The time has come – you’re finally picking a new learning management system (LMS) for your organization.
Hopes are running high. With the great technology of e-learning, you’re hoping to reap all the benefits – more employee engagement, increased productivity, higher job satisfaction, a true learning culture… the list goes on.
But, then comes the hard part; choosing the right learning platform.
And, believe us, there are so many out there.
Some are cloud-based, some are open-source, many focus on upskilling and reskilling, while others are all about that sweet e-commerce money.
It’s easy to get so overwhelmed by the different LMS software on offer that you don’t even know where and how to begin looking.
It would be such a shame for your LMS vendor search to end before it begins, and that’s why we made this guide.
Now, let’s get started with a step-by-step manual on what to take into account when picking an LMS.
Choosing an LMS in 4 steps
Picking the right learning management system will power learning experiences in your organization for a long time.
If you choose incorrectly, a platform that doesn’t fit your needs will impede knowledge sharing and have you scrambling to find another vendor.
Thankfully, there are steps you can take to ensure you make the right choice.
Now let’s look at each in more detail.
Step #1: Identify your audience & goals
Start by asking yourself who is going to be using the LMS and what goals they should achieve.
The audience for your online learning efforts is an important factor in LMS selection. That’s because the kind of learners you have will affect your learning strategy and the type of content you’ll need to make.
The main things to think about when it comes to your audience are:
- Audience age: how old are your employees? If your workforce skews younger, they’re probably used to accessing content on their mobile devices and sharing it with others. Therefore you’d want to look for an LMS with robust social learning features and a great mobile app.
- Audience size: if you’re going to have a lot of learners and high turnover, you might want to consider a corporate LMS that supports mass enrollment into online courses. If your audience is smaller, you might be able to get away with a cheaper solution with fewer features. Also, keep in mind that the number of learners affects the LMS cost since most vendors charge by the user (active or total).
- Audience skills: think about the skill level of your employees. Do you have a mix of newcomers in need of onboarding and senior personnel you want to upskill? You’ll require a versatile LMS that supports creating different learning paths so that more experienced people don’t have to go through introductory courses and modules.
While building a learning culture and enabling knowledge sharing is nice, don’t forget it has to be in the service of a measurable business goal.
Ask yourself what you want to achieve with your training strategy. Go from a general goal like “boost sales” but don’t stop there. A general goal won’t enable you to measure the outcome and determine LMS ROI.
As an example, if you started with “boost sales”, then decide by how much and in what timeframe – “boost sales by 10% in the next quarter.” That’s a specific and measurable goal.
To see how the LMS will fit into achieving the goal, break it down into smaller tasks. Then you’ll have a realistic project roadmap.
In our example of boosting sales, the breakdown could look something like this:
- Educate your sales reps and channel partners on the product line and the benefits of each product.
- Offer learning content to teach them some effective sales techniques and encourage learners to share tips and tricks.
- Check everyone’s knowledge with assessments after the training is done.
These goals and tasks can tell you which LMS features and use cases you’ll need to look out for.
Step #2: Define your requirements
Now that you know who your audience is and what your goals are, it’s time to define the requirements for your new LMS.
These are some of the main ones to look into:
- Content: what kind of content do you already have, and what type of content will you need? If you have a lot of existing learning materials, make sure they’ll be compatible with the new LMS (SCORM compatibility is your friend here). If not, you’ll either make training material yourself (look for an LMS with built-in creation functionality or one that integrates well with third-party authoring tools) or purchase content from an integrated marketplace like Docebo’s.
- Support: look, we’re not saying plan for failure, but issues always crop up. When they do, you’ll be glad you chose an LMS vendor that offers comprehensive and responsive customer support. Ask potential providers about the level of support they offer.
- Security: your online training materials will no doubt contain sensitive information such as trade secrets. Then there are GDPR and industry-specific compliance requirements to consider.
You don’t want malicious third parties mucking around in your data or employees accessing something they shouldn’t, so look into LMS security before making your pick. Ask potential vendors about the location of data storage, how they handle user authentication, and how you can control who has access to what data.
- Integrations: if you use various sales and analytics tools as part of your business (and you most likely do), you’ll want the LMS to integrate seamlessly with platforms like Google Analytics, Hubspot, Salesforce, etc. For blended learning, seek an LMS that works well with webinar platforms. A large selection of integrations like those in Docebo’s Connect Integration Marketplace enhances the user experience and allows an LMS to fit into your organization’s workflows.
This was a quick overview, but we have a full guide on LMS requirements if you’d like to delve deeper into the subject.
Step #3: Define your desired features
The next step in picking your shiny new LMS is to define a wishlist of features. Refer back to your goals and requirements to help you.
Some of the features that organizations most commonly want are:
- Social learning: features like forums, chat, and the ability for learners to share content are great ways to increase engagement and boost knowledge retention. These features can prove especially useful if you have a younger audience (millennials and Gen Z) who are used to social media. For learners of all generations, however, social learning features facilitate informal learning which happens through sharing interesting videos, blogs, and e-books, as well as tips and tricks through the chat feature. An LMS with robust social learning capabilities like Docebo lets your employees ask questions of experts in real time and share knowledge easily.
- White-labeling: you branded your website and promotional materials, so why not your learning portal? A branded learning environment makes your employees feel right at home and shows your partners that you’re serious and professional. An LMS platform with white labeling will let you customize your learning portal to match your overall branding.
- E-commerce: built-in e-commerce functionality is great for organizations that want to sell their knowledge. If this is you, look for a platform that can handle payment processing or integrates well with popular payment solutions like PayPal, Shopify, and Stripe. You want your customers to be able to browse, preview, pay for, and then access the online courses all from one branded and user-friendly platform.
- Gamification: this is a popular feature of many of the most successful apps on the market. Think of your favorite fitness apps like Nike Run Club or Apple Fitness+ – both have gamification features.
Duolingo applies the gamification philosophy to language learning and Todoist does the same for productivity tracking. Gamification is a proven way to increase engagement. So if you’re looking for ways to improve employee training, there you have it. Adding badges, levels, achievements, and leaderboards that encourage friendly competition makes learning fun and effective. With Docebo, you’ll have plenty of gamification features at your disposal.
- Mobile learning: in less than two decades (the iPhone launch was in 2007), smartphones have come to be indispensable in our lives. But they’re not just good for browsing social media and playing games. They also allow for mobile learning, where learners can log into the LMS and access training material at their leisure. As more and more young people enter the workforce, offering a user-friendly branded mobile learning experience is crucial. Millennials and Gen Z don’t even remember a time when you had to be hunched over a desktop computer to access online content. And why should they? Mobile access is so much more convenient.
- Certifications: in many industries, certification is a necessity if you want to stay in the good graces of various regulatory bodies. No matter what exactly your employees need to be certified in, it’s good to have an LMS that lets you keep track of who’s been certified, who still needs to be, and who’s due for a refresher course.
- Artificial intelligence: ask anyone in your niche and be prepared for hours of talk on how AI is going to change everything. They’re not mistaken, because the AI revolution is well underway. In fact, AI is already featured in many of the cloud-based LMSs like Docebo. These features can help you automate menial tasks such as enrollment and provide a better user experience through virtual tutors, automated recommendations (just like Netflix and Spotify!), and even content generation. For instance, Docebo’s Shape product can automatically turn various content types into bite-sized pieces that are great for microlearning.
These are just some of the features you should consider when choosing an LMS. To learn more about this, take a look at our guide to LMS features.
Step #4: Research potential vendors
If you’ve followed all the previous steps, you’ll have a pretty good idea of your needs by now.
The next step is to research potential vendors that fit the bill. Since there are so many out there, it’s a good idea to keep an Excel spreadsheet you can refer back to.
Your initial list will probably be quite long, so you’ll need ways to shorten it. Start by asking peers in your industry about their experiences with LMSs to get insight into how a platform performs in real-world situations and what the everyday learner experience is like.
To whittle down the list even further, you can also look into a vendor’s track record. How many years have they been in business? Who is on their client list? Have they won any industry awards?
Finally, look at crowdsourced user reviews on platforms like TrustPilot and G2.
Those were the main steps, but stick around a bit longer because we have some great tips in the next section.
3 Pro tips for better LMS selection
Now that we’ve gone over the main steps in picking an LMS provider, you’re almost ready to create a shortlist and start sending out those requests for proposals.
But before you do that, we have 3 more pro tips to help you out.
Let’s examine them in more detail.
Tip #1: Request a demo first
You wouldn’t lease a car without a test drive, so why would you subscribe to a cloud-based LMS without trying it out first?
That’s why it’s important to request a demo from all potential vendors on your shortlist. Refer back to the training needs and goals you set, and come up with a list of use cases before you go into the demo.
Prepare a list of questions for the vendor too. A demo isn’t just your chance to see the LMS functionality in person; it’s also a great opportunity to question the vendor about potential hidden costs, data protection standards, customization options, and any other areas you deem necessary.
Of course, the real test is trying out the platform on your own. A lot of vendors offer a free trial for a week or a month. Use that time to run through different scenarios and use cases.
Are you having trouble understanding and using the platform? Your admins and learners likely will too.
Tip #2: Examine LMS costs
There are several different pricing models that LMS vendors use. Knowing how you’ll pay is essential for proper and accurate LMS budgeting.
Most commonly, the pricing models you’ll see are:
- Pay per learner: with this model, you pay a set fee for a number of learners. For instance, $60 a month for a group of up to 40 learners.
The benefit here is the clear and predictable fee structure but the downside is that you pay for a set number of learners even if you end up needing fewer.
- Pay per active user: this plan avoids the problem above by having you pay only for active users (who access the platform and enroll in a course) in a given billing cycle. The downside is if your number of learners fluctuates, it might be harder to track how much you’re spending.
- License fee or flat subscription: a one-time license fee is most commonly found with self-hosted LMSs. You pay once, but you’ll be responsible for installation and maintenance. Some cloud LMSs offer a similar pricing model where you pay a yearly or monthly fee regardless of how many users you add to your courses.
- Free: yes, free! You can use an open-source LMS platform free of charge. We’ll get into more detail in the next section.
Tip #3: Know the different LMS types
Finally, you need a basic understanding of the different types of LMS platforms available. Here’s a quick breakdown:
- SaaS LMS (aka cloud-based): a very popular kind of LMS because you don’t have to worry about hosting or do much maintenance. The vendor does that for you. Most often uses a pay-per-learner or pay-per-active-user pricing plan. The downside of this ease of operation with cloud-based LMSs is that they sometimes lack in-depth customization features.
- On-premise LMS (aka self-hosted): with this type, you’ll pay a licensing fee and install the software on your network and servers. This is great if you value security and customizability and have the personnel with the expertise to maintain the platform.
- Open source: these LMS platforms are free to use, but they do require a lot of technical expertise to deploy and maintain properly. Not for the faint of heart or organizations that don’t have dedicated IT personnel.
- Custom-made LMS: for companies that need absolute control over everything, the best way forward is a custom LMS solution. Whether you develop it in-house or outsource a dev team depends on your budget and internal expertise. In either case, don’t expect it to come cheap. This is by far the most expensive LMS option.
Now over to you
Picking a new LMS is no easy task. There are so many options on the market all doing things a bit differently. Then, of course, there are the issues of cost and what features you’ll get for your money.
Approaching LMS selection carefully is a good idea. After all, this platform will power your learning efforts, allowing you to foster a culture of continuous learning and boost employee engagement.
Docebo is a cloud-based LMS that has a robust and varied feature set supporting many different use cases – from onboarding to upskilling and more.
See how the Docebo LMS can fit into your organization by scheduling a demo now!