For LMS, You'd Better Shop Around
It's not uncommon for organizations using learning-management systems to be unhappy with them, according to a new report. Experts say a company's purchasing process may largely determine its future LMS satisfaction.
By Jill Cueni-Cohen
Are you pleased with your company's learning-management system? Nearly 48 percent of respondents to a new survey by Brandon Hall Group on LMS buying and usage trends said they're looking to leave their current platform behind and move to a new provider.
Delray Beach, Fla.-based Brandon Hall Group Chief Strategy Officer Michael Rochelle says there are several reasons why organizations may want to jump ship on their current LMS.
"The challenge with LMS today is the fact that the learning environment has changed tremendously," he says, pointing toward the recent evolutions in technology, including in the cloud, mobile and social-media realms. "On top of these changes, there's the additional challenge of having to appeal to a multi-generational audience."
Dissatisfaction with LMS stems from a variety of issues, ranging from poor reporting features to unreliable customer support, but Rochelle says there are ways HR leaders can ensure their next LMS lasts, but essentially it's all in how they shop.
The first step to shopping for the best LMS for an organization, he says, is to ensure the decision makers have a true understanding of their learning strategy.
"Once you figure out the learning strategy," he says, "it must be clearly aligned with your audience and goals."
Next up is to make a list of requirements needed for a system that will best support that learning strategy, he says.
"Most organizations would like the system to do a thousand different things, but that doesn't make sense," Rochelle says, noting that research has found organizations will largely use their LMS in just three-to-five ways, so HR leaders should identify those situations for their own organizations and then place them in the appropriate order of importance.
Armed with this information, he says, organizations can then rate how close or how far away a provider is to being capable of reproducing an appropriate "use case" through their system, and the closest systems should then be compared in-depth prior to a final choice being made.
"Solution providers and organizations [should] get to know each other well through the process," he says.
IT expert Steve Kerschenbaum, principal consultant and general counsel for the Marick Group, a Phoenix, Md.-based consulting firm, agrees that any LMS should be limited in its scope and usage.
"If you want to see a record that all of your employees took all the mandatory training they needed to have," he says, "an LMS is good at doing that," he says. "But a lot of the modern LMS providers can perform so many other functions."
When first setting out to find an appropriate LMS for their organization, Kerschenbaum says many buyers go in to meetings with vendors "and hear all these possibilities" about how they can assess and appraise employees online.
"But they don't realize that these things are only possible if your organization already understands what it is that they're trying to measure," he says. "Most organizations don't have a formal assessment process, so if your organization buys an LMS that has all that and goes to implement it, this will end up being a lot of work and costing a lot of money."
He says an organization's upper-level management and IT departments should both provide their input on LMS requirements.
"Your IT staff might have certain devices and security they're going to provide," he says. "The more focused you can make your LMS acquisition, the happier you'll be, so state what you need to accomplish in one sentence."
Kerschenbaum adds that it's not always necessary to replace an existing -- yet under-performing -- LMS.
"Before you buy a new one and get rid of the old, go back to your requirements," he says. "See what you used the first time and revisit those and see if they match. If they match, you keep the LMS. But if they're different, you may need to start shopping."
There are also external resources available to help guide buyers through the LMS maze.
Capterra is an online software-reviews service designed to help organizations shop for learning-management systems at no cost, says J.P. Medved, content editor for the Arlington, Va.-based firm.
He says the ideal number of LMS solutions to demo is three to five and recommends prospective buyers keep a demo scorecard that maps out their top-ten LMS requirements. (Capterra has a filterable software directory with 276 products.)
"This will allow you to compare apples to apples," says Medved.
And pricing should not be the driving force behind your final decision, he says.
"A lot of these systems are priced based on the number of learners," he says. "There's no one-time, upfront fee. This allows [the buyer] to scale things so that you don't have to worry too much if you're just starting out. Price is important, but it's kind of secondary to your requirements. After you fulfill those, then you can focus on pricing."
Medved says he considers the demo to be the most important test when winnowing down to your top two choices.
"The biggest differentiator would be your appraisal of the service of the company," he says. "They'll both be good systems, and the product software will be fine, but look into customer service and see how responsive they are."
Ultimately, he advises buyers to dig even further than simply having a conversation with an LMS sales rep.
"Send questions through their help line and their tech support email address," he says. Whether they respond -- and how quickly -- "can really indicate their typical level of service and help differentiate them further."