Learning management systems, or LMSes, are strategic investments.
They require time and money to set up, and provide returns by way of skilled up talent and an improved bottom line. That is, if you choose the right one.
With hundreds of LMS providers out there, it can be daunting to pick the right one for your company. With so many different factors at play, it’s important to understand your company’s needs before jumping into the process.
Choosing an LMS isn’t as easy as picking the most feature rich solution out there. In fact, doing just that can backfire on you. A system that’s too complex can alienate admins and learners that aren’t digital natives. Conversely, a system that’s too simplified will hinder course creators and learning admins from living up to their full potential.
Aside from the features, there are a number of other factors you will need to consider when making your decision. In this article, we will go through the steps you can take to make an informed decision.
Spell out your training needs
Selecting a system is akin to Goldilocks’ dilemma. There isn’t a one size fits all solution and in order to find the perfect fit you will first need to figure out what “perfect” means in relation to your company. Mapping out your company’s training needs is a process done best with collaboration. If you have an existing training solution, speak to admins and a small group of learners to find out what’s lacking.
Who are you training?
This might be apparent to you already, but knowing who you’re training is essential to determining how you will train and what solution you should use.
Meeting people at their digital literacy level is key to improving engagement rates. If your company skews older, it would be wise to opt for an LMS with limited features and a friendly UX. A LMS that’s difficult to use can alienate learners who have only recently become digitally literate.
If there is a millennial majority, you may want to consider a system with gamification and social learning elements. An LMS that mimics digital interactions millennials have outside of work makes learning an engaging experience.
How many people do you plan on training? A team, or the entire company? If you plan on training a smaller group of people, you might be limited by the solutions you can opt for. A number of learning management systems have minimum learner requirements.
If your company is growing or has a significant turnover rate, you will have to consider the different pricing plans as well as the mass user registration features.
Here are some of the pricing plans you will encounter:
- Pay-per-learner: ideal if you have a stable number of learners and if training is mandatory
- Pay-per-active-user: ideal if you have one-time training (e.g. onboarding) or if you’d like to train batches of learners over the year.
- Pay-as-you-go: ideal if you’re unsure if there will be a stable demand for learning
- License fee: ideal for large enterprises
Is everyone starting at level one, or are some learners more advanced? If you’re training people with different skill sets, you should look into a system that lets you segment your audience, create learning paths, or use placement tests.
If a learner is forced to complete lessons they have already mastered, they may not be as inclined to continue learning, However, this won’t matter if your learners are starting from the same place. So if your objective is compliance training, you won’t have to worry about placement functionality. However, you will need a solution with a robust tracking system.
What are your goals?
What do you hope to achieve through your learning and development initiatives? When setting your goals, use the SMART goals format to ensure you’re being specific.
To refresh your memory, SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time limited. So instead of “increase compliance rate”, your goal could be “reduce time for certification from three months to two weeks.” Breaking down your goals into smaller chunks betters your chance of achieving them.
Help yourself with a free template to get your SMART goals in check!
As well as setting goals for the immediate future, take into consideration your company’s goals for the next five years. Selecting an LMS that can fulfil the training needs of today and tomorrow will save you time and money in the long run.
What are your technical requirements?
The key technical requirements you should be concerned with are content (various types), support, user management, learning models, reporting, security, and integrations.
What type of content do you already have? What type of content do you plan on creating in the next few years? Make a list of the file types you need supported (e.g. SCORM, PDFs, external links, audio, video) and another list of nice-to-have supported file types for the future.
Another technical content requirement to consider is where the content is coming from. Some LMS have inbuilt content editors that enable admins to create learning materials from within the platform, or a team that can help you create custom courses from your existing materials.
Another green flag is a robust support service. While you want your solution to be intuitive and easy-to-use, you do want to be able to get help when you need it. Once you have shortlisted a few providers, try contacting their support to ensure their responses meet your standards.
Again, depending on how many people you plan on training, registration will be a factor you will need to consider. Will learners register themselves or will an admin do this?
If you’re training a large group, look into systems that offer mass registration features such as a CSV upload. If you have high turnover, an automated data feed will cut down on admin workload. Do you have multiple admins working on the LMS? Ensure that the system you pick allows for joint control over the system.
Another way to narrow down the search is by defining whether your training will be exclusively online, exclusive online, or blended. If your L&D initiatives involve instructor-led training, you will need a platform that lets you manage schedules and locations, as well as monitor attendances.
Learning and development initiatives are all about the results. How do you plan on measuring them? Look back to the goals you created in the previous step and note down the metrics you need to collect in order to track their progress.
Do you need the data to be exportable? Are you more interested in group metrics or individual reporting? Do you need the ability to customize reports?
Security is an important part of eLearning, especially when compliance comes into play. Learners shouldn’t be able to log into each others accounts and their data should be kept safe.
Some factors to think about are:
- Location of data storage
- User authentication
- Who can have access to what data
Does your company use existing Business Intelligence or HR software? If so, is it essential that the LMS connects to it? Answering these questions thoroughly will give you clarity when evaluating the different solutions out there. Once you have a definitive list of your requirements, you can start thinking about the extra features you’d like to have.
What are your nice-to-haves?
At this point in the LMS search, you can also ask your mini focus group comprised of learners and admins to dream up nice-to-have features. Learning technology is constantly evolving. Here are just a handful of extra features you may encounter on your search for an LMS:
- Social learning: this can present in a number of forms, but they all involve some social aspect. (e.g. knowledge sharing, competition)
- Talent management: creation of learning paths to close skill gaps
- Mobile learning: training is accessible through an app or through an adaptive platform.
- E-commerce: the ability to sell the courses you create
- White labelling: makes training feel like a seamless part of the learning experience. Most LMS have basic white labelling features (e.g. logo or theme colours). If you want training to feel even more seamless, you can look into adding the platform to your domain.
- Gamification: like social learning, this can also take on many forms (e.g. points, rewards, leaderboards) and have a motivating effect on learners
- Certificates: the ability to upload or create certificates through the platform
Explore your options
Once you have a robust idea of your requirements, it’s time to look at your options. You can use sites like G2 to filter by feature in order to come up with a shortlist of LMS to pick from. With so many learning management systems on the market, this list might be quite long.
One way to narrow the list down is by asking your peers about their experiences with learning management systems or reading online reviews. Remember to take notes while you’re doing this. Evaluating different solutions is a long process and the different SaaS may start blending into one. Using an Excel sheet to evaluate the different options and keep track of the notes might be tedious, but will help you out down the line.
Narrow down the list
After you’ve come up with a list of options, it’s time to narrow the list down even further. You can do this by investigating a vendor’s track record. Have they won awards? How many years have they been in business? Do they have a history of iterating and advancing their product? How many businesses have they worked with?
Awards, years in business, innovation, and experience are all green flags to look out for. Another thing to look out for is a strong knowledge base – are there how to articles and video tutorials available?
How does this vendor handle updates? Will you be informed well in advance? Will you need to pay extra to be upgraded? Once you have further downsized your list to 3-5 vendors, it’s time to take the next step.
Request a demo
Before you request a demo, refer back to your needs training goals and come up with a list of use cases for the LMS. Additionally, prepare a list of questions to ask the vendor’s representative. Use this time to find out about hidden costs, user data protection, customization, or any information you couldn’t find in the research process. Finally, gather the relevant internal stakeholders and let the demos commence.
Try it yourself
The demos will have given you more clarity when choosing a platform. However, the real test is using the software yourself. Most learning management systems offer free trials for a week or a month. Take advantage of this by signing yourself up for the shortlisted platforms.
List out possible scenarios and use cases and work your way through the platforms. What does it look like for a learner trying to take a course? What happens when you delete users? How easy is it to download reports? If things aren’t as easy to use, take this opportunity to contact their support. Is help available right away or do you have to wait?
If you’re having difficulty using the platform, this is not a good sign as it will likely take your colleagues more time to master using the system. After all this research, you’re probably an LMS whiz!
There is no one size fits all solution. If there was, there wouldn’t be so many learning management systems out there.
When choosing an LMS, your objectives need to be clear. The more precisely defined your needs are, the easier it will be to select the right bowl of porridge…I mean…LMS. Finally, pick something that can grow with your company. After all this hard work, the last thing you’re going to want to do is repeat the process the following year, or the one after that.
Now that you know more about LMS software than you ever have before, explore all available options for your needs today – only on G2.
Jessica spends 12 hours a day on the internet managing security for web assets and loves her macha tea