LMS Buying Guide: Make the Switch

The Importance of Learning Management Systems in Today’s Workplace

Today’s workforce is increasingly evolving. There has been a tectonic shift in management styles and business operation models.

Learning and Development (L&D) programs are one of the key needs for organizations looking to keep the best talent.

The LMS industry has emerged as a powerful tool for supporting the L&D agenda. It currently commands an approximate $9 billion market value.

Companies today use LMSs for a variety of reasons:

  • Onboarding
  • Skills development
  • Training
  • Compliance
  • Succession planning

The following factors drive the LMS market:

  • Cloud technology
  • An evolving e-learning market
  • Increasing demand for customized products
  • New government initiatives
  • Technological innovation

The demand for web-based and mobile-based learning platforms among corporate institutions is high.

But the global learning management system market has hundreds of LMS products. This can get confusing.

With a little guidance, you can find the right Learning Management System. The right research helps you navigate the different software options.

Do you suspect that your current LMS may need an upgrade? Run through this checklist:

  • Is your current LMS giving you the best ROI?
  • Does the LMS allow scalability?
  • Is it easy to maintain and upgrade the LMS?
  • Can you track KPIs?
  • Is your data safe?

Whether you are ready for change or looking for your first ever LMS, this guide will help you.

Here’s how to find an LMS with the right features for your organization.

The LMS Buying Guide

A typical LMS buying process splits into the following six steps:

1. Researching

An LMS is a long term investment with very high potential for incredible returns. It needs comprehensive market research.

2. Qualifying

Companies usually “feel out” their top vendor choices during the qualifying stage. The process helps them figure out whether any of the vendor leads will turn into real prospects.

3. The Demo

At the qualifying stage, companies decide which selected vendors are the right fit. They engage clients on their specific organizational needs with a demo. The demo is the best way to bring an LMS to life for the interested organization.

4. The Sandbox

The chosen vendor sets up the sandbox to demo the LMS live. Sandboxing shows how companies with different operating software programs can integrate.

5. Reviewing

At this stage, both the vendor and the organization engage in follow up discussions. Its a chance to handle any arising questions, concerns or other requirements.

6. Signing Up

The organization has found the right vendor. Key members of the organizations C Suite and legal team engage in negotiations. Ideally, this is after all parties come to a favorable agreement.

Evaluating Different LMS Vendors

The discovery process for your LMS research involves exploring some important issues. Having insightful conversations with different vendors provides clarity.

Let’s discuss some of the questions that should guide your conversations with LMS vendors.

What Potential Challenges Will the LMS Resolve?

Before buying an LMS every organization should evaluate its L&D goals. This move informs the next steps.

To help guide this process, take a look at these questions:

  • What issues are we facing as a company that an LMS may resolve?
  • Do I want an LMS for onboarding, training, learning, compliance or a combination of all these?
  • Am I interested in an LMS to attract new customers? Or do I want to spread brand awareness or new product information?
  • Does any of our staff need refresher training or new skills learning?

The questions above help HR professionals speed up the LMS evaluation process.

How Can I Guarantee Maximum Business Impact?

Some key factors determine the design and implementation of each LMS, e.g., the target audience, their position in the company’s sales funnel and the LMS user lifecycle.

An organization could enlist an LMS to:

  • Attract new employees.
  • Improve the onboarding process.
  • Conduct dedicated training with retention as a key outcome.
  • Streamline communication processes.
  • Improve both employee and customer satisfaction and engagement.

The chosen LMS has to lead the audience through a specific cycle with ease.

How Will I Determine That the LMS Is Successful?

Success comes after figuring out what your key performance indicators are.

You cannot assess desired outcomes based on a single course or group of learners.

Real LMS success metrics call back to the organization’s business goals.

Most organizations seek out LMSs for faster turnaround times. Particularly in lead generation, onboarding, training, communication, and evaluation.

What Necessary LMS Features Does My Organization Need?

Your organizational agenda guides your LMS selection, as discussed above.

Different LMS vendors offer a myriad of features. Not all features are suitable for each business goal.

  • One organization could be looking for various media format integration. These cover earning material such as videos, slide decks, SCORM files, and PDFs.
  • Another could be looking for an e-commerce function. They want to monetize existing company resources like selling online courses.
  • Some companies could be looking at software compatibility. Most companies use SaaS products. These cover onboarding and CRM software besides automated marketing functions.
  • Most look for LMSs with both reporting and tracking resources. This means single sign-on (SSO) capabilities, a social learning element, and mobile access.
  • Companies looking to upgrade need an industry-standard compliant LMS. This type can support course creation software. These include Tin Can, SCORM, or Experience API.

The final LMS an organization picks should resolve existing business challenges.

How Skilled Is My LMS Supervisor?

At least one person within the organization needs extensive LMS training.

During the demo, the dedicated LMS administrator should test the LMS on its usability. This should happen with the technical expertise of the internal staff in mind as well.

The LMS should still be intuitive enough to allow ease of use. This is irrespective of the users’ level of tech-savviness. It should also include quick access to a support center.

Will I Be Able to Measure ROI?

Your LMS should provide access to reporting and tracking tools. This is the best way to assess its effectiveness.

Examples of metrics you can use to assess the LMS include:

  • Improved employee efficiency.
  • More engaged consumers, partners, and shareholders.
  • A skilled workforce.
  • Reduced turnover costs.
  • Improved operations and output.
  • Increased positive brand visibility.
  • Higher revenue.

Comparing Different Types of LMSs

There are many types of niches in the eLearning space. Which means that there are as many varied LMS offerings.

Choosing the right LMS depends on your organization’s needs. Think about whether an LMS would be of value to the different departments you have.

Horizontal LMS

These are software that targets an expansive user network. Individuals on these networks usually have different skill levels.

Horizontal LMSs are better designed to adapt and grow with a company. They can take on many processes at a time.

This is because they are not limited to specific content or specialties. Diverse industries and markets need increased flexibility use this software.

Examples of companies using horizontal LMSs exist. You may recognize the customer relationship management (CRM) front runner Salesforce. Another example is the prominent inbound marketing and sales software company Hubspot.

Vertical LMS

Niche industries use Vertical LMSs. These companies only need single usage cases.

Examples of such industries are:

  • Higher education.
  • Healthcare.
  • Fitness.
  • Insurance.
  • Hospitality.

Examples of specialized solutions include D2L and Moodle.

LMS Deployment Models

Cloud or Hosted

This type of LMS houses all programs, applications, and data on the vendor’s server. The server is usually off-site. Cloud-based LMS can be flexible in pricing, usage and running costs.

On-Premise

Companies can choose to have their LMS within their premises. In this case, they would license a copy of the LMS from the vendor and have it installed on their own server.

This type of model has some cost implications. The organization would need to pay extra for updates.

They would also need an in house team to watch for new upgrades, features, enhancements or bugs.

Open-Sourcing

An open-source LMS utilizes a free source code available to anyone. It needs a high level of technical expertise for configuration.

Organizations are free to adapt this customizable software according to their needs. In some cases, an open-source LMS serves as a gateway to a custom-built LMS.

Custom-Built

two person brainstorming over paper
Image from: Helloquence

Custom-built LMSs are beneficial for companies that need very specific learning solutions. They need large infrastructures and internal resources.

They may also need a dedicated team of developers for implementation.

What Are the Most Important LMS Features?

As a prospective buyer, your focus should be on the features that result in the most tangible value.

Your LMS features should contribute to:

  • Increased ROI.
  • Better-quality KPIs.
  • New leads.
  • More sales volume.
  • Better communication.
  • Increased knowledge and retention.
  • More applicants.
  • Fewer support calls.

Key features to look out for in an LMS include:

Quality Analytics and Report Generation

The LMS industry is data-driven. This makes having a tool with both reporting and analytical capability essential.

You want an accessible dashboard. This helps curate learner data and progress reports on demand. You need an application program (API) too. This would be an added advantage due to its automated function.

An LMS optimized for analysis makes it easy to issue milestone awards to learners. An example would be a certificate of completion after passing a specific course.

A webhook or API functionality helps you identify employees who need retraining faster. The software would easily redo remedial training with no extra set up required.

This kind of LMS allows user tracking. It may not outline user engagement or business impact.

So it’s very important to discuss these latter metrics with your vendor to find a workable way to include them.

Course Creation

A solution with built-in course authoring is ideal for leaner teams. These companies are looking for tangible value in an LMS within the first 30 days.

Look beyond content delivery and tracking. You can have an LMS with the inbuilt capability to curate and host instructional content.

This a fantastic opportunity for organizations to create high-value content. Your LMS can integrate several visual aids into the LMS.

Most LMS solutions don’t offer the above option. This can lead to higher costs as you seek alternatives to supplement your material. The learning curve can be high without a course authoring option.

Look for LMSs that have built course creation capability. They should be SCORM 1.2 compliant to enable the exportation of interactive content.

Scalable Content

Organizations are rarely static. As an organization evolves so does its knowledge base. The LMS should make the process of updating all content easy.

An LMS should be able to welcome new learners. It should manage any updates to match each organizational transition.

You should be able to change or move all assets in each course from one central location to another easily. This should happen without disrupting normal operations.

Certifications

Organizations can use certifications to increase brand visibility and value.

They can do so while building an external community of willing users. The Hubspot Academy, for instance, effectively uses this model.

An LMS with such capability benefits organizations that need to train external users. External users include partners, resellers, service agents, and consumers.

Integrations

Organizations need a variety of software programs. These support different functionalities including:

  • Email marketing.
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM).
  • Hiring, onboarding, and training.
  • Google analytics.
  • Data analysis.
  • Virtual coaching.

An LMS should have seamless integration ability with other SaaS software ranks.

The vendor should provide guidance on how to configure your LMS with each of these programs.

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Networking and Collaboration

Learning is most effective when it includes a social aspect. This means users may need to consult other learners or experts using the same LMS from time to time.

Peer to peer interactions increases a sense of community and collaboration. They also improve learner engagement and retention.

The learners can build their own thriving community. This happens through file sharing, virtual chat rooms, and discussion boards.

A custom social networking forum in an LMS has its benefits. It could provide important insight into learner habits and preferences.

This information informs on which learning areas need improvement.

Customized Branding

White labeling is a feature that allows an organization to customize the look and feel of their LMS. This applies to the brand name and logo.

White labeling is a little more complex than changing colors. It’s a good idea to discuss this feature with your vendor.

Ensure that you get full control of the HTML/CSS editor. You need to be able to conduct advanced customizations.

Mobile Access

eLearning requires an LMS optimized to suit the modern learner’s changing habits.

The content has to be accessible wherever they are, whenever they have time. It should also be digestible on any device.

The best LMSs allow easy functionality across several devices. This includes smartphones, tablets or laptops.

Customer Support

The best LMS vendor is willing to have an ongoing relationship with an organization. This is after the initial installation. Ongoing customer support guarantees better results.

Find out the terms of customer support by asking these simple questions:

  • Will the LMS support be internal or external
  • Will a third party handle your organization’s support needs?
  • Is it possible to have a dedicated account representative?

The relationship with your LMS vendor needs to be a beneficial partnership. It has to be more proactive than reactive.

They need to understand what your business challenges are in detail. Then they can explain how the LMS can help solve these challenges.

Every organization has goals, vision, corporate culture, and mission.

To determine whether an LMS suits you, ask the following questions:

  • How often do our training needs evolve? – You will need an LMS with enough agility to adapt to your fast-moving pace.
  • Does the company need an LMS to distribute technical information or skills building?
  • Do you need an LMS for brand expansion?

Comparing Types of LMS Implementation Models

SELF SERVICE SETUP ASSISTED SETUP FULL-SERVICE IMPLEMENTATION GLOBAL ENTERPRISE DEPLOYMENT
Best for global businesses with multiple currencies & languages No No No Yes
Lifetime System Costs Low Low Medium High
Varied flexibilities? No No No Yes
Partners with a client to ensure implementation objectives are No No No Yes
successfully met
One-on-one training sessions No No Yes Yes
Data migrations, enterprise functionality No No Yes Yes
Contact from the vendor No Yes Yes Yes
Training sessions and a higher level of customer support No Yes, at an extra cost Yes, at an extra cost Yes, at an extra cost
Usable by clients with basic LMS with limited integration and content? No Yes Yes Yes
Allows for partner approach Yes Yes Yes Yes
The vendor is accountable for success and failure No Yes Yes Yes
Pricing Free – $1K $1K – $20K Cost: $20K – $100K $250K – $1.5M

Success depends on the questions you ask during planning and research.

You should be able to install a suitable solution as long as you have clarity on your LMS goals and KPIs. The former works best if you work with a reliable platform partner.

The above should steer you towards successful implementation.

Designing Your Learning Materials

The two common learning methods preferred by most eLearning professionals are

ADDIE: An acronym representing the five stages of the development process, i.e., Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate.

In the ADDIE model, each stage is completed in a specific order. The model also relies on continuous reflection and iteration.

The model has a streamlined approach. It allows an environment for feedback and continuous improvement.

But its major shortcoming is inflexibility for companies with changing goals.

SAM: Successive Approximation Model, whose main focus is continuous iteration.

SAM is a responsive development model that allows many steps at the same time.

The process is iterative, so each development stage cycles at least three times. Each repeated cycle produces better results.

SAM allows room for project changes as and when needed. The model encourages collaboration between instructional designers and the customers at each step.

Check out this simple explanation video about SAM, below.

SAM and ADDIE have parallels to the agile and waterfall eLearning methodologies. Learn more about these methods here.

The idea behind ADDIE is that a team perfects each stage before moving on to the next.

The downside is that it may not be agile enough for an environment where goals may change.

Selecting Your LMS Implementation Team

An LMS should cover various operations and departments in a given organization.

For this reason, you must select the right team. They should oversee its implementation, effectiveness and long term success.

Experts say that you keep the LMS team as small and focused as possible.

Team members can be from people in HR, IT or the training and ongoing development departments. They work together with the vendor.

woman placing sticky notes on wall
Image from: You X Ventures

Critical members of an LMS could include:

Team Leader

The person between the organization and the LMS partner or provider. They are responsible for the implementation of the platform. They point out and solve any issues that arise during usage.

Project Manager

The person responsible for tracking all the important matters. These include milestones, deadlines, and projects associated with the implementation plan.

eLearning Expert

For projects related to skills development, this is a key person to have on the team. They should supervise all learning materials that need development.

L&D Supervisor

The person responsible for the team’s pre-determined goals. They ensure that the LMS can do the job. This includes government compliance, course outlines, certifications and awards and generating user reports.

IT Professional

Responsible for the technical aspects of installation and integration. Especially if your company is not using an external or cloud-based LMS solution.

Opt for an LMS platform that supports one person being able to perform several of the above roles.

It is possible for a one-person team to handle the task. But having a bigger team can speed things up.

Implementation depends on the type of LMS you choose. User accounts software programs and the data you intend to migrate into the LMS also matters.

Your LMS partner and IT department should be able to provide an estimate.

Migrating Data Into an LMS

Necessity is the rule of thumb when migrating data into an LMS. This applies to using the LMS for the first time or upgrading an existing one.

The LMS implementation team should assess all material. They should also confer with the legal department on what files must remain in the LMS.

The LMS Trial Run

As is the case with any new product, it’s important to conduct an LMS trial run before the official launch.

Select a group of users who fit the intended demographic. Run through a few test scenarios together with the LMS provider.

This is the best way to catch any issues or bugs that may have slipped through the cracks.

After the above step, conduct a training program for all intended users. The LMS provider should be able to recommend the best method of delivery for training.

The LMS Rollout Plan

Let everyone know about the LMS in case of a blackout period during the implementation. Discuss with your team what the best switchover process for your company is.

After determining how the roll-out plan you can move to the changeover. The finished LMS can install overnight or in a measured amount of time.

In the case of upgrading, experts say you should run both systems together. This is to ensure data preservation. It also gives the users a bit of a grace period to adjust to the LMS.

Assessment and Review

The implementation doesn’t end after the LMS launch. The team should keep testing and refining the programs to ensure success.

Conduct a review of the new LMS after a considerable period of use to determine:

  • Any technical glitches.
  • How many users logged in trouble-free.
  • User progression and performances.
  • Potential improvement.

LMS Pricing Models

According to Capterra, most companies spend as much as 59% more than they expect on an LMS. This is due to incorrect costing by providers.

Because LMSs have such a wide range of features and uses, it can be difficult to pinpoint an exact cost estimate.

The best way to work around this is to review each proposed LMS. Decide what advantages they pose in comparison to the cost.

There are many standard pricing models that could make the process easier for you. Some vendors offer a volume discount. But note that a package deal could cost you much more per user.

Here are some common pricing models:

All-Inclusive

This includes a single cost all-inclusive package. Pricing depends on the number of user seats or as a custom proposal. These services included are not itemized.

The key disadvantage of this pricing model is paying for some seats and features you may never use.

Packaged

In this case, you pay a flat subscription fee.

But you still have marginal freedom to customize your package to suit your needs. This package allows companies to choose the exact features they need.

There is potential for extra charges with this model. Vendors may offer a base price package, but companies may need to pay more.

Extra costs go into important features you still need. These are white labeling, e-commerce compatibility, and new integrations.

Both these models involve a flat monthly charge regardless of usage.

They lack flexibility for evolving infrastructure. This is a major benefit of using cloud computing over installed systems. It remains overlooked.

Metered

This model eliminates all the guesswork. The organization pays for exactly what they will use not an estimate of usage.

This is an advantage for companies that use LMSs from time to time, e.g., only for onboarding or training sessions.

The metered model supports the cyclical nature of the L&D cycle. It allows you to divide finances to developing programs. This is better than paying for seats you don’t need to use.

A metered model keeps the LMS provider incentivized to give the best value. They can now create the most functional solutions for you. This guarantees the organization’s success.

Recurring or Hidden LMS Costs

The majority of LMS providers tend to charge a recurring fee. This is above the cost of initial implementation. Some hidden fees to look out for include:

  • Set up fees.
  • Annual licensing fees.
  • Customization (design) fees.
  • System upgrade fees.
  • Excess usage fees.

Miscellaneous fees including maintenance, training and customer support.

If you cover all the areas covered in this guide, you may get an accurate final price estimate from your vendor.

Always work with a vendor who is willing to offer a flexible model. This is one that supports your business requirements. This is better than a fixed price package.

Refine Your LMS Needs Using Our Simple Checklist

  1. Who in the organization will be using the LMS?
  2. What is the total number of users?
  3. Will the organization need to scale up any program in the future?
  4. What kind of content will the LMS deliver?
    • Video
    • Learning modules
    • Interactive activities
    • Microlearning
    • Gamification
    • PDFs/Documents
    • Other
  1. What types of metrics, KPIs, reports do you want the software to emphasize?
    • SCORM
    • Tin Can/xAPI
    • AICC
  1. Do you have a particular coding standard?
    • Public cloud
    • Private cloud
    • On-premise
  1. What type of hosting are you comfortable with?
    • Self-service
    • Low-touch
    • High-touch
    • Custom implementation
    • Other
  1. What implementation requirements does your organization have?
  2. What is your organizations’ budget?
  3. Do you have a preference for authoring tools?
  4. What is the best pricing model for you?
  5. How often will your software be updated?
    • Rarely
    • Annually
    • Monthly
    • Other
  1. What other specific features does your organization want to see in an LMS?
  2. What integrations/APIs do you want?
  3. What degree of branding or personalization does your organization need? Based on the following:
    • Single sign-on
    • Hierarchical management
    • E-commerce
    • Ad-hoc reporting
    • Multi-site capability
    • Complex CE Management
    • Forums
    • Compliance features
    • System/data integrations
    • Gamification features
    • Authoring tool
    • ILT and Blended learning
    • Survey/assessment engine

Your Five-Step Guide to Making the LMS Switch

Organizations considering re-evaluating existing learning management systems are not alone.

Almost 26% of LMS users are either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their current system. This is according to a Capterra report.

STEP ONE: Building a case

☐ Why do you need a new LMS?
☐ What business objectives do you want to achieve with this new system?

STEP TWO: Pinpointing the Critical Elements of Your New System

  • Which of your technical and functional needs are crucial for your business case?
  • Identify all important business processes that a new LMS could disrupt. You should also determine who will be responsible for approvals.

TAKE NOTE: Remove unhelpful organizational habits that do not help your business purpose.

  • Your selected vendors should be able to handle critical business requirements.
  • Your selected vendors should account for each of your critical business requirements.

STEP THREE: A Thorough Selection Process

  • Create a shortlist of potential LMS providers to submit proposals.
  • Define your selection team
  • Figure out who has final decision-making authority.
  • Review the proposals and invite at least three vendors to demo their platform.

STEP FOUR: Ask Each Vendor the Right Questions

  • From the identified past and present business objectives come up with a scripted demo that you will use to prompt the vendors during their presentations.

TAKE NOTE: Don’t focus on old business outcomes and actions in this script. It is the only way to ensure that your vendor gets it right with their demo.

  • Decide among your team how to test the vendor demos.
  • Create time to meet with the vendors for follow-up questions.

STEP FIVE: Consider Implementation and Change Management in Your Decision

  • Focus on asking how each vendor will take your team through the implementation process.

TAKE NOTE: A new system isn’t only about upgrading software or migrating data.

  • Feature change management as part of your project plan. Ensure that your new LMS endures long term change.

World Manager: Change How You Do Business

We’ve made it easy for you to take the first step towards identifying the right LMS for your organization.

Remember that an effective LMS:

  • fully engages your staff.
  • minimizes training costs.
  • maximizes your organization’s productivity.

With World Manager you can leverage today’s advanced learning techniques.

You can also create an engaging, collaborative learning experience for your teams.

You want an LMS design that can help you create a high-impact learning program.

If your current LMS isn’t delivering these benefits, consider working with us.

Book your custom demo to see how your LMS can change your business outcomes.

Disclaimer: This information is meant to provide general guidelines and should be used as a reference. It may not take into account all relevant local, state or federal laws and is not a legal document. Neither the author nor World Manager will assume any legal liability that may arise from the use of this information.

The best companies use World Manager to train staff, maintain standards, and set the company up on the road to success.