How To Choose a Learning Management System
The LMS Selection Process
Consider the following
seven-step process. It may not work for every situation, but consider it as a guideline.
1. Determine the Learning
As a learning organization,
there should already be a clear learning strategy in place. If not, now is the time
to develop one. In developing a strategy, consider the target audience—their learning
preferences, their locations, the resources that are available to them to attend
learning programs, etc. Corporate goals and objectives should also be defined and
the strategy aligned to them. Also take into account budget constraints, potential
realized benefits and return on investment.
This is not a trivial
task, and it can be a whole separate initiative in itself, so bear in mind the time
invested in this step. A learning strategy should reflect how learning programs
are delivered to the people who need them to accomplish business goals.
2. Document Requirements
should be defined in each of the areas mentioned previously. One of the key factors
in finding the right LMS for an organization is matching an LMS to requirements,
not the other way around.
It is also important to
prioritize requirements in a range from core (high) to low. High-priority or core
requirements are absolutely necessary for the LMS to meet within the initial implementation
or launch of the system. Any core requirement that cannot be met should dismiss
the LMS from consideration. Medium-priority requirements are essential to be met
in the initial or subsequent phases of implementation. This means that the LMS may
not be able to meet the requirement for the initial phase, but a new scheduled release
appears to meet the requirement or there is a commitment from the LMS vendor to
meet the requirement in the near future. Finally, low-priority requirements are
“nice to have” and can be delayed indefinitely, but also run the risk of being promoted
to medium priority, so these priorities still have a bearing on how willing or open
an LMS vendor is to considering them.
is where gaps in the requirements for a particular LMS can be filled with customization
or extension of the LMS and how well the LMS adapts to such customizations or extensions.
Customization refers to changeable parameters within the confines of the out-of-box
design of the LMS, while extensions refer to the ability to integrate or interface
additional functionality not originally included in the LMS design. Some organizations
struggle with the “build or buy” question when it comes to LMSs, so it is important
to note the options that may be open to organizations willing to apply additional
resources to meet specific needs.
Also, consider hosted
versus installed systems. Hosted systems are maintained by the LMS provider, which
acts as an application service provider (ASP). The LMS provider typically grants
access to users of the LMS and provides support for the system should problems arise.
Modifications or customizations beyond what the application supports in configuration
screens may need to be done by the ASP and can be restrictive. Installed solutions,
on the other hand, are systems that are installed within a company’s network. The
support of the hardware and applications would most likely fall on the IT organization,
but there would be more control over customizations and extensions. Compatibility
to standards such as SCORM (Shareable Content Object Reference Model) and AICC (Aviation
Industry CBT Committee) should also be considered.
3. Research LMS Companies
In order to make the most
appropriate decision, it will be necessary to research profiles of each potential
LMS and/or LCMS vendor. Information is usually available on their Web sites. Additionally,
research and comparison reports may also be available from research firms.
The focus should be on
key areas surrounding the core or highest-priority requirements. LMS companies will
usually work with a client to meet lower-priority requirements through partnerships,
customization or future releases. From these reports, a manageable list of companies
that requests for proposals can be sent to should emerge.
4. Prepare the Request
for Proposal (RFP)
The RFP should be prepared
based upon the requirements. In the RFP, it is not necessary to indicate priorities
of requirements, nor list them in any specific order, so that each requirement is
responded to equally. Each requirement should be as specific as possible so that
the LMS vendor can respond directly to the requirement rather than provide a general
Scenarios should also
be included in the RFP. Scenarios describe very specific situations that the LMS/LCMS
needs to accommodate. This will give a clear indication as to how the LMS vendor
can meet specific situations.
A proposed project plan
for implementation based on the requirements should also be requested. The project
plan must include timelines relative between the start and the end of the project.
This will provide an estimate as to how long the vendor perceives implementation
will take, ownership for each task and the details of the tasks themselves. If the
LMS vendor has had enough experience in implementation, it should already have a
template of a project plan that could easily be applied in a proposal.
Finally, provide a short
response time for the RFP. This will give an indication as to how hard a company
will work for the business and can be a strong indicator as to how they will perform
in a business relationship. It should not be the sole indicator, however; there
are other opportunities to establish this type of estimate.
5. Review the Proposals
The review team should
have sufficient time to review the proposals and establish a rating system that
all can agree upon. Each rating should also include comments for both positive and
negative impressions. In this manner, quantitative measures of the ratings are not
only considered, but also subjective impressions of each criterion.
Once again the focus will
need to be on the core or highest-priority requirements. These are usually the requirements
that must be present in order to consider the system. If even one of the core requirements
cannot be immediately met by the LMS, that LMS should be eliminated from the list.
For this reason, only core requirements that truly represent imperative functionality
should be incorporated.
The result of the review
should lead to a short list of vendors.
6. Schedule Meetings and
After the proposal review
is complete, meetings and demos should be scheduled so that the vendors can answer
specific questions and demonstrate their claims on the proposal. They should also
be required to demonstrate the scenarios provided. This is crucial in determining
how compatible or flexible their environment is. It is also important to make clear
what part of the functionality is included out-of-box with minor configuration changes
and what part requires customization beyond the quoted price.
If any of the review team
needs to attend virtually, it would be good opportunity to utilize a vendor’s distance-learning
solution. This will provide the capability to experience part of the environment
as the learning audience would.
Be sure to question any
part of the functionality or implementation that is not clearly understood. It is
important that the account representative is able to explain functionality clearly
and without ambiguity. Additionally, the flexibility of the project plan should
be explored. An organization should not be required to adhere to processes that
conflict with internal processes.
7. Make the Selection
Finally, a selection can
be made after carefully reviewing and internally discussing the impressions made
by each vendor during each meeting. This is a serious and long-term investment,
so it is important to have complete cooperation among the members of review team.
It is also important to build in contingency plans in case certain features that
are expected in the initial implementation are not done in time, or other unexpected
delays or problems arise.
This is just a high-level
view of an approach to thoroughly examining LMS/LCMS vendors and is flexible to
shorten the cycle, although at the cost of quality. Consider that LMS solutions
can be a huge investment and if implemented too quickly, can lead to enormous costs
later in additional effort to meet requirements.
Potential results from
employing the approaches discussed in this article are presented for demonstrative
purposes only. Actual results may vary from application to application and are not