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Searching for a Learning Management System (LMS)

Posted on July 23, 2018 By Jake White

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Figuring out what you are looking for

While we like to think that all of our advice is important and amazing, this may be the actual most important thing we can offer you. A checklist. Wow, powerful stuff, wouldn’t you agree? Hear us out on this one. Before you set up demo’s or product trials (more on that later), before you worry about cost, or features - you need to know what you want out of a Learning Management System. Think about who you may need to collaborate with, sit down and write out every feature you want in a system. Then, take that list and highlight your top five non-negotiables. Is having powerful automation important to manage employee progress? What about automated reported (not using Excel!!), or personalized support? Do you need mobile access for employees? Will they use the LMS to submit paperwork or other documents? Now, we can really start the hunt.

(If you are brand new to what an LMS can do for you, you may struggle to create a list of features – if this is you, we can give you a personalized demo as a baseline for creating your checklist.)

Ease of Use - User Experience Matters

Depending on the experience of you or your team (whomever will be in charge of implementing and overseeing the LMS) something to keep in mind as critical to your LMS is how user friendly the experience is. Whether looking up reviews, watching video demonstrations, or asking for advice on LinkedIn - look to see if the system is intuitive. Most importantly, trust your instincts. Reviews are subjective and often lack the context of comparison to other LMSs, and every company will tell you theirs is the easiest to use! Imagine your end users engaging with the system. Will they be able to post a discussion or complete a course without wearing out (or even contacting) your help desk? Is it intuitive and obvious how to complete the tasks you need them to complete? Is it beautifully designed?

Let’s not forget the ROI

Is it cutting costs? It should cut costs in a number of ways. Is it saving time? Your LMS should automate much of what you’re doing now to manage learning, producing impressive time savings. Is it improving productivity? Are employees improving in the areas they are being trained in? Are managers saving time by automating training? Calculate the net result of all three so and you’ll see why the LMS industry is thriving – we deliver impressive value.

 One specific point worth paying attention to is the battle of all-in-one solutions vs best-in-class solutions. The huge downside of all-in-one solutions is that they build their product suites to (minimally) meet a broad set of needs instead of (robustly) meeting a narrow set of needs. When calculating ROI, all-in-one solutions will usually make you look bad because you’ll be stuck paying for solutions that don’t actually meet your needs. For the best ROI, we recommend selecting a dream-team of best-in-class solutions (LMS, content, authoring, talent, etc) not an all-in-one.

Product Demonstration, Trial and Evaluation for Leverage

Narrow down to three (five at the most) Learning Management Systems based on what you can learn from their websites and initial conversations, and if you have the time and interest to be this thorough, get through the first product demos before narrowing. On your side, you will want to invite anyone on your team whose opinion will matter during the selection process. You can then expect to setup a video call, and the sales rep will take about an hour to walk you through much of the functionality of their system. This is where your checklist will come into play, make sure they address your must haves during this time. Once your demo is done, you will typically have the choice to setup a trial run of the product. When you are leaning toward one of your top three choices, engaging in a trial will be key. This will give you and your team the opportunity to test out the LMS without the pressure of a sales rep making everything look shiny and perfect. During the trial, be sure to have all of the key people involved and remember to include some end users. Set up a sandbox where everyone can play and put the LMS through its paces. Meet weekly to discuss what everyone has experienced.

Once you have completed all of your demos and trials, you should sit with your team and evaluate each system. Create a weighted scorecard and average out the votes, or draw straws - whatever system works best for you. Remember to factor in your must haves, wants and overall cost.

One mistake that LMS buyers regularly make is that they don’t communicate openly enough with their sales rep about their decision making process. Many companies are hesitant to share opening the points they are weighing about competing vendors. The truth is, the more you share with competing vendors, the more opportunities you have to get clarification on what points of value are actually unique to a vendor, and what is salesmanship. Dig for clarity – you’ll be happy you did. 

Customer Support Lies

This may seem like a no brainer, but it absolutely is not. Customer service is one of the first places that large companies cut costs when trying to drive up profits. The problem? No company will ever hint in any way that they offer poor customer service. An accurate description of customer service from most major LMS’s would go something like this: “We care about you until you sign a contract. Then, we force you through support processes that are impersonal, slow, and often frustrating, but that save us impressive sums of money. If you’d like a dedicated support rep that is an actual product expert who you can reach by phone, then we’ll have a good laugh at your expense”. While deciding on the right LMS for you, make sure you ask detailed questions about their customer service. You will want to see what their help ticketing system is like, how many users on your team have access to creating tickets, whether you get a dedicated (real) product expert, and whether you can reach them by phone – ask about response times too. What is the implementation process? Do they provide training for your employees? If so, how often, who can attend, and how is it delivered? Will they train again when new admins come into the picture? What about in-app help? Before you make your final choice, and sign on the dotted line - it is important to be comfortable in the support you will be provided.

Conclusion

We know this can be an overwhelming process because it is. But, by making your checklist, being critical of the user experience, considering ROI before buying, communicating openly with your sales rep during evaluation, and demanding great customer support - you can feel confident in your selection process. Be sure of what you need, do your homework - and know that you will be making a strong well-informed choice moving forward. You’ve got this!

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