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best learning management system

Roger Mundell is the CEO of Udutu Learning Systems. As a pioneer of online learning technologies and methodologies, Roger has received numerous national and international awards.

Finding the right Learning Management System (LMS) for your company can be a challenge. There are currently more than 1385 (at last count) known offerings.  Nearly every company you interact with will claim to have the best Learning Management System ever, ready to solve all your worldly problems. Some may have already re-labelled their LMS to fit the current nomenclature of the month, such as, LXP (Learning experience Platform), or IOL (Impact of Learning) platform.  Fundamentally they all do nearly the same things. But there are differences that might be crucial to the goal you are trying to accomplish

What is an LMS?

For the uninitiated, an LMS (Learning Management System is a software solution to deploy and track online training. It helps to manage who should take what training? Who didn’t take it, but should have? What were the results?  Who needs to take it again, etc., etc. Some systems primarily manage classroom style face to face training, others are better with online “asynchronous” training, and many do both. Some include the ability to create or at least to amalgamate training content, assessments, reference resources, etc., and most of them conform to one or more of the “standards” that allow you to move content and results between platforms.

And, in an industry filled with so many “experts”, “thought leaders” and “visionaries”, it can be hard to find actionable insights to help you choose the right LMS solution. This is complicated by wildly different pricing and installation costs, and prices do not necessarily reflect quality. The most pricy solutions are often the older legacy software that lacks both the scalability and the functionality of many much cheaper solutions, but is caught up in old enterprise selling ways of doing business.

Even though there are some Learning Management Systems that are generally better than others, they all have their strengths and limitations.  What is most important is to find the one that is best suited to your particular requirements.

You could do that by experimenting with all 1385 of them (if they will let you), or, we can give you a few hints to narrow the list.

Choosing an LMS: There is No “One Size Fits All”

Indeed, I have always found the “Top 10 Learning Management System” and “Best Learning Management System” lists out there as being unfair, or in the best case, very simplistic. This is because there is no “one size fits all” LMS out there and any one that indicates so is making a mistake.

Instead, it’s necessary to take an objective view of the LMS market and align it with your company’s requirements so as to choose the right Learning Management System.

Tips for Choosing the LMS that’s Best for Your Business

Start by evaluating your own capacity for the setup and management of the system. For example,  If you must run this off the side of your desk, along with other duties then you can immediately eliminate the ones that require months of setup, and a full time LMS or server administrator.

Or, If you want to give some administrative controls to different management layers in your organization be sure you don’t choose one where all of the permissions layers have to be resolved by your IT or HR departments, where their priorities do not align with yours.

Speaking of that, think about how you can populate and manage the end users. Will it be with a feed from another system, such as HRIS or perhaps Active Directory, or Payroll? Or will learners enroll themselves, or a mixture of both? Another key consideration is licensing for non-employees. If you need to allow learners from outside your organization, then that will eliminate the deals where the license is tied to the number of employees in the company.

Udutu has had some level of involvement with many thousands of users of our free authoring tools, and not all of them use our own LMS, so we have had exposure to a lot of the 1384 other LMS solutions. Our experience has shown that problems rarely involve features in the LMS or lack of them, and are more likely to be centred on the logistics of how the LMS is set up and run, and on what kinds of platforms the end users work with, what types of restrictions will there be on software, security, bandwidth, etc.

We have customers who were persuaded by their IT department to purchase an expensive system from a large vendor, and then spend several years before the system can be deployed, with career destroying embarrassments, and massive expenditures along the way. At the other end of the scale are organizations who got tempted by an open source product only to find it would not scale up beyond a relatively small number of concurrent users.

So as you prepare your checklist, start by describing the workflow you want to follow as you create or buy the training you need, deploy it, and manage the results.  Forget the long checklists of features that vendors will give you. Most of them just use different ways to describe features that exist in nearly every platform. Look instead for the features that will make your life easier, and make your training programs more effective.

1. Be Clear on Your Learning and Training Objectives

When you start searching for an LMS, don’t let vendors guide you as to what your needs are. Instead,  take the extra time first to make your own checklist of training goals, regulatory requirements, and the shortcomings in your current system that you want the LMS to address.

Some organizations make the mistake of starting their search before they themselves are clear as to what they want to actually achieve from their learning and training sessions.

The result is that a lot of companies get lost in the plethora of options that are thrown at them and end up making the wrong choice that they only figure out when it’s too late.

2. Don’t be Fooled By the High Costs of an LMS

With Learning Management Systems there is no correlation between price and quality. Some of the better LMS solutions are very fairly priced. Some really bad products are very costly.

The e-learning industry spends heavily on marketing.  Some companies are better at marketing and sales than they are at building and supporting a good solution. Sadly, the current state of the industry makes it easy to buy awards, and review sites sell the “ranking” positions, which makes them pretty meaningless.

So don’t assume that just because you are paying a lot that you are getting a good deal!

3. Know the Limitations of Your Users

Some Learning Management Systems are like sports cars: really fast and responsive but they need a skilled driver at the wheel. Others are like family sedans: stable and resilient but they can’t be pushed much. Features like user friendliness, creative control and functionality all define a Learning Management System.  

If you can correctly identify as to what kind of experience your internal users and team want, you will find it easy to shop for an LMS.

You don’t want to end up buying a Lamborghini for your grandma! Yes, it’s a great car but not for your grandmother.

4. Only Pay for the Features You Need

How many buttons do you actually use on a microwave? Do you care if it has built in thermal detector, the world’s best metallic body or the shiniest glass cover?

No, you don’t. The job of a microwave is to heat your food, and that’s it.  Manufacturers try to differentiate their product with features and “programs” you will likely not use.

As with microwaves, the LMS industry is filled with products that have grown like topsy to include features few use.   The bigger the system grows, the harder it takes to learn and to use. This is where your shortlist of what is really important to you can be helpful.  Is the ability to track the cost of using a projector in a meeting room important? A system that does that is likely targeting a certain segment of the market that may not be you.

Market research shows that 90% of all LMS buyers pay 70% more than they need to for features they never use. That’s why it is necessary to be clear on your objectives (see point 1, above).

5. The Newest Technology is Not Necessarily the Best

Sometimes a new idea is slow to catch on for good reason. Back in the mid to late 1990’s it was agree that there needed to be a standard for elearning content that would allow content to work in many systems, and not remain proprietary to a single platform.    The eventual winner of the nine proposed standards was SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model). There have been a number of revisions to SCORM, (version 1.2, vers. 2004, etc), but most LMS platforms support one or both of them. (if it only supports one, the 2004 revisions are the most versatile).

However, in 2010 The visionaries at ADL decided the SCORM standard didn’t go far enough. They began development of a new standard, at first called the Tin Can Project, now referred to as xAPI (experience API). Sadly, nine years later there have been few useful projects to leverage the xAPI standard which envisions a much better understanding and recording of training that has occurred. The reason is simple.  xAPI allows you to track training that was not predetermined, but organizations have increasingly focused on predetermined or “required” training, while the rich range of “optional” training has exploded thanks to Youtube, portable devices, and content aggregation services such as Udemy and Lynda.com.

The difference is that nobody has an urgent need to know if you took a Yoga class or learned to code Unity, but lots of organizations need to know that you understand their privacy policy, or have met their regulatory requirements. So for the foreseeable future, the standards that measure results against a predetermined set of criteria seem to be the ones that most organizations need.

If you are a sophisticated company that has grown beyond streamlining all of its required training, and now you want to be able to identify trends and rising stars by looking at the non-required training your employees have done, Then an xAPI solution may be for you.

6. Make Sure There is Excellent Customer Support

In an industry plagued with poor customer service, it is crucial to choose a company that puts customers before everything else. At Udutu, it has been our experience that the relationship with our users is as important as the software itself.

Remember that no matter how awesome your new LMS is, you will still run into issues you could not possibly have foreseen.  Such as, your company merges with another one, that has a different system, or a requirement emerges for proctored training that was never mentioned in the original specs. That’s just the nature of the learning curve for an LMS. In those moments you want a company that actually listens to you and can address your problems. Most often this will be one of the smaller companies where they can still customize your iteration of the LMS

For some vendors your company is just a contribution to their growth curve, and their priority is not to build a close relationship as a solution provider; so talk with current customers (especially smaller clients) to get an idea of the kind of treatment you will get after you sign the contract.

As a marker, ask to directly speak with a high ranking individual such as the CTO or CEO and see how quickly he/she responds.

7. Trust Demos and Trials More Than Reviews, Ratings and “Industry Experts”

Ask for a live demo and test out every feature before making a decision. If you are not sure, then delay your decision and wait till the time you are 100% sure.  Udutu offers all of its products, fully functional, free of charge, without time limitations. You can test the system before you ever need to subscribe, and even if you decide on another system, this process will help you to understand what you need or don’t need in your LMS. The Udutu system lets you add as many registered users or training activities as you want, and the only restriction for the free account is that there are no more than five different users actively taking training in a given month. Above that number you can subscribe, starting at $3 per active user, for as many as you need. So you can install, test, deploy and have a fully functional system before you ever spend anything except time.

Avoid taking a “leap of faith” based on reviews or ratings in the Learning Management System industry. Experiencing the Learning Management System yourself in an extended trial or demo is the best way to go about making a decision.

Take Your Time Before Deciding on an LMS

Keep all these things in mind when you are searching for a new Learning Management System. Take your time and test your options before making a decision.

An LMS can be a big investment for your business and you want to be sure that you are making the right call.

Contact for Helping With Online Learning

Here at Udutu, we take great pride in helping our clients determine what they really need. Even if the right solution for them is not Udutu, we are happy to help.   We want to provide cost effective , undisruptive and engagement based learning solutions that actually make a difference. Contact us to help us help you make this transition.

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