Almost 4 of 10 U.S. companies that use eLearning are less than satisfied with their LMS. According to Brandon Hall Group’s research LMS Trends 2015, data shows that 38% of the companies surveyed are considering a system change.
We gathered feedback from eLearning experts and created a detailed step-by-step plan that will help you see through the marketing hype and find out how to choose an LMS that matches your needs.
Step 1. Identify Your Needs
With so many (600+) learning platforms to select from, you need to start with a well-defined search criteria. It’s crucial to know exactly what you need from an LMS and how it can help you reach your training goals and business objectives.
Determine goals and objectives
Set the business goal you want to achieve with the help of eLearning. To do this, ask the question: “What do I want to achieve from training?” From the answer, it’ll become clear what result to expect. Aims should be specific, measurable, achievable, and time-limited.
To make it clear how to reach a goal — break it up into smaller tasks. The result is a realistic project roadmap.
For example, if the goal is:
Reduce the time for sales representative certification from 3 months to 1 week.
You can set the following objectives:
- Educate staff on the product line and benefits of each product.
- Teach some efficient sales techniques to your colleagues.
- Check your employees’ knowledge of the product line after training.
- Check how your colleagues have mastered their sales skills.
Know your audience
When choosing a learning management system, it’s critical to understand exactly who you will train. It will help you better define your learning strategy requirements in an LMS. To reach a clear understanding of who your audience is, answer five questions.
- How old are your employees? For example, if most learners are young people from Generation Y, they will definitely enjoy learning by sharing important information with their colleagues and engaging in discussions on social media. So you’d better select an LMS with social learning features.
- Do your employees have varied skill levels? If you’re planning to train newcomers as well as experienced employees, you will need a system that won’t force learners to go through excess material because of a default structure. In this case, an LMS with the ability to create different learning paths and test of material they already know will be the perfect solution for you.
- How tech savvy is the staff? If not all of your employees are digital veterans, choose an LMS that is super simplified and user-friendly. Otherwise, you will need extra time to learners how to learn (… a decidedly non-value add activity).
- Where do your employees study? Ask your colleagues where and when it’s comfortable for them to take courses. Let’s say you find out that most employees prefer to learn from mobile devices after hours: Choose a mobile-friendly LMS.
- How many employees are you going to train? If your business is large, you may need a system with mass user registration features. Make sure your system will scale as needed.
By answering these questions, you will be able to identify the LMS features needed to achieve your training goals and create a comfortable, engaging environment for learning.
Step 2. Define Your LMS Requirements
After determining the learning goals, objectives, and the audience demographics, you now need to focus on the demands for the system. The more complete your list of LMS requirements, the easier it is to find the ‘best-fit’ solution.
It’s important to define your LMS requirements through the lens of your business in three key categories. To learn what the categories are, read the article.
Automate corporate training and improve employee performance.
Step 3. Explore the Market
You’ve already defined the LMS features you need and the cost range. Now your challenge is to narrow the hundreds of choices down to a short list of solutions. To get started, use one of the following methods for selecting vendors.
“Ask your friends and colleagues what solutions they’re using. If you’re looking at an LMS and you know someone who uses it, they can be a great asset, as they have hands-on experience and can tell you how things are going.
View ratings and LMS user reviews. There are a lot of websites such as Capterra and G2Crowd that will help you compare systems.
Use the filtering tool in Capterra’s LMS software directory to check off your must-have features and narrow down the list.
Result: A ‘first-cut’ list of 10-15 learning platforms to start with.”
Step 4. Evaluate Vendors
Now that you have a first-cut list, it’s time to dig a little deeper and learn a bit about each LMS. Ultimate goal: Get to a “short-list” of 3-5 vendors.
Browse through vendors’ websites
- Look through the page with the LMS description to see if the system has all the necessary features, and make sure there aren’t too many options you don’t need. At this stage, features are the primary selection criterion. If the platform does not meet your requirements, they’re not on the short-list!
- Have a closer look at the vendor itself. Pay attention to how long they’ve been on the market and who their customers are. It’s always a nice bonus if the company or its products have won any awards.
- Read reviews and success stories from the companies/clients using this LMS.
- See if there is a knowledge base on the site — product documentation, how-to articles, and video tutorials. Some vendors offer training materials only at an additional cost, while others simply don’t have good learning content to support their learning system (red flag).
- Find out how things are with tech support. High-quality technical support implies fast feedback, the ability to contact them via different communication channels, and effective problem-solving. You can use Capterra’s advice to find an LMS with helpful support.
- If the vendor is a foreign company, ask about their localization features. It’ll be much more convenient for your employees to use a system with an interface localized in your language.
- Find out how well they handle updates. Ask the vendor if they update the system, how often, how you will receive updates, and whether you need to pay extra for it.
This research will likely shorten your list to 5-7 vendors that meet your requirements.
“However, don’t use the results of the initial research to finalize your decision, as it can mislead you from making the right choice. To choose one of several learning platforms, you have to check them yourself to make sure that they do what the vendors say.”
Test the LMS
If you buy a car, you test drive it. Demos are key to getting a feel for the learning platform and seeing if it will help you achieve your goals. Most LMSs offer free trials, usually for 14-days. During this time, you have a chance to check all its capabilities. Don’t settle for just browsing through the features; try outlining a few scenarios that you and your users will most likely experience in the system, so you can see exactly what they look like.
- Make sure the LMS has all the features you need and check how they work. To get started, invite users, upload training materials, assign content to learners, and try creating your own tests and courses in the editor. Then test extra features that you may want to use. For example, if you want to change the interface of the student login page, try doing it yourself.
- Pay attention to the LMS interface. If it’s hard for you to understand how to add users or assign content to them, you will have to spend a lot of time mastering the system and teaching learners to use it. Consider choosing an LMS with intuitive user-interfaces right from the start.
- Load the system as much as possible. Upload tons of materials in sizes and formats that you expect to use in the future. For example, let’s say you’re going to train employees with the help of SCORM courses or video lectures. Upload materials to the platform, assign them to users, and make sure the system can handle the load and everything works fine.
Find out what services tech support provides and make sure to try contacting the support team. Pay attention to how quickly you receive an answer if the support engineer helps you to solve the problem, and whether it’s easy to communicate with them.
Ask for a use case demonstration
After you’ve tested the platforms, the shortlist is likely to be reduced to 3-5. Ask these vendors to hold a use case demonstration for you, but don’t forget to prepare in advance.
- Decide who should attend the presentation. When choosing a learning management system, you need to create a focus group with stakeholders throughout the organization. For example, you can invite an administrator, a course developer, a business coach, and the head of employee training from HR.
- Develop a Use Case to cover all the business requirements. A Use Case is a scenario that will typically be performed by an administrator, an instructor, and a learner. After you give them a specific use case, the vendor will be able to personalize the demonstration — i.e., show how it works according to your needs.
Here’s what simple Use Case might look like:
|You assess your employees every three months. In two weeks, they are going to complete several courses and take tests. You want to create the courses and tests right in the LMS.||Ask the vendor to walk you through how to register a user, create a test and a course, and upload the content.|
|Besides experienced employees, there are a lot of newcomers in your company for whom you need to make different learning programs.||Ask the vendor to demonstrate how to create a learning path that includes different kinds of content.|
|You’re planning to hold face-to-face training with an instructor.||Ask the vendor to show how to manage classroom schedules and locations, track attendance, and assign users to courses.|
It’s a good idea to ask the vendor to conduct a demonstration from the learners’ point of view — how they log in, view courses, take tests, look through the results, and see how the system tracks their progress and data.
Prepare a list of questions that you can ask the vendor during the demo. Here’s a sample list of questions:
- How much does the LMS cost? Are there hidden costs, such as hosting, installation, updates, technical support, etc.?
- How flexible is the LMS? Can you customize its functionality yourself? Can you integrate it with other platforms and services? How scalable is the LMS?
- What measures are taken to protect user data? What is the disaster recovery plan? How often do they conduct a penetration test?
Step 5. Choose an LMS
It sometimes happens that you can’t make a choice between two or three finalist systems, any of which meets your demands.
“To settle on a product, make a list of your requirements, including the number of learners, and send it to the vendors. LMS user-friendliness, features, availability in cloud or not, implementation timeframe, support and maintenance, final license cost — all of these play a crucial role in identifying the right LMS. Compare the responses and select the vendor whose terms suit you best.”
Choosing an LMS can seem quite intimidating, but following this guide will definitely facilitate the task. Keeping all of these helpful tips in mind will allow you to avoid a costly trial-and-error process.
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We would like to express our gratitude to our experts for sharing their expertise on how to choose an LMS and helping with this article:
Mona Shaker, an LMS expert and e-Learning consultant with wide experience in e-Learning. Mona provides technical consulting services for different educational institutes and training centers in the Middle East and Europe. She has helped multiple organizations find the perfect Learning Management System that met their business needs. Mona also consults with customers to support LMS deployments
Ravikumar Ramamurthy, lead LMS consultant at IBM India Private Limited. Ravikumar has 14+ years of experience in the area of LMS Project Management, Implementation, Configuration, Customization, Consolidation of LMS & Data/Content Migration from old legacy systems & Application Support of various Learning Management Systems.