Learning Management Systems
Buyer’s Guide

A learning management system (LMS) can help with onboarding, training, continuing education and more. To find the LMS that fits their needs, companies must consider several different factors – and that’s where our buyer’s guide comes in.

Our buyer’s guide will explain what a learning management system is, its benefits, challenges and features, and what to look for when making a purchase.

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Benefits

There are several benefits to using LMS, including:

  • Saving time and money – Training employees takes a lot of time, from having to prepare course materials to assessing their training performance. Many learning management systems take care of all that, so the training cycle is shortened. Employers who don’t want to build their own content can take advantage of an LMS course catalog, saving the expense of hiring an instructor. And finally, since LMS solutions are mostly online, they eliminate the time and expense of traveling to a classroom.
  • Improving employee onboarding and retention – The purpose of an onboarding process is to help new hires get acclimated to the company culture and the responsibilities of their role. With an LMS, employers can provide educational materials on company policies and procedures. LMS solutions can also help improve employee retention by providing training that enhances employees’ current roles or gives them new skills if they want to move up higher in the company.
  • Better-organized courses and content – Prior to learning management systems, administrators kept course materials either as hard copies or on a local drive. With a learning management system, materials are more accessible from one location, especially if the solution is in the cloud.
  • Ensuring employees stay updated with legal compliance – Industries that require certifications or continuing education credits or have regulatory compliance standards can benefit from an LMS. Most systems have reporting and tracking features to guide administrators on which employees need additional credits or to renew their certifications.

Popular Features

Learning management systems include three main features: training administration, course development and performance tracking.

  • Training administration – Training administration allows administrators to put together training schedules, distribute training content and communicate with enrolled employees. Using this function, administrators can set prerequisites for specific training and allow employees to self-enroll into specific courses.
  • Course development – With an LMS, administrators can design specific training programs, either using the course content included with the software or creating their own from scratch. Course materials can be created with an authoring tool such as Lectora, Captivate or Articulate. Administrators are able to upload different types of content, including videos, PDFs, infographics, animations and PowerPoint presentations.
  • Performance tracking – Most learning management systems include reporting and performance-tracking functionality. This helps employers determine if the training program is a success, and if employees are doing well or need further help. One main feature within the performance-tracking function is certification or continuing education credits – which are especially important for industries that are regulated or require continuing education (e.g., safety, social work, health care).

We also want to list some other common LMS features, such as:

  • Asynchronous learning – Asynchronous learning is a method of having students access learning materials at different times and locations, such as with online learning. The main benefit of asynchronous learning is employees can access the material at their own convenience. However, there’s a risk of employees not being proactive with their learning.
  • Synchronous learning – Opposite of asynchronous learning, synchronous learning requires students to access the learning materials together at set times. Synchronous learning could either take place online or in a classroom setting. A benefit of synchronous learning is fostering collaboration when employees get together to discuss course content. However, synchronous learning could be inconvenient for employees, as it takes time away from their work.
  • SCORM compliance – Shareable Content Object Reference Model, or SCORM, is an industry standard that allows learning management systems to incorporate third-party content without any duplication or recoding.
  • AICC compliance – AICC stands for Aviation Industry CBT Committee, which is a technology-based professionals association. An AICC-compliant course meets at least one of nine AICC Guidelines and Recommendations. Although AICC is for the aviation industry, companies don’t have to be in this industry to develop AICC-compliant content.
  • Mobile learning – Mobile learning allows students to access materials straight from their smartphones or other mobile devices. The materials can be accessed either through a mobile app or a web browser, and can be synchronized with the desktop version.
  • Testing/assessments – Tests/assessments/quizzes are common features to see whether students have retained what they learned. They can be given after each topic/lesson or at the end of the course. Analytical tools can guide the instructor in identifying proficiency and learning gaps.

Pricing

LMS solutions tend to vary in costs. Some vendors offer an on-premise solution, where the clients only need to worry about purchasing upfront equipment and software. However, most other vendors offer Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) plans, or cloud-based deployment, which allows clients to purchase hosting services under a subscription plan.

There are also open-source LMS solutions, which can be attractive for a company since they’re free and customizable. However, they can be complicated for companies that haven’t used an LMS before, and there’s no support should something go wrong.

There are four common LMS pricing structures:

  • Pay per Learner – This structure is standard with SaaS plans. The client pays for the solution based on the number of users (learners) actively enrolled in training per month. Note that there may be a set-up or installation fee.
  • Pay per Use – This option allows clients to pay only for the features or modules they really need. It’s typically arranged by the vendor and client, and it can be negotiated in the pre-implementation phase.
  • Pay per Course – This plan is intended more for industries with employees who need to renew their certifications or adhere to regulatory compliance (e.g., medical). The price can be based on access to a vendor’s internal library of training content.
  • Pay for Licensing – The pay-for-licensing plan is intended for clients that prefer to have their IT staff host and maintain data. The vendor typically charges an annual licensing fee.

Note that there may also be additional fees for services, such as implementation or consulting.

Who Uses LMS?

All types of industries can benefit from learning management software, including education, professional services, healthcare, retail/hospitality and more.

Businesses, whether small or large, can use an LMS as a training tool for developing their employees’ skills. For example, companies in the service industry can benefit from an LMS (such as PeopleMatter LEARN) to help their employees develop better customer service skills. Companies could also use an LMS to onboard new hires – they can create content materials, such as company policy and procedures, to give to new employees.

In the education sector, LMS solutions are popular in colleges and universities because students can access course materials and communicate with the professor and each other outside of class. In the last few years, however, LMS vendors have targeted their solutions to elementary and secondary schools. Similar to higher education, K-12 teachers typically use LMS solutions in addition to their teaching resources. For instance, they can provide online learning materials for students or communicate with parents via an LMS.

Types of Training Content

Businesses can use LMSs for a wide variety of topics, such as:

  • Leadership development
  • Sexual harassment
  • Workplace diversity
  • Workplace safety
  • Compliance
  • Sales and marketing
  • Customer service
  • IT / technology skills
  • Social media

Challenges

Just as there are benefits to using an LMS, there are also challenges, including:

  • Getting buy-in from IT, top executives and stakeholders – Top leaders need to be on board with any development programs – they may not see a need for e-learning software unless the business case is presented to them. They may also have concerns about return on investments (ROI). If training typically falls to HR, they may have concerns about e-learning solutions. If training falls to department managers, they may have concerns about using existing content or having to build courses from scratch. And IT would need to buy in, especially regarding whether the solution is on-premise or cloud-based.
  • Deciding on getting a dedicated LMS versus a HR software with an LMS component  – There are many dedicated learning management systems. However, human resource management system (HRMS) vendors often have a standard LMS module within their systems. Companies may find it challenging to maintain separate software and prefer to purchase a HRMS with LMS component
  • Unsure of requirements of LMS solutions  – The important thing for a company is to figure out what it needs from an LMS. For instance, is it planning to train all employees or just specific departments? Is it delivering self-paced courses, interactive training or both? It’s critical companies have a list of functions they need in an LMS and discuss it with potential vendors. As Looop LMS’ David James mentions, vendors and potential clients need to work together to figure out the client’s needs and deliver accordingly.
  • Implementation issues  – Similar to other software, issues can come up during the implementation process for learning management systems. For example, the implementation process may take longer than anticipated. In 2015, Better Buys talked with implementation experts who said that communication issues can derail the process. It’s important to maintain communication between the company and software vendor (along with the decision makers and end users) throughout all stages.

Market Trends

Like other software, trends for LMS solutions are constantly changing. Here are the top trends:

  • Mobile learning – As employees are increasingly doing business via their tablets and smartphones both during and outside of business hours, they’ll want to access their training lessons from those same devices. Mobile learning is a growing trend in LMS. In fact, the market is expected to reach $12.2 billion by 2017, according to eLearning Industry. More LMS vendors have included mobile learning as a feature – for instance, they’re including mobile apps to make training more user-friendly.
  • Social learning – Most employees and businesses participate in some form of social media, be it Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Vendors are noticing it and have increasingly begun to offer social collaboration tools in learning management systems. For example, Cornerstone Learning’s social collaboration feature works like a social networking site. Users can create their own profiles, post updates on training-related topics and comment on other posts.
  • Gamification – Gamification is becoming more common in LMS as a way to keep employees engaged in their training by providing points or reward incentives. For instance, employees who complete a training course may receive gift cards to particular retailers.
  • Cloud-based deployment – For years, LMS was only available as an on-premise system (meaning the company is responsible for installing and maintaining the software on its servers). Now, more vendors are offering SaaS deployment. This is a benefit for a company and its IT staff, as the vendor hosts the data, which frees up resources for the company.

What to Look For

Before purchasing a LMS solution, companies need to first figure out what their requirements are – such as whether they want to buy or build their own content. One good recommendation is to have a checklist of the necessary features ready before looking at vendors.

Here are the top things companies should consider when purchasing an LMS:

  • Cost – As indicated in the Pricing section above, LMS solutions vary in cost, and you’ll need to factor in the number of users and subscription packages (if you plan to purchase it as a Software-as-a-Service). For on-premise systems, there is the cost of purchasing the software up front (as well as cost of implementation or software upgrades, if applicable). You’ll want to do a pricing comparison among different vendors.
  • Scalability – If you plan to train more employees in the future, make sure the system is scalable. You’ll want to make sure it can hold a large amount of content and that the content can be used again in the future.
  • Ability to work with existing systems – Make sure the LMS is compatible with other systems the company uses, such as a HRMS or an employee database. Having LMS integrate with a HRMS eliminates the need to manually enter employee data – such data is transferred from the HRMS to LMS, or the administrator can sign into both systems at once (single-sign-on).
  • Input from users – The company will need to get buy-in for the software, not just from top executives, but from HR, IT and the managers who will be responsible for training their employees. One way to do that is to get those users involved in choosing the system – for example, have them participate in software demonstrations.
  • Training and support during and after software implementation – You’ll want to ensure the vendor offers implementation assistance, including any training. Does the vendor offer training remotely or onsite? You’ll want to choose a vendor that can provide training at your company’s convenience, if feasible – for example, having a rep conduct training sessions to multiple users on-site. Also, make sure the vendor provides support after the software is deployed, such as 24/7 tech or customer service support via phone or online.
  • Length of implementation process – The implementation process can vary. You’ll want to speak with the vendor and request details on implementation timelines. You’ll also want to plan for any issues that could arise during the implementation phase.
  • Request to speak with vendor’s current or past customers – It’s important to seek references from a vendor’s existing or previous clients. The vendor will give you the name of most positive clients, but ask for companies that have similar needs to yours (e.g., small office or a specific industry). When contacting the reference, ask if there have been any issues with the vendor or the software. You’ll want to get input on not just the positive experience, but issues as well. Also, if the vendor has been in business for less than five years, it’s especially important to get references from its clients.

To help narrow down your search of LMS vendors, head over to our LMS reviews page, where we’ve profiled some of the most popular learning management system solutions.

Free Report: Download a copy of our 2017 LMS Buyer’s Guide – Download Now