An LMS for Training... What is it?
LMS stands for learning management system. As the name implies, you can use an LMS for training or educational purposes. it is a place that houses your e-learning content. But it can do more than that. Here are a sampling of things fairly typical of an LMS.
Assign training to individual users or to groups containing users
Set a training recurrence schedule
Run reports, scheduled or on the fly, to get training statuses (and more)
Group courses together to create programs or qualifications
Accept a variety of training document types:
Word and PDF
Set-up custom permissions for varying levels of training administration
Some vendors selling an LMS for training also offer "off-the-shelf" training content in a variety of fields. If you don't have much in the way of content, this could be a very good thing. So, will all that an LMS can do or come with, how do you pick a good one? Let's find out.
Key Tips for Picking an LMS
As is the case with many things, if you are in the market for something, there will be someone trying to sell it to you. And there's nothing wrong with that. But, it does mean that there is the possibility that the product is put in the best, not necessarily typical, light possible. Not only that, but there are some key features that you are likely to need such that any LMS for training you choose will be a fit for your needs. With that in mind, lets look at some things you need to improve your odds at choosing a good LMS.
Don't Make This Decision Alone
No matter how great you are at your job, projects, etc., choosing an LMS can be a big deal. Further, if you get it wrong, you could be stuck with it for years to come. So, make sure there is at least one other person to help with the evaluation process. In truth, there are at least two other specialist that come to mind, in the fields of IT and legal, that I can see being needed. This helps to hedge your bets against not seeing problems that someone else is all to familiar with. You need to consider your experience as well as the experience of anyone on your team.
If you have never used an LMS, you need to decide with your team and decision maker what things you value most in getting such a system. It can be very easy to get dazzled by what's out there. I have seen some truly great learning management systems. But, consider where your company is right now and what it really needs. Do you need an expensive luxury sedan with all the bells and whistles? Or do you need a sturdy workhorse of a truck to improve on the essentials of training management?
One thing that helps make this determination easier is the estimated budget. That will narrow your options in a hurry, though it needs to be large enough to account for any content you may want to get. From experience, training content packages can be as expensive or more expensive than the LMS itself.
Give Yourself Lots Of Time
I found out by accident that the LMS a company was using had been acquired by another company. I literally happened to be looking at their website and saw the name change. I quickly inquired and confirmed that it was being bought out. That meant that a major change was coming for the system used. The acquiring company was keeping much of the content, but the LMS platform looked very different and functioned differently.
I already had the mindset to start looking into other options before this. It was decided that alternatives should be considered but also try out the new system before the renewal of the current system. That renewal was coming up in about five months. As I was investigating this, and I had another member of management helping me, another LMS dropped into the lap of our Vice President to try out. After discussing, it was determined that there wasn't enough time to look at more options than the two we had.
That wasn't a good time in large part because none of the two of them let me try them out as admins. So, there was a lot about the two choices that we couldn't see until we bought them. And there were definitely problems with the one we chose. So, it's key to stay abreast of what's happening with your vendors and renewal dates so that you have ample time. You will need that time, at least in part, to look for a suitable LMS for your specific needs.
There is another big reason you will need to give a lot of time in picking an LMS. The implementation stage can be very lengthy. This may not be as large of a problem for smaller, single location companies. But the bigger and more varied your positions are, the more time will be needed to put things together. Your decision makers, with your assistance, will need to firmly understand and decide on what will be done in the system and what won't be done upon implementation. That doesn't mean it has to stay like that. If you choose a flexible system with many options, nothing says you can't take advantage of those things. Just remember to learn to crawl before you try to run at the speed of light!
You Really Need To Try It Out
Really, this is true for many things. But it is especially true for choosing an LMS. You don't just take a car salesperson's word that a car is one you will like. They have you take a test drive to get a feel for it. That's demonstrating that it either is what they said, and you like it, or it isn't. So, you will not really know if the system is a good fit until you try it out yourself, not just having the vendor demonstrate it for you.
Any decent vendor will either have a knowledgeable salesperson or technical type person present on any demonstration they give to show off the system. And they will know more about how it is built and how to present it so that you may not see certain flaws in the system. So they can make it look easy to use. But don't settle on them letting you see the system and some of their content from the perspective of an end user only. Oh no! If you are part of the process in acquiring an LMS, chances are that you are going to be more than just an end user.
So many things can be uncovered when you get to play with the system as an administrator. If you have any computer savvy at all, you should quickly see how easy or difficult it is to do the things you want. If at any time you start pulling out your hair, take note of why. There probably is something to it. If the LMS vendor you are looking at won't let you try the system out as an administrator, I STRONGLY RECOMMEND YOU DON'T GIVE ANY FURTHER CONSIDERATION! Get the ability to test the system as an admin and get the chance to test out a sampling of any applicable content they may offer.
Flexibility, Flexibility, Flexibility!
Many of the issues I've had came down to a lack of flexibility. The permissions were too rigid. You couldn't delete users when truly justified. The reports let you see either one location or all locations but nothing in between. There can even be problems where you can't play courses unless you assign them to yourself or someone else and then play them. It should suffice to say simply that flexibility generally is your friend and something you will need in a LMS.
To summarize, you should have flexibility and some level of customization ability in at least the following areas:
Adding, inactivating, and deleting users
Creating groups of employees for training assignment
Creating and scheduling reports
Bulk data entry
You won't want the vendor to have to do all of this themselves every time you have a major change.
Access to view/play content library without having to have the course assigned.
Crediting training given regardless of whether training was assigned to that individual.
Should have the ability to pick up where you left off if you start but don't complete training content.
What's The Internet Like Where You Are?
This can be a concern for companies because an LMS can take up a significant amount of internet bandwidth and speed. The combination of slow speed internet and many office staff frequently using high bandwidth/resource software solutions will likely mean a slow LMS. So, you need to consider your internet capabilities and what's already being used by office staff when you are looking at choosing a new LMS for training. The IT department, if you have one, will be invaluable for helping ensure you minimize your risk of issues in this area.
If you do find that you have limited internet, then alternatives to content delivery will need to be looked at. Some systems are optimized to play content and run in general such that it minimizes bandwidth requirements. But this still may not be enough. Make sure to ask about offline or downloadable content options such that your locations can play training when they need to regardless of what other solutions may be taking up precious bandwidth. Some providers offer DVDs as well. If you are intent on making your own custom content, you can make it in video format which is downloadable.
The Fine Print
It is extremely likely that there will be some form of written agreement or contract made between your company and the LMS vendor once you decide to go with them. But before anyone signs on the proverbial dotted lines, have your legal department or provider look it over. To be clear, I am not yours or anyone's legal counsel. I am not providing legal advise of any kind. Now, you will want to provide your legal counsel with the expectations you have for what the LMS vendor is supposed to supply to you. This helps them to evaluate what's stated by the LMS vendor as compared to what you expect. They should then let you know if there are any potential issues or surprises you should be aware of.
Anything promised by the sales representative should be either in the agreement or at the very least in an email as documentation. Don't leave things to conversations only. They often are very different from what is actually contained in the legal contract. Remember what was stated earlier about sales? Let me jog your memory. There is nothing wrong with someone trying to sell you something. But, since they want the sale, they may make the product look better than it will be when you actually get it. So when you are making clear your expectations, make sure that they are translated to contract/legal speak so it can hold up should you have a dispute.
I want you to be careful here in particular because it can be quite hard to get out of a contract once agreed upon. Many contracts/agreements I have reviewed in a training or occupational health and safety management capacity have mentioned something about arbitration. Apparently, the threshold for bringing a claim or case against a vendor, where you agreed to use arbitration, is substantially higher than to take it to court. If you are a large company, and the issues are big enough to be potential contract breaches, it may make sense to go through arbitration anyway. For many though, it will mean you are stuck with that contract until it expires. Some are set up to automatically renew, so be aware of that!
So, In a Nutshell...
We covered a lot. But acquiring an LMS for training or educational purposes is no small thing. But the point of this was to help you out and to boil down some essentials you need to look at to improve your odds of getting a good LMS. If you don't remember anything else, remember these points:
Someone is trying to sell you something
Nothing wrong with this, but they may try to make their system appear in the best light possible
System may not work like that for you under end user admin conditions.
Don't go at this alone if at all possible. A team can greatly improve the odds of success
Allow lots of time to search, inquire, review, and implement an LMS
Have a plan of what you want in the LMS, including content
Try out the system as an admin. Try out samples of content. If you can't try it out, it probably isn't for you
You want an intuitive, easy to use system
You want flexibility in the system, not a whole lot of constraints
Make sure your internet can handle the LMS both by itself and when others are doing high bandwidth activities
Make sure what you expect makes it to the legal agreement
Happy shopping and if you have questions, use our contact page, email, or leave a comment. Would love to hear from you!