Finding the right learning management system (LMS) for your organization can be a daunting task. There are a growing number of LMS options in the market, and each one has its own set of features, pricing, and level of support. The 5 questions below are a good place to start in the decision making process.
1. Who will be using the LMS?
At larger companies trying to develop training programs through their learning management systems, it’s typical for an instructional designer to be part of the team that implements the training. And, in today’s environment, it’s rare to find an instructional designer without any sort of eLearning experience. With this in mind, the complexity of the LMS might not be a problem.
However, if the expectation is for other people who work for the company to also use the learning management system, then one should consider an LMS that’s as easy to use as possible, otherwise any investment in the system could be wasted. At companies who hope to use an LMS to implement some type of online training program, for example, managers and members of your HR department should be a part of the conversation.
2. What features are needed in the system?
At one University where I taught, for many years we used an learning management system that could be used to create online courses through video, assessments, and documents and could was also a means to connect with our students via e-mail. A few years back, we switched to a “fancier” LMS. This one could do all of the above, but it also had an easy to way to add third-party functionality through something called LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability). LTI is a standard that was created to enable different educational apps to talk with one another. While on paper this seemed like the right move, I personally know of very few people who use the advanced feature. So, one has to ask whether the switch was worth it from this perspective.
Necessary features also vary whether you use your LMS in an academic or corporate setting. In the academic setting, much of the learning is done in a face-to-face environment. For these users, the most important features of the LMS are the file system and the e-mail system. For a corporate LMS, a big use case is in online training of employees, partners, and customers. With this in mind, corporate branding of the system, ease of use in the online course component, and a reporting component are the most important features.
3. Can you spend some time using the proposed LMS?
Most of learning management systems on the market provide potential partners with a trial period. This could be a good time for you and your team to experiment with the LMS and see if you think it will be easy for members of your organization to use. And don’t be shy about asking a potential LMS vendor for a demo. By using screen-sharing software such as Google Hangouts, a representative from the LMS company can easily walk you through the salient features of their product to give you an initial feeling for the system and how it works.
4. How responsive is the LMS company?
No matter how easy it is to use a particular LMS, they’ll be some point in time when you need a question answered. Before any commitment is made, it would be a great idea to test out the support features of your potential vendor. Things to think about are whether your vendor is prompt in responding to inquiries, whether your vendor can actually answer your questions in plain English, and whether your vendor makes you feel comfortable asking questions to begin with.
Another idea to consider is whether the vendor is responsive to its customers in implementing features. How feature requests are handled by the LMS vendor can be one metric that can help you get an idea of what your long-term relationship with the vendor might look like.
5. What are the price considerations?
The pricing structure of an LMS can vary widely. Some vendors don’t have any publicly accessible pricing; typically these companies focus on enterprise solutions. However, there are many LMS solutions that provide monthly pricing on their websites and offer discounts for annual subscriptions. And, while the lowest price might seem like the best bet, a lack of features in the system or support from the company might make the lower price seem less attractive in the long-run as other hidden costs present themselves. With this in mind, price should just be one piece of the puzzle in making a decision.
As with any purchase, there’s no “right” purchase for every organization. And, shopping around for an LMS is no different. However, spending some time thinking about what’s most important to you and your organization can really make the process go a lot smoother.