LMS Software Comparison: Questions and Strategies
eLearning is becoming more mainstream, making it more important than ever to ensure you’re choosing the right learning management system (LMS) for your organisation.
The global eLearning market will be worth $225 billion by 2022. Half of all college students are now enrolled entirely in online courses. Though online learning has only been around for 20 years, more than 1000 LMS currently exist worldwide. The choices are far and varied, making it all the more easy to make the wrong choice. The costs of this mistake are more than just financial, though the sheer expense of an unsuitable learning management system is nothing to sniff at.
Read on for our comprehensive guide on conducting an LMS comparison, from defining your organisational needs to the different integrations you may need, all the way to the critical questions you should be asking suppliers.
Important things to consider when comparing LMS providers: Our 4 step guide
Making the decision to purchase and implement an LMS is the easy part. When searching for the right learning solution, many organisational decision makers become overwhelmed by the sheer number of suppliers vying for their attention. We’ve seen many who regret purchasing a particular system because they failed to understand their own goals or problems before implementation, ending up with a system that didn’t offer the functionalities their learners needed. The impact of this? Not only is it a painful process to replace an unsuitable system, it’s costly and wanes on your employees’ enthusiasm for an eLearning experience. Not to mention all the extra work for you personally. Welp.
Selecting the right supplier from a global pool of over 1000 requires careful research, planning and consideration. When going to market, here are the four steps we’ve learned make for the smoothest learning experience possible.
Step 1: Identify your company’s needs
Research is best when it begins internally. Start by outlining the minimum requirements you and the intended users need from an LMS.
Break down the reasons why your organisation needs an LMS and what your goals for issue resolution or your business outcomes are. Say, for example, you need an efficient onboarding strategy. Is your goal increased employee engagement? Clearer career pathways? Reduced administrative spend? Greater employee retention? Better regulation and understanding of compliance? The requirements and outcomes should be specific to your business mission. Consider the kinds of features and functionalities that align with those needs.
For example, we’ve learnt one of the best ways of creating an engaging and effective eLearning experience is by capturing user data. But were you aware, that even if you make training mandatory, without the proper reporting functionality it will be hard to understand how employees interact with the work, or view their completion rates, number of correct and wrong answers in tests, or their progression through courses? Having access to well-designed reporting functionality allows you to see what’s doing well, what’s not meeting the mark, where your employees are progressing their knowledge and where they need to revisit topics or information. That’s invaluable to not only your goals, but their individual learning needs.
The specific goals and requirements your organisation needs will be unique to you. However, these are some good enquiries to make with key stakeholders as a jumping off point:
How much you have to spend on an LMS
Push your prospective suppliers for all costs upfront, so there are no hidden fees and you can create a budget your company can absorb. It may help to break the costs down by phases of the implementation cycle, from set up to ongoing maintenance, which you should also raise with shortlisted suppliers. Budgeting for unforeseen expenses is also important, so you have wiggle room for changes if need be.
Why this is important
The impact of not having a deep understanding of your budget in advance can be multi-layered. But the biggest threat we see is the challenge that you personally will have if you need to overspend, ask for more money or cannot demonstrate sufficient ROI in advance. This can in turn put pressure on other business units, where budget will likely get pulled from.
What your goals for onboarding are
We’ve found the most successful implementations are experienced by organisations with clear ideas of their expected outcomes. They are asking: What objective are we trying to accomplish by onboarding staff to an LMS? What gaps are we trying to fill in your organisational structure or processes? How will we know we’ve filled those gaps?
Why this is important
Lacking a clear plan of their desired outcomes, we’ve seen many organisations select an LMS without the capabilities or functionalities to fulfill their needs. An LMS will impact your organisation’s future, so making the wrong choice may lower trust in your decision-makers’ expertise, dampen motivation to reinvest in and accept a new LMS, and make ongoing learning seem unsustainable within your organisation.
Are there technical limitations you need to consider?
An older workforce, a workforce that doesn’t use a lot of tech in their day-to-day (it can happen!) or those who don’t have easy access to their own technology may struggle with an online training platform. If this is the case, you may need more training support from the supplier to help people master the platform.
Why this is important
Aspersions on the older generation aside, not helping your people understand how to use a new technology will directly impact their willingness to accept and use it. Similarly, you need to give them proof it will improve their day-to-day experience at work. We’ve learnt most older adults don’t adopt technology if they simply don’t find it useful. Without usage, an LMS will be an extraneous addition to your organisational ecosystem.
If your employees are ready for an LMS
We understand organisations make decisions with their people front of mind, but sometimes the best intentions fall on deaf ears. How willing your employees are to embrace an LMS (particularly if you didn’t previously offer online or even offline training) will be a crucial factor when choosing an LMS.
Why this is important
The impact of not considering your employees’ needs may be felt in project delays, loss of revenue, future resistance to change and lowered employee morale. This is usually evident when employees feel change management is poorly handled (we refer you back to effectively defining your goals, above). Stubborn employees could impact your organisation’s ability to innovate and evolve, meaning you face being left at the back of the pack in consumers’ minds.
What level of support your organisation needs
Aside from needing simple technical guidance when learning how to use the system, there is ongoing maintenance and upgrades to consider. Are you equipped to handle those, or would you prefer a support team with programming expertise to tackle bug fixes?
Why this is important
Lacking the technical expertise to address any programming issues that arise will cost your people time that is better spent on their actual job responsibilities, which we’ve seen lead to a decrease in employee engagement. On a larger scale, it can eventually lead to a drain on resources as you look to external consultants or specialists with expensive rates to help you spot fix.
How you will evaluate the effectiveness of the LMS
Defining the success of your LMS is something only you can do, but you can only do so with strategic metrics in place. Develop a list of measurable objectives and make sure you―or the LMS, or you, through the LMS functionalities―can extract the data needed to evaluate progress.
Why this is important
Without clear metrics for the success of implementing an LMS, we’ve seen organisations waste time and resources on decisions which didn’t support the end goal they had in mind. Most people assume they are better-than-average drivers, but the impact of not understanding cause and effect may leave you chasing deadend and, ultimately, costly paths to success.
Your content requirements
From compliance and OH&S to training specific to your industry and job roles, we’ve learned the content your business structure and people need will be different to even your closest competitors. Some LMS will offer you ready-made content, while others allow you to author and import your own. The level of autonomy and identity you’d like in the system comes down on the LMS you choose.
Why this is important
We’ve learnt that when content is too broad and not challenging enough, learners lose confidence. The implications for solely providing generic information are a workforce disinclined to engage with your LMS, which makes it an unjustifiable expense to your organisation. Not only is it a costly mistake, it conveys to your employees you don’t understand their needs, lowering morale and trust in organisational decision-makers.
Step 2: Get customer references
We’ve seen many organisations going with the first LMS they find, unaware the system wasn’t designed for use in that industry. Any supplier worth your money should have a list of the customers they’ve worked with in your industry. This will ensure they understand your market needs and be ahead of the innovations and upgrades that meet your industry standards.
Read case studies and reach out to customer teams to request customer references. If you find, for legal or privacy reasons, a supplier cannot release customer information, rephrase the question. Ask them the industry their LMS is intended to be used in and some of the successful use cases they can exemplify.
Word-of-mouth is still the best way to get on-the-ground experiences of certain suppliers and platforms. Reach out to contacts in your industry to discuss the learning solutions they have implemented, why, and how it worked for them. It’s also a great way to find out any niggling issues that occurred and how to side step them, should you choose to procure the same supplier. This information is particularly important for young companies more so than legacy suppliers.
And if you don’t get customer references?
Even systems optimised for universities will be different to ones for K-12 learning, in content and functionalities. So, customer references are more than just endorsements for a brand; they speak to the real people and how their quality of life in the workplace has been improved by a particular supplier and product. Insufficient research into the social proof behind a supplier’s claims will negatively impact your buyer’s journey, employee satisfaction, and ultimate ROI.
Step 3: Create a shortlist
Once you’ve worked out what’s non-negotiable and researched who on paper looks like a good fit, you can start to create a shortlist and compare LMS suppliers whose offerings match your requirements.
We suggest researching eLearning industry standards, so you can gauge what suppliers should be offering you at a minimum. This is also where you will want to engage key stakeholders. Who will be responsible for maintaining the platform and relationship with the supplier? Who are the learners? Will there be external users, and if so, who are they and what would they want in a platform? Who is setting the budget? Who will have administrative privileges and oversight? These are the people best primed, armed with your key organisational needs, to select a supplier that is right for your organisation.
When it comes to shortlisting potential suppliers, it’s best to view them as potential suitors. Rather than seeing it as something that will impact you solely here and now, look to what a supplier can do for you in future. An LMS is a long-term investment, and you want the relationship between you and your supplier to be a long and fruitful one.
And if you don’t create a shortlist?
Shortlisting candidates is a crucial bridge between preliminary research and contacting suppliers. Skipping this step means you risk ignoring some of the most impactful factors in selecting an LMS. You’ll overlook stakeholders, approach suppliers with little to no chance of fulfilling your requirements (including those with limited manpower or support, without relevant industry experience, and no verifiable references), and, perhaps most vexingly, you’ll waste time listening to suppliers speak a load of sales jargon at you, rather than demonstrating how they’ll work for you.
Step 4: Conduct due diligence
In an ideal world, the supplier sends you a contract, it offers you exactly everything you want, you sign it, and everyone wins. But if we learned anything from 2020, we live in a far from perfect world.
If your organisation has a legal department or dedicated counsel, have them carefully review the contract before signing it. If you don’t have this arm on your organisation, you will still need to review it yourself. Involve stakeholders again in this process, as their knowledge of the business needs previously defined will ensure a contract is offering what you set out to procure.
Contracts are inevitably filled with legal and tech jargon, so take your time to understand what that means to you. If you’ve already gone to the extent of defining your organisational needs, creating a shortlist, requesting customer references and going through the tender process to the point of signing a contract, don’t fall at the last hurdle. You want to ensure you’re paying for the functionalities promised, as well as your specifications for implementation. Even accidentally, things can slip through the crack―so here’s your chance to catch that, before it becomes legally binding.
And if you don’t do your due diligence?
One of the biggest missteps when not conducting due diligence is not understanding the fine print. It’s every bit as legally enforceable as the ‘meat’ of a contract and often denotes the way information should be interpreted. Parts of a contract could be void or your rights limited because you failed to thoroughly read a contract. Once a contract is signed, a mistake made on the supplier’s part is legally binding and your financial responsibility to rectify if the contract needs to be altered or broken. This doesn’t just affect you; it affects your (perhaps hard earned) role as a decision-maker, your superiors, subordinates, employees and any stakeholders in your organisation.
Types of LMS
A great thing about the growing eLearning market is that there are a variety of software products to choose from. It is an industry that is constantly growing and changing, which means some types of software will eventually be outdated and superseded. There are currently two market leaders when it comes to types of LMS, and the one you choose will come down to the type of software best matched to your needs, and most importantly, expertise.
The vague maxim ‘up in the cloud’ simply refers to software that runs on the Internet, not your computer. Cloud-based software is usually accessed via a web browser or mobile application. For organisations requiring more in-depth support and fast implementation, cloud-based LMS are the best pick.
Ease of use
We needn’t tell you user-friendly should be on your list of requirements. Most cloud-based LMS are built along the same vein of websites we are used to using, such as Facebook―making them familiar and easier to learn and use.
These forms of LMS allow for your growth, so you can onboard with as little as 50 users and still have it be worth your while. Cloud-based LMS are often built for scale, so if you only begin with a few users needing employee training, it can be easily built up from that number.
In addition to the number of users, the price tag is also scalable. You often pay by user so you’re not paying for more than you’re using, making it a purse-friendly option.
These LMS can be set up and implemented far quicker than any other type. As they are already set up and running on the supplier’s server, there’s no installation required and deployment is faster.
For remote workers, those working from home, or those who just want to do some training on the weekend, a cloud-based LMS is the most accessible option. Since it’s not hosted on an internal network or server, it’s easier for anyone to access anywhere, anytime.
In-built IT team & support
Since they’re hosted externally from your organisation, you can expect dedicated support and IT teams from your LMS supplier. They’ll handle all your questions and tech issues so you don’t have to worry about the minutiae of programming.
More frequent & faster updates
Again, being Internet-hosted means updates are more easily administered than on a network software program. This equals less hassle, more new features and overall reliability (thanks to the frequency of updates).
Increased data security
As they are accessed by logging into the supplier’s website, cloud-based LMS are quite secure. They are often built to meet the most arduous data security requirements, and more frequently updated to ensure they maintain this.
Built-in responsive design makes these LMS ideally suited for workers to use any mobile device (phone, tablet, laptop, etc.) to access and complete their training.
Another budget-friendly option, the biggest benefit open source LMS boasts is they are fully customisable. They operate under the General Public License, making them free to access and change by users. They’re good for organisations with an in-house eLearning or talent management team with coding experience―and a little more time to play with implementation.
Most open source LMS are free to use, enabling you to download the software without a payment gate. However, some may charge you for ‘freemium’ add-ons or upgrades, a similar feature to in-app purchases.
The defining factor of open source systems is that you maintain brand integrity. You can personalise dashboards, adjust layouts and completely customise the look to suit your needs and branding―provided you have some programming knowledge, that is.
Most open source LMS come with active user communities already up and thriving, wherein you can find tips, tricks and advice to help improve functionality and understand features. Many also offer video tutorials and other online support resources.
Control of content
Hosted LMSs usually offer content upfront, whether that’s modules created for you or integrated through third party providers. An open source LMS lets you author, import and upload content that is entirely representative of your organisation.
An open source LMS is entirely yours. Your brand, community and experience is your own to prioritise, adapt and grow as you see fit, not necessarily on someone else’s timeline.
Data never crosses enterprise boundaries, as user information is ported into the platform. This way, compliance can be maintained at whatever your organisational policies are.
Other LMS vendors may follow their own update schedule, which can be inconvenient for you. Open source allows you to prioritise development activity and maintain the platform in alignment with business requirements and targets.
Learning management system pricing
Capterra has found people spend 59% more than they expect to on their learning management system. It’s easier to make a costly mistake than you think, as there are a number of pricing models used throughout the industry.
Before committing to a price point or plan, we recommend tallying the number of users you plan to onboard and determining how long they will be using the system. Consider if some will only access it for onboarding, or if all organisational training and information is hosted on the platform, creating a high number of active users in a billing cycle. Estimate the number of courses you may need too, as some LMS factor data storage into cost. If you conduct regular training or learnings, you might need a high or unlimited data storage allowance―which, depending on the type of LMS you choose, can be expensive. And lastly, go back to your first step when selecting a supplier, and define the non-negotiable features and integrations, because these may be standard inclusions or expensive extras.
Otherwise known as pay-per-seat, the pay-per-learner principle is simple enough: you pay a fixed figure for a certain number of users. A benefit for this pricing model is that you can easily predict and budget for your monthly and yearly expenses for the system. It’s also a tiered model, where as the number of users you add to the system increases, the lower the cost for each user. Most suppliers using this model require yearly payments, considering an LMS is often longer than a years’ contract.
It’s the most popular model used by suppliers thanks to its simplicity. Paying per learner allows you to onboard hundreds of users to the LMS upfront―though, keep in mind it doesn’t guarantee they will actually log into the system. Where the number of users remains the same (with some give or take) over a long period of time and eLearning is a highly-used process in your organisation, the pay-per-learner model is most appropriate.
Pay-per-active-user picks up where the pay-per-learner model leaves off. Where the latter charges irrespective of usage, the former lets you add an unlimited number of users to the LMS, only charging you for the ones who log into the system during the pay period. The drawback of this model is that price is still prepaid and bundled; so if you expect 250 active users, purchase the corresponding plan, but only find 200 users logged into the system, you’ll still pay for the 250.
It’s a particularly good model for organisations with different groups of learners each month, such as a large enterprise who employ a certain number of graduates into a rotational program or those with sales teams who require almost constant access to product information and sales techniques.
Much like a ski pass, the cost of a pay-as-you-go LMS is minimal during off-peak times but substantial when a rush of users are using the system. If you create content to sell through your LMS, this model guarantees costs only go up when your revenue does.
Despite giving you wiggle room, pay-as-you-go is a lesser used pricing model. eLearning moves fast and requires a long-term investment, so the resources required to launch and maintain it don’t warrant occasional usage. It doesn’t allow for budgeting, due to the ad hoc nature of billing, and is expensive for the user as much as it is the admin or organisation who procured it.
Here lies the easiest to grasp of pricing models, wherein you buy a periodic license for an LMS, pay a monthly or annual fee, and add the number of users and courses you’d like. Most suppliers will offer two or three flat-fee plans to choose from under this model. With each increase in price and plan, you unlock new functionalities, but the prices and functionalities included can vary wildly across suppliers.
This is a good option when budgeting for an upfront payment without worrying about active or registered users. However, if you’re new to eLearning and not looking for a load of extra features, subscriptions can be a waste of money and expensive to upgrade if you do wish to upgrade.
Technically not a pricing model, ‘free’ is still a cost when considering purchasing something as expensive as an LMS. They can be enticing in the sense the LMS can be freely distributed and modified at your will. The catch with open source software is it’s not necessarily free; the key difference is you’re paying for service, not code. (Where you pay for both with closed code platforms.)
The real cost is the time you’ll spend on integrations, customisation and maintenance, given open source LMS require extensive configuration. And if you don’t have a sound to in-depth knowledge of code, you’ll find the effort on your part far outweighs the low cost.
Market trends to understand
As the online learning market grows, so too do the trends for technical transformation. However, eLearning trends are less fad and more feats of innovation that only strengthen your LMS. The best trends incorporate learning principles that aim to better the user experience.
Did you know that an LMS enabled with artificial intelligence (AI) polishes the flow of information to users, learning and adapting to their personal learning needs? AI is particularly useful to learning management systems, thanks to its capability to autonomously learn and process data. Once AI learns from the data it’s collected about learners in an LMS, it makes choices for the system and benefit of the user.
This facilitates a streamlined approach to the employee learning experience. It’s AI that identifies the areas of learning admin can bolster for individual users, while also providing suggestions on how best to present and curate the relevant information for specific learners.
It does so through a set of algorithms that make predictions on data, anticipating the information needed that is both relevant and challenging. Personalised learning encourages learners to progress through course content more quickly, as it is relevant and useful to them, their job role, and their career path. AI also makes importing external content so easy, particularly with cloud-based systems; all you need to do is import the unique content, and the LMS does the rest for you.
You’d be interested to know we are all experiencing micro-learning on a daily basis, outside of an educational context. Scrolling your newsfeed, watching a video on how to clean your oven or reading short news bulletins are all everyday examples of micro-learning. This form of learning allows people to absorb information more effectively, given one can learn at their own pace and avoid being overwhelmed by tons of information all at once.
Many organisations find their employees don’t interact or engage with long training sessions, and if they do, it’s not for very long. We’ve found that microlearning principles―where content is broken up into smaller, digestible chunks―make learning more accessible for busy-minded employees. This may be a number of short lessons, projects or concise coursework designed to teach learners “bits” of information, rather than a broad subject all at once. In a fast-moving society, it also enables people to learn on the go―so they aren’t limited to learning in work hours, when they are undoubtedly busy with other tasks. Documents, multimedia videos, podcasts and discussion are all noted forms of microlearning that can be used within an LMS.
AI-enabled and cloud-based LMS can also curate micro-learning content for focused user groups, so employees are only given useful and relevant coursework to engage with. This saves organisations the time it would take to manually align content to employees, and the costs of that time spent as well.
Did you check Facebook this morning? Tap through Instagram stories? Reply to messages from friends? It’s an instinctive action for many to turn to social media throughout their day. It keeps us connected. An LMS with built-in social media functionalities is best equipped to leverage our learned desire to be collaborative, social beings.
Social learning, first coined by Albert Bandura, states humans are programmed to learn in four steps: Attention, Retention, Reproduction and Motivation. Humans learn more efficiently in an informal setting, as the knowledge they gain is retained through reinforcement and dynamic social activity. Discussion boards and forums are common features that can be used in an LMS to foster social learning. Fulfilling all four of Bandura’s parameters, learners can ask questions, respond to existing ones, share information, converse informally, and encourage others and be encouraged to finish work. Many LMS integrate video conferencing platforms such as Zoom or Adobe Connect, wherein remote workers or teams across distances can share an interactive knowledge sharing experience.
The sheer accessibility of LMS panders to the 24/7 nature of social interactions; when users can log into the system at a convenient time for them, they feel more motivated to achieve their individual goals, or goals shared with teammates. Whether it’s through a sense of camaraderie or competition, learners work harder and are more productive in a social environment.
Critical questions to ask LMS providers
Here’s the truth: LMS suppliers are playing to win. When you book a demo, they’re angling to get you onboard. Many will make convincing arguments, but the power remains in your hands to make the choice best for you.
With that in mind, there are a number of questions you can (and should) ask suppliers during your request for information, request for proposal, or demonstration (colloquially shortened to demo). At the heart of the queries you make should be the business problems or opportunities you are addressing. Key stakeholders should be involved in defining the questions to be asked. Asking these questions is not only for your benefit; it also helps the supplier understand your specific needs and gives you a baseline to compare systems.
As you narrow down your list to the three or four potential suppliers you’re interested in, these ten questions will help you make a final decision.
1. Is it secure?
Just because your organisation is in a certain country doesn’t mean an LMS supplier will host your data there, too. Your users’ data is important and should be treated with all due respect and privacy. Don’t be afraid to probe deep into the realms of how a supplier handles data security. Access to any LMS should be limited to a secure connection, so all data is encrypted. Ask if they possess security clearances or adhere to any of the industry standards for security compliance. Beyond security, enquire if there is a possibility data could be lost, and if so, what recovery plans they have in place.
Why this is important
It’s important to ensure your supplier is adhering to all industry standards and is certified by the relevant agencies. There may be multiple agencies who certify various aspects of security that amounts to the complete authenticity of a supplier, particularly cloud-based vendors. LMS are full of vital information about your business procedures and strategies, including trade secrets, approaches to market, and policies. Without proper security, your data can be susceptible to theft, tampering or loss of confidential personal information, leading to emotional distress, damaged reputation, loss of confidence from employees and stakeholders, and in turn, the loss of your competitive advantage.
2. Can I use my own domain?
We’ve found many organisations want a domain unique to their organisation, in order to keep their brand identity. Most LMS will give you a free option, usually in a format not unlike ‘http://YOURNAME.acornlms.com’. If it’s important to your organisation to have a completely supplier-free eLearning identity to integrate with your existing line of products, this is a crucial question to ask―and understand, because they may say they have the option, but only offer the previously mentioned free domain.
Why this is important
We’ve found organisations such as government agencies necessitate the authority a fully customised domain gives to their LMS over a subdomain. This may seem like a trivial cosmetic matter, but the impact of users navigating away from your website for online learning is actually detrimental to your reputation. The learning experience becomes external to your brand and organisation, meaning users are trusting a third party to be thought-leaders and subject matter experts.
3. Can I reskin your LMS?
The look of the platform is important to engaging your employees, and your brand identity is often a big part of that visual attraction. You will also have to consider the time needed for this, and who has responsibility for it. As previously mentioned, open source LMS allow for complete reskinning, but the onus is on you―and without sound programming knowledge, this can be a hard task.
Why this is important
Your employees and stakeholders are probably familiar with the look and feel of your existing website or platforms. Without that recognisable brand identity―which they are already emotionally connected to and invested in―users may find the LMS an unfamiliar and jarring environment. This can make them less confident to use and access the system, impacting your ROI.
4. Can I sell my courses?
We’ve learned eCommerce is an important component of eLearning for small or local businesses in particular. It increases the marketability of the site, and works with other integrations such as single sign on to create a seamless user experience. If training is your wheelhouse, an LMS without payment portals will make the experience clunky for your clients. Some suppliers may also charge you extra for this function, whether that’s for the payment feature or to give access to external users seeking your paid content.
Why this is important
Whether or not your business relies on paid content, selecting an LMS with aCommerce shuts you out of a high ROI and your customers a streamlined user experience. An LMS with eCommerce integrations gives you singular control over your online store, including pricing, payment methods and segmenting audiences, plus a one-stop shop for browsing, purchasing and training for your customers.
5. Can I communicate with my users?
As an admin, you don’t want to let your users run free in an LMS like wild brumbies. Communicating with users via email is an added hassle, external to the LMS. Does the LMS allow for admin to post comments or feedback on completed courses? Is there a functionality to message individual users or departments? Are there discussion forums admin can monitor and participate in? The improved responsiveness of in-platform communication is particularly important for troubleshooting and social learning.
Why this is important
We’ve found targeting the right audience with the right messaging is integral to effective communication in the workforce. Certain communications (like mass emails) may be perceived as noise by uninterested or unintended recipients, which may lead to them filtering out emails and missing relevant information in future. In the case you need to relay important, up-to-date information to learners, the absence of communication channels will scramble details and may delay necessary action.
6. Can I create my own content?
‘Course content’ may broadly cover any range of content delivery, from quizzes to podcasts. Self-authoring tools are usually an add-on to LMS to allow people from non-technical backgrounds to create and upload their own content into an LMS. This allows you to develop learning content that is highly representative of your company, and not generalised. It’s particularly crucial for workforce planning, as it allows you to roadmap career progression for your employees.
Why this is important
Some systems have a narrow focus on content tools―for example, only offering the ability to create quizzes―affecting how your learners engage with said content. The impact of this on your organisation extends beyond a cohort disengaged with the learning material; it also affects their perception of your brand identity. Users cannot distinguish between boring content and the organisation providing it, which unintentionally lowers their view of your competitive standing within your industry.
7. What support will you provide us?
We understand everyone from first-time to long-time LMS users require support for the implementation and ongoing use of their system. Probe your supplier on not only the people they can offer, but the tools. Do they have training videos, how-to guides or an established knowledge base? This will also speak to their credibility. Is support included in your costs? Is it accessible whenever you need it, or limited to certain hours? Do you get an assigned Project Manager? There is no specific right or wrong answer; just the one that aligns with your needs.
Why this is important
Managing software demands is undoubtedly out of the skillset of most L&D professionals, and indefinitely eats into time and resources you need spend elsewhere. LMS with multiple functionalities will require tech-based problem solving skills to manage. You may need to outsource to a product specialist, occurring additional costs―and these costs will always take second place to operational needs, meaning diagnostic issues go unresolved.
8. What integrations do you offer?
Integrations are crucial to how smooth a user experience your learners have. We’ve determined most users want integrations that make their life easier, not necessarily ones that are new and shiny. Some particularly useful ones you’ll want to enquire about are:
Single Sign On
Single Sign On (SSO) enables the use of different software for ID authentication and login. This saves the hassle of creating a whole new account and password to remember. Instead, the user may use the login from your HR software.
SCORM (Shareable Content Object Reference Model) is an industry standard in eLearning platforms. xAPI (aka, the Experience API, aka Application Programming Interface, otherwise known as TinCan) is a new entry. SCORM refers to a specific way of constructing learning content so they work with other SCORM-conformant systems. xAPI captures data about learner activity across different technology platforms.
The two are similar, in that they refer to the connection between two different software systems. A SCORM-conformant LMS can play any SCORM content. xAPI allows for deeper tracking of your training and learns how your learners are interacting with content and other learners. These are particularly important if you want to import external content and understand how your users are engaging with it.
Third party integrations
Education doesn’t stop at just what you can create for your users in the context of your organisational knowledge. Adobe Connect, Zoom, LinkedIn Learning, Skillsoft… there is an exhaustive list of third party video conferencing, content and skills providers that you and your users can access―only if the LMS you select enables them.
Human resource information systems (HRIS) and payroll systems help manage employees and the enormous amount of data they accrue. When integrated with an LMS, data can be pushed and pulled from either system into the other, automating administration of user management. An LMS linked with HRIS can enhance reporting, spot patterns in training data and human capital (allowing you to optimise learning paths) and removes room for error. SAP, Aurion and PeopleSoft are some of the most commonly used HRIS.
Existing software & apps
We have many customers who come to us without ever having used technology or software before, but just as many who already have their own internal systems or workplace applications they cannot or don’t want to lay to rest. Many organisations look for a supplier who can connect the system to software or apps they already use. It’ll save time, money and many headaches if you know which tools you can connect your LMS to, prior to implementation.
Why this is important
The more complicated a platform is to use, the less likely the average user is to use it. If you don’t purchase an LMS with usability front of mind, your ROI will be impacted. Additionally, LMS that don’t play well with others fail to provide the full value you are likely after and may inspire your learners to search elsewhere for a larger pool of information.
9. How do I get started quickly?
Implementation is challenging for many companies and ease of set up varies across LMS. Outlining your expectations from the start is a quick way to weed out the wrong suppliers. You may find you will need to develop your own roll out plan, by region, department or business unit. Invariably, there can be hiccups, and implementation―on both organisational and supplier ends―should account for this.
Why this is important
Implementation covers the kick off meeting to soft launch, live launch and progress updates. This can become time-consuming―particularly if most of the leg work is required on your end. If there are hiccups, this will impact onboarding, mandatory compliance training and other certifications that may be required as soon as possible, and can sow the seeds of resentment amongst users relying on a swift process.
10. How do I scale?
An LMS is a long-term, high-value piece of technology. No doubt your business is a long-term, high-value organisation planning for financial and strategic growth. The right LMS should be able to grow with you, and have a roadmap for just how that will be done. Areas you might consider pressing for growth include pricing models for more users, extended enterprise for training contractors or even customers, and eCommerce, if you foresee paid content.
Why this is important
The ramifications of not being able to easily add learners en masse to a system affect your business’ ability to grow. If your LMS crashes under the pressure of increased users, your organisation faces a loss of efficiency, agility and competitiveness. Ultimately, this places a burden on payroll and may leech money from other necessary business functions.
Related Reads on This Topic
The Only Learning Management System Guide You Need
…Seriously. This isn’t light reading but it is the most comprehensive view you’ll get of the LMS.
Weighing Up Your LMS Options? We’ve Done the Hard Work For You
Everything you need to know about what each type of LMS can do and the oft-forgotten factors to consider.
What You Should Ask Before Talking to LMS Vendors
A little soul-searching (or internal environmental scanning) will help you buy the right LMS.