Update 3/7/18: This article has been updated to provide the most up-to-date and relevant information to help you make a better informed LMS choice.
You’ve got a small business. You’ve seen this little thing (which you may occasionally refer to as your “baby”—don’t worry, I won’t tell) grow from a tiny startup of a startup to something you’re proud to call your own.
That growth has meant new employees, and an increased complexity of your business environment. And now you find yourself with employees who need training to get up to speed. That might mean training on a basic legal policy compliance, or changes in your industry, but either way, you need a way to easily instruct your team.
So you’ve started searching for a way to do that, and what you’ve found is something called a learning management system, or LMS. That looks perfect! But how do you pick one out when you’re not even sure where to start?
This article will arm you with solid information to help make your hunt for an LMS as productive and streamlined as possible.
When you’re in the market for an LMS, it is critical to compare and contrast all options, services, and features available to make sure you’re making the right choice. Before you make your LMS decision, be sure to ask yourself these six questions.
1. Why do you need an LMS?
You never want to get software just because. Between startup and maintenance costs, IT requirements, and the learning curve of implementation, buying new business software is a serious decision.
Think seriously about what you need and why you’re looking into learning management software. Your goal is to make your life easier and streamline your training for your staff, but if you charge in blind you might actually make the process more complicated by getting software with features you don’t need.
Some of the reasons you need an LMS might include:
- Administration: This gives the user the ability to easily manage and administer classrooms, enrollments, course catalog, instructors, etc.
- Anytime, anywhere access: A web- or cloud-based LMS allows users to access eLearning and training courses 24/7, from any location.
- Company-wide solution: The LMS can be used throughout the entire company, rather than only in the training department.
- Compliance: If you need an LMS just for educating employees on certain policies and laws, you can probably get by with minimal features, or you might want an LMS that’s compliant with an existing set of regulations.
- Onboarding: An LMS can be the perfect way to help onboard your employees.
- Ongoing skill building: In some industries, periodic re-certification is a requirement.
Determining why you need an LMS and putting it into words will help you take the first step in your search.
Are you in the market for a robust system that offers employees ongoing education on a wide variety of topics? Or do you need a system that will quickly help them be compliant once every three years? Maybe you need an onboarding training system that will fully integrate with your talent management software.
Thinking about the purpose of your LMS informs the rest of your search.
2. Which LMS features are essential for your training needs?
With so many different LMS options, it’s important to do your research and ensure that the features offered will meet your needs.
Here are a few standard features that most learning management systems have:
- Tracking and reporting: How did your students do? How long did lessons take? Did they revisit topics, or do they need more info? Reporting will tell you.
- Assessment and testing tools: This is vital for knowing how your students performed and how much information they retained.
- Compatibility and supported devices: Are your employees expected to do this work on their desktop computer, or can they take it on the go?
- Customization and branding: Do you want your company logo on the LMS?
- xAPI or SCORM compliance: Are you in an industry that adheres to either of these sets of standards for content?
- Course catalog: How many lessons will you offer in the system? Will that list differ from user to user?
3. Who is your audience?
Different audiences call for different software features.
Is your business large, small, or somewhere in between? If you are training a high volume of staff and employees, you may need mass user registration features.
Is your business central to one place, or franchised? If you plan to train employees in different locations, you need software that can be installed or accessed via multiple computers.
Are your employees at varied skill levels? You need an LMS that won’t force students through redundant material because of a default structure.
How tech savvy are your employees? Your software may need to be super simplified and user friendly, or on the other end of the spectrum, it might not be taken seriously if it doesn’t have a modern interface.
Asking yourself serious questions about who your employees are and what they need will help you identify elements of an LMS that you may not otherwise realize you need.
4. What is the skill level of your admins?
Thinking about the skill level of your course administrators will help you identify any technical challenges you may have, which will help you determine how easy you need your LMS to be.
Do you have a designated LMS team to help implement and maintain the new system? It is always best to have at least one dedicated, knowledgeable person that knows the system inside and out.
Most learning management systems provide some form of tech support as well, but you can’t assume that one phone call will answer every tech question you have in five minutes.
5. What is your budget?
Don’t overlook your budget requirements during your research. Instead of wasting time looking at learning management systems that are out of your price range, establish your budget at the beginning of your search and stick to it.
Your budget should include the overall cost: monthly or annual fees, startup fees, purchasing pre-made course materials, and staff costs.
There are multiple types of pricing models: flat fee, priced per user, or subscription-based. Some software is also free or open source, but “free” doesn’t always come without a price tag.
6. What expectations do you have?
If you’ve never used an LMS before, your expectations for the software may be unreasonable depending on your particular skill level or your budget.
Do you think that an LMS should come with lessons pre-installed, or are you planning on designing them yourself? Do you know how to make your own course material? How are you planning on assessing your employees’ learning and growth? Do you know what various reporting options mean?
Any of these expectations are fine for someone with tech knowledge and a budget for the features they want, but if you’re looking for all these features and aren’t tech savvy or you have a small budget, you may end up disappointed.
The best way you can form reasonable expectations and find an LMS that delivers what you want is to request a live demo of any LMS you’re interested in. This gives you the time and personal attention you need to have all of your questions answered, rather than getting an unpleasant surprise after your purchase.
What questions do you have about choosing an LMS?
By asking yourself and your team these six questions, you’ll ultimately save time and money with choosing the right LMS.
Are there any questions that we missed? Share your LMS advice in the comments below or tweet me @CapterraHalden (I’m always online).
Looking for your next step? Why not try one of these articles:
- 10 Easy Questions to Find out Which LMS Features You Need
- The Must-Have LMS Checklist for New Buyers
- You Have A New Learning Management System! Now What?
Looking for Training software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Training software solutions.