Selecting Your Next LMS

For organizations shopping for their first learning management system (LMS) or replacing an existing solution, here are the 11 steps required for selecting a learning technology solution.

In today’s technology-rich environment, organizations need the right tools to execute their learning strategy. Offering in-person classroom training alone just doesn’t cut it in a world of multi-modal learners. To address this challenge, organizations must adopt a new approach to learning and development, and leveraging their learning technology solutions.

When 73 percent of companies are either trimming their learning and development budget or keeping it flat, the need to demonstrate learning’s return on investment is critical. With the right solutions in place, a company can dramatically improve its ability to attract multigenerational learners and deliver high-impact education and training to a broad audience.

Even though a majority of organizations already have at least one learning management (LMS) in place, many are still preparing to go through the selection process. In addition, approximately 44 percent of companies actively seek to replace their current LMS, according to Brandon Hall Group research. Technology replacement is expensive from a time and financial perspective, but the benefits often far outweigh the costs: an improved user experience for learners and administrators, more mobile capabilities, better integration with other systems, and enhanced reporting and analytics.

It’s interesting to note that when we asked companies to rate their satisfaction with their current LMS, the system’s ability to meet current learning needs received the highest score; the lowest was for their system’s ability to meet future needs. This illustrates how companies often make technology decisions by looking at immediate needs without an eye toward the future. Smart companies look for systems that grow and evolve with their business.

For organizations shopping for their first LMS or replacing an existing solution, here are the 11 steps required for selecting a learning technology solution:

  1. Build the Business Case. Starting with a solid business case for new learning technology makes a strong statement that the Learning function is intended to drive business results. When shopping for an LMS the first time, identify ways technology can make learning faster and easier to develop, deliver, and measure. If switching from an existing platform, identify areas the current solution is deficient.
  2. Define Business Stakeholders. It is important to understand the depth and breadth with which an LMS impacts the entire organization. It is not solely the Learning team that reckons with a new system. Getting input on the pros and cons of the current system from all parts of the organization helps build a well-informed business case for change that also will gain buy-in and support for the project.
  3. Identify Requirements. It is important to be specific about what your learning technology must do to move the business forward. Start by creating a list of realistic must-have functionalities. For companies seeking to replace an existing system, there will be factors you identified that led to the decision to make a change; either things the current solution does poorly or doesn’t do at all. It is upon this foundation you add the things your organization needs in the future.
  4. Create Use Cases. The best way to find a solution that fits your current and future needs is to create use cases. Develop roles and scenarios detailing how users will interact with the system to accomplish tasks. Luckily, wanting to switch solutions provides you with the foundation for some powerful use cases. Examine how your current solution falls short and see how prospective vendors handle similar situations.
  5. Set Up Scripted Demos. Use cases also help you create scripted demos for providers. Rather than have vendors run you through a demo of the product to highlight its bells and whistles, have them take you through specific scenarios showing how the platform handles your use cases. Generic demos can make the offerings seem similar, making your decision more difficult. Scripted demos will highlight providers that can better serve your needs.
  6. Use References. Don’t be afraid to ask for and follow up on references. Though vendors will only provide you with happy clients, you still can glean useful information from them. It’s helpful to see how companies of similar size and industry use a system. By asking the right questions, you also can uncover challenges and other issues from even the most ardent fans of the solution.
  7. Identify Support Levels. There is wide variety in the levels of support vendors provide. A “rip and replace” scenario is a difficult undertaking, so it’s important to select a vendor offering implementation support based on your needs. Best practices include not just in-person support, but online communities, adoption kits, communities of practice, etc., to help you get up and running quickly—and on an ongoing basis.
  8. Manage Change. A solid change-management strategy provides a path to the future, whether it is moving from a paper-based process or switching from a legacy system. In most cases, change management begins at the leadership level and requires strong communication to the employees expected to use the system. A communication strategy must articulate the need for the technology investment with key stakeholders and overall business leaders.
  9. Focus on Integration. During requirements gathering, an overview of the systems that must integrate with the LMS should have been identified. It is now time to prioritize those integrations and test them separately rather than plug everything in at once. Getting critical integrations up and running allows a company to roll the system out to users before all the integrations are final if it chooses.
  10. Prepare for Migration. For companies switching to new solutions, moving data and content from one system to another can be complex, especially if the current system was in place for a long time. Content and data have specific taxonomies to keep them organized and need to be mapped from the old system to the new system. This is also a good time to assess active use and eliminate unneeded data and content.
  11. Train, Train, Train. The last piece is training. Establish a training schedule for the different types of users. From the due diligence phase on, you must understand the types of training the vendor provides so you can plan accordingly. Take into account the needs of users and levels of training they require; admins, learners, subject matter experts, and stakeholders each have different needs.

David Wentworth is principal learning analyst at Brandon Hall Group, an independent research/analyst firm in the human capital management market. The firm’s vision is to inspire a better workplace experience, and its mission is to empower excellence in organizations around the world through its research and tools. Brandon Hall Group has five HCM practices and produces the Brandon Hall Group HCM Excellence Awards and Excellence in Technology Awards; the Women in Leadership Summit; and the annual HCM Excellence Conference, Jan. 22-25, 2019, in West Palm Beach, FL.