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Choosing A Learning Management System

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 Strategy

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

Specific 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.

Another consideration 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 response.

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 Demos

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 guaranteed.

 

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