A Break From Tradition

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: The learning management system is dead. The LMS is mentioned in learning the same way that people talk about applicant tracking systems in recruiting and performance evaluation solutions in talent management. They’re the technologies people love to hate. The solutions people want to love? Many times, these are the so-called “next-generation solutions.”

91% of learning technology buyers are excited about innovations in learning.

Sound familiar? If you work at one of the market upstarts that wants to replace the LMS, you probably subscribe to this view. If your company sells LMS technology, you’re working very hard to keep this belief from becoming reality. In many ways, the LMS is synonymous with traditional learning technology. And if you’re an upstart, you go to market with the opposite of traditional: new. That’s what we’ve seen over the past few years. In fact, the “anti-LMS LMS” has quickly become something of a marketing cliche. For a while, “new” is a shiny object that some buyers will happily chase. But new doesn’t stay new for very long.

When we published our first report on the attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs of learning technology buyers in 2014, next-generation technologies were just beginning to arrive on the scene in a meaningful way. Interest in new learning technologies remains strong, with 91 percent of buyers today saying they believe the working style of employees is different today and that new approaches and technologies are needed. However, many technology vendors have focused too much on the latter sentiment and not enough on the former.

91% of buyers believe the working style of employees is different today and that new approaches and technologies are needed — consistent with 2014.

Although the new vs. old debate has dominated the market conversation, another key point of our 2014 report is actually more salient for today’s vendors: Learning has moved to the center of the talent technology stack. We advised learning technology vendors to help learning professionals embrace the change and integrate with HR more holistically. Though we have seen learning technology buyers embracing that role, we’ve noticed two significant developments in the market since 2014:

  1. The evolution of the technology is less noteworthy than the evolution of the buyer. In many ways, learning technology buyers don’t necessarily reside within the learning silo. You find them not only in HR, but increasingly in the line-of-business function itself.
  2. The talent technology stack is evolving into the employee engagement stack. As we mentioned above, performance management is a technology that people love to hate. However, they’ve gone beyond hating it — they’ve stopped believing in it. As a result, that budget is at play, and that budget will begin to find a home in new employee engagement solutions, which are also incorporating learning and development functionality in their feature sets.

93% of buyers believe new learning software solutions can complement and amplify the existing learning technologies they have in place — consistent with 2014.

In this year’s report, we hope you’ll see that traditional approaches and next-generation solutions are not mutually exclusive. Both can have a place in the future of learning technology. However, technology vendors must understand what’s driving buyer decisions and impeding progress in order to succeed. Understanding how and why people work is vital for product success. Understanding how and why people buy is essential for market success.

The Key Findings of This Report

The learning buyer has become more of a buying team.

Asking, "Who is my target buyer?" has become increasingly more complex for learning technology vendors. Learning purchase decisions now come from various functions within the organization and is a process that requires making multiple decisions. Vendors need to make an impact on a broad group of buyers and influencers, and this is muddying the waters for many vendors.

Learning and development (L&D) buyers influence talent tech purchases.

Learning organizations have a tremendous amount of leverage in being able to influence HCM and talent management overall. Today's buyers know they need to focus on performance and succession (and other elements of the business) eventually, so many LMS-only vendors may find themselves excluded, even if it's a learning-only buy.

The role of L&D continues to change, and you need to change with it.

Corporate learning has gone from delivering information via coursework to becoming content curators and connecting people with information at the moment of need. As a result, interest in collaboration and coaching and mentoring technologies is growing. You will see continued and sustained investment in these tools.

Buyer focus has shifted from the platform to the learner.

Since 2014, the learning buyer's focus has shifted from the platform (device-focused) to the learner experience (practice-focused) as organizations try to create a performance-support environment. That not only means "just in time," but also "just for me" and "just the way I want learning to be." That means mobile, social, and bite-size, and it includes next-generation (user-centric), continued learning, and meeting the evolving needs of learners.

Buyer dissatisfaction is increasing, but you can do something about it.

There's widespread dissatisfaction with learning technologies. Vendors need to articulate or focus on business problems to drive initial success and deliver sustainable value over time. In other words, take an active role in helping shape strategy as a part of the buying process. On the messaging side, vendors need to stop over-promising the potential and under-delivering on the product. This ties into your marketing strategy. Aligning an authentic message with your radical buyer's experience will accelerate close rates and help you gain market share.

Beyond integrated systems, think integrating ecosystems.

The all-in-one integrated LMS is being replaced by multiple integrating systems that form an organization's learning stack. The most sophisticated multidisciplinary teams are coming together around the question: "What is our holistic approach to developing people in our organization?" Buyers are looking to different technologies and multiple vendors that play nice together — your solution now needs to fit into this equation.

You have an opportunity to support your buyers and earn trust.

Buyers are predisposed to considering new solutions and alternative approaches, especially from the engagement category. Vendors have the chance to frame the market from their own perspective and establish early favorite vendor status along the way.

The LMS isn't going away anytime soon.

Large organizations have strong drivers for compliance and still need LMS functionality within their learning architecture. That means the LMS isn't going away anytime soon.

The buyer pain is user adoption, and UX still hasn't delivered.

Ease of use remains at the top of decision criteria, but the buyer pain is really user adoption — vendors may be overlooking an opportunity for improvement.