Globally, companies and organizations spent between $1.8 and $1.9 billion on learning management systems in 2013, according to Bersin & Associates. With big dollars at stake, it’s important to find the best learning management system to meet your needs. These 9 questions will help you focus your search, selection, and implementation efforts.

The Most Important Items to Consider to Select the Best Learning Management System

With the myriad options in the marketplace, selecting the best learning management system (LMS) for your needs can be a tricky prospect. During my career, I’ve led projects to research, select, and implement LMSs. Using that experience, along with the help of my technology partners at SweetRush, I’ve helped many clients with LMS and hosting recommendations.Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, so before selecting your LMS, there are several questions you should ask yourself. From our experience, these 9 questions will help you select the best learning management system for your needs.

  1. What content do you need to deploy to your learners? Will you be launching e-learning courses, Flash files, PDFs, PowerPoint, and/or spreadsheets? Chances are your answer is, “All of the above and much more.” While most of the LMSs on the market are quite capable of handling just about any format, it is still a good idea to double-check that your chosen system has the capability to deploy all the content you are planning to develop.
  2. What standards do you need to meet? Does your LMS need to be AICC, SCORM or Tin Can compliant? This was an easier question to answer few years ago before the arrival of Experience API. Now you need to carefully consider the protocols you are planning to use for your content. There are LMSs out there that do not yet support Tin Can; there are also newer LMSs that concentrate only on Tin Can, presenting potential problems for the legacy SCORM and AICC protocols.
  3. What top features are you looking for? Create a list of the top features that are absolutely necessary for you to have in an LMS: Do you need reporting, social networking, single sign-on, mobile support, or others? The important thing to remember here is to take your time, and come up with a realistic set of requirements. It is easy to wish for everything, but you will find a much easier time hunting for the right solution if your scope of search is limited and grounded to what is truly required.
  4. What is the skill level of your LMS administrators? This is vital to determining how easy and intuitive you need your system to be. If you plan to have non-tech-savvy instructors logging into the system, uploading courses, and running reports, then you need to make sure the LMS is easy enough for them to accomplish all these items. Note that there are systems that will offer the administration support. In these cases, make sure to understand exactly what they mean by “support,” and how much support you can rely on; typically, it will be a limited number of hours monthly or annually. Overall, it is best if you have a dedicated, knowledgeable person who can learn the system inside and out. Almost every LMS on the market will claim that it is “easy to use.” The reality is that it is easy if you understand it, but it takes time and effort to understand any system of this magnitude.
  5. What types of reporting features do you need? Determine what reports your organization needs to run (such as status reports or transcripts), how often you need to pull the reports, and what format you want the reports to appear in.
  6. Who is your audience? Are you deploying content to employees, partners, or clients? For instance, if you have clients who are purchasing courses, you’ll need a LMS that has e-commerce features. Consider whether you are deploying internally within your organization only, or if the system will be open to the public (or paying customers). Managing learning in a controlled environment could prove to be quite a different experience from managing the non-captive audience, and different systems handle this differently. If you are transferring from another system, pay special attention to whether the system will allow importing or a bulk registration of the users; if you can, you want to avoid having to re-register each existing user separately. 
  7. What is your budget? You don’t want waste your time looking at solutions that are out of your price range. When considering the budget, keep in mind the overall cost, not just the monthly and implementation fees. For example, if you are considering installing an LMS on premise, make sure to factor in the cost of your own servers: this may end-up being a significant sum, depending on the number of users you are planning to serve. If you are considering a user-based subscription, make sure you understand the vendor’s terminology. For example, some systems may be basing their price on the overall number of users that have access to the system, while others may be talking about concurrent users — the maximum number of users that will be accessing the system at the same time.
  8. What is your timeframe? Some experts suggest a realist timeframe looks like this:      o Gather and Specify Requirements: 5 months      o Research Vendor’s Requirements: 4 months      o Meet with Vendors: 2 monthsThat is actually quite a bit of time, and probably will not seem realistic in our high-paced times. In our experience, it becomes closer to truth if you change the first two bullets from “months” to “weeks.” Meeting with vendors, however, will take at least a couple of months, especially if you have an option to run a free trial. And speaking of trials, if a vendor offers it, you absolutely should take it. There is nothing that will tell you more about the system than the ability to “touch it” with your own hands.
  9. Will you host the LMS or have your vendor do it for you? If you choose to purchase LMS software, you will need to install, maintain, and back up the system using your own resources and servers. An alternative is to have a vendor host the LMS for you to alleviate the IT headaches and keep the system backed up. Of course, not every vendor will give you this option, so you may be in a situation where you are in love with the product, but not happy with the hosting schema. Be ready to compromise!

These 9 questions are a great start to help you select the best learning management system for your organization. You should also think about a list of questions specific to you. Only you will know what’s right for your organization.Interested to learn more about how to provide the best learning solutions to your audience? Check out SweetRush’s interactive infographic, How to Choose the Right E-Learning Solution.