If you’re a corporate trainer, I don’t have to tell you that you have a difficult job. Keeping all your employees compliant and hunting them down when they haven’t completed training is no walk in the park. And if you’re also responsible for developing an effective training program from scratch, you’ve certainly got your work cut out for you.
Given the obstacles you already face on a daily basis, why would you want to add figuring out a new LMS to your to-do list?
I won’t sugarcoat it: learning management systems are complicated.
And it’s not just that the systems themselves can be complex, but even finding the right LMS is an involved, often drawn out, process. Deciding you’re ready for your first LMS means compiling a lot of information about your organization’s policies, culture, and processes and distributing it to your employees in a way that won’t make them want to claw out their eyeballs.
Plus, there are almost 500 learning management systems on the market today. Especially if you’re not quite sure what you’re looking for, sifting through all those system to find the right one probably sounds like a nightmare.
So let me help you out.
There are only two things you have to keep in mind when looking for your first LMS: affordability and ease of use.
1. You can afford it
The majority of companies spend 59% more than they expected on a learning management system. And given that we found the average monthly cost for an LMS (for 500 learners) was about $1,000, it’s clear these are not low-cost systems.
An LMS is a huge investment of time and, often, money.
The great thing is you’ll make up both time and money by purchasing an LMS.
Many companies who already use a learning management system report that both cost of training and employee productivity were significantly impacted by the software.
With an LMS, Bob from Accounting will experience fewer interruptions from all your new employees who don’t know how to fill out an expense report, for example. Bob will have more time to actually do whatever accountants do, and your new hires will find the information they need in a matter of minutes.
But at the end of the day, you either have the funding for an LMS or you don’t.
If you take a good, hard look at your bank account you might have to conclude you can only afford a free or low cost LMS solution. And if you have your eye on a high-cost product, make sure you’re splurging on the right things for the right reasons.
One of the right things to splurge on is a system that’s easy to use, which brings me to my second factor of what makes a great first LMS.
2. It’s easy to use
Forcing your employees to use a system they don’t understand is a recipe for disaster.
Paying for a system that no one knows how to use is an even bigger catastrophe.
Given the high cost of a learning management system, make sure you’re investing in an onboarding system that everyone can get on board with.
Don’t get me wrong, Moodle is a great system…if you employ or hire people who can make it great.
If your organization doesn’t employ developers or have the means to hire one, you’ll want a solution that’s easy to use as-is.
Since ease of use and affordability are so important when picking your first LMS, we focused in on those two elements when creating this list of great first LMSs
Although you can’t ignore a system’s price tag, sometimes what you’re paying for is a sytem that’s easier to use. Usability is important for two main reasons:
- A functional system that makes you and your employees happy is worth a higher cost.
- Even “low cost” learning management systems are a considerable investment, so functionality is even more important to get right.
To rank systems by ease of use, we considered their tester-generated user experience scores (which you can read more about here, if you’re interested) and their ease-of-use ratings in reviews from actual users. Our top five picks are presented in order of combined ease-of-use scores.
However, because you’re looking for your first LMS, we made sure the options below aren’t ten million dollar systems only fit for behemoth global enterprises. In addition to receiving great scores on our Top 20 Most User-Friendly report, the five systems we’re looking at also made our Top 20 Most Affordable LMS report. That means they had all (or most) of the features we evaluated for a relatively low cost compared to the overall LMS market.
Below is a high level overview of where each of these systems stands in our ranking.
Skyprep is first on our list because it had the highest combined score for user experience and ease of use. Though for the sake of our reports we’ve marked its cost as “$$$,” (“$$$$” is the highest cost rating), its price tag is still almost $300 per month lower than the average LMS, according to Capterra Software Labs’ survey of systems. Considering that means an annual savings of $3,600 per year, this feature-packed learning management system is still a major bargain.
Below we’ll get into the details of the system to help you decide if Skyprep is the right fit for your first LMS. We’ll cover what features and functionality it offers above-and-beyond what’s standard, how it handles course content (an especially important consideration for first-time LMS buyers), what makes it so easy to use, and how much it costs.
SkyPrep offers all the features we evaluated for our Top 20 reports and then some. For those concerned with built-in content creation tools, SkyPrep’s content creator was the most robust out of our top five LMS picks (we’ll get into that more specifically below).
Other standout functionality includes:
- Integration with many different systems you might already use (Box, Gmail, Evernote, to name a few).
- Partnership with a handful of industries to create an LMS tailored to your needs, if you think your training process might be too complicated for an out-of-the-box system
- A 4.5 star (out of five) rating for feature fit, so you don’t have to take my word for it that this system will more than fit your needs.
When I worked as a Buyer Advisor for Capterra, I spoke directly on the phone with organizations looking for an LMS. During that time, I caught quite a few people off guard with one of my opening questions: Do you already have course content created?
One thing that people forget about software in general, not just with learning management systems, is that a system is only as good as the information you’re putting into it. For an LMS, half the battle is creating (or purchasing!) great training content for your employees.
SkyPrep’s content creator has you covered, though, if you’re starting from scratch.
SkyPrep’s Visual Editor works similarly to PowerPoint templates. Everyone has had to make a PowerPoint at some time in their lives, so this process should feel familiar, even for first-time content creators. SkyPrep has pre-built layout cards that you can arrange and customize with your own text and images. You can drag and drop these cards to create a visually pleasing lesson for your employees.
If you already have content created or if you want to weave different types of content into your course, you can also upload many different file types including YouTube videos and SCORM compliant course packages. The opportunity to upload files that already exist gives you more time to manage your employees’ training.
You can also create tests and quizzes as part of a course to make sure your learners are getting the most out of the material you’re presenting. Within SkyPrep, you can customize certain aspects of a test or quiz, like what a passing score is and whether there’s a time limit to complete the assessment.
If you want to make sure your learners’ knowledge is evaluated in multiple ways, each assessment in SkyPrep has its own “breakdown” that shows you what types of questions you’ve included. If variety is important to your training program, this report is an easily readable overview to make sure you’re not boring your learners.
Once you’ve got all your content created and uploaded to a course, you can arrange it in whatever way makes sense for your learners by dragging and dropping different elements in the right order.
Before publishing your course, you can also preview to better understand how a learner would experience it. Proofreading your content through a learner’s lens will give you better insight into which types of contents are effective and attention-grabbing.
SkyPrep had the highest user experience score out of the over 40 LMSs we tested. With a score of 95 out of 100, our testers had very few issues operating SkyPrep.
Some tester comments:
- “The interface is clean, efficient, and very appealing.”
- “The system was so streamlined and easy to use.”
- “It was generally a painless system that I enjoyed working in.”
- “All of the functions flowed nicely together.”
“Flow” is what makes SkyPrep so accessible, especially for a first-time LMS user. When completing tasks in the system, SkyPrep breaks down a large one, like creating a course, into smaller actions that make sense.
First you upload your content. Then you reorder your content. Then you preview it to make sure everything looks right. Then you assign learners. So on and so forth.
One of the best visual examples I could find of this “prompted flow” was in SkyPrep’s reports builder. As someone who’s tested many different types of software, I can tell you that pulling reports can occasionally be unnecessarily difficult. Especially in an LMS, where you’re keeping track of so many variables.
SkyPrep offers very simple “Visual Reports” for basic, often-requested information like, “How many people passed the quiz for Course X.”
It also offers a “Report Builder” for when you need to get into the gritty details. In lots of systems where complicated reporting is a necessity, building a report involves lengthy dropdown menus presented to you all at once and complicated report parameter definitions. Not so with SkyPrep.
When building a report, it breaks the report components down one by one, asking you what you need to evaluate and in what context.
Breaking down task flow like this to make lengthy, complicated tasks simple is what makes SkyPrep a great first LMS. SkyPrep doesn’t assume you’ll know everything there is to know about eLearning or training administration right when you log in. It walks you through the process so you’re sure of what you’re doing.
Our Software Lab testers weren’t the only ones with good things to say about SkyPrep’s usability. SkyPrep also received high praise from those who use the system on a daily basis. With an average ease of use score of 4.7 stars (and an average overall rating of 4.8 stars), SkyPrep is worth looking into. Below are excerpts from Capterra user reviews.
For our affordability report, we used a set pricing scenario that considered the cost of an LMS for a company with 500 learners, which put us under SkyPrep’s “Premium” plan for $649 per month.
If your organization is on the smaller side, SkyPrep also offers a “Starter” plan for $249 per month for up to 100 active users.
In SkyPrep’s own words, “Just about anyone looking for an online training platform can use us.”
Given their easy-to-navigate system, SkyPrep is a great solution if you don’t know much about training technology but know enough to understand you need it.
If you place a heavy emphasis on great customer service from companies you work with, SkyPrep has a nearly perfect 4.97 star rating for customer service. In the words of one reviewer:
Litmos comes in second on our list as best first LMS, with a user experience score of 93 and an average ease of use rating of 4.7 stars. Those are some stellar usability scores, and it’s up to you whether that makes it worth the price tag.
Its higher relative cost (it receives our highest cost rating of “$$$$”) might scare away some first time buyers, but below are all the reasons why you should consider making Litmos your first LMS.
Litmos offers all the features we evaluated for our reports and many features that we didn’t.
Other standout functionality includes:
- The option to integrate with Salesforce
- Industry-specialized training focuses
- Tailored learning management solutions for customer, compliance, and channel training
- Gamification, badges, leaderboards, and other tools to help make training fun and instill friendly competition among your employees
- Tin Can API support for more in-depth insights about your learners
If you don’t have your own content or don’t want to create your own, Litmos offers content packages of pre-built courses starting at $9.99 per user per year. Some packages cover generic topics that most offices would find useful like Microsoft Office training or leadership and management tools. Others are more industry-specific, like “Healthcare Total Compliance” and “Hospitality & Travel.”
Although purchasing pre-built content is one more expense to add to your list, it can save you lots of time and trouble. Developing customized content is great, but it can cost over $10,000 just to create one hour of eLearning material. Especially for content that explains industry-standard concepts, you might be better off using purchased courses than starting from scratch.
On the other hand, if you already have content created, you can upload all kinds of files, like sound recordings and PowerPoint presentations, to the system to start creating course elements.
You can also create different content elements from within the system including surveys, quizzes, and embedded videos. The ability to upload a wide variety of different file types means you can relay information to learners in many different ways. So in a single course you can have learners watching a video, reading documents, and demonstrating knowledge through interactive quizzes along the way, all by using material your company might already use in its training processes.
Creating course content slides isn’t quite as flashy as SkyPrep’s Visual Editor, but it still gets the job done. And since uploading files to Litmos is so simple, you can even look into other programs for creating content. That could be as easy as using PowerPoint to compile a great slideshow or using a more advanced program like Adobe Captivate or Articulate Storyline to build SCORM courses.
Once you have all your course elements created or uploaded, drag and drop them into the right order before previewing your course.
Litmos claims to be the “world’s easiest to use Learning Management System” and its users seem to agree. Litmos had a slightly higher average ease of use rating from reviews than SkyPrep. However, our internal testers found it slightly more difficult to navigate.
At the end of the day, Litmos earned a user experience score of 93 out of 100.
Some tester comments:
- “The best part of this system is how easy the navigation is. All of the important things are one click away in the sidebar (users, courses, reports, etc.).”
- “This software could complete all of the tasks, and could do so with no headaches.”
- “Litmos was clean, easy to use, and customizable.”
- “Overall, this is a solid, intuitive system. All tasks flowed nicely and were streamlined.”
Much like SkyPrep, breaking large tasks down into smaller, more manageable actions and putting them into a logical flow is what makes Litmos so easy to use.
The two systems even have a similar reports builder that directs you through the process of creating a report with all the elements you need to consider.
Litmos’s reports builder
Actual users of Litmos rate its system highly as well, with an average ease of use score of 4.7 stars out of five, and an average overall rating of 4.5 stars. Below are excerpts from some user reviews.
Litmos charges using a per learner pricing model.
Litmos’s Pro plan charges $3 per user per month for up to 500 active users. That’s almost twice as much as the average cost per learner for most LMSs according to our Software Lab research. However, the vast pre-built content marketplace Litmos offers and the specialized training processes they can help create and implement, might make that higher cost seem more reasonable.
But if you’re still put off by the price tag, Litmos includes an explanation about their pricing model: “Many customers find that they only need 50% of their total trainee population under a plan.” So if you have 500 total employees, you might only end up paying for the 250 learners.
Using this estimate would bring Litmos back down to the “$$$” ranking, putting it in the same pricing bracket as SkyPrep.
By its own admission, “Litmos LMS is used by companies of all sizes across many different industries such as: Legal, Healthcare, Finance, Technology, Retail, Manufacturing, Non-Profit, Education, Engineering and more.”
As already mentioned, if you’re in an industry with a complicated training process (such as the ones above), Litmos can tailor an LMS to suit your needs.
If you’re concerned about what everyone else is using, Litmos is the only one of our five solutions that made our Top 20 Most Popular LMS Software report.
Finally, if you’re looking to sell your courses, Litmos has built-in eCommerce tools and integrates with Shopify so you can set up an e-store for your training offerings.
Mindflash comes in third on our list with a user experience score of 84 and an ease of use reviews rating of 4.3 stars. It has a straightforward pricing model that puts its cost at a $$$ ranking.
Below are the features and functionality that make Mindflash a great consideration for your first LMS.
Mindflash is the only LMS in our top five that didn’t offer every feature we evaluated for our affordability report. It was missing webinar integration. So if you do a lot of trainings via webinar, Mindflash doesn’t provide a direct link between your webinar tool and its LMS. However, Mindflash does offer an API, so you could hypothetically integrate the two systems if you really needed to.
Mindflash is specifically for extended enterprise training, so it also offers features intended for training your business’s customers, contractors, franchisees, etc., such as white labeling, Salesforce integration, and the option to offer courses in different languages.
Mindflash received an average feature fit rating of 3.8 in reviews, which might be due to its extended enterprise focus, so keep that in mind when considering this system.
Mindflash’s simple drag-and-drop functionality and linear representation of course elements helps break down the complex elements of course creation so you can see how they all work together for your employees. Especially if you yourself are a visual learner, Mindflash’s representation of course materials with linear blocks (pictured below) can help you understand where your learners will spend the bulk of their time.
For example, my PowerPoint slide (represented by the longest blue block above) takes up the most space in my “LMS 101” course. If I want to better balance passive activities, such as reading PowerPoints, with interactive activities, such as taking quizzes demonstrating knowledge (represented by the green block above), I can see right away that I should split my PowerPoint presentation in half, with the quiz in the middle, so learners are spending an equal amount of time absorbing and applying information.
You can upload other file types, such as videos and sound files, to the system, but visually the content creator is similar to a PowerPoint presentation, which means you won’t have to spend a ton of time familiarizing yourself with the creation and arrangement process.
Although its layout is unique, Mindflash still received the third-highest customer experience score of our five LMS’s with an 84.
Some tester comments:
- “So painless. Interface is clean and buttons are easy to find.”
- “The best part was the course editing wizard. It was reminiscent of video editing software, and was easy to edit/add slides, videos, quizzes, etc.”
From the second you log in, Mindflash tries to make it easy by mapping out the three main things you’ll do in any LMS and prompting you to get started.
Of our five systems, Mindflash’s customer service rating was second only to SkyPrep’s with an average rating of 4.4 stars. So if you do get hung up using Mindflash’s LMS, you can always follow up with their customer service team via phone, email, or chat.
Speaking of Mindflash’s users, they gave it an average ease of use rating of 4.3 stars. Below are excerpts from reviews.
For the tech-challenged
With its “Standard” package starting at $599 per month, Mindflash comes in about $330 per month below the average for similarly-featured LMSs. So you can tell your CFO that Mindflash could save your company almost $4,000 per year.
Mindflash believes it’s “the best solution for global training of thousands of contractors, partners, and resellers” as it’s “trusted by over 1,000 companies, including Apple, Microsoft, Uber, Dyson and PBS.”
Since Mindflash is designed for extended enterprise companies, you’ll want to look into it if your goal is to train contractors, partners, or anyone who doesn’t directly work for your organization.
And as with all of our five LMSs Mindflash can work with your business to optimize their training platform specifically for your industry.
With a user experience score of 81 and an average ease of use reviews rating of 4.3, Absorb provides a user-friendly platform. With a “$$$$” cost rating, its high relative price point means you’ll have to decide for yourself if Absorb provides enough bang for your company’s buck.
Below, we’ll talk about the features and functionality that might make Absorb worth its high upfront cost, as well as discuss specific types of organizations for whom Absorb is particularly well-suited.
Absorb offers all the features that we evaluated for our reports and integrates with lots of HR software, so you can have tons of information about your employees in one platform.
Absorb understands that while your employees might all work for your company, that doesn’t mean they all have the same personalities and preferences. This means when you put learners into different groups in Absorb, you can customize their interface designs to suit their preferences.
Absorb’s Mercury Module is probably its coolest feature. By using Mercury, you can directly distribute relevant information to different groups of learners. You can also collect information about your learners via polls and encourage friendly competition by conducting customizable contests.
Absorb makes it easy to upload existing content to their platform. You can choose from many different file types, including links to existing webpages, and build course elements from there. Once everything is uploaded, you can drag and drop elements to suit your learners’ processes.
Absorb decreases your admin’s workload by guiding you through automated rules for your content.
For example, using the automatic enrollment rule, if all new hires have to take an intro training course, the system will automatically assign it to them once their company email has been created. Automating tedious processes means your admins have more time to create great content and spend less time babysitting your employees’ training schedules.
Absorb tied with our next solution, TalentLMS, with a customer experience score of 81. Though these scores are lower in comparison to the first three systems we discussed, it’s important to remember that the average customer experience score for all the learning management systems we tested was only 56. So these two systems still vastly outperformed the rest of the market.
Some tester comments:
- “Everything was big, bold, and clearly marked.”
- “Absorb’s interface was swanky.”
Absorb’s aesthetic makes it feel like a high-end solution, especially for learners. The tiled “Windows 8” appearance shown above is from the learner dashboard.
While everything on the administrator’s side was well laid out and easy to find, it was not as “shiny” as the learner’s side, which shows in Absorb’s reporting section.
Easily readable visual reports are located on the dashboard. For more in-depth reports, the reporting tool is less sleek in appearance but displays information in standard column and row format, like a snazzier version of Excel. While this may not be as visually appealing as some of the other programs we’ve discussed, you can build detailed custom reports with multiple filters and parameters to gain valuable insights about your learners and your content.
While this feature is a little less “picturesque” compared to other systems, Absorb still provided an easily navigable interface for both administrators and learners.
Actual users of Absorb agree on its user-friendliness since it garnered an average ease of use rating of 4.3 stars as well as an overall rating of 4.3 stars. Below are excerpts from some user reviews.
Absorb doesn’t list pricing on its website. This is due to the fact that every implementation of Absorb is tailored to a given company’s needs. So while certain features and capabilities might have a flat rate, setup and support costs might differ from organization to organization.
Based on our Software Lab’s research though, it looks like Absorb’s high-end interface comes with a higher end price tag, with a cost rating of “$$$$” ($1,000–$1,299 per month, based on the pricing scenario in our Top 20 Most Affordable LMS Software report).
Absorb “is ideally suited for any organization looking for an intuitive and rewarding training experience for their learners, and for a cost-effective and powerful administrative tool.”
If you’re concerned about aesthetics for your learners, you’ll want to look into Absorb purely to experience its learner interface, which is top-of-the-line.
Given its heftier price tag, Absorb might be better-suited for larger companies with more cash to spare. But if your small business is interested in this system and needs to justify such a large expenditure, here are some reasons why a larger price tag might be worth it:
- Absorb helps you customize and set up your solution, making sure it fits your company’s specific needs.
- Since Absorb works with many large companies, as your company grows, its system will scale with you.
- Absorb received an average value rating of 4.5 stars from user reviews, meaning many users are satisfied with their return on investment.
Last on our list and least in terms of cost is TalentLMS, which received a user experience score of 81 and an average ease of use rating of 4.3 stars.
If its low cost doesn’t already have you convinced that TalentLMS is worth your consideration, let’s look at the features and functionality that make it a great LMS for first-time users below.
TalentLMS offers all the features we evaluated for our reports, plus gamification to the max.
Like the other learning management systems we’ve discussed, TalentLMS will also work with various industries to tailor their system to your particular needs.
TalentLMS received an average feature fit rating of 4.7 stars, so very few users have found it lacking when it comes to functionality.
If you’re looking for pre-made content, TalentLMS offers a Content Marketplace within its system.
You can browse through a handful of different categories to find courses that fit your needs and your budget. The Content Marketplace’s straightforward pricing and categorization of its courses make it a very user-friendly tool if you’re deciding on whether or not to build customized content.
Is it really worth it to create a customized course about “How to Use Microsoft Word” when you’d rather focus on company-specific information like “ABC Organization’s Complex Sales Process?” TalentLMS’s Content Marketplace allows you to easily weigh your time and spending priorities so your training development team can focus on the content that counts.
After you’ve created your courses (through a similar drag-and-drop method as the other five systems we’ve discussed), each course gives you a view of its many different elements, including content, users, and reports, all in a handy sidebar. TalentLMS provides system overview reports, but the pre-built reports for individual courses is helpful when evaluating your content on a more micro level.
TalentLMS’s lower price tag didn’t prevent its developers from investing in ways to make their system user-friendly. With a score of 81, TalentLMS tied with Absorb for user experience.
Some tester comments:
- “This system has good functionality and layout.”
- “TalentLMS’s graphs are very nice.”
I’m going to do something I almost never do and disagree with one of our testers above. TalentLMS’s graphs are not very nice. They’re amazing.
TalentLMS has a very intuitive layout that makes completing basic tasks easy. But where it makes them fun is in the reporting.
I know, I know, not everyone is as obsessed with data as me. But TalentLMS might just get your obsession started.
Each user profile includes graphs and stats, much like Absorb.
But instead of stopping at a nice little pie chart, every user also has their very own infographic, which takes all the numbers that might look boring and puts them into a format that’s fun to look at.
If you’re looking for a fun way to share learners’ progress with them, TalentLMS has provided you with the means to do just that.
For overall system reports, standard graphs and charts are available.
But you can also look at the system-wide infographic that pulls all the information about all your users and courses into one very pretty informational page.
Basically, if you’re obsessed with presenting data in a pleasing visual format, you need to invest in TalentLMS because it does all the work for you. And that seems very user-friendly to me.
Actual users seem to agree, since they gave TalentLMS an average ease of use rating of 4.3 stars and an overall average rating of 4.5 stars. Below are excerpts from some reviews.
TalentLMS is the lowest cost system out of our five systems. We evaluated its “Plus” package, which supports up to 500 users at $199 per month; a drastically lower price tag than the average LMS.
It also offers plans for much smaller groups of learners, including a free plan that supports up to five users offering ten courses and a “Basic” plan that supports up to 100 learners for only $99 per month.
TalentLMS says that it’s best suited for “growing organizations with learning needs that need the easiest and most powerful tool to offer online learning to their users, partners or customers.”
Given its options for smaller pricing packages, TalentLMS is geared towards small and medium organizations.
If you’re interested in gamification, TalentLMS is full of gamified features like badges and attractive shareable infographics that show your learners’ standings.
Finally, if you’re budget-conscious, TalentLMS’s low cost solution is worth looking into.
So you have a list of five user-friendly LMSs offered at a large range of prices. Lucky for you, Capterra recommends demoing three to five solutions before you commit to one. All of these systems also offer free trials, so you (and your learners!) can and should test them out for yourself. You can use our vendor demo scorecard to keep track of which systems stand out above the rest during your review process.
If you’re not convinced one of these five LMSs will fit your needs, you can always check out our Top 20 reports and sift through the stats yourself.
- For budget-friendly systems: Top 20 Most Affordable LMS report.
- For usability: Top 20 Most User-Friendly LMS report.
- For a look at LMS industry leaders: Top 20 Most Popular LMS report.
Still not sure that you’re ready for a learning management system? Our Ultimate Guide to Finding an LMS You’ll Love will walk you through the basics of purchasing an LMS. Plus, it includes an interactive quiz to help you decide if you even need this type of solution.
And if you know you’re ready to take the plunge into the learning management system market, we have a handy checklist you can use to keep you on track throughout the process.
Do any LMS veterans out there have suggestions for first-time LMS users? Let’s hear them in the comments!
Looking for Learning Management System software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Learning Management System software solutions.