How to Choose an LMS

Several colleagues have recently asked me about choosing an LMS. Here are some things to consider:

Externally hosted or internally hosted service?

This is a big divide.  Some products are great as a service (e.g. SAAS or ASP), but are a major bear to implement and run internally.  Small organizations should seriously consider a service.  It’s much quicker to implement, upgrades happen automatically, very few finger pointing issues when things go wrong.  Large orgainzations (25,000+ employees) should look at hosting internally. The economies of scale may favor you taking on these additional headaches for the costs savings your IT infrastructure and organization can bring to the party.

Let’s focus on hosted services for the rest of this post.

Costs. There are two major cost categories for hosted solutions: Installation and on-going service.

Installation: Getting employee feeds connected to the service is the big step to get up and running so be sure to ask about that. The next big challenge is reporting, so look at their standard reports. Using standard reports will save you a lot over getting custom reports built.

On-going: Most charge by the active user in some fashion, but it’s important to understand exactly how they are charging. You’ll need to retain records of inactive employees for a long time, but shouldn’t pay the same rate for them.

Capabilities:  All popular LMSs have a core set of functional capabilities such as tracking learners training history, custom learning plans, assigning required  training. Bersin and Brandon Hall have exhaustive, blow by blow, run downs of all popular LMSs.  It’s worth a look at these as far as categories to compare, but in the end most address the core capabilities quite well.

But there are other major functional capabilties to consider.

Domains. There is a big difference in systems complexity in LMSs that can handle multiple corporate divisions or subsidiaries (aka “domains”) with their own course catalogs, landing pages, and reports versus those that just handle one domain at a time.  Determine whether you need multiple domains within the next three years. You won’t want to change LMSs any sooner, so don’t start out with a single domain installation if you need a mutiple domain within that timeframe.

Certifications. Certification processing and tracking seems to be a specialty for some LMSs. Rules for tracking those can be complex and may lead to a lot of customization. Take a look at their user report generation tools and be sure you feel comfortable with them. Being able to use them will save you a lot of custom report charges over the long haul.

For small organizations multiple domains won’t usually be an issue. The functional capabilties are almost always a consideration. 

Usability. There is no substitute for actually testing out each system. Generate the common use cases you expect to be doing such as add courses to your catalog, adding students to a class, entering assessments, uploading a web course (do you courseware tools actually work with the LMS?), getting a learner’s transscript, and running a compliance progress report on your learners.  Then try them out on the vendor’s demo systems. See for yourself which system works best for your workflow.

Start with this approach aqnd you’ll be a better educated buyer.

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