Are you in the market for an LMS but do not know where to start? The industry is full of options, and it can be confusing to know where to begin in your LMS evaluation process. We put together this helpful guide to provide you with the information you need to find the right LMS provider for your organization!
The Different Types of Learning Management Systems
Before getting into the specific elements and interface of an LMS, it is important to understand the different types of available learning management platforms.
Open Source LMS
Open Source LMSs are just what they sound like. They provide open source code that you can download and access for free, thus avoiding a license fee. This can be attractive to small organizations on a limited budget. Basic versions of an open-source system are sometimes available at little-to-no cost.
You can customize source code to fit your organization’s needs, but typically smaller companies do not have the bandwidth or expertise to do this, so there can be hidden hosting, customization, administrative, and maintenance costs. ‘Free’ sounds wonderful, but these unanticipated expenses can add up. Support for open source LMS is often forum-based and supported by the community rather than a dedicated technical support team.
The most prominent advantage to a custom LMS is obvious: you can customize it to fit your organization’s specific needs.
While, to a degree, you can control the total cost of a custom LMS by prioritizing what your organization needs and what it does not, custom LMSs are much more expensive than the other options. Custom LMSs are generally not considered a viable option for small-to-mid sized companies as a result.
Custom LMSs typically require a dedicated professional teams to design, develop, and implement the LMS, create the online training content, and monitor the software performance and address problems.
A community-driven LMS provides the best of both worlds: the ability to fully innovate and customize your LMS as well as access to regular feature and updates that otherwise may not have been available or affordable.
Platform improvements to a community-driven LMS are funded collectively by customers through development projects. The final features are then released to all customers at no additional cost. The community-driven roadmap allows hosting costs to remain low compared to other LMS platforms, while still providing ongoing LMS enhancements. Additionally, when participating in projects, your organization’s input is a crucial part of the LMS development process, and provides new enhancement to the core platform for all customers.
Ongoing development and enhancement to the core platform enables a community-driven LMS to be offered at a low monthly rate, eliminating per-user and per-server licensing fees.
How Will the LMS Be Administered?
When evaluating LMS options, it’s important to consider how the LMS will be administered. The number of LMS administrators your organization will need depends on your training goals and internal requirements, in addition to the LMS you purchase.
It is important to determine the human resources you have available to manage your LMS before you decide on which features and elements you want. Consider the type of learning you want to offer and what you want to provide learners to help you shape this list. Here are some example questions to consider:
- How many learners do you need to be provide learning content to?
- Is automation of assignments and communications important?
- What flexibility of functionality is needed?
Bear in mind that LMS administration is accomplished through tools to configure, create and manage the following:
- Users (Learners, User Group Admins, Sub Admins, and Main Admins) and groups
- Learning content (eLearning, ILT, vILT, videos, audio, documents and more)
- Learning tracks (or competency paths)
- Classroom locations, classroom sessions, and webinars sessions
- Continuing Education Units
- Grade Book (Record Entry)
- Communications (notifications and emails)
- LMS configuration for registration and general settings
Once you have identified your capacity to manage the LMS, think about how to optimize and mine learning data. Should be the responsibility of an LMS administrator or a separate analyst?
For example, Choice Hotels International (#1 ELearning Top 100 2020 and ATD BEST 2020) employs three administrators who manage about 60,000 learners via their community-driven LMS. They employ a business analyst who mines learning data, shares findings, and helps their learning organization implement solutions that increase learner engagement, enhance training design, and improve performance.
What LMS Features Meet Your Organization’s Needs?
After you decide on the type of LMS you want and how much support is available to manage it, identify the features your business requires.
At a minimum, the LMS infrastructure should:
- Host learning assets (e.g. e-learning, videos, job aids).
- Help learners and administrators track progress toward personal and organizational learning goals.
- Provide the data learning professionals need to evaluate and refine learning.
- Manage training logistics, such as course registration and administration.
Depending on the needs of your organization, you may also want to consider the following elements:
Cost and Timing:
- Low implementation and life-cycle costs with no per-server or per-user licensing fees.
- The ability to implement the LMS quickly, whether starting from scratch or moving your content from another LMS.
User Experience & Interface:
- A clean and intuitive interface that is easy for both administrators and learners to understand.
- Browser responsive technology that resizes the screen and menu to improve learner experience on all devices.
- LMS branding that matches your organization’s identity (for instance, to create a rich merchandising/marketing environment specifically targeted for the learning audience).
- Outlook integration that allows learners to accept requests for live training seats.
- The ability to support multiple organizations under one LMS (Note: Examples of customers using this feature are parent corporations and government entities that want a uniquely branded experience for the subsidiary companies and agencies).
- Gamification elements that can be used to motivate learners (e.g. badges and a leaderboard to rank and reward learners across administrator-selectable criteria).
- Custom bundling and/or blending learning to make it possible to combine different types of training into a single course (for example, an administrator can build a course made up of classroom training, virtual online training, white papers, web links, and digital video followed by an assessment).
- The ability to boost volunteer engagement through your LMS, if applicable.
- Auto-assignments and a high level of automation, which enables organizations to manage thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of learners with minimal LMS administration support.
Questions to Ask Prospective LMS Providers
Going into your LMS evaluation with a plan of what you want out of your LMS in the short and long term will help ensure a successful partnership.
Here are some important questions to ask a prospective LMS provider:
Q: Can they scale with your organization?
Investing in an LMS is a big decision, and you want the provider you select to stay with your organization for many years. You want an innovative company with a clear roadmap for success that can grow with your company over the long run. Does their pricing model support more users? Do they offer extended enterprise options? How quickly and effectively can they develop and implement changes?
This is likely more important than finding an LMS provider with every single feature you were hoping for, as features can be added and/or developed. The level of innovation, flexibility, service, and support offered by your LMS provider is essential.
Q: What is their pricing model?
Will you be subject to per-user or per-server licensing fees? Do they offer a set monthly fee option? If you need the ability to sell your LMS courses now or in the future, do they offer the ability to enable eCommerce and what is the cost?
Q: Do they offer any perks or options? What makes them stand out?
A lot of LMS providers look alike. You want a provider that offers something special, like the ability to access the developments and innovations of other members found with a community-driven LMS platform.
Q: What is their support like?
The support offered by an LMS provider is critical. You want the ability to quickly and easily access knowledgeable, professional support when you need it, without additional costs.
This is especially important for the initial setup as you become accustomed to your new LMS, but is also important for the length of the relationship. Ask prospective providers what type of support they provide – is it a dedicated support team or is it forum-based and you will have to search for what you need? Is there a limit to how much support you can receive? How do you access their support – email, phone, video, etc.?
With these considerations and questions, you are now armed with the information you need to be able to determine which LMS meets the needs of your organization!
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