In today’s world of incredible technology, there seems to be a myriad of products for every need. In the world of training and learning, this is no exception. I have evaluated dozens of different tools, products, and packages in my 15+ years in the industry. That being said, there seems to be one fairly universal question that permeates the industry: How do I choose the best Learning Management System (LMS) for my company’s/client’s needs?
Having sat on a number of different LMS selection committees, I’d like to share some of the insights I’ve garnered over the years that will, hopefully, help you as go about finding the right LMS for your purposes.
I present to you my 5 Considerations Before Choosing an LMS (in no particular order):
Consideration #1: What are you looking to accomplish by implementing the LMS?
Many companies jump into the LMS selection process but completely overlook this step. Yet, this step is pretty critical, in my opinion, to determining the best LMS for your situation.
Ask yourself and other key personnel this question before getting too far into the LMS selection. For some companies, the answer is that they are looking to track the progress of learners for employee evaluation purposes. Others are looking to adhere to HR or OSHA training compliance guidelines. There are some companies who want the LMS only to train their internal people, while others are looking only to host the training for external learners (customers and partners). Lastly, there are some that are simply looking for a central place to store their training courses.
Not all LMSes are created equal in this regard. Some are designed primarily for the education world. While they may have components that allow them to be adapted to the corporate environment, they will always be a bit cumbersome to adapt to a different purpose than the one for which they were designed. Make sure you take the time to find the LMS that addresses the criteria you set forth in this part of the process.
Consideration #2: How much control do you want when it comes to your LMS?
Do you plan to have at least one full-time employee dedicated to maintaining and administering your LMS? Do you have the system and network power and requirements for hosting your own LMS? These questions, and others like them, should come into play when selecting an LMS. Again, this step is often neglected until late in the LMS selection process, yet a lot of time and energy could be saved by addressing these questions up front. If you want to host your own LMS rather than have a provider host it for you, that’s going to narrow down your choices quite a bit. If you want it hosted, but want to maintain administrative control, that will also narrow things down quite a bit.
This consideration leads into the next one fairly seamlessly.
Consideration #3: What features/functionality are you looking for in an LMS?
While most LMSes offer a plethora of features and tools in their basic package, you may not want or need all that extra information cluttering up your system. There are many that offer a bare-bones package that you can then select the add-ons and tools that help you to make it really the best LMS for your needs.
In addition, there are some companies that will give you an interface with a few areas that you can change/customize to fit your branding guidelines, but don’t give you the full control to change the homepage, for instance.
Some LMSes take a social media approach with comments, likes, and a newsfeed, but others prefer more of a web portlet interface. Make sure you think about what your learners are used to in order to make the best decision on LMS selection.
Consideration #4: What is the support system for the LMS?
Support is something we often don’t think about until we need it, yet spending the time deciding what you need from a support model can save a lot of headaches down the road. I have run across instances where the entire LMS support was relegated to their internal community, there was little to no information available on the Internet in general. That made it hard to find the answers I was looking for since my company was in a different industry than many of the current customers.
In many cases, you can buy a support package that entitles you to a certain number of hours of support, whether online or on the phone. Often, that package of hours includes such things as increasing your storage space, or adding users, or other such customizations/upgrades, meaning that you could easily burn through your allotment in the first couple months of your contract and be left with a costly support bill hanging over you when something more serious occurs.
Consideration #5: What types of learning objects will you be creating/using inside your LMS?
Are all your courses published for the xAPI (TinCan) standard? Well, not all LMSes will support this standard. Some only support SCORM 1.2 and others only support SCORM 2004. It would be a bitter pill to swallow if you selected an LMS only to find out after the fact that all the courses you’ve created prior to the LMS implementation won’t run because they are published to the wrong standard.
In one case in my own experience, I found out several months into the implementation process that the LMS we had selected would only run videos from a certain site (and had to have a special codec installed to even do that). We spent hours troubleshooting our courses only to find out that the issue was on the LMS side.
Most companies who are looking for an LMS are also interested in pre-packaged content that comes with many systems. Generally this includes soft skills, HR, and IT-related skills that are pretty common across the board.
The downside of prepackaged courseware is that you are forced into taking it as is, with little to no ability to customize it to your branding needs. Here at eLearning Brothers we have helped to alleviate that with our Customizable Courseware that is ready for uploading to your LMS as-is (we’ve tested it on several LMS implementations already) or is available for you to download the source files and customize the courseware as you see fit.
Making sure you put together a good list of questions and criteria will really aid you in your selection. Most LMS companies nowadays will offer you a trial version or “sandbox” so you can upload courses and see what the experience is like from the Learner, Author/Instructor, and Administrator points of view.
The main thing in any LMS selection process is to do your homework. Don’t just go with the one who answers your RFP or is the cheapest, the most flashy, or the most persistent. Carefully put together your requirements, then do your due diligence to select the one that’s right for you.
The good news is, that with the bountiful selection of LMSes out there, you should be able to find one that will address your needs.