can any of todays LMSs be ‘challenger brands’?

With over 600 LMSs globally, how can any of them stand out, have they not all got similar levels of features and benefits and enjoy similar level of functionality?

Challenger brands are commonly talked about in the banking, technology, motor worlds, so it’s not something new, for example; Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Metro to name a few are quoted as the ‘challenger banks’ to the banking sector, taking customers away from the likes of LBG, HSBC, Barclays, and Samsung are giving Apple a run for their money – but how can am LMS be a challenger brand…?

Our team always suggest to download the Unicornucopia app at iOS | Android. This where all our marketing budget is seen in its glory, we provide a full SkillsServe LMS brochure, and factsheets on the SkillsServe features such as eCreator, ExamServe, Performance Management/T&C. Of course not everyone can download an app, so the regular links to our factsheets can also come in handy:

SkillsServe brochure |eCreator |ExamServe |T&C Solutions |Content Services |Library of Courseware |ComplianceServe

But still, does all this gloss actually demonstrate how we are any different, or simply that we can market ourselves better? – equally our industry friends have some great marketers pumping out this kind of stuff.

Can any of us really say we are challenging the larger LMS companies out there? Be bold, you probably can, as can we confidently say Unicorn’s SkillsServe LMS is a ‘challenger brand’. Testament to this the latest (Craig Weiss) eLearning 24/7 – State of the LMS Industry Global Report published July 2014, ranking SkillsServe as the no.1 LMS for financial services worldwide and no.8 for the wider market beyond FS.

Some would say it’s the David and Goliath scenario! Reality is the majority of LMSs have similar levels of features and benefits and enjoy similar level of functionality, so differentiating yourselves can be difficult, but our customers tell us we’ve achieved this by…

Service not just software

We offer a personal service that customers truly appreciate, using a consultative approach to understand the requirements and delivering a solution, not a piece of software.

Platform Services Team

Our service approach continues beyond implementation, with a Help Desk in its true sense, not just a technical support number/website. You can see our Help Desk info online here.

User Experience (UX)

Our in-house Creative Design, UX and developers work closely together (the teams sit next to each other!) to ensure the user is at the forefront of any SkillsServe feature, both from a usability perspective and making it visually appealing, whilst also sensitive to the customers brand guidelines and culture.

Competitive Software as a Service fees

We have no hidden charges. Our simple, easy to understand, and competitive SaaS model includes; hosting, support, maintenance, unlimited administrator accesses, unlimited content authors, and all features of the LMS. We don’t charge per feature, per course upload, or by file size amounts, or extra for admin users and customer support.

Updates / New Releases

Many firms tell us they have invested in an LMS previously and are often still on the version they first implemented, in some cases a version which is no longer supported by the provider. This quite often means lack of functionality, poor user experience, and in the worst case a break in service. To add to the pain, many of the firms charge to upgrade to the latest version, or in some cases the upgrade means they lose their customisation, or have to pay to have it re-developed.

SkillsServe is a configurable platform, avoiding the need for ‘development’ and has a single code base, with all customers getting access to the latest version at no additional cost. Releases are on average every 6 to 8 weeks and applied seamlessly behind the scenes.

To end with…

Let’s face it, there’s no shortage of new entrants to the LMS market – there is now 600+, so being no. 8 worldwide is something we are very proud of, but more so being top of our game as far as customer service makes the real difference.

and yes!… todays LMSs can be ‘challenger brands’, but personally I feel there is a lack of real challengers as a percentage of the 600, but enough to keep it interesting, we also are yet to see any consolidation – my feeling is this is starting to change, which will keep us on our toes.


Free Open Source LMSs can be like Puzzles

Here’s one made earlier… thanks Craig Weiss for your post on “free” open source LMSs, I like the puzzle!

Craig Weiss posted: "As you prepare your LMS discovery you might be thinking to yourself, perhaps I should get those free ones, you know like "Moodle". And it would understandable to think that way, after all you just sat in a panel session where people from big name compan"

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Free Open Source LMSs can be like Puzzles

by Craig Weiss

As you prepare your LMS discovery you might be thinking to yourself, perhaps I should get those free ones, you know like "Moodle". And it would understandable to think that way, after all you just sat in a panel session where people from big name companies created their own LMS – and tell you that is the way to do it (which happened at a trade show last year).

Or you may have read an article or seen a webinar recently, promoting the idea that free is the best way to go – for total control and unlimited users without paying for them. Which on paper seems like a great idea. But it is paper and in reality, getting free isn’t all that it is cracked up to be.


When people receive free software it falls into one of these categories

· Limited functionality

· May look like something you drew when you were nine years old – but hey its free!

· Has ads

· Robust nice looking but to do anything you really need to buy some component or extra

· It fell off the back of a truck in Midtown

· It is amazing and wonderful and the world is full of magic ponies

Puzzle Time

Everyone loves a good puzzle. I remember the days when you go and buy a puzzle (in a puzzle box) and then spend hours putting all those nifty pieces together and hope it comes out what they show it as on the back of the box.

But what happens if it doesn’t?

Puzzle Challenge

Let’s say you decide to offer puzzles to your employees and customers. You figure the best way to do that is go out and buy a puzzle, put it together then offer courses on how people can put that same puzzle together in under five minutes.

You can buy a pre-built puzzle or go it alone. For argument’s sake you go alone, especially when you find out that the puzzle box you found is free. Free? Yes sir!

You are elated because the back of the puzzle box shows an amazing 3D puzzle of a Castle and that clearly will be better than any of those other puzzles out there.

Next, you open up the box and find out that the puzzle has 10,000 pieces. No problem, you and your staff are puzzle experts. About half way through you realize that there are pieces missing.

You scan the box and in very tiny print it says, "Puzzle may not contain all the pieces. After all it is free.". You shake your head, but figure, no problem we can make it work.

Along the way you find out that their is a puzzle community, where others from around the world contribute their own pieces of the puzzle. Sweet you think to yourself, now we do not have to hire someone because there are all these pieces out there.

You soon learn that the pieces are basic and require a specific skill set which you or your staff does not possess. Worse some of the pieces haven’t be updated in months or even years, so that one piece no longer applies to any puzzle, let alone that new 3D one.

Now you are worried – but hey, you are aware of puzzle piece people who can build you a custom piece or the puzzle itself. You go out and hire a person (contractor). All is fine.

The puzzle is nearly built and then you realize that the puzzle piece person does not have 3D Widget compliance experience, which you will need for your puzzles. Now, you need to find someone who has that.

And oh yeah, that puzzle piece person tells you that once the puzzle is complete any additional changes will cost an additional fee.

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, your kid walks in with their mobile device and asks will they be able to see and complete the puzzle on the mobile device. Yeah you say, sure you can. Then they ask will it look like the puzzle I see regardless of the mobile device (responsive)? You say, "Yep".

Lastly your kid asks if they can work on the puzzle offline and then when they get back to the internet it moves everything back into the cloud. You say, "Yep".

Your kid is delighted.

You are panicking, because now you need to find someone with those skills to solve it.

Fast forward one month

Your puzzle is finished. Champagne flows. People Cheer. You launch.

48 hours goes by and someone calls telling you they have problems with your puzzle. It is at that instance you realize you do not have a help desk or support staff to assist folks. Okay, no worries you say, you will hire them.

Two months go by and gamification in puzzles is all the rage. You don’t have that with your puzzle. So you reach out to your puzzle person who tells you they can do it and will charge you X dollars. You agree.

After all that you go and review your financials. You just spent $60,000 for resources, time and labor and unless you have no plan to continue to enhance or at least keep it updated, will spend a minimum of $25,0000 to do so.

But hey at least it you can have unlimited users and you did get it for free.

Breaking up the Pieces

What you just read is what happens when you go free with a learning platform. I would say open source, but there are systems that provide open source and they are not free. Thus free open source (a proper way) or some platform that is free.

To take it out of the box, implement it and roll it out – and thinking it will look exactly like the examples – is highly unlikely. Because a free open source system is just the basics, the infrastructure (and even then, with some of them out there – that is stretching it).

In the end you will need to customize it, add components, have support in-house or outsource it, ensure that the skill sets of the people building it have those specific skill sets you need (inc. the mobile and whatever compliance standard you plan to use), and lastly, keep it updated, enhance it and move forward with it.

Oh, I failed to mention – host it. Whether you do it via Amazon S3, Rackspace or whoever – it is not free. Even if you decide to have it at your location, those servers in your IT room did not sprout from magic beans – they cost you or your company money.

Glue it or Smash it

There are a lot of people who swear by proprietary based systems (they build it themselves, etc.) and there are equally a number of people who swear at them (uh, not the people the proprietary based system).

But before you go down that rabbit hole realize that just because it states "free" it is far from it.

But my Fee based system is ****

I won’t lie here, you could end up with a crappy commercial LMS, just as you could end up with a house that is a money pit (I had one) or a new car that constantly goes into the shop or buy a computer/laptop/electronic equipment that turns out to be a dud.

That is sadly reality. And someone’s great experience with system A may not be the same experience you had with that same system.

I wish I could tell you that every system is unbelievably awesome – but then I would have to inform you that a scary and mean monster is hiding in your home closet right now, so don’t panic and just feed it your shoes. (no proof this works)

Bottom Line

There are people who love their free based fully customized system. They will tell you about it. Rave about it to everyone and anyone. They will make it appear as though it was so easy anyone could do it. But rarely do they mention all those other key pieces you will need. Those pieces that will either provide you a super star system or a virtual cardboard box.

Which in your case, would be as good as your learners receiving a free puzzle

With missing pieces.

E-Learning 24/7

No blog next week as I will be on vacation. But next blog: April 14th – My newest Top 10 Rankings for 2014-15 (1st release Plus systems to watch)

Craig Weiss | March 31, 2014 at 9:05 pm | Tags: e-learning, free LMS, free open source, learning management system, LMS | Categories: e-learning, learning management system, LMS, Open Source | URL:

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#learningawards @yourlpi – top night

Well done to all the award winners last night #learningawards @yourlpi – a joy to work with an inspirational bunch of L&D professionals, all who show true dedication to support the learning and development of their colleagues and customers.

Touching story from Paralympic Gold medallist from Beijing 2008 and Bronze medallist from London 2012, Liz Johnson to support raising money for

The Learning and Performance Institute hosts the annual Learning Awards to recognise outstanding examples of high standards, best practice, innovation and excellence in Learning and Development.

The awards are presented at The Dorchester, Park Lane, London and are firmly established as the benchmark for excellence throughout the learning industry.

How to get your message remembered

Are you someone who likes to read the entire accountants report, sit through endless PowerPoint slides, or read the 44 page proposal from a supplier? I bet you have seen one of these and no doubt come close to “death by PowerPoint” …

I can’t take credit for all of this, but I can share what I found from reading the book IMPACT by Jon Moon and how I adapted it. The book is a must read and I have to say I’ve changed a lot of how I create presentations, write reports and proposals – all of which have made me more productive and best of all more successful. I would love to share all that I have changed, for now 3 of Jon’s tips for PowerPoint I’ve adapted and my top tip – buy the book and visit Jon’s website


In the current economic times it’s no surprise that when a company selects a vendor for services they ask about financial stability. So you want to make sure that when you present to the buyers they remember the key points that are meaningful and hopefully secure you the deal.

I tend to go one step further and add some images. This in this example gets two messages across – consistent growth and profitability. All the other points you can discuss. They will remember the key point 3O years consistent growth and profitability.


You want your audience to remember a key process change coming into effect. You could present as 4 bullet points or try an acronym.

A cartoon that reinforces

I kind of wish I had been more focused in the graphic design class at school as I really wish I could draw great cartoons – Google Images you are my rock! You do have to be careful here (copyright, appropriateness of the cartoon etc.) and to be fair this is very much my take on using a cartoon. See Jon’s in his book. Smart Art I’ve used for showing a workflow / process, yet recently I’ve started to use the great cartoon you see below, to show how we don’t do it. My audience remember the cartoon as us knowing what not to do, and then I show then a slide with a creative looking document template and talk about the process. Fun to formal in 2 slides I find gives you an element of control at the same time as delivering a clear message.

RFI questions for bespoke eLearning services

Do you need a good set of RFI questions for bespoke eLearning? – in trying to help out a colleague, after the realisation of the hours spent on completing poorly designed RFIs, I picked myself up and sifted threw the plethora of RFIs I had experienced, I did manage to dig out some good questions.

head in hands!

I shared this set content RFI, which in my opinion helps vendors establish priorities and apply an appropriate amount of time when it comes to RFIs. From the buyers perceptive better designed RFIs like this saves time from not having to compile detailed, quite often unnecessary requirements/questions, let alone the time saved when reading/scoring the RFIs.

I’d love to hear views from vendors and buyers out there…

Good To Great always great to read!

Good To Great

Whether you’re attending Learning Technologies next week or following what’s going on from afar, make sure you take a few minutes to read this invaluable blog post from Kate Graham.

In it, she’s shared a heap of useful information about the backchannel to help everyone get the most out of it – including some blog and website links you might need beforehand and a heads-up about the right people to follow on Twitter to make sure you don’t miss out.

Kate will be adding more information about hashtags, speakers and practical advice over the next few days, so follow her on Twitter and visit her blog regularly (or sign up to the LSG site where she’ll also be posting).

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campaign to wipe out ineffective, inefficient, flabby elearning

The eLearning Network is waging a campaign to wipe out ineffective, inefficient, flabby elearning.  We want great elearning and we want it now!




TEDx video: Shawn Anchor on the happy secret to a better life… amusing and insightful

Thank you for your votes!

I’ve been elected to the Board of the eLearning Network (eLN) so hope to give you plenty of support in return for you electing me!

baby boomers through to generation Z are all now giving the online education world the thumbs up and not seeing online as an inferior alternative

US: Online learning growth dwarfs overall enrolment

My conclusion from reading this report  by I. Elaine Allen, University World News is what will the employees of the future expect to see in their working environment when they leave education and that the baby boomers through to generation Z are all now giving the online education world the thumbs up and not seeing online as an inferior alternative. “The proportion of academic leaders who now believe online education is as good as or better than face-to-face classes is now just over two thirds of all respondents, up from 57% in the first year of the study.” – I guess you have to assume many of the ‘leaders’ are either baby boomers changing their views or the generation X’s moving in to the category, so naturally the statistics are changing with the age band of the leaders.

US: Online learning growth dwarfs overall enrolment by I. Elaine Allen, University World News