How to choose a successful LMS
Shaping the future of learning
Chances are, if you're exploring new LMSs for your organisation, you've got a bit of a headache. We love open source technologies, and are firm advocates of Totara LMS (we did co-create it after all). However, with so many LMS options out there – both proprietary and open source – choosing an LMS 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 and consider when it comes to choosing an LMS for your business.
1. Be Clear On Your Learning Strategy
Make this a priority. Spend time creating an overall learning strategy for your organisation. If you’ve got one, make sure that it’s up-to-date and clear about how it connects to the LMS. Think about both short-term and long-term organisational goals. Connect these to other strategic objectives and to potential target audiences. Consider:
- What kind of learning do you need to deliver?
- When, where and how will this learning be delivered?
- Will this strategy utilise any new technologies? If so, which ones?
Once you have a clear strategy in place, use it to drive your LMS selection process. You could even think about using it in tandem with the roadmap for implementation and future phases too.
2. Build User Personas
Do you know how your learners learn, and how they might engage with your content?
Building accurate learner personas is absolutely vital if you want to secure optimal engagement. 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?
- What devices might they want to use the LMS on?
After all, learners have to live with this LMS every day. Care about their experience, not just your administrator’s.
3. Get Inspired by the Internet
What sort of experience do you want to create for users in your organisation? Head to your favourite websites and document what you like about them. It is the layout, user interface or use of colours? Make sure these defined areas align with your vision too. Why not share those sites and findings with potential LMS partners? Ultimately you want to be confident that they can deliver the goods.
Remember: The LMS you choose doesn't have to look terrible. It doesn’t have to be cold and hard; it doesn't have to make your learners cry. LMSs can be dynamic, flexible and beautiful – it’s just that many of them seem to forget this.
Make sure your choice is one that matches your vision and inspires learners, and ensure the LMS partner you choose can deliver on this.
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 are active participants in the selection process when you choose an LMS – document their use cases, must-haves and can-live-withouts.
We promise they’ll thank you for it, and you’ll get a much clearer picture of the overall organisational needs.
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 (and don’t forget to befriend that data). Share with them how you envision reporting and assignments happening, and get their input on whether current data will support those requirements.
Make sure you’re clear on what data you need, and what data you want to get too. Being able to identify what you need will help you identify an LMS solution that works.
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 Organisation Growth
As business requirements change and technologies evolve, so will your training needs. As such, it is important to choose an LMS that can quickly adapt to the times – it must be able to grow as you grow. Explore the flexibility of potential solutions with regard to both minor and major changes. Ask yourself:
- How quickly can new ideas or technologies plug in, and what kind of cost is associated?
- Do you see multi-device learning in your future? If so, make sure your LMS can adjust to these changes and don’t get stuck in the dark ages.
Make sure the LMS you choose aligns with your future business needs too, and save yourself potentially painful change down the road.
8. Ask About Training
Ironically, training tends to be an afterthought when a company implements an LMS.
Don’t let that be the case; when choosing an LMS look for 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 are the key to success – be sure to commit upfront to spending the time and effort needed to get your team up to speed.
After all, you don’t want to be stuck with a LMS that no one really knows how to use…
9. Seek Support
Our best piece of advice? Arm yourself with an ample support package. This means having 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.
When choosing an LMS partner, research the timeliness and quality of the support you can expect by reaching out to references and community forums. Are these partners going to charm you during the sales process, but then leave you hanging when it comes to support?
Make sure you ask the right people the right questions to avoid being caught short and unsupported.
10. Go Back To Basics
Look at choosing and implementing an LMS as a bit of journey. Rather than investing heavily up-front on every customisation possible, consider going live initially with as close to an 'out-of-the-box' implementation as possible.
Needs often change once an LMS has been chosen and implemented, and what might initially seem like a must-have may fall way down the priority list as administrators begin to really understand the platform. And of course, choose an LMS 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 to not add a number 11 titled ‘Choose Totara’ – but of course you know you have that option…)