“Which LMS should I use?” is a question we hear a lot at industry gatherings. Whether you are buying an LMS for the first time or merely looking to replace your old clunker of an LMS, you know the importance of doing your homework and finding the right one for your organization.
That’s going to be tough. There are so many LMS choices, I stopped counting when I got to 50. Even if you ignore the stripped-down free versions and the ones meant for college classrooms, you’re left with a lot of options. It takes a lot of homework to discover which LMS is best.
So how do you zero in on the features you want and the candidates that will work best for your organization? And how do you compare the different offerings "apples to apples" to be fair? Once that’s done, how do you make a rational choice of LMS?
Start with Your Learning Ecosystem...
A good first step is to think about your learning ecosystem as a whole. (Our blog post “What is a Learning Ecosystem?” can give you some good background.)
For example, think about the people that will need to use the system. What do your admins need in terms of course building, tracking, and reporting? How do your learners feel about your current system? When, where, and how do they want to access training materials? This will help you think about which LMS is best for your people.
You should also consider content. A new LMS is nothing without the best training content available. Our blog post “How to Buy eLearning Content for Your LMS” can be especially helpful in this regard.
What content you will need, and how learners will seek out and interact with that content, will depend on your organization’s learning culture. We describe the four main types of learning culture in our whitepaper on the topic. The features you need in an LMS, and so which LMS is best, may well vary depending on which learning culture you have.
Your learning and development decisions should be made with your corporate strategy in mind. How will this technology help your organization meet its strategic goals?
Once you are clear on those things—what your people want, what content you need, and what your learning culture is like—you can finally begin considering what tools are available to meet those needs.
It’s time to consider features and technology.
Comprehensive LMS Features Checklist
To be clear, you might not need all of these features in your LMS. You might only need some. That’s why there is no single, distinct answer to the question “Which LMS should I use?”
That said, it’s important to know what features are out there and available, especially when comparing different systems and their pricing.
I’ve divided the checklist into four parts: Features for admins, features for learners, features that help both, and important considerations that go beyond mere technological features.
P.S. Feel free to bookmark this post or download this handy PDF of the entire LMS checklist.
LMS Administrative Features
Classroom scheduling and registration management
- Can admins create courses (instructor-led, virtual, or classroom) with multiple sessions so users can self-enroll?
- Can attendance be tracked in the LMS?
- Is it easy to create groups of employees based on common attributes such as department, level, or tenure in the company, and easily assign courses for their specific needs?
- Can you easily assign deadlines and due dates?
- Is it easy to set up and schedule reports?
- Can they be automatically emailed?
- Is standard reporting included?
- Is all data communicated over a secure (HTTPS) connection?
- What data is being recorded?
- Is that data encrypted?
- Does your LMS vendor also offer off-the-shelf content? Is it microlearning? Is it award-winning?
- Do you have company-specific topics where you need to create custom content? Does the LMS vendor offer these capabilities as well?
- Does the off-the-shelf content match with validated competencies (for example, the Lominger competencies)?
- Can you easily create your own content?
- Are there professional editing tools (to add special effects, edit out the “ums and ahs,” etc.)?
- Do the tools work with or without a webcam?
Student materials storage
- Is it unlimited? Or is there tiered pricing?
- What formats/file types are accepted?
- Is the LMS SCORM compliant?
- Can you import and export data easily? Is it a turnkey process?
- Does the LMS offer access to a survey tool?
- Does the LMS allow you to create exams and follow-up quizzes?
- Does the LMS allow you to add in custom exam questions?
- Can you change scoring requirements as needed?
- What features would incur additional charges?
LMS Learner Engagement Features
- Is the LMS equally accessible on any device?
- Does the LMS allow for “just-in-time learning” 24/7/365?
- Are all features accessible on mobile?
- Can learners access content at the moment of need? For example:
- Can a warehouse worker access a video on safety procedures from the warehouse floor?
- Could a salesperson on the road (in the airport or in their car) review training on objections, or DISC selling tips?
- Is the content formatted for use on any device?
- Does the LMS offer training reinforcement?
- Can it generate reminder quizzes and email notifications?
- Can learners choose who they want to follow?
- Is there a leaderboard?
- Can they see recent activity from those in their network?
- Can learners search and take courses not assigned to them, for enrichment?
- Can they self-enroll into Tracks, live and virtual classroom sessions?
LMS Features for both Users and Administrators
Intuitive user interface
- How many clicks does it take a user to find and access the content he or she wants? Is it less than five?
- Can your users and administrators figure things out without days and days of training?
Intuitive course catalog search
- Can learners and admins easily search topics, tracks, videos, and materials?
- Do the search results include search terms in the title and content that meet the context of the search word?
- Can the homepage and login screen be easily customized with branding and images?
- Can the dashboard be easily customized? (For example, can users and admins drag and drop elements, or resize elements, as needed?)
- Can admins leave customized personal messages on the main dashboard for learners? (For example, can they leave a reminder to everyone to complete that much-needed compliance training?)
- Can admins personalize the welcome email users receive when being added to their company’s account?
Going Beyond LMS Features
Vision for the future
- Is it obvious that the LMS can scale with the growth of your company?
- Does the LMS provider have plans for improvements?
- Are there additional charges for features launched during the contract but after the initial implementation?
- Does the LMS provider offer personal support at no additional charge?
- Does the support include implementation? (Or is there an additional charge?)
- Do they offer an LMS implementation checklist?
- Does the support include…
- A personal learning consultant, assigned to your organization, that knows your name?
- Technology/bug reporting?
- Consultative services (such as course recommendations)?
- Implementation support?
- Ongoing training?
- Is there a “marketing tool kit” to help you launch the program to your learners?
- Can it also be used periodically for promoting new courses, etc.?
- Is support included in the price tag? (How much of it is included?)
Even More Help for You
Yes, that is a long checklist. It is the checklist I have given my team to help shape our own LMS offering, Thinkzoom. Check it out, and you’ll see most of the above features are included.
You should still do your due diligence. Comparison shop. Figure out which features are important to you, your admins, and your learners, and then search technologies that incorporate those features well. It's tough to find a fair "apples to apples" comparison but this checklist should help.
In the meantime, we have a few other resources to make your search for an LMS easier:
“What My First Car Taught Me about Choosing an LMS,” an article in Training Industry by yours truly. This will especially help you through the decision if you are thinking about replacing your older LMS and/or training materials.
“How to Buy eLearning Content for Your LMS (And Not Regret It Later),” a really nice, accessible post by our own Kathy Irish with great tips for purchasing off-the-shelf training content. (Or a couch, for that matter.)
“LMS Implementation: A Concrete and Tactical Guide,” which lays out in great detail the steps to implementing a new LMS.
Samples of video content for your own LMS, from our own eLearning video library.