How to evaluate an LMS

Helen Tyson | 05/24/2017

The key functions and features of most learning management systems (LMS) are; the ability to deliver courses, the ability to track these courses and the ability to report on these courses. So, if you’re evaluating several LMS’s the chances are they all do these things, in a very comparable way. So how do you differentiate between them? What makes you decide to go for one over the other?DeliverTrackReport.png

Let’s tackle the elephant in the room to begin with: PRICE.

Yes, obviously this can impact your decision, there’s no getting away from the fact that the purchase of an LMS is not a small ticket item. Prices vary greatly throughout the market as do the payment models:

  • Annual fees, monthly subscriptions or active learner models

  • Add-ons

  • Length of contract

  • Setup fees, bespoke development fees and support models

But within any budgetary range there will still be choices, and decisions to make between comparable products. How do we make those choices?

The LMS that is right for you is the one that supports your organizational learning strategy. And by that we mean where learning sits within your organization and how it supports your overall goals.

But how do you know which LMS that is, or even what your learning strategy looks like. I’m going to pose you a series of questions, and give you several things to think about, that will help you identify that strategy in relation to evaluating and selecting a LMS. You may not have answers right now, you may need to go away and discuss with others in your organization, but eventually you will create a shopping list for your perfect LMS.

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Training Methodology

Your chosen training methodologies will form a large part of your organizational learning strategy.

Is your whole learning program going digital? Or are you blending your strategy to include eLearning and instructor-led classroom training, which could be in either a bricks & mortar classroom or a virtual one.

Do you want your LMS to manage the classroom schedule as well as deliver online content to your learners? Will your LMS need to handle the diaries of people, places, resources or equipment?

There’s much more you could ask from your LMS, such as self-registration or central seat allocation, waiting lists, email reminders, delegate list management. All are possible and may be integral to how you want your LMS to operate, or in some cases may be add-ons or ‘nice-to-haves’.

Learner journey

What about your learners? Your learners, the people using your LMS on a day-to-day basis should be at the heart of your choice. An LMS only becomes worthwhile if it is used and will your learners use it?

When defining you learner journey you should define:

  • How your learners access the LMS, is it through self or automatic registration?
  • How do your learners access the content within the LMS?
  • The data that is available you users about their own accounts and their own learning

And what about external users? Such as; new starters accessing content early, partners or contractors, customers and the general public. Is your LMS commerce or free-to-use?

Your learner journey should be simple:

  • Count the number of clicks to content and reduce it to the lowest you can

  • Make content searchable - allow choice and flexibility

  • Multi-device compatibility, especially in a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) environment

  • Non-location dependent

Your learner journey should feel easy, directions should be clear and simple, doors should open quickly and smoothly, there shouldn’t be locks or barriers to jump over.

Mobile compatibility

Having already briefly mentioned device compatibility, how mobile friendly does your LMS need to be?

How responsive is the interface? Do you need an app installing or is the main site fully responsive? And in the case of both, how easy is navigation on a small screen.

And what about connectivity? 

In reality, when we talk mobile we’re normally talking small screens and non-fixed internet connections. It could be WIFI in the home or office that is probably reliable, or public WIFI or mobile data signals while out and about. The device could be an 8” tablet to a 3.5” smart phone. There is no such thing as a single mobile device specification, especially in a BYOD environment – and the numbers of those are growing beyond the traditional academic environment.

Then organizationally, what is the overall feeling about mobile access? Do you have the facilities or budget to provide your learners with mobile devices? What about your security in general. Can your content be accessed from outside your firewall? How does your IT department react to that?

Scalability

How many learners do you have? Do you know?

What about next week? Next month? Next year? In 5 years?

Who are your learners? And where are they?

Do your learner numbers run through peaks and troughs? Do you have lots of users with short-term needs? Do you have repeat users cycling through, in and out annually? Do you need to pay for all users every month, even if they only access the LMS once a year?

Do you need your LMS to help with account archiving and reinstatement, or is delete and recreate an option?

Brand-ability

Your learning strategy forms part of your overall company strategy and as such your LMS should support that too.

Will your LMS look like it belongs in your organization? How customizable is it? And I don’t just mean adding a logo or making the buttons the right shade of green – other colors are available - but is the interface completely customizable? Can you rearrange assets to reflect your style? Photos, illustrations, icons, fonts – what can you change and what is fixed?

And don’t forget, as well as your learners needing a custom view, what about your admins? Is your admin interface customizable too?

The LMS track & report may be standard functions, but what are your processes? What do your admins need or don’t need?

Your end-to-end processes should look and feel right, and support your overall strategy across the board.

Additional plug ins i.e. social media

 In addition to your core learning proposition lots of LMS’s have additional plug-ins that can be activated to support and extend the experience. Such as; social media links – Twitter, Facebook, Yammer, LinkedIn etc.

News feeds from your own website or external.Or perhaps learning updates to a learner’s own social media profile.Learner created content makes your LMS a two-way street, and encourages engagement and extends use. This can come in the form of:

  • Discussion forums

  • User uploads

  • Record external learning events - webinars, conferences, publications, qualifications

What about e-commerce? Is your learning portfolio available externally, to customers, suppliers, partners, competitors? Is your learning resource an untapped revenue stream for your business?

Interoperability, i.e. HR system APIs, talent mgmt., competencies

Finally, interoperability.

Some of the things we’ve mentioned already feed in here again.

HR system integration, i.e. automatic user management, registration, archiving & termination processes. Take that further and link into your active directory. Single sign-on (SSO) using your existing log in systems smooths the way for your internal users. If they’ve logged into your network let them straight into your LMS. Blend it in with your intranet, or if SSO isn’t an option why not have the LMS login window framed up front and center on the intranet.

And having mentioned HR systems, how about plugging in to feed data the other way. Learning records feeding into competencies or talent management systems:

  • Feed performance reviews and action plans into your users learning plans

  • Feed their results back in for their next review, progression / promotion / talent management

So, these things are all possible. Your task now is to create your wish list. Then take your wish list and prioritize to; must haves, should haves, nice-to-haves and don't needs. 


Using this you have your shopping list to go out and find, or create a tender document for, your perfect LMS. Omniplex partners with three amazing LMS vendors, Articulate Online, Docebo and SumTotal. If you’d like to find out more about any of these, or need a little help working out your LMS wishlist, our eLearning solution consultants are on hand to help. Contact us on the link below, or call us on 08444 120 550 / (857) 413-5339 for more information.

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Helen Tyson

Helen Tyson is a Lead Trainer and Consultant at Omniplex.