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Thursday, January 29, 2015

4 Steps To Pick The Perfect LMS

The shift from a traditional or synchronous learner to blended and asynchronous learning is both an exciting and scary place. According to statistics a company who uses eLearning and on the job training generates 26% more revenue per employee. However, the typical budget needed for a small company to get started is $20,000 - $30,000.

So what do you need to get started?

A Learning Management System (LMS), a training manager, Instructional Designer or Training Team, an authoring tool, and a whole lot of passion.

An LMS, what is that? You ask.

A Learning Management System (LMS) is a powerful tool that has seen a rise in use and adaptation. An LMS by definition is a software application that administers, tracks, reports and deliveries educational technology to an individual (learner) on behalf of a company, educational system or other entity. Luckily for you the market for LMS’s in 2014 was well over $2.5 billions dollars and grew over 21% offering more varieties and hopefully just the right fit to it’s end users.

A new term that is being used throughout the Learning community is an LCMS or Learning Content Management System. Similar to an LMS, it still provides the ability to administer, track, report and deliver educational technology to an individual. However, it also acts as a repository for all people within a company to create, store, reuse and manage other learning objects such as job aid’s and videos. This tool essentially combines an LMS with an online file share and document editor and is said to save money and promote consistency.

Other terminology used is an LRS (Learning Record Store) which is mostly used in reference to Tin Can applications and CMS or Course Management System which is an old term used to describe basic storage of learning materials in one centralized location.

So which LMS/LCMS is going to be right for me? Take these four steps to find the right option for you.

1. Know how you want Learners arranged and content presented

Knowing how your company’s organization structure is going to break down and form into curriculum and packages is going to dictate how you set up learners (in most cases). This defines where you align courses and how your learners will interact with the LMS. Have a high-level plan ahead of time to base decisions off and act as a wire frame for your communication with vendors. In most cases, the plan will include how your company’s organizational structure is going to be broken down (all company, department specific, individual assignments) and what types of courses or learning experiences you expect to produce (task, course, video, document, email).

2. Order the following key aspects; Administration, Tracking, Reporting, Delivery, and Other

Administration - The act of supporting, updating, and maintaining an LMS. 

  • Does the interface make sense?
  • Is there helpful documentation available?
  • Is it intuitive? 
  • Can I capture the level of detail I need for learners and courses? 
  • Is my content customization? 
  • Is my system configurable?
  • Does it work well with all browsers?
  • Does it require single sign on?
  • Is it safe?
  • Is it scale able? 
  • Does it support all the types of content I want to upload?

Tracking - The ability to record and review certain aspects of a learner’s performance in an LMS. 

  • How often does the LMS communicate? 
  • How far can completion be broken down?
  • Does it track student participation or performance?
  • Can I inform others of poor behavior?

Reporting - The ability to pull tracking and learner information as metrics or numerical values. 

  • Can I pull the best reports to show my companies definition of value in eLearning? 
  • Can I manipulate big data?
  • Can I manipulate the data without having to export?
  • Can I send the report to others?

Delivery - The way in which educational technology is given to the individual. 

  • Does it adhere to QTI, IMS, AICC, SCORM, ISO 9000 or Tin Can/Experience API standards?
  • Do I have the option to become 508 compliant? 
  • Can I deliver mobile content?
  • Does it support HTML5 or XML?


  • Does my company want integrated social media options? 
  • Are we going to sell our content (eCommerce)? 
  • Do we need chat/comments?
  • Is it important that you can interface with other software? 
  • Do you want cloud based?
  • Am I going to provide "Just in Time" training?
  • Is there a whiteboard?
  • Can I integrate apps or widgets?

Knowing which parts of the software take top priority also means that when it comes to testing you will be able to put the important stuff first. Having your plan from step 1 should help guide you in making these decisions so be sure to come up with a good plan first.

3. Take it for a Spin

Nothing puts your mind at ease more than attending a demo, downloading a sandbox or trying something out online. You will not know if you like the interface, does it offers the right number of content options, and does it deliver content how I expected. You won't know until you get your hands dirty. Have content ready like a course, document, video, learner, administrator and curriculum examples. Test, test and test again until you feel comfortable enough with the software.

4. Run the Numbers

Price should not dictate your decision but hey, we are all on a budget. Determine if your company wants to pay an annual fee (once a year), a perpetual license (one and done) or a consumption license (pay per learner or use). The most common types of LMS retailers work off a pay per learner or per use and can cost .50 cents to $10 per transaction depending on volume. It may be important to look at the options of purchasing the whole package versus certain components (a la carte). Be sure to negotiate and take into consideration the cost of maintenance and support as well. Support comes in a large variety of packages but what it boils down to, does this company have my companies back?

So, whom should I pick?

That question has to be 100% decided by you, your team, and/or your company. Here is two lists complied by trusted associations in the Learning and Development community to get you started on your journey of discovery.

Do you still want to be a nonconformist?  

Then check out some non-traditional examples that may work for you:

  • SharePoint
  • Blog/WordPress
  • Google Groups
  • Wiki Page


What LMS does you/your company use? Did I miss something?  Comment below or catch me on Twitter (@jvalley0714)!

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