LMS Selection is like a box of chocolates….

ChocolatesSo, now you know why you want an LMS it’s time to figure out which one you want! One thing that is clear is that there is no such thing as the perfect LMS. Even out of the box solutions that claim to “meet all your learning needs” have shortcomings.

The value of an LMS is relative to you and your company, which is why you won’t find a huge number of articles entitled “this is the best LMS and everyone should buy it”. Unless, of course, you are on a vendor website that is! What you will find is a selection of comparison tables, lists of features and both simple and complex guides on how to write up your “must have” and “nice to have” lists. All of these have been compiled by various contributors all across the online L&D community and I have no desire to replicate them. Instead I will share some of the ones I have found useful. If you found a different resource that you think is good/better please do share it.

Firstly, some of my own thoughts on this process:

Does exactly what it says on the tin

Never believe the vendor’s marketing – request a live demo or, even better, access to an evaluation system. Make sure that the system works with your data, with your user structure, with the types of courses that you run. Essentially, try to break it! Log in as an administrator, a manager and a student to see how the system operates on the various levels. If you see something you don’t like, ask if it can be changed. You might think “oh, I don’t like that they call students ‘users’, we will change that”, but that might not be possible and you don’t want to figure that out after your ink is on the contract.

Processes

Decide early on – will you change your processes to meet the system or will the system have to deliver existing processes. This might seem like a simple one, but there is nothing worse than a project manager telling 10 administrators they now have to address all student correspondence by hand because the new system doesn’t do mail merge! Of course there will be tweaks to existing processes and in some cases you may have to balance the changes required to run the LMS with the benefits gained in another area. Be realistic about what your new system can achieve, but decide at the start what the general rule of thumb is to be.

Customisation

Check the vendor’s responses to your requirements – if they state “customisation required” then find out the cost and time details now, not 3 weeks into the project when you realise half of their system won’t work for you. Also, agree the conditions under which you can reject out of the box solutions & request customisation. It might seem reasonable to you to require customisation because the system default is American style telephone numbers, but the vendor may not be willing/able to customise at this level.

Be wary of “add-ons” or “in development”. If you have an item on your list that requires additional purchases or is scheduled for a future release, be careful: if the vendor has an add-on that does the required task, you won’t get customisation; if it doesn’t transpire in a future release you will be left with no option but potentially costly customisation.

Data, data everywhere & not a byte to click….

Don’t underestimate the impact agreeing to use a “standard data upload template” will have on your ability to upload your existing LMS data/excel spreadsheets/post-its into your new system. Get access to a copy of this template in advance and check that you have someone who can work with transferring a large amount of raw data into the required format. This won’t be a problem if you don’t have/don’t want to upload existing data, or you have very simple existing records, but the more complex your organisation and your L&D offerings are, the more complex the data you are uploading will be.

And now for the promised links:

eLearning Technology has a nice post on the LMS selection process

E-Learning 24/7 has some excellent resources on this topic (as an aside, this is a fantastic site & I encourage you to explore it). Some of the posts relevant to this topic are:

Discovery through eLearning is also an excellent blog and has a very useful post on questioning vendors during a demo

Upside Learning has a post on five things not to do when selecting an LMS and also one on what you might need an LMS for

So – in sum – to select an LMS get to grips with your must-haves and nice-to-haves, write it all down and do your research to find a vendor that meets the best possible combination, at the best price. You should also consider process implications, customisation and data migration. Simples!

Directory: Check out my collection of useful links

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    • Jill
    • April 6th, 2011

    Hello, I am looking for some advice please. I am very new to all of this and rather overwhelmed by the number of LMS’s out there.
    I have an existing school (of herbal medicine) that I am wanting to transition into online courses. I need an LMS that will best allow me to do that. For the most part, it will be very straight-forward – uploading audio files and PDFs. I have some more specific needs when it comes to the testing component, because I need more than just multiple choice options.
    Could anyone offer some advice on a few systems that might best meet my needs? Thanks very much.
    Jill

  1. Hi Jill,

    Have you checked out the elearning 24/7 blog that I link to above? Craig over there does an excellent job of reviewing all the LMS options on the market. It sounds like you need a simple enough LMS….perhaps check out moodle?

    The first thing to do is to write down what it is you want the LMS to be able to do (e.g. you mentioned audio & pdf) and then divide this list into “must haves” and “nice to haves”. Think about any LMS you have used as before, either as student or admin, and write down what you liked & didn’t like. This will help you to generate something to discuss with your potential vendors. Select a couple of potentials (after reviewing Craig’s blog) and contact them. Alot of vendors will give you access to a demo LMS, check their websites for these.

    Unfortunately there are probably 50 different LMS recommendations you could get from 50 different people right now – but really it’s all about selecting the right one for you, at the right price! And research is the only way to do this. Good luck!

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