Are you in the market for an LMS and don’t know where to start? The industry is full of options, and it can feel tedious to weed through them all. Use this guide to help you shop for an LMS that meets your needs and budget.
Step 1. Decide between an open source, custom, or community-developed LMS.
LMSs are open source, custom, or an emerging low-cost model where the community drives LMS development by requesting and funding changes. While open source and custom LMSs have their benefits, you should explore the many reasons why you should pick a community-developed LMS
before making a decision. In the community-development model, changes are added as either “no cost” options or directly incorporated as platform improvements. When implemented correctly, the community model can result in a powerful, customer-focused LMS at a lower price, because modifications to the LMS are paid by customers within the community yet shared with everyone. The result are lower hosting fees and no licensing fees per user.
Step 2. Determine how your LMS will be administered.
The number of LMS administrators you need will vary greatly depending on the LMS you purchase. For instance, if you choose an LMS with robust auto-assignment/automation features, you could potentially manage tens of thousands of learners with two or three administrators. So, before listing the features you want in an LMS, first define the human resources you have available to manage it.
Keep in mind that LMS administration is accomplished through tools to configure, create and manage:
- Learners, User Group Admins, Sub Admins and Main Admins
- User Groups
- Educational Content
- Learning Tracks
- Classroom Sessions
- Continuing Education Units
- Grade Book (Record Entry)
- Welcome Banners
- Send Email
- LMS Configuration for Registration and General Settings
In addition to identifying your capacity to manage the LMS, also consider who will mine learning data (and their process for doing so). For instance, Choice Hotels International (#6 ELearning Top 100) 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 (See 3 Major Benefits of Using Learning Data
Step 3. Identify features that meet your business 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 needs require. 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 an LMS that offers the following:
Step 4. Interview LMS providers.
- Low implementation and life-cycle costs with no per-server or per-user licensing fees
- An interface that is easy for both administrators and learners to understand
- A clean and intuitive learner interface that is compatible with mobile devices (Note: To be mobile compatible, the LMS should use browser responsive technology to resize the screen and menus to improve the learner experience.)
- 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 students to accept requests for classroom training seats
- 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, which makes it possible to blend together 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.)
- Auto-assignments and a high level of automation, which enables organizations to manage thousands (or hundreds of thousands) with minimal LMS administration support (See LMS Automation: The Great Time Saver for LMS Admins)
- 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.
- The ability to boost volunteer engagement through your LMS (See How to Boost Volunteer Engagement through Your LMS)
- The ability to implement the LMS in less than a week, whether starting from scratch or moving your content from another LMS
Your interviews with LMS providers will be more efficient if you if you identify beforehand:
- The type of LMS you want (open source, custom, or community-developed)
- Your organization’s capacity to manage an LMS and mine its data
- The features your organization requires
Armed with this information, you’ll quickly be able to determine whether an LMS meets the needs of your organization.