Seven questions to ask before buying an LMS

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Wait! Stop! If you are searching for the right learning management system (LMS) for your organisation, don’t rush to decisions just yet. Before you pick an LMS, take a step back and consider why your organisation even needs an LMS. While it’s true that many large organisations have an LMS, that doesn’t mean it’s a solution for every organisation. Remember, buying an LMS doesn’t need to be difficult.

In this article, we consider seven key questions which will help you consider if your organisation really needs an LMS at all. This isn’t to say that LMSes don’t have benefits or aren’t useful platforms. It’s simply a case of the ‘right tool for the right job’. LMSes developed in the very early days of the internet long before cloud computing, streaming video, social learning and many other valuable modern technologies were developed.

An LMS still has a role to play for the right organisation. So let’s ask seven simple questions to help you determine if an LMS is right for your organisation.

Do you need to host externally created elearning modules?

If not, then you don’t need an LMS.

Remember that LMSes do not create training content. They are administrative platforms. An LMS can typically only record training completed elsewhere or host training created elsewhere. Some LMS platforms claim to have training creation tools, but they are simple and limited – it will typically be just pages of text with a few quizzes.

The early days of online learning required that all elearning modules were created offline in traditional desktop software. This software then exported elearning in a common format, called SCORM, which an LMS could host online. This was 15–20 years ago, well before modern cloud based learning platforms. The legacy for some organisations is a library of externally created SCORM elearning modules.

If your organisation does not have this legacy, then you don’t need an LMS. If your organisation does have a library of SCORM elearning modules then you might need an LMS to host them. The alternative would be to transfer that content out of SCORM and into a modern learning platform (which may be a good chance to update that content, create more social interactivity and improve learning reporting). In all these cases, a learning creation platform would be a better choice than an LMS.

Do you need to manage 1,000s of training enrolments?

If not, then you don’t need an LMS.

LMSes are built for ‘learning management’. The clue is in their name! If your organisation has a ’learning management’ problem, then an LMS may be the solution. This typically means that your organisation has to manage so many training enrolments, on such a regular basis, that a central learning management platform is required. Typically this would be 1000s of enrolments for 1000s of users in a wide combination of training events (onsite, offsite, webinars, online, external, self-paced) in several locations.

This is why most LMS platforms are designed for enterprise level organisations where training management is often decentralised and an LMS is required to centralise all the information from all locations. If that’s not your organisation, then you will likely find an LMS to be complicated and time consuming as it attempts to solve a problem your organisation doesn’t have.

Do you have staff or budget to create customised eLearning?

If not, then you don’t want an LMS.

This question is clearly related to the first question. While the first question deals with legacy training content, this question considers future training content. An LMS requires that you have a separate training content solution. It’s a learning ‘management’ system after all.

If your organisation has instructional designers and elearning authoring software, then an LMS might be a good solution for you. Your teams can build custom elearning to populate your LMS. Alternatively, you could outsource the creation of your elearning to external designers if you have a suitable budget (typically $5,000-$10,000 per hour of customised elearning).

If you don’t have these resources, then an LMS doesn’t solve training problems for you – it creates an empty vessel with a new problem: a lack of training content.

Do you need to organise 100s of instructor led training workshops or webinars?

If not, then you don’t need an LMS.

Similar to the previous question, an LMS excels at training administration. For organisations focused on instructor-led training, be it workshops or webinars, this can be a very valuable function. LMSes can help manage training rooms, recording attendance, distributing workbooks and provide a calendar function for instructors.

Once again, this is usually only valuable for organisations with scheduling needs which have surpassed Outlook or Google calendars. If your training team has 3-10 instructors running dozens of workshops or webinars each week, this might be useful. If not, then this LMS functionality is largely irrelevant to your organisation.

Do you have a large L&D team which needs to coordinate multiple locations?

If not, then you don’t need an LMS.

Most LMS platforms will have multiple levels of administrative roles – from full administrator, to area administrators, assessor, facilitators and more. If you have a large L&D or training team which needs to coordinate its activities, typically across locations and roles, then this role-management functionality can be valuable.

However, if your training team is just a few people and your administrative requirements are modest (and can largely be automated with an online platform anyway), then this complexity will not benefit your organisation.

Do you need to track training from a wide variety of sources?

If not, then you don’t need an LMS.

Perhaps your organisation doesn’t have 1000s of staff or locations, but it does engage in a very wide range of training initiatives. In this case, an LMS may be useful to bring all these separate training records together. That being said, a training records platform may be an even better solution for this type of organisation. Training records platforms centralise training details automatically from a wide range of sources, automating many features which would require manual input in an LMS.

Do you need to track competencies and compliance requirements?

If not, then you don’t need an LMS.

What you probably need is a HRIS. Competency mapping and compliance tracking can be managed through quite a variety of means – starting with an Excel spreadsheet. Some learning platforms include various degrees of competency and compliance mapping and you may get this through an LMS. However, an LMS is not the only solution for this and, certainly, purchasing an LMS specifically for this feature is usually the wrong decision.

First up, manage learning creation platforms can provide some features around competency and compliance tracking. Second, a HRIS typically provides very robust features in this area. If you have an HRIS, then it should manage these functions and then your learning creation platform provides the training content. So the HRIS identifies the problem (missing competency, lack of compliance certification) and the learning creation platform provides the solution (induction training, skills development, compliance training).

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