There are over 700 LMS on the market. It's a minefield. Choosing the correct one can make or break a project. In this article, I'll outline some common mistakes that should be avoided when you choose your next LMS.
I spoke at length with a client last night who was looking to choose an LMS for his company. He had spent some time looking through some of Google's highest ranked search results, but was lost amongst a sea of features and functionality.
It's almost impossible to figure out which is the best platform for your business.
First of all, choosing an LMS is a long-term investment. What will your company need from the platform in 5 years?
It is notoriously time-consuming to migrate to a new LMS once you're up and running, so choosing the correct platform in the first place is essential.
I have spent many years in eLearning and overseen the implementation and migration of several LMS. I have made many mistakes in this process, some big, some small - it's a constant learning curve.
In this article, I simply aim to share some of the lessons I've learnt and the mistakes I've either made myself, or seen my colleagues make.
Key mistakes to avoid
So let's get stuck into the key mistakes to avoid when choosing an LMS:
1) You didn’t check the vendor’s customer support
Setting up and deploying an LMS is a lot more complex than it may seem.
In the short-term, you'll need help from the LMS vendor in setup, choosing functionality and familiarising yourself with the basics.
After that you'll be needing support on uploading content, administering learners and creating relevant reports.
You may also need to consider platform integration with other systems that your company uses. If not systems, company policies (tip - get your IT department involved in the process early).
In the longer term, you will be dealing with a completely different series of challenges such as using advanced reporting and other functionality that managers and learners will request once they start using the LMS.
The first LMS I implemented was developed by a company based in Canada. My company was based in the UK.
Whilst the software was being resold by a third-party distributor based in London, any technical queries had to be escalated to the support team ‘across the pond’.
This meant that if we arrived at work in the morning and there was a technical issue (users can't access content, managers can't access reports, SME's can't upload content - these are some examples that spring to mind) these issues weren't being viewed until 3/4pm UK time, by which time we had lost a whole business day.
We would then often wake up the following day to a response which was asking for more information, which lead to the classic international, disjointed, email conversations that we have all experienced when dealing with customer support based in a different time zone.
So when you're looking at an LMS, check on the customer support infrastructure. If the LMS vendor is based in another time zone, what level of support is there in your region?
Will the local support be able to make changes to the system and investigate bugs? Or will they simply be offering guidance on how the functionality works?
There's a big difference.
2) Intuitive interface for infrequent users
The key to a successful LMS is ensuring users feel comfortable with the platform.
We have all logged into software that doesn't seem intuitive and then never logged back in because of that one negative impression.
(This article discusses how to optimize user experience in your LMS).
The more frequently people use the platform, the more successful it will be.
This is not only relevant to learners, but critically also to managers who want to see both their teams progress and also review feedback captured by the platform (i.e any questions being asked, issues on certain topics etc.)
Ensuring that those people accessing the management interface find administration straightforward will also go a long way towards ensuring the success of a platform like this.
In any LMS rollout, you must ensure that you create a network of eLearning champions. These are the people who will actively promote eLearning with your audience.
This will only happen if they are actually using the system and enjoy the experience.
3) Additional costs for updating style and adding features
Whilst the price for an LMS is usually stated in black and white on the contract, you must be aware of additional costs that may or may not be included once you are under way.
I have seen several examples of LMS providers offering functionality in their product, only to discover that a certain feature does not come as standard and will require additional investment.
One example that stands out to me was a new release of the LMS which had a series of excellent social functionality - discussion forums, surveys, news feeds, leader boards etc. but was being sold as an optional add-on, which increased the price of the original agreement by 25%.
This meant that as we grew our audience, the cost of the LMS would increase proportionately.
Another LMS I've used charged our company each time we wanted to change the appearance of the LMS. Obviously not ideal.
4) Ability to grow with your business
I've seen varying behaviour demonstrated by different LMS vendors. Some LMS vendors share their product roadmap (which features they are planning on adding to the product), whilst some do not.
Whilst I understand that sharing the roadmap can create more questions than answers for the vendors, knowing where the software is headed is a key factor when choosing an LMS.
At the very least, ask your potential vendors how willing are they to discuss new features and their vision for the future of the product.
Are they going to focus on learning or branch out into other HR related software (and ultimately lose focus on the learning aspect)?
What are their plans for mobile?
Will they be adding gamification in a future release?
The best LMS vendors actually host events where they will share their vision for the future and gather feedback from users.
5) Paying for logins when learners aren't logging in
I've seen a variety of different pricing models, especially with subscription-based, cloud LMS. The most common model seems to be on a per account basis i.e. if 10,000 learners have an account, you pay for 10,000 learners every month.
However, there are some more flexible pricing options appearing. One example that I heavily favour is paying for usage only.
So whilst you might have 10,000 learners registered with an account, if only 2,000 of those learners log in during a month, you would only pay for those learners who logged in. I prefer this model for a couple of reasons:
- You are only paying for what you use - what if some people only need to take one course per year? Why should you pay for them during the other 11 months?
- It encourages the LMS vendor to actively help you increase usage - if the LMS vendor is incentivised to increase usage, their support will improve to help you increase usage.
One more point. Whilst these pricing models appear to be set in stone, it's always worth querying this with a vendor. If the pricing model is a deal breaker, they may well give you a customised pricing model in order to secure your business.
Definitely worth asking the question!
6) Checking only that it can do something, not how
On your LMS wish list, you probably have a series of requirements. When talking to the vendors, you may be ticking off each of the features as they talk about the functionality of the software.
But simply knowing that an LMS 'has' the functionality you require is not enough. You need to know how that functionality works.
An example I remember from a previous client was custom reporting. We knew the LMS could generate custom reports, but in order to confidently use this feature you needed a degree in computer programming! Best advice is to ask for a quick demo for each item on your specification.
There is more than one way to skin a cat - make sure you check how you will be ‘cat-skinning’ once the software is in place.
7) Active user community for support
A good sign for a healthy LMS is an active user group. Sometimes these will be hosted by the LMS vendors themselves, but often there will be independent groups (LinkedIn Groups would be a great place to start your search) where you can find excellent information about user’s opinions of the LMS.
Participating in these types of user groups provides an excellent method of research before you buy an LMS, but also provides key support once the LMS is in place.
You can learn so much from other LMS users - tactics for how to increase engagement, tips on how to get the best out of the platform, suggestions for workarounds if a feature is missing.
Check with the LMS vendor if these types of user groups/communities exist for their platform and if not, I would note that as a red flag.
8) Underestimating time for setup and launch
Many LMS vendors will offer a 'free trial' or 'get started within minutes with our simple setup'.
Don't be deceived.
Whilst in theory, most LMS are ready-to-go, you will have to do some preparatory work to get the LMS primed. content uploaded and optimised, and functionality such as reporting activated.
This goes back to point 6), but ask for a demo - if it really is ready in minutes, the vendor won't mind showing you this in a live webinar.
This list is definitely not exhaustive, if you are about to choose an LMS, you are bound to make some mistakes.
But minimising the risk through following some of these simple tips will help.
If you enjoyed reading this article, don't miss out on my free 5-day email crash course - 5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Starting an eLearning Project.