What I learned this summer – LXPs, the content marketplace and what it means for higher education

I’m 3 weeks into a 5 week vacation and while most people catch up on some reading or writing, I’ve balanced my time between a fantastic staycation and diving into the world of LXPs. LXPs aren’t an acronym I’ve been hearing around my higher ed circles, and if that’s the case for you as well, buckle up. This is a quick and dirty post on what I learned, and may lack the linking required to dig deeper on all the reading I uncovered, but it’s still summer and I’m still on vacation.

What are LXPs?

An LXP (also sometimes called an LEP) stands for a Learning Experience Platform. I first heard this term in April from a colleague of mine and the concept seemed intriguing. There’s no shortage of vendor white papers out there on it but if you want a good view of how and why the LMS is being abandoned by the L & D training world for the LXP, Josh Bersin’s blog is the place to start. Let’s remember that LMS’s emerged out of higher ed and subsequently were adopted by corporate. LXPs seem to be the opposite story, although the marketplace is still a bit confusing. Basically, you have LXPs built from the ground up, LMS’s adding on or building out LXP components, and other ed tech tools (e.g Curatr) morphing to become LXPs. That said, the features of LXPs are interesting and it’s not hard to imagine how a technology such as this could be suitable to some areas of higher ed.

I sat through about 5 or 6 calls or demos with a selection of LXP vendors and learned a few things:

  1. The lines between LMS’s, LXPs and micro-learning platforms are blurry, but the various companies are trying to differentiate. In other words, unlike the higher ed LMS selection, which to me has always looked like variations of beige or grey, it is much easier to see where a particular LXP vendor’s focus and attention is in relation to its desired market.
  2. LXPs aggregate a variety of trendy learning features such as badging, gamification, social learning, rating and feedback systems. While some of these seemed unnecessary to me, there is nonetheless some good thinking around modernizing training approaches to how people actually want to access content and engage with training. So while higher ed may rub against a concept of “Netflix of Learning”, there is some value in the idea of “learning in the flow of work” and user interfaces that are not only familiar, but as easy to use as our beloved Netflix. Basically, I’ll take an LXP interface over an LMS any day, based on what I saw.

3. LXP’s are expensive and as a result most vendors I talked to were targeting the 1000 plus employee companies.

4. A key component of an LXP is its ability to integrate with “outside” content in addition to any in house training or content. In other words, it pulls in content from various content marketplaces, which could include Coursera, Khan Academy, or other more industry specific content marketplaces, of which there seems to be no shortage.

5. As of now, there are no open source LXPs. (Valamis began as one but the OS version is no longer being updated).

6. AI, data dashboards and data analytics are a core functionality of an LXP. In some cases (not all) the line between the analytics capabilities and employee surveillance are thin. To underline #1, some vendors seem to be targeting the HR employee market, while others seem more focussed on providing features that will actually attract users to want to do the training.

7. LXPs are cloud hosted solutions (no surprise there).

8. Most of the vendors I talked to had no higher ed clients, and only a few had clients in Canada, although many had clients in Europe and Asia.

So why should higher ed care?

Short answer: the course content marketplace

If I was leading a Continuing Studies or Executive Education unit, or ran certificate programs in corporate training relevant areas such as leadership, software applications, IT, or business fundamentals, I’d pay close attention to the content marketplace and LXP ecosystem. Here’s why.

First of all, the content marketplace is not new, but like so much in tech, what started as a small pet has grown into a complicated family of beasts. In 2014 I wrote about Micro-learning and community, subscription based, and micro-content elearning models. It’s fun to go back to this post and see how things have evolved. I’m happy to see that Ravelry is still around but Craftsy, which ran on the video-based microlearning Sympoz platform, has changed quite a bit and is now Bluprint. Sympoz used to be available as a platform for purchase which no longer seems to be the case. HBR is a broken link now but in fact it is still going strong as a full fledged course marketplace in the package of external content that LXPs integrate. The Art of Education, which I featured in a slide deck about alternative e-learning models back in 2015, has become the Art of Education University signifying a growth from a one woman side hustle to a full fledged occupant of the K-12 and district professional development space for art teachers.

Let’s not forget that the online course as side hustle marketplace has quite literally exploded. Back in 2014 when I was learning about the Art of Education and Craftsy, I was also exploring how side hustlers were getting their courses online. There was a lot of WordPress and Woo commerce, and it took some determination and persistence to get things going for the average non expert. So no surprise that a new marketplace for Online Course Platforms (different from the LMS) has sprung up, with affordable subscription models to get the side hustler with no instructional design skills and few multimedia skills up and running in a few days with their online course. (e.g Teachable, Thinkific).

So back to the question about why higher ed should care. On the simplest level, let’s say I want to learn how to grow micro greens and start a micro green farm. Where do I look first? At my local community college? At my local university’s continuing studies course catalog? No, I google, and I land on this site, where for $199 I can take an online one day workshop and learn all about it. And I suspect that it’s a much easier transaction process on the side hustler site than at my local college as well.

So what does this have to do with LXPs? LXPs as it turns out broker arrangements with the larger content marketplaces such as HBR, Udemy, EdX and Coursera. Essentially, LXPs are a mechanism that content marketplaces need to expand their audience, which is why I was surprised to learn that the content marketplaces ‘approve’ the LXP vendor wanting to pull in their content. This, of course is much more attractive to a content marketplace when the LXP serves thousands of employees. I’m not clear on what the transaction is between user/employee/company and content marketplace, or LXP and content marketplace, but I’d love to know more.

The obvious point to make here is that higher ed could do very well to pay attention to this and learn from it. On the one hand, it may feel like disruption. On the other hand, this may be a great opportunity to finally get past some of our tech limitations in order to expand our thinking about what a course or a program looks like and needs to be. It may also be a way to think about how some parts of higher ed could be transformed, continuing studies and executive education in particular. Importantly, how can higher ed create its own narrative, provide an alternative vision of LXPs and content marketplaces that are in line with our missions and values?


  • Clint Lalonde

    I find this entire space really interesting, mostly because what you are describing in the LXP space with the differentiated learning experiences is something that should be something of a model for our higher ed institutions. I can’t see faculty in multiple disciplines continuing to accept using a single common platform (LMS) and expect them to be satisfied with the results as there are so many variations in how different subjects/disciplines are actually taught.

    To draw an analogy to brick and mortar buildings, we have long recognized that to teach chemistry we need specialized chemistry labs. The physical spaces we use to teach science is different than the physical spaces used to teach english, which is different than the physical spaces used to teach carpentry. Yet institutions continue to accept that all of these different models of teaching and learning can be accommodated with the same learning management system.

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