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LMS Buying Guide: Finding the right LMS for your learning programs

May 4, 2018 | Posted in Concepts of Unified Learning, Courses, eLearning Best Practices, Webinars by icohere

If you’ve been tasked with finding options for a learning management system (LMS) for your organization, then you’ve just been given a bear of a project. What are you facing? Well, the research and consulting firm Talented Learning estimates there are more than 700 LMS vendors.  With a marketplace that large, it’s hard to even know where to begin.

A quick start guide to finding the ideal learning management system.

The challenge of finding a vendor begins with aligning your establishment’s needs with the various available system options such as scalability, the number of learners, content delivery options, hosting, integrations with other platforms, branding and customization options, e-commerce capabilities, budget, and so many more. This leads to the important first step in the process.

#1. Build a list of must-have learning program features, functionality, and integrations.

If you are in the market for an LMS, you more than likely fit into one of two scenarios:

1) You already have a learning program in place. In this case, you might want to expand your program, or you desire to see what new options are available, or your current vendor isn’t quite meeting your needs.

Or…

Must-Have Features for LMS2) You are ready to design and launch a new learning program. In this case, perhaps budget, ease-of-use, or support services are guiding your LMS buying decision. The first step in either situation is to create a detailed list of must-have learning program features, functionality, and integrations.

Notice we said learning program features and not LMS features. Don’t limit your program to what the LMS can do; think more strategically about what you want your learners to do.

For example, do you want them to be able to simply take a course?

Or, do you want deeper engagement with learners and want the course to be tied to a learner community or a resource store where you will sell learning products? Do you need the system to be integrated with a social media platform, so learners can join discussions in a private learner group?

Once you identify your learner features, review other platforms you are currently using, and determine if you need the LMS to be able to integrate with these platforms. Examples here include an existing database system, online community, or e-commerce vendor. Would you be willing to switch any of these platforms with one the LMS is compatible with if needed?

Finally, consider any compliance requirements you may need for learners, such as accessibility or SCORM compliance.

Your features and functionality list will narrow the pool of vendors because you will begin the search for vendors that already offer these features, or they have teams who can help customize the platform to include these features.

#2. Determine your program budget – Think beyond the LMS purchase.

After you have completed a list of features and functionality, determine a program budget. When you build your budget, include the cost of staff members who will be involved and their roles with the program. Indicate whether each position is an existing position or a new position created for administering the program.

Some LMS vendors offer online event production services and thus have a team of experts who can help with various personnel needs. This might include creating the learning content you need, serving as your learning event support team or help desk, or even managing the behind-the-scenes facilitation of online events. The costs of outsourcing these services could be far less than the cost of creating new full-time positions and could ultimately help save on your overall budget. Outsourcing these services to an LMS vendor with an experienced, well-trained staff affords the opportunity to tap into industry expertise you might otherwise not be able to afford.

When building your budget, include any program design and technology training your team may need. For example, will you need to consult a professional instructional designer to assist with constructing your learning program? Does your team have the technology experience needed to manage the learning management system?

Support and training may not be automatically included with your purchase of an LMS. Some vendors offer support as part of the purchase, and others only provide customized training at an additional cost. Determine what training level you need before beginning the LMS selection process, and then you can prepare for any additional expenses.

#3. What pricing flexibility do you need?

Once you’ve laid out your program budget, consider your ability to pay for and launch the program. Many vendors offer discounted pricing if you pay for an annual contract. Others may offer a money-back-guarantee, so you can test out the program. Some may offer a revenue-share where you and the vendor split the upfront costs and then share in the revenue earned from the program. What payment structure will work best for your organization?

#4 What level of training, support, and scalability is important for your program?

An LMS is a platform, but it is just as important to have a solid partnership with your vendor.  When you created the program budget, you considered the training and support options you need for your team. Partnering with a vendor that offers customized support programs is important because trudging through training videos and following a DIY training guide could significantly delay the launch of your program.

LMS Support

What level of LMS support and training do you need?

If you and your team are savvy with learning technology, self-paced training may be sufficient. If not, then you want to make sure your vendor offers the level of support and training you need.

Do you need your LMS to be scalable?

Review the long-term goals of your learning program. If you plan to begin with webinars and online courses but will later launch a learning community, then you want to ensure your vendor can scale with you. The same is true if you plan to begin with a few students but will increase the number of learners each year.  Make sure your vendor offers the learning options you need to expand. Or can they at least integrate with other platforms that allow you to expand as planned? (Once you get to a short list of vendors, ask for examples and client references for these types of scenarios.)

#5 You’re ready to begin your search for an LMS.

When you complete the above steps, you’re ready to begin the search for an LMS and vendor that will meet your needs.

Navigating through the massive list of LMS vendors can be challenging, and unfortunately, most LMS vendors want you to commit to a personal product demo to see all the features of the platform. The search can quickly lead to demo fatigue, which is why some organizations often enlist help from consultants who specialize in learning design. Alternatively, organizations turn to reputable technology review sites that provide unbiased feedback from users of various systems.

Want to start a no-hassle online LMS demo today? Click below to access the iCohere online demo sites and explore all that a scalable, flexible LMS can do for your learning program.

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