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It’s Easy: How to Buy the Best LMS For You

Posted on July 26, 2017 By Jake White

It's no secret that your corporate LMS is the most important tool you have for delivering employee training online. Companies (probably like yours) are increasingly turning to eLearning to administer their training and education, and it’s not difficult to see why. Consider the following:

It is easy to choose an LMS if you have the right questions to ask.

  • eLearning takes 40-60% less time for employees compared to training in a traditional classroom setting
  • eLearning increases employee retention by up to 60%, while face-to-face training methods only have a modest effect on retention (10%)
  • maybe most importantly: 42% of companies report that eLearning has led to an increase in revenue

Because of cost efficiency, convenience, and increased employee engagement, eLearning is quickly surpassing other forms of training. It's not without logistical issues. If your company delivers diverse subject matter to a broad audience, an LMS will be an integral part of your eLearning design and development.

But how do you buy the best LMS for you? How do you determine which corporate LMS vendor is throwing up smoke and mirrors, and which will make you look like a rockstar? This guide will answer these questions and more, to jumpstart your buying process.

Note: You might be wondering why we say “corporate LMS” throughout this article, instead of just “LMS.” It is an important distinction for this guide - this is NOT a guide for buying other types of LMS. Just the corporate variety. Let's get started!

What Is A Corporate LMS?

A Corporate Learning Management System is a software application that allows businesses to administer, document, track, report, and deliver courses and training. They allow instructors to deliver material to employees, proctor tests virtually, track the progress of each employee, and manage records seamlessly. A good LMS system also offers metrics to assess the impact of an eLearning course or initiative. A company may use an LMS solely for online training or blended learning environments.

How Do I Choose the best LMS for me?

First, don’t choose the wrong LMS:  How to pick the wrong LMS

Next, understand that not all LMS systems are created equal, and some are better than others for specific processes. Most have a type, a business model or industry where most of their clients come from, and for whom they’ve designed their platform. This makes selecting the best LMS for your business one of the most challenging aspects of creating your online training program. A poorly designed LMS may put your training efforts at risk, so research and a basic knowledge of the different LMS types are essential.  According to a recent survey by Bersin and Associates, 25% of companies will switch their LMS within the first year because it’s not a good fit for their needs - and that doesn’t count those that want to change but signed a 4 year contract, which is most of them. Companies cite the following reasons for being dissatisfied with their LMS system:

  • Inadequate reporting
  • Hidden or excessive fees
  • Complicated interfaces
  • Lack of scalability
  • Inability to integrate with other applications
  • Poor implementation and ongoing support

Selecting the best LMS for your company seems like a simple matter of determining your company’s needs and finding the best product to deliver them, but it is nuanced. It requires a little introspection and a lot of research. Start by answering some basic questions:

  • What are our educational needs? (are employees remote, in office, or a blend?)
  • Who is our audience? (are employees “on-the-go” or primarily in the office?)
  • What standards and requirements do we have for online training?
  • How comfortable are our employees with web-based applications?
  • How will we measure the success of a training program?
  • How will our needs grow and evolve in the next 5 years? 10 years?

Answering these questions provides a solid foundation for your LMS search. Just open a document, and answer them. Right now. You’ll be glad you did. Once you have an idea of what you’re looking for (and for whom), you can begin to research vendors.

Factors to Consider When Choosing the Best LMS for You

One of the first decisions you’ll make is whether you’ll use a cloud-based or on-premise solution. A cloud-based corporate LMS delivers content online, so it’s accessible from any device with an internet connection. The main advantage of a cloud-based LMS is mobility, which allows your employees to access courses from any enabled device, whether it’s at home or the office. In a recent survey on eLearning, nearly 90% of respondents reported they needed their LMS system to be compatible with mobile learning.

The second advantage of a web-based system is vendor support. Your corporate LMS vendor will handle all maintenance, upgrades, and troubleshooting, so you won’t need to invest in more IT infrastructure or rely on your in-house team. This support is an important consideration for small to mid-sized businesses, who may not have the employee support to maintain an on-premise system. And, large companies receive the benefit of dedicated and passionate software designers who continue year-round feature building that enables learning company wide. Support and speed of innovation will always be better with a cloud LMS.

Finally, web-based solutions require a lower initial investment. Installing an on-premise system can be cost prohibitive, so keep that in mind during your search.

An on-premise system has its advantages and disadvantages. While they’re easier to integrate with other work applications, they involve a larger upfront investment and require an in-house IT team for maintenance and upgrades. Yuck.

Basic and Advanced Features

Once you choose an on-premise or a web-based solution, consider which features you want in your LMS. Most LMS systems have the following basic (and crucial) features:

  • Intuitive user and user-group management
  • Comprehensive user-group-based task automation
  • Test and assessment administration and management
  • Blended learning opportunities
  • Managing and delivering educational content
  • Integration with select programs (i.e. SCORM compliance)
  • Reporting on SCORM content
  • A self-service menu for each learner
  • Analytics

 If you want to dig a little deeper, many corporate LMS providers offer additional features. These may include (but are not limited to):

  • Certification and licensure programs
  • Tracking course curricula and enforcing pre requisites
  • Mobile learning
  • Individualized learning plans for each participant
  • User-generated content
  • Succession planning
  • Integration with talent management applications

Choose a solution with the features you want, and that will be the best fit for your company. As you put together your list of desired features, keep in mind that businesses most often request the following in their LMS system:

  • Intuitive interface design
  • User group management and automation
  • Customized dashboards and branding
  • Testing and assessment capabilities
  • Blended learning capabilities
  • SCORM compliance (a set of technical standards that increase the interoperability between content management systems)
  • Powerful reporting

Make a “wish list” of features, and find a product that aligns with your company needs and wants. Your next job will be to call vendors and ask them more questions about their product.

Not sure what features you want? You can talk with a Torch LMS consultant for free - they’ll ask you about your use cases and suggest what features you need. They also will be honest with you about whether Torch LMS is a good fit or not, and can even recommend another LMS if we’re not. We don’t retain 98.7% of our customers by signing up clients that are a bad fit!

Questions to Ask a Corporate LMS Provider

Be prepared for your interaction with a potential LMS provider, and create a list of questions beforehand. Here are some important things to ask each prospective vendor:

  • Describe your use cases, and ask them to show you how their system handles those. Take note of how easy or difficult it is. Get into the weeds, and take note of any workarounds you’ll have to live with to make it work for you.
  • What is your approach to data security, recovery, and backup? A good cloud-based provider will have multiple contingencies and store data through multiple servers.
  • Who owns the data? Does your company own its data, or is it the property of the vendor?
  • Will this solution integrate with our systems?
  • How user-friendly is your system? Your LMS might have all the features you’re looking for, but it’s not worth much if your employees are unwilling to adopt it.
  • Do you offer ongoing training and support? How involved is your company in helping ours make the transition to your system? When do you provide troubleshooting assistance?
  • Is your system easy to set up? Will we have to adjust our current IT infrastructure?
  • Can my employees access the LMS from their mobile devices?
  • What analytics and impact measures do you offer? Will I be able to measure my training results with our businesses goals?
  • Is your product scalable? How will you accommodate us as our business grows?

LMS Pricing

One of the most important questions you can ask is: “Can my company afford your LMS?” Each vendor approaches LMS pricing differently; some may charge upfront fees and monthly subscription rates, while others charge per user at an annual rate. Still, others may charge extra for services they consider premium. Ask each vendor about their pricing model and which features the base price includes.

Pricing models vary greatly, but you should dig deep into the potential for hidden fees. Ask them for a list of fees they might face down the road. You should expect that they will customize their pricing to fit your business model. One-size-fits-all pricing models may not fit you, and will likely be cause for you to switch in the future. Avoid going through multiple LMS implementations (they are challenging!) and get the pricing right the first time.

Who Buys the LMS?

There’s no single person in charge of choosing the best LMS system for your company. In fact, a collaborative effort can be more successful in the long run. There is a fine line, however, between involving them and giving them veto power over which LMS you select. Ask for their input, but make it clear that you’ll be “gathering information” to make a decision, NOT making a decision with them. With that in mind, the following people can play a role in the decision-making process:

  • Key members of management or leadership. If you plan on using your LMS system across multiple departments, involve management members from each department.
  • The HR department. Your talent management team should be included in the selection process, as these will likely be the individuals gathering assessment metrics and analyzing the impact of a course.
  • Consultants. Sometimes, companies use outside consultants to create improvements within a company. If this applies to you, keep them involved.
  • Your employees. To ensure your LMS platform will be a success, talk to the people who will be using it the most. Consider having a focus group or a meeting with select employees to learn what they want out of a system (mobility, gamification, or social learning), and choose a product that aligns with their interests.

Where Can I Buy an LMS?

First, we hope you’ll include Torch LMS in your search!

With so many available options though, finding an LMS can be daunting. The vast majority of your initial research will be online, and you’ll typically make a purchase after demoing several options. Capterra has a useful directory of LMS systems, as well as their pricing models, features, and reviews.

We hope this has been a useful guide to buying the best LMS for you!

Do you have further questions about Corporate Learning Management Systems or the features we offer? Feel free to contact us.