I hate clothes shopping. Loathe it ,utterly. And if you just scrolled down to my author pic and noted that I look exactly Forever 21’s ideal shopper, you are probably wondering what gives.
Part of the reason is that I’m salty because I’m a bad shopper, especially in malls. I gravitate to all the low-quality stuff, angst forever before buying anything over $20, perpetually forget my size, and always forget to eat and, inevitably and consequently, get grouchy an hour in. Worst of all, even after being literally taught how to shop by a runway model family member, I still can’t tell when something is well-made or cheap. I feel under-informed no matter what I do.
Shopping for learning management software (LMS) can work exactly the same way.
Software is not the kind of purchase you’re likely to make every day or even every year, so it’s hard to get used to it. What’s a fair price? What’s a good quality? How do you know that this is the program that fits your needs? You want to trust the vendors, but I want to trust the salesgirl at Gap, too, and you and I both know that they’re probably at least slightly biased when they say how well those jeans—err, software—fit you.
While a bad fitting pair of jeans might make you look bad, a bad fit on an LMS is much worse. If you get the wrong LMS the first time, expect to lose out on massive amounts of time and money, and to see your student retention or employee satisfaction plummet.
If you’re making as many LMS buying mistakes as I do buying clothes, this article is for you.
1. Not knowing what you need
Amy has been looking at list after list of software, and so far all she’s learned is that there are a million options, and she has no idea which elements she needs. In order to avoid leaving something out, she picks an option with more bells and whistles than a one-man band.
She quickly discovers that her wildly comprehensive software is a huge money sink, because she not only doesn’t use most of the options, she’s not sure how most of them work. It’s pretty clear to her that she should have waited longer before leaping into a contract.
Research, research, research. The most important thing you can do early in the LMS buying process is figuring out what you need, what different software does, and what your options are.
There are a thousand resources to help you get started in your research process. Here are five simple links to get you going.
- Reading this blog to see the current market trends and comparisons
- This post in specific helps you discover what you need out of an LMS
- This blog helps explain easy to follow LMS buying steps
- You can work from current market research packets
- An infographic is a clear way to see what’s most popular and why
Using these links will help demystify the process enough that you’ll learn which questions to ask, before you start looking for answers.
2. Excluding IT from the LMS search process
Tom’s company is pretty staunchly departmental. He loves his team, of course, but they’re really the only ones he sees when he’s at the office, unless there’s a company-wide event or a large meeting. If he interacts with the other departments, the contact is usually through email or a scheduled phone call. If asked, he probably couldn’t find his way to the physical location of the IT department. And they all seem like an insular group anyway, only ever coming up for air when something is broken enough that they need to come make a repair.
Tom really isn’t interested in working with any of them one-on-one just to get a program that they’ll probably never touch. The software he’s looking at has their own help desk anyway, so he doesn’t see any reason to bother IT about potential issues.
After a few weeks, his shiny new software starts causing problems and no amount of help desk assistance from the company can get to the bottom of why his LMS isn’t linking up with your email. He breaks down and calls IT. They’re very surprised that Tom downloaded a new software, and seem more than a little frustrated that you didn’t talk to them first.
If you’re about to make a lifestyle change, you might want to talk to a doctor first. If you want to change out your engine, you should probably chat with a mechanic first. If you’re downloading new software, you really need to talk to IT about it first.
Your IT team knows things about your computer network that you wouldn’t think to ask. They’ll be able to recommend software that will fit most seamlessly with the other programs you already use, suggest more secure options, and help you make the installation process as smooth as possible.
If you’re hesitant to bring them in, consider using a survey software to make communication easier. Figure out what you need to know from the IT team, and give them ample space to share information. You can use the survey results as a jumping-off point for a later meeting to determine exactly what to look for in the new LMS.
3. Confusing price and value
Franklin doesn’t need anything fancy. Just a simple system to deliver simple content to a few employees who need one or two certification updates a year. So why shell out for programs you don’t even need? He glances over the options and ends up picking the cheapest option on the list. Franklin is sure that everyone will appreciate all the money he’s saved the company.
He download the program and, for a few months, everything seems fine. But the more Franklin’s learners use your LMS, the more complaints start coming in. It’s clunky and slow and lacks features that they would really like to have. They may not use the LMS often, but every single time they do there’s grief.
Down the line, Franklin ends up trashing the whole system due to all the complaints. Where does that leave him? Buying a new system, and making the same LMS buying mistakes all over again. This time, the software works better, but Franklin and his company have already lost a lot of money on the prior poor purchase.
I could win the lottery and still sort everything “price low to high.” But often the cheapest item is cheap for good reason. Of course, if the cheapest LMS you’ve looked at really does seem like the best one for you, like these free and open source options, that’s great! But don’t make the call based on price alone.
Understand the difference between price and value. If something has a low price but isn’t used or turns into a money sink, it has a low value. Go for a program that has a higher price if you feel that every feature will be used for maximum impact. Don’t be afraid to spend a little more now to create savings in the long run.
4. Ignoring growth
Jill’s business has 80 employees who intend to use a new LMS, so she goes looking for a product that is suited to up to 100 employees.
The software is a hit, and Jill’s employees love the new LMS. They really think having a system makes a valuable difference in the quality of their work. And they’re right. With their added confidence they start performing better, Jill’s company starts growing, and next thing she knows she’s hiring new folks in bunches, and in a year your company is has ballooned well over the 100-person software cap.
That’s great! Until Jill realizes that she’s going to need a new LMS, and fast, since her’s can no longer accommodate so many users. Her company has the money for now, but she really wishes she’d considered this when she first made your purchase, since she’s now wasting time all over again.
Consider the growth of your company. How large were you this time last year, or two years ago? How large will you ideally be this time next year?
You don’t need to make guesses. There are tables and equations to calculate probable company growth. Use them, along with the input from your CEO and any experienced investors, to determine how large your company is going to become down the road.
A learning management system is an investment. Making an LMS purchase is a lot of work and a big time investment, one that you should not need to repeat regularly. You want something that is going to have lasting power. Make sure that you don’t doom yourself to a hamster wheel of LMS buying.
5. Getting software no one uses
Maya’s company hasn’t been using an LMS up to this point. She outsources her ongoing training and uses some very simple PDF packets and seminars for onboarding. But she keeps seeing so many companies, including your competitors, using learning management software and they seem to love it. Maya has started to wonder if software really does make such a big difference, and if she’s falling behind by not having one.
So after a little light research, she buys an LMS. She gets her software all setup and the interface looks nice. About six months down the line, Maya sends around a survey to see how her employees are reacting to the new software. There’s something strange about the responses—they all seem uniformly neutral. Finally one of her employees opens up and tells her that nobody really uses it. After all, this is just a new format for the same information that they can get through the old PDFs, and those are easier to reference. In fact, most of Maya’s staff can’t even remember their passwords.
Is it better to have no system at all, or a system no one uses? Often, people are so excited to get something new and cool that they don’t stop to think if and LMS is really something they need. Do you need an LMS or do you just want one?
If you’ve determined that you really do need an LMS, consider to what extent. Here are some questions you must answer before diving into an LMS:
- Are you determined to have a dedicated system, or would you be open to modifying a free program?
- Are you using premade course templates, or do you need course authoring functionality?
- Do you need an offline system, or online?
- How frequently will you be using your learning management system?
- How many people will be accessing the LMS?
The most vital step in avoiding this mistake is to involve your users. Gather a focus group for the buying process, offer training when they begin using the LMS, and survey them regularly to make sure the system is being used. Just like in working with your IT team, you can use survey software to communicate quickly and easily with your learners.
6. Forgetting integrations
After months of searching, Dillon’s business finally found a product, and it looks excellent. The program has pretty much all the features they need, at a reasonable price, and the IT team and learners gave positive reviews in the focus groups. Dillon feels confident that everything is right on track.
So he buys the software license, signs up for a two-year contract, and settles in to write a nice email to assign a worksheet he’s already created.
That’s when the realization hits Dillon: he can’t use his email with this system.
The email service they want Dillon and his company to integrate with is one that compromises security with his company. And their intramail looks… lacking. No worries, Dillon figures he can muddle through an unattached email and just upload the worksheet to their dropbox! Only they don’t want him to upload the document he has, they want him to use a completely different program, one he would have to purchase and download separately, and this LMS just closed out Dillon’s budget for the year.
He really wishes he’d looked at integrations before you got this LMS.
Are you more of a Microsoft Outlook kind of person, or Gmail? Take a look at your current programs and the software you prefer, as well as the industry standards. Keep these in mind when looking for an LMS.
Think of your software as an ecosystem. You need everything in that ecosystem to work together and fit in such a way that no one program eclipses the others. If one software forces out everything else, the ecosystem isn’t healthy.
Don’t just assume anything. If your software isn’t explicitly listed, ask your point of contact about it. Check and see if your program is on track to be integrated in the future, and how soon that might happen. If you have to overhaul your entire network for an LMS, you’re doing too much work.
What LMS buying mistakes have you made?
If you’ve already made some mistakes, it’s not the end of the world. If anything, you can use those mistakes to make yourself a savvier, more successful person next time around.
If you want to understand all the ins and outs of looking for a new learning management system, go check out our ridiculously helpful guide. Our guide is the best place to start when you’re looking for an LMS.
Made a mistake before? Tell me your horror stories in the comments below. Vent, honey, let it all out.