the midi auto plays of the 90’s.  

Assessment Tools – SaaS is the way to go, and the ones in the market, are either very basic, or they can do the basics and go far beyond to extensive assessment feature sets.  I am a personal fan of Questionmark, which is in the latter group, but the UI needs a major update ( I am told it is on their roadmap for 2021).  New entrants are coming into the market. 

3rd Party Content – This is off-the shelf content by a content provider, and not custom development content, which is where you hire someone to build specific content for you – oh and someone on one of my webinars asked about whether learning system vendors offer custom development, the answer is some do.  It is not universal, but yes, some do.  

Micro-Learning – Okay, I will say this one last time – micro-learning has been around for more than two decades for online learning.  Not two years, over 20 years.  Micro only means short, it doesn’t mean good or great, and much of it is in video format, and does not allow you bookmark capabilities, so it is watch it all or hit pause.  Oh, and a huge chunk stinks.  No value here unless you enjoy seeing someone talking to you in front of what is clearly a green screen.  

Vendors continue to push micro-learning as this amazing content approach, some actually push a course that is like 45 minutes long (if you go linear and I have no idea on how they decide that everyone will take 45 minutes to complete the course),  but then a chapter which they often call a module or lesson or whatever is 3 minutes in length – whalla, micro-learning. 

The most effective way to learn is to a

  • Ignore time duration – it means nothing. What takes you 10 minutes, may take me 35 minutes. 
  • Go non-linear whereas you can jump around the course/content into different sections and focus on what you need to know, when you need to know it
  • Tap into your learning style – and yes, the trolls will come saying there isn’t such a thing, and yet, when some of them attended school they preferred to have music blasting while they studied, whereas many folks choose to have it silent.  Oh, right, that isn’t a style or preference, it is the way of the Sun God.  
  • Interest drives retention – So regardless of length of content, if you have an interest in it, you will retain the information. And with non-linear you can go back as much as you want as often as you want.

Content in 2020

  • Aggregators dominate – the top two are Open Sesame which uses machine learning, and GO1.  I would add Biz Library as someone most folks are unaware offers aggregation too – An aggregator BTW is a vendor who has multiple content publishers under one roof per se, and then you as a client, either buy an “all you can eat” approach or specific bundles or specific titles, and then it goes into your learning system or whatever you are using for e-learning.  I should add, that the end-user does not “buy” this content, you as the client does, and then you provide it to your learner base for free – even your customers (which I recommend, if you are doing B2B/B2C aka extended enterprise)
  • The content even with content publishers, beyond just aggregators sits on their servers and not say, the learning system.  What then occurs is the content gets pushed into the learning system behind the scenes.  The days of you – the client – uploading the 3rd party content are long gone.  The publishers don’t want you to, plus they can update more frequently – by adding new content. 
  • Never assume that 3rd party content is across the board superior, because it is 3rd party.  A lot is just awful.  There are a lot of exceptions, but always look first, rather than just buy to add to your learning system. 
  • There is an increase in static content – which is just text on the screen, and maybe a picture or two, and a voice-over narration in the 3rd party content market.  This bores learners.  I see way too much of this content, and yet, on the flip side, learning interactivity beyond clicking yes or no on some assessment piece, and learning engagement content continues to be low.   The reverse should be expected, and yet, the opposite is still in play.  

Learning Systems 

There has been a lot going on in 2020, that as a result in the case of one market has added serious confusion to consumers – i.e. clients looking at buying a system in this market. 

We are talking LXPs here.  

In 2020:

  • Numerous LXPs dropped LXP from their name, and started to refer to themselves as something else, in most cases talent or people development.  Even if they offered feature sets that really were not talent management per se, or all TM.  The downside to this approach, is trying to have B2B/B2C (aka extended enterprise) market, which they all want.  
  • LXPs continue to add feature sets that are in an LMS, but refuse to call themselves an LMS, as a result there is a huge uptick in consumers confusion, because they believe an LXP is different than an LMS, and do not or unware of the nuances.  Thus, this creates another boost in the industry, folks seeking to compare an LXP to an LMS in RFPs or RFIs.  
  • LXPs often will say they are about content – but here is the thing any learning system is about content – because without it, you have an FTP (File Transfer Protocol).   

Fun Fact 

Any learning system can offer 3rd party content, and many have content marketplaces, so that as a client you can purchase content from a 3rd party publisher (off-the-shelf) and provide it to your learners, just as you can with an LXP.  There is ZERO Difference here.  Even if you want a publisher that is not in your LXP or LMS, you can still contact that publisher, sign a deal, and have them integrate via an API into your learning system.  

  • The LXP space continues to argue that LMSs are all about formal learning, and they are not.  This is what we refer to as “bogus”.  I have yet to find one LXP that does not offer or has assigned learning as either an option or part of the system.  Assigned learning is formal learning.  
  • Social Learning is not that great.  Never buy into the hype – which ramped up to new heights in 2020. 
  • With an LXP you can still offer only compliance and regulatory content. It is not limited to a specific type of learning system. 

In 2020, the top learning systems in the LXP market, all have one thing in common – they are offering more feature sets similar to an LMS.  They were not selected for that reason, rather it is just a reality of the space as a whole.  

So what was new in 2020 for Learning Systems across the board (even in many LXPs too)

  • A strong push towards job roles with content.  Far too strong IMO, as if your remote workforce only cares about having content tied to their job role.  Even though data continues to show that the number one reason people leave companies is the lack of personal and professional development, which uh, if it is all job role related, doesn’t align. 
  • Skills continues to drive a lot of content, which wait for it, is tied around the skills needed for the job role.  Thus, if you want to acquire skills not related to your job role, you are out of luck.  (This is not universal in the systems, and yes, it is dependent solely on the client)
  • Interests which in 2019, was seen in many LXPs as something an end-user could select, is nearly gone in the space.  This gets back to the whole content specifically for your job role, and skills specifically tied around your job role. 
  • LMS vendors added more feature sets around skills development, skill ratings, acquisition of skills, then in 2019.  And many added the “Netflix” like look including playlists/channels.  
  • Course catalogs were designed more in the “Netflix” look with the playlist design, although Grid continues to exist. 
  • Learner UI continued to be all over the place, with every vendor saying their system has a modern look, which in reality, isn’t always the case.  The trend continued that if a design change was made, it went first Learner side including feature capabilities.  The minus is that the administration side which is used a lot trails.  Some vendors updated their admin UI/UX, the majority did not. 
  • Video capabilities were below average in the learning systems.  This would include auto-transcripts being pulled from the video (not CC mind you), video editing, bookmarking, search tied within the video, video streaming to match bandwidth of your remote learner base.  
  • Mobile took a back seat, as skills dominated.  
  • Social continued to be stagnant.  If you are looking for Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger integration capabilities, you can forget about it.  Even an Instagram look is nearly impossible, but there are a couple of vendors who have the integration or offer an Instagram look in some manner. 

Where they targeted 

  • A huge increase in 2020 for small business/small enterprise – far more than in the past. These are companies/businesses under 999 employees, with many in the 500 range.
  • B2B/B2C major uptick.  The old school term is extended enterprise for those wondering
  • Enterprise – with vendors putting the number of end-users all over the place.  Thus, 301 could be enterprise, 15,000 could be enterprise.  
  • Associations – BTW, this will continue into 2021 more than in 2020, which was higher than 2019, 2018, 2017. 
  • Healthcare and medical care – which is different than healthcare 

2020 in the Learning System Space saw

  • The rise of the Hub – Which is referred to as the ecosystem – everything there, no need to go elsewhere.  
  • The start of adding SaaS authoring tool providers as partners for the learning system to be used as “their authoring tool” for those clients who want a system authoring tool 
  • An increase in 3rd party content providers – including some that were not well-known
  • LinkedIn Learning as a key 3rd party content provider – why – I am still trying to figure this out, better chance of solving Rubix Cube.   
  • The two big heavyweights for 3rd party off-the-shelf partnership deals with learning system vendors were GO1 (which in a couple of cases, knocked LL as the main 3rd party content provider pushed by the vendor) and Open Sesame.  There are plenty of vendors who offer all three, by the way.  
  • A significant push towards L&D, forgetting that Training existed.  I would argue this is one reason why the LXP space ended up where it is – because of the whole L&D only focus. 

2020 for L&D, Training and others looking to buy a system or purchased one already 

There is a lot here to digest, but there are a few items that have stuck out more than others.  One of which, that I will note first, is happening far too much in the learning system vendor space, and other e-learning providers too – and is disturbing.  I list it under here, because even in the L&D, Training space -whereas folks should know more so than someone running sales, product, hr and other departments would not expect to know, adds only to it. 

Why E-Learning was created – This is huge and in 2020 was by far, the worst I’ve seen, especially when you consider, e-learning has been around since the late 90s.  I get it, if you are new to your position, but at the same time, there is this thing called the internet, and searching can exist beyond the first page of Google.  

Vendors are part of this problem – because I find A LOT who have no idea, and I’m talking founders, and CEOs here, on top of the folks selling the system, i.e. sales people.  If they have no idea, and you are unaware, you are basically at their mercy to buy whatever they are selling as the “word”.

E-Learning means online learning. It’s original term was WBT – Web-Based Training, not to confuse it with CBT -Computer based training, which were courses that you take on your computer, often on a CD – but never accessing the internet with your modem.  

WBT eliminated that.  You accessed courses via the internet and your modem, which is why it was late 90s as speeds significantly improved.  The pre-days WBT was not heavily loaded with video, and lots of this and that, because a modem couldn’t handle it – you are taking dial up here, not T1 (which many companies didn’t even have).   And thus, CBT wouldn’t work, because nobody could have a 640mb course with a 52K modem (actually top speed was in the 40kbs range).  

WBT was created because ILT – face to face on-site, told you nothing. There wasn’t a way to verify that those in attendance of their ILT, actually retained the information, could recall the information, were paying attention, among other items.  They were driven by the person overseeing the class, thus self-paced (the term now used) was out of question. If a person couldn’t remember, they paid another fee to attend another on-site session, if it was available.  WBT eliminated that.  Plus, there was no “wrong answer” or a fear that the instructor will pick you.  Nope, gone.  If you made a mistake, fine, because it is just you here.  You can access 24/7, anytime, anywhere.  You can go linear if you want – like ILT does, or go non-linear, which is more effective. You can go back thousands of times to the same chapter or pages, it doesn’t matter.   

It can be more interactive and engaging, especially if the developer built in Flash, which you could do a lot in terms of engagement, than say Dazzler Max.  

It had nothing to do with compliance or regulatory – ZERO.   

E-Learning means online learning – you could access systems in what we refer to today as in the “cloud” and did not have to have the system sitting in your own server room, behind  your own firewall.  E-Learning did not exist prior to the Internet.  The term itself was an umbrella term, e-learning, which meant that a learning system for example, was under e-learning.  Assessment tool, authoring tool – under e-learning.  Anything you used for your online learning (via access of the net – formally known as WWW – the world wide web).  

Today, the term has been morphed into only content, and the actually spelling is e-learning.  Not eLearning or elearning. 

A Learning System – an LMS was created to house courses and other content, and to provide metrics for the person running L&D or Training to better ascertain what the gaps in learning/training were, what courses or content was needed, and what in the end to find out what folks know and didn’t know.  You could have 3rd party content/courses in the system.  You could have your own content in the system, built by you or your buddy down the street, and sell it or not sell it.   They had social back then too.  They were not built for compliance or regulatory or for formal training.

They were built for folks to acquire knowledge.   If you as the client wanted to use it for compliance, that was and still is your choice.  If you want to provide personal development, sell your own content, etcl – that was and is still your choice.  Nobody forces you to do formal learning, nor informal – which you could do then, and still can. 

The whole “we don’t know” why e-learning was created nor any clue on WBT, or why a LMS was createed – when it comes to vendor not knowing, is troubling and it was more pronounced then in the past.  A key reason  – money. 

There are and continued to be in 2020, more folks entering the learning system space and other e-learning solutions than ever before, and they enter it for the sales potential, to make money.  They do not have the background in knowing anything about e-learning, and rather than spend some time learning about it, they just ignore and go about as though it is the same as any other technology.  

This is clearly visible in the second worst thing visible in 2020, the failure to know the difference between L&D and Training, and if you can dig even deeper, the assumption that L&D is the only game in town, and that Training (as a department/division, etc.) does not exist.

I found that many vendors who used L&D repeatedly, or learning and development as their target audience (often saying L&D), had no idea what OD meant – it means organizational development BTW.  Folks who run training, usually do not have a background in OD, nor have ever taken an OD class in college nor psychology in the workplace, which some L&D folks have taken or something similar. 

Nobody in either space would ever want to work under each other – and the old joke was nobody wants to work under HR.   Training and L&D are different.  Someone may refer to themselves as director of education, but I tend to find them more along the lines of how training people think, compared to how L&DF folks think (on the whole, there are always exceptions). 

Too many learning system vendors, not just in the LXP market, are clearly unaware of the differences, because they will often say L&D, and not Training, nor even mention both in the same sentence.  And yet, if you want B2B/B2C, overwhelmingly it will be someone with “Training” in their title (again, there are exceptions with some L&D).   Trust me, when I say this – that I talk to training folks all the time, and they often note that they can’t find a learning system for them, because the vendor says L&D or pushes the whole employee message only – forgetting that for associations, B2B/B2C folks do not think “employees” when training customers/clients/partners, etc. 

This leads to another trend in 2020, employee-focused messaging.  One reader thought “Corporate” meant only employee only, it does not, just as an fyi – it is just what I slide all types of businesses, including the B2B/B2C and associations, non-profits under, compared to EdTech.  

Too many vendors in the learning system space who want the customer training segment, push employee-focused or performance support or talent development (which wreaks of employees) as their main messaging. 

As a result the system starts to skew heavily towards that same segment. This is fine, if that is your only target, but not a great idea if you want both segments.  

Nice knowing you

Acquisitions were at the highest ever in 2020 across the e-learning spectrum.  In the learning system space it was higher than ever before, but in the total grand scheme of the entire number of systems, still less than one percent. 

Big names were acquired in 2020, some of which you will likely recognize

  • Skillpill (3rd party content provider) acquired by a private equity firm 
  • Pluralsight acquired by a private equity firm
  • Meazure Learning (assessment provider) acquired by a private equity firm 
  • Skillsoft (including SumTotal) acquired by a private equity firm, with some shareholders (creditors who received equity following Skillsoft’s exit from bankruptcy 

And others who acquired in 2020 (not a full list, but more than enough)

  • ELMO (out of Australia) acquired webexpenses 
  • eLearning Brothers acquired Trivantis 
  • Learning Technologies Group (LTG) acquired eThink, eCreators and Open LMS (although eThink was acquired by Open LMS, LTG acquired Open LMS)
  • Docebo acquired Formetris 
  • Instructure (owned by Thoma Bravo) acquired Certica Solutions 
  • Learning Pool acquired Remote Learner
  • UpGrad (EdTech) acquired Rekrut India and The Gate Academy
  • QuestionPro (Assessment tool) acquired Care Experience and Enprecis
  • Kahoot! acquired Drops, and Actimo 
  • Healthstream acquired Change Healthcare, NurseGrid and Shift Wizard
  • Cornerstone acquired Saba, and Clustree
  • CourseAvenue acquired Modifly 
  • Course Hero (EdTech) acquired Symbolab
  • Turnitin (EdTech) acquired Exam Soft
  • Pluralsight acquired DevelopIntelligence 
  • unacademy (EdTech) acquired Coursavy, Mastree, CodeChef, Kreatryx and PrepLadder
  • Carnegie Learning acquired Scientific Learning Corporation 
  • Cambium Learning Group acquired Rosetta Stone
  • BYJU’s (EdTech K-12) acquired Labinapp and WhiteHat Jr. 
  • Rustici (owned by LTG) acquired JCA Solutions 
  • acquired Princeton Review
  • Bigtincan (Sales Enablement Platform) acquired ClearSlide and Agnitio 
  • Cegos acquired Cresimentum 

Bottom Line

I excluded those who raised capital via funding in 2020, simply because there is this perception that vendors who raise capital are far better than those who do not, which just isn’t the case.  Vendors raise capital for a lot of different reasons, some of which include reducing debt.  

2020 was a banner year. FindAnLMS set new records in terms of end-users (registered signups), and the continued goal of having only the best systems in the world, with all of the best LXPs on the platform, along with 49 of the Top 50 Learning Systems for 2020. And with 2021 just around the corner, the top 10 as well. 

For myself, well, the dogs are doing well, thank you for asking. I moved to a whole new area, where you can see Javalinas running amuck in my yard, a few bobcats too, deer and who can forget the roadrunner who finds my spa a wonderful drinking fountain, and now has the quail concurring.  

Until 2021 then. 

Have a wonderful holiday season. 

From Voodoo, Cali and Spirit 

And me. 

E-Learning 24/7 

Read more