How to choose the right Learning Management System (LMS)
So, you’ve identified a need for a learning platform to deploy and track learning, but with hundreds of products out there, from an LMS to an LXP (Learner Experience platform), it can be hard to know where to start. This guide will take you through 10 steps to help define your requirements and choose the right learning platform for your needs.
1. Identify your audience
First identify your learners. Are they internal staff and employees? Customers? Partners? Members? Or are they a combination of different learner groups?
Identifying your learners from the outset will help determine what kind of platforms to review. They are commonly used to train internal staff so most LMS platforms tend to be compliance driven and aimed at an internal employee-based audience. Many platforms cater for an ‘extended enterprise’ audience, external groups of learners such as customers or partners who might require a different branded experience from each other. Some LMS providers also specifically target training providers who are selling training courses to customers. A membership audience might require a platform that combines aspects offered by ‘extended enterprise’ with the characteristics of a training provider.
2. Map your user journeys
What do the current (if any) and the ideal user journeys look like for the different types of users of the learning platform? Types of users could include;
c. Tutors/ Trainers/ Subject Matter Experts
Mapping these user journeys as diagrams, showing the flow of typical user interactions, will help form the basis of your functional requirements. These will be useful when discussing your requirements with vendors who want to build a customised demo for you.
3. What are your key functional requirements?
Defining your key functional requirements will help form the skeleton of what will become your Request For Proposal (RFP). Start with identifying your key stakeholder groups who represent the different types of users previously identified in step 2. Get your administrators together, get some senior users to represent your learners, identify your subject matter experts etc.
a. Hold workshops with each key stakeholder group to identify the most important functional requirements to them. Depending on the size of the group and the type of organisation this can be as formal as a guided workshop with a flipchart or as informal as sitting down with key people and asking them questions to tease out their requirements.
b. Next, prioritise – use the MoSCoW method to separate the functional requirements into Must Haves, Should Haves, Could Haves and Won’t Have this time. There will be jostling between stakeholder groups for Must Haves so deciding on priorities will rest with the project/ business sponsor.
c. Once you’ve identified the Must Haves, categorise them into functionality area (e.g. user experience, e-commerce, interoperability etc.) and define your headline requirement categories – select the top 3 if you can. This will help when you start reaching out to suppliers and narrowing down suitable products.
4. Align the requirements with your learning strategy
Build up your requirements documentation and top and tail it with other information (such as learning and content strategy) to form part of the information pack when you get to RFP stage. For example, questions to think about include;
a. Is a mobile app a nice to have, an expected essential, or even a critical success factor for your audience?
b. Is interoperability a key requirement to fit with your grand plans to integrate with lots of other applications?
c. Might a managed service be preferable due to relatively low user numbers and limited internal admin resource?
d. Is e-commerce a critical business driver?
5. Define your content strategy
a. What content will be on the platform and in what format? Will it be eLearning modules? If so, do any already exist or will they be bought off the shelf? Will they be built in-house, and if so with what tools? Or will they be commissioned through an eLearning development agency?
b. Will there be classroom-based instructor led training?
c. Will there be bitesize content in other formats such as video, podcasts, documents and learning tools?
d. Will you want to create learning pathways or curriculums to route learners through learning content/ assets in a particular way?
e. How will you measure learning gains? Will you have quizzes or exams? Will you require learners to do something offline that’s observed? Will you ask learners for their reflections?
f. Will you want other learning done outside of an LMS to be tracked (such as reading articles, borrowing a book from the library, attending a conference)?
g. Will you want learning resources relevant to the learner to be recommended in a Netflix style search and discover format?
6. Research & reach out to vendors
Start with desk-based online research. Use resources like Learning Light, The Fosway Group 9-Grid, and Craig Weiss’ FindAnLMS tool. Reach out to your network, colleagues and peers will have recommendations and experience of many products. Compile your longlist and then contact vendors using your scorecard (below) to see which products you want them to demo. Have a lot of demos. The quality will differ wildly, and you will get a good indication of the vendor’s understanding (or not) of your business need, use-cases, functional requirements, user journeys and sector.
7. Define key differentiation criteria to help shortlist products
When you start to narrow down products that meet your key functionality areas it might prove hard to distinguish between the good ones. Use a scorecard approach to differentiate between the good fit products using your headline key functionality areas and an aggregated NPS* score to quantify more intangible criteria such as;
i. Human factors – assess the vendor’s relationship with you and courtship of you during this process, the demonstration of their understanding of your requirements and their efficiency and commitment to providing information when requested. At the pre-sales stage this should be at its best and is an indicator of likely service to come.
ii. Sector experience – consider the number (and calibre) of other clients in your sector, other audience types like yours (particularly for extended enterprise, training providers and membership organisations).
iii. The vendor’s product roadmap - the strength of their product roadmap in addressing any functionality weaknesses to your requirements and/or the fit of their future developments to your current and future requirements.
*The NPS score is an assignment of 0-10 on each of these criteria in answer to the question; ‘On a scale of 0-10 how likely is it that you would recommend this product/supplier (based on this criterion) to another organisation?’ (0 being extremely unlikely to recommend and 10 being would definitely recommend).
8. Define your success criteria
a. What will good look like?
b. How will success be measured? Will it be a higher rate of staff compliance, an increase in course sales, improved customer satisfaction or increased member retention?
c. What are your short-term, medium-term and long-term critical success factors?
9. Build your business case
If you haven’t done so already gather your shortlist with costings and compile your business case.
10. Create your critical path
a. Are there other dependencies before this can be implemented?
b. Will this be part of a larger learning ecosystem?
c. Will integrations with other applications be phased?
d. Are the resources in place to manage/ support the project and the ongoing platform when it’s into business as usual?
11. Invite your shortlisted suppliers to RFP… or run a proof of concept
If your shortlist is very short (perhaps only 2 products) ask these suppliers to submit their proposal for running a Proof of Concept (POC). If you choose the POC route there will be a cost in the short-term, but if successful then much of your early planning and implementation work will be done when a decision is (hopefully) made to roll out the chosen product. Any technical integrations can be tried and tested and a POC could be rolled out to a pilot group of your end-user audience avoiding the need to go to RFP and shortening the critical path to go live and to benefits realisation.
Learn Fox can help implement or replace your learning platform from start to finish. We’ll conduct a review of your requirements, or of your existing platform, identifying the features most important for a successful transformation in your organisation. We can manage the selection process and our impartiality will ensure you select the right solution. We can then take project manage the implementation itself, including; supplier relationships, the business process review, system configuration requirements, and developing a rollout strategy with effective communications and training plans. With extensive implementation experience from both client and supplier sides we can make your digital learning project easier, letting you and your teams get on with what you do best. Learn Fox can also provide consultancy on your content strategy advising on off-the-shelf content, elearning development agencies and authoring tools for in-house creation as well as consulting on the creation of learning pathways and curriculums.