We talk to a lot of people every day about their learning needs and what they are looking for in a Learning Management System (LMS). Back in the day we very quickly realized that as much as we would love to sell our LMS to everyone that was interested, coaching them instead around the best practices in the LMS selection process ensures they get the right system for the job, and this equals less headaches all around.
Below is the top 10 'must-haves' that we have come to know from our audience, and I consider these to be totally relevant to anyone out there shopping for a sparkly new LMS:
- User-friendly & intuitive interface
This may seem like a simple request but it's actually very hard to find. If I had a dollar for every time I have heard the words 'clunky' and 'impossible to navigate' in reference to potential clients' current or old learning management systems, I'd be rolling in it! Anyway, my point is, it does not have to be that way. I'm telling you that you can get a product that looks and acts like what you're used to using in 2012.
- Understand the difference between what you need to have and what you want to have.
It's very difficult to find an LMS with everything on your check-list, and often if you do, it's even harder to use it. One thing that really sets my alarm bells ringing is when someone tells me that because they haven't found the perfect, 100% suitable LMS for their organization, with everything that they want, they are instead going to build their own. Pretty pretty please with sugar on top - don't do it! It's taken us more than 5 years to get our product to where it is, and we're a very young company for our industry and still building on our product every day! Plus, we didn't get here without our share of mistakes and frustrations. Instead, why not see if you can tweak your list of 'must-haves' just a little - is there something you could drop from your list? Is there another way that you could achieve a similar result so that one of the many LMS options out there will fit the bill? I've seen it time and time again where the companies that go out insisting on building their own LMS take some years getting there and so many of the features on that list are dropped anyway, in favor of just getting something up and running.
- Simple, exportable reporting
This is generally why people buy in to an LMS as opposed to putting content up on a shared drive or emailing around a document, they need to be able to hold individuals accountable by having a system that tracks when a piece of content was viewed, if a quiz was completed etc. Test out the reporting features and make sure it's easy to generate, filter, and export the exact information that you need. Don't worry if the LMS doesn't offer the exact stock report that you need, everyone's reporting needs are very specific. But so long as you can create a custom report based on your criteria, or export all of the information and manipulate it in another program like Excel, then you're set to go.
- An integrated authoring tool like an html page, a quiz or questionnaire builder is a bonus
Some kind of integrated authoring tool within the LMS, no matter how simple, can come in very handy. For example, if you want to quickly create a piece of content to fire out to your learners or you need to gather feedback on a topic or course via a survey/questionnaire. I need to clarify though that I'd advise steering clear of an Learning Management System where you build all of your content within the actual system. Because, down the track, should you decide to change vendor you may well be faced with the problem of having a bunch of courses in a proprietary format that you cannot export. It's something to remember anyway.
- Open and friendly lines of communication with your vendor's support team
This is an absolute must-have. Software is just one of those things where things can and often will go wrong, no matter how big or well-known the company. Even a tiny bug can throw a spanner in your plans for the day so make sure you have a friendly support team or account manager to report issues to and get prompt feedback on whether the issue is specific to you, if there is a temporary workaround and when the problem will be fixed. While this may have been a one-off occurrence (although I've heard to the contrary), I personally know a client who spent 6 hours on hold to Adobe's support line with a Captivate issue, only to eventually have his call answered by a member of their call centre who promptly told him that yes, he was correct it was a bug for which a patch would be issued soon. But there was nothing else that could be done, end of conversation. Another horror story I heard recently that totally blew my mind, involved an LMS vendor (I don't know who) and a server that went down for 30 days. Meaning, their clients had no access to their LMS and courses for that time! During the 30 days not a single status update or straight answer was given by the vendor as to what was going on and when it would be back up, and (the clincher) when it was finally restored it was a back up from 2 years earlier! Look out for this kind of treatment - it is totally unacceptable!
The final 5 must-haves in this series will be posted on Friday. Stay tuned!