Choosing a Learning Management System is not easy, as there are a bewildering array of options these days, from the cheap and nasty to the outrageously expensive. It becomes a tradeoff between you spending more time researching options and just choosing one and being done with it (which is fine if you choose the right one...a damn pain if you choose poorly!)
To help, we've compiled this list of questions you must ask before choosing a learning management system to help maximise the chance of you selecting the right option for your needs.
1) What is the service and support you'll get?
Sadly, we get a lot of customers who come to us from some of the "major players" with amazing sales teams who do a brilliant job of selling the sizzle...when the sausage is not quite up to scratch. They were promised the world but once the deal was done, they can't get any help or service...radio silence!
So prior to signing up, ask about the support team's location and service level agreements. Call them or email them. If you can't get a response immediately or within 2 hours, alarm bells should be going off. Why? Because if you can't get this level of service prior to signing up, you've got Buckley's chance once you are a customer.
Beware the major players who have only offshore support, and this is most providers. Trust me, when the shit hits the fan and your few hundred (or thousand) learners are unable to access the system for some reason, you want that fixed now, not in 48 hours when a ticket's been assigned to someone in a far off land.
2) Is there phone support?
An extension of the point above, if there is no phone support, alarm bells should ring. Emergencies can happen - maybe you just screwed something up - after all, you're the customer, not the product engineer - and you need it fixed ASAP, not in a day or two.
And don't mistake sales support for phone support. Some of the "Australian" learning management system providers have great local staff to close the sale, and then hand you over to the global operations model, which, you guessed it, is entirely offshore!
3) Is it cloud-based?
There are a raft of reasons why cloud-based learning management systems are better - in 98% of use cases - then locally-hosted solutions, and we've covered this in detail in our other article "Your LMS / online learning platform needs to be cloud-based. Here’s why." which I encourage you read if you're in any doubt.
If you're pressed for time, let me just say cloud-based is simpler, quicker to deploy, cheaper, easier for users and administrators, and more secure in most cases.
4) Will it work on a mobile device, and work well?
A pretty basic question, you would think, given the ubiquity of mobile devices, however you'd be amazed at how some learning management systems still don't render well on a mobile device. Some have content "pop out" in new windows which is a horrendous user experience. Some require a mobile app, which we think is too hard, because you shouldn't have to use a separate app. If it's cloud based, it should just work great on any device - laptop, tablet or phone - period. This is what your users will expect and it gives tremendous flexibility for learners to complete their training on the bus or on the sofa, if they so choose, meaning better outcomes all round.
5) Is it easy to use for Instructors and Administrators?
Again, not a question you'd think would be necessary, but we know from personal experience using our competitors' products (can't name the offenders due to litigation risk!) and from our customers who tell us, but some learning management systems are incredibly convoluted and clunky to use. Creating a course can be very time consuming on these systems! You can't clone and re-use content! You need hours of training just to figure out how to be an Administrator. I mean, seriously, if the system is that hard, avoid it like the plague as it's highly likely that your users will also find it difficult, meaning low adoption, not to mention burning through your own precious time.
6) Does it have powerful reporting?
Reporting needs to be simple but powerful. Again, not all learning management systems are created equal in this regard. You ideally want to have the ability to create custom reports, with custom fields. An example would be "Users within the NSW division who have not completed the Sales Basics course" so that you can follow up with this group of users, and you ideally want that report emailed to you (and relevant managers) on a regular basis, not having to go and spend your precious time data-mining to get it!
7) Can the system manage external training also?
This one is a bit less obvious, but it's super important. You really don't want an online system which can't also track your offline training. A common example is your staff who do their external first aid training courses with a 12-month validity. You want to be able to store the certificate against their profile and have the system tell you when that certification is about to expire, even though the training was entirely external to the LMS and your organisation.
8) Can the system send notifications?
You want a solution which can send notifications, for instance, to welcome the new user with the URL and their initial username and password so that they have a great initial user experience. Your notifications should remind learners to complete a course, or inform them that a course is about to expire. These are the automations you need to give you efficiency and reduce your administration overhead, saving your precious time.
9) Do you actually need that course library?
Some learning management system providers come with a massive library of courses which your learners can access, and if you are going to actually use them, then that's a great option for you. BUT, we know from our customers that the vast majority of this content is not quite the right fit for their organisation.
Either it's too American, or too British, or just doesn't fit your culture. Most importantly, you have zero ownership over this content and you have absolutely no ability to modify it! That's why our customers love the ability to create their own courses, matching their culture and industry, quickly and simply, using the in-built course builder, leveraging their existing materials...creating content they own and can easily update at any time in the future. That's smarter!
10) How quickly can I deploy the solution?
OK, so not everyone is in a hurry, but it's good to know that you can hit the button and get going quickly if you need to. We pride ourselves on acting quickly for customers, such as the client who phoned us Friday afternoon saying they needed a solution to train 1,000 users for Monday. We delivered! A standard timeframe for us is one week - that's having your learning management system configured and branded to your specifications, reviewed by you, your users imported, and initial training scheduled with you so you are creating your content and starting to deploy.
If your provider can't act quickly - even if you don't need a solution quickly - be concerned, because this likely means that it's complicated to set up or use, or they don't have adequate local resources.
11) Is there a contract?
Beware the provider who wants to sign you up for a contract. This should set off alarm bells, as it creates risk for you if you are unhappy. A contract can only serve the provider, not you, and it means you will have difficulty extricating yourself if the product or service is not up to scratch. Avoid.
12) Is there a money-back guarantee?
Related to the above, a money-back guarantee signals that the provider has 100% confidence that what they describe, they will deliver, and that they want satisfied customers, not customers who are stuck with their product. To our knowledge, Simplify LMS is the only LMS which offers a 100% no questions asked, 30-day guarantee where you will be fully refunded of any costs if you are not happy with the product.
13) Are there hidden set up fees?
This one is a doozy...the provider who has great-looking pricing then slugs you with a $3,000 setup fee. Or the provider who charges you for training. Don't laugh, it's more common then you think! Ask for the total Year 1 costs to enable you to compare apples with apples when comparing prices.
14) Is it too cheap?
There are a LOT of learning management system providers now, and some of them are really cheap...too cheap, you are thinking, in the back of your mind. If you are looking to buy a car, you would not consider vehicles which are far cheaper than the middle of the range, as you know that there must be corners cut. So it is with an LMS...you only get what you pay for, and as they say "Buy quality and cry once— Buy cheap and cry forever"!
15) Does it look beautiful and branded to our needs?
You don't want your learning management system to have a URL which is https://XYZlms.yourcompany.com, and why should you? You're paying for this thing and you want it to be fully branded for your company, looking beautiful, just how you want it, with no mention of the provider. A basic ask, you would think, but many providers don't deliver this.
Likewise, your logos and colour scheme should be all on-brand, with the functionality you don't wish to use hidden from learners so that they have a frictionless, simplified learning experience.
At Simplify, we source custom domain options for you which are smart and easy to remember, such as https://yourcompany.training, and we ensure that the artwork and branding is spot on to meet your requirements. The result is a system you'll love and your users will too.
16) Are you spending too much time researching?
Your time is money, literally. When you are comparing all those learning management systems, you're diverting your time and energy from what you should be doing...running your business, generating sales, serving your customers or actually implementing that new LMS and getting some results! Don't get caught up in analysis paralysis. If you can run through this checklist and the product stacks up for your requirements, go for it, provided that there's no contract and you can pull out if you've bought a lemon.
We're hear to help - get in touch to learn more
With Simplify LMS, we become your learning partner to help solve the challenges you face and help make your business operate more profitably, and offer the best LMS (Learning Management System / online learning platform) for small to medium businesses with local service and support right here in Sydney, Australia.