Choosing an LMS

Here at Kineo we love open source, and are firm advocates of Moodle and Totara LMS (a custom distribution of Moodle for corporate), which we employ as our preferred learning management system for client solutions. However, with so many LMS options out there – both proprietary and open source – it can be a bit of a minefield.

So, where do you start? To support you in your decision-making, here are ten things you need to know when it comes to selecting an LMS for your business.



#1: Start with users

They have to live with it every day. Care about their experience, not just your administrators. Think about your most important users and describe them in real terms, with personality, detailed history and complete background. Document a ‘user journey’ for each persona.  Ask yourself: 

  • What are their primary interactions with the LMS?
  • What’s most important to them?
  • What's likely to frustrate them most?

#2: Be clear on your learning strategy 

Spend time creating an overall learning strategy for your organization – or if you’ve got one, make sure that it’s up to date and clear about how it connects to the LMS. Think about 1-year, 5-year and 10-year goals. Connect these to other strategic objectives and to potential target audiences. Brainstorm what kind of learning you need to deliver, as well as when, why and how. Then use this strategy to drive the LMS selection process, as well as the roadmap for implementation and future phases.

#3: Find inspiration

Think about websites you like that work for your users right now. Think about the experience you want to create for users in your organisation. Spend time on websites that align with your vision and document what it is that you like about them. Share those sites and findings with potential LMS partners. Remind yourself that the LMS doesn't have to look terrible and make cold, hard tears come out of the user’s eyes when they try to use it – it’s just that many of them seem to offer this as a feature. Make sure your choice isn’t one of those.

#4 Engage internal stakeholders

Although Learning & Development, HR or IT may 'own' the LMS (or at least the budget), primary users of the LMS typically include legal/compliance, marketing, sales, leadership development and others. Insist that these groups be active participants in the selection process – document their use cases, must-haves and can-live-withouts.

#5: Know your data

So much of what an LMS can do in terms of course assignments and reporting is based on your HR data. Make your HRIS administrator your new best friend. Share with them how you envision reporting and assignments happening, and get their input on whether current data will support those requirements.

#6: Match functionality, not features

Make a list of the most important things an LMS should do for you, then, socialise this list with other departments and stakeholders to fully understand the scope of each task. Match the items to actual functionality of the LMS that you can see, right now.  Just because an LMS 'has a feature for that' doesn’t mean you need it. A good LMS partner will point you away from the bells and whistles and instead focus on functional success.

#7: Plan for growth

As business requirements change and technologies evolve, so will your training needs. As such, it is important to invest in an LMS that can quickly adapt to the times – that can grow as you grow. Explore the flexibility of potential solutions with regard to both minor and major changes. How quickly can new ideas or technologies plug in, and what kind of cost is associated?

#8: Ask about training

Ironically, training tends to be an afterthought when a company implements an LMS. Don’t let that be the case; look for LMS partners that emphasise education and competency-building. This is particularly important if your current in-house skill sets , are rather light. Fully understanding the capabilities of an LMS is the key to success – be sure to commit upfront to spending the time and effort needed to get your team up to speed.

#9: Know what you’re getting into

Arm yourself with a good support package. This means a plan that aligns well with the depth and breadth of your organisation’s needs. Whether you are hosting your own solution or using software as a service, think about how often you will need help and in what capacity. Research the timeliness and quality of the support you can expect by reaching out to references and community forums. Are they going to charm you during the sales process, then leave you hanging when it comes to support? Ask the right people and you can avoid that sinking feeling.

#10: Get the basics right, customise later

Think of implementing an LMS as a journey. Rather than investing heavily upfront on every customisation that comes up in the requirements-gathering process, go live initially with as close to an 'out of the box' implementation as possible. Needs often change once an LMS has been implemented, and what might initially seem a must-have may fall way down the priority list as administrators begin to really understand the platform. And of course, choose a partner who has plans to develop the product further, either based on your needs or driven by an innovative and well-thought-through roadmap.

(Note that we’ve managed not to add #11: Choose Totara – but of course you know you have that option…)

Want some more advice on selecting an LMS? We’ve helped a lot of organisations make that decision. Talk to us: