Picking a Learning Management System (LMS) to host your eLearning content is a crucial, but often overlooked, step in the eLearning development process. The problem is, there are several LMS vendors from which to choose. Which LMS fits best within your budget, your eLearning development software, your learner's technology, your training objectives, and your instructional design initiatives?
How to Choose the Right LMS for Your Business
Purchasing an LMS is a big decision for any organization. In fact, you'll find that the price for an LMS can range from free to $1,000,000. The first step in picking an LMS is knowing your organization. An LMS can be used for a variety of different tasks--internal training, performance tracking, compliance maintenance, policy awareness, and employee feedback. Ask the executive team what requirements they might need from the solution. Do you need the LMS just for training? Could the LMS be used for new employee orientations, site-specific safety training, internal policy management, and sign off? Identify the level of maintenance and internal staff that will be required to implement and maintain the service. Some systems are very easy to setup while others can require months to properly set up. Ensure you are aware of which one you are getting. When pricing an LMS, keep in mind that the number of users who will access the LMS will likely affect your licensing costs.
One of the biggest factors that will influence your LMS choice is the content you'll be uploading into the LMS. Some eLearning courses use video, others use written materials. Things like file format (Flash vs. PDF, PowerPoint vs. Spreadsheet) can make a difference in what systems are a potential fit. Does the system accept SCORM courses? If so, what versions? Will the LMS work if learners are using tablets and mobile devices? Does the LMS support HTML5 versions of SCORM?
Some organizations already have training programs and background material; others need to start online course development from scratch. Be sure to ask beforehand what sort of authoring tools the LMS is compatible with, as it is recommended that you find a system that works well with all the leading tools like Adobe Captivate, Lectora, and Articulate Storyline.
Training management software may often be advertised as user-friendly, but each system has technical requirements that invariably affect deployment. Check to see if the system offers an API (automated program interface) or SSO (Single Sign On) that complies with your existing systems. These communication protocols affect the exchange of information between your LMS and other programs, like payroll.
The final step in assessing which LMS is right for you is implementation and maintenance. Permissions, level of maintenance, and ability to make changes on-the-fly can all affect the cost of LMS implementation and the staff resources required to administer online learning courses.
Some systems, like open-source LMSs, may seem attractive because of low costs and easy customization, but they can be more complicated to use than software services that make support staff available. If you're frequently troubleshooting or making system adjustments, the money saved by using a free service can quickly be lost in maintenance hours. Commercial training management software may be pricier than open-source systems, but they are turn-key ready and frequently have dedicated staff to walk your administrators through maintenance and implementation issues-well worth the expenses. Perhaps your organization's learning requirements are seasonally variable? In this case, it may be best to choose a Software-As-A-Service LMS. These services allow you to define your service periods and store information on external servers giving you the external staff and storage resources to manage any required changes to course delivery. Many of the best LMSs provide free trial periods and open contracts to allow you to confirm that they work as advertised without locking you into heavy service fees.
Knowing your system, content, and staff requirements will play an important factor in streamlining LMS selection. Knowing your organization and system requirements will knock out most of the hard work that goes into creating a request for proposal. This means your organization can more quickly begin the demo process and start sampling the many LMSs out there without the worry of encountering technical snags late in the selection process.