If you are like the thousands of other people exploring the purchase of a learning management system, the key to success is asking the right questions. 

Questions

Below are some standard questions to ask, but are in no particular order.

SCORM

What SCORM compliance are you? 2004 3rd edition? 2004? 1.2? SCORM (as it is known, when it is before 1.2)? 

Why is it Important?

Because if you are using a content authoring tool that is SCORM 2004, then you must find a system that is at least 2004.  Your tool will not work with a 1.2. SCORM is backward compatible, not forward. 

What about AICC?

Irrelevant in my opinion. Unless you purchased a tool that is only AICC compliant, which in that case, time to ditch it and get another one. If you purchased an AICC only, then you have to find a system that is AICC compliant. It can be SCORM too, but the AICC is the key. 

What about PENS or some other compliance standard?

Unless you must have PENS or one of the other compliance standards, it is not needed.  PENS was created by AICC as an alternative to SCORM 2004, 3rd edition. 

Certificates/Certification

  Does your system generate certificates?  Do you have templates built into the system?  For people who are working on certification, does your system provide e-mail reminders to end users whose certification is near expiration and thus they need to go into the system and complete it?  What about e-mail reminders for the following (time frame) to renew?

Why is it Important?

Today many people are interested in systems that generate “certificates”, whether it be for a certification or as a “good job” approach for completing a course.  They would prefer having templates built-into the system, where they can edit, rather than having to upload their own (although some folks like this as well).  

For systems that include templates, find out what you can actually edit or include? Besides the name, can you edit or create the accomplishment (rather than just Math XYX course) to add personalization?  Can you add your logo?  People love personalization, rather than just canned. 

Classroom Management

If you plan to track or have instructor led training, then this is relevant. If not, that it isn’t. 

Event Management

Do you offer the ability to have people sign up for multiple seminars within the system?

Does your system offer a waitlist feature? If yes, if someone cancels or decides not to attend, does your system notify the next person that they can attend?

Can you tie it to your e-commerce (if you have it in your system), so when people register and their is a fee, they pay it? 

Where do the seminars, etc. appear? In the catalog? Elsewhere?  Do you have a calendar whereas someone can click on the date and the seminars or webinars appear Or is it just a list of events (if you offer that)? 

Why is it Important?

The more you know about what event management features they offer the better you are. While their are excellent products out there for event management, such as Cvent, if would save you some $$$ to find a system that offers these capabilities built-in.  If EM is important to you, find out what reports are included in the system – which are tied to EM. 

Can you generate a report that lists the attendees, when they registered? What about financial – i.e. total amount of money collected, etc.?

Web Conferencing

(Again, for some people important): Do you have a web conferencing solution in your system?  If yes, who is it? Is it your own system or a partner such as WebEx? Is it included in the price or is there a separate price for it? Can you track the end users in it?  What reports are tied to it? What features are included with it?

Why is it Important?

  • Vendors who have partnerships with WebEx or whomever they use, typically require you to purchase a license, which is separate from the system. Many will offer or have the ability to purchase the license for you, rather than you having to go to the vendor themselves and purchase it
  • It is optional. Even though it is integrated into the system, unless the vendor says it is included with your system – at no charge – you are not required to purchase it – if you use someone else or if you choose not to use it. 
  • If you choose to use it, tracking is important. So, finding out what the system can and cannot do as it is related to their “partner” WC is relevant. If it cannot do the things you want, then what’s the point of paying for that extra cost, unless it is for convenience? 
  • Just because the system is integrated doesn’t mean it is the best system out there. Rather, “partner” is a dual revenue steam for the vendor and their partner – a business relationship deal
  • You can use your own system – provider or locate one and use it with the systems. Typically there is no cost. If you choose this route, find out if their system can identify how many people attended, etc. – some can do this.  The way it typically works, is that there is a link – Webinar or blah blah, that the end user clicks. A window pops-up and the person goes to your tool, they do not realize they have left the system

Curriculum Paths

Can you place end users (learners) in groups? By job role? Skill? Department (Division, Region)?  Can you have X group see only x number of courses and Y group see only those courses?  Can you create a curriculum, whereas student x has to complete A before going to B?

Why is it Important?

99% of the systems do this, so normally I focus my questions only on a particular number of unique qualifiers – that I client asks for – since I am aware of this fact.  But, that said, many people who are exploring, often wonder about such.  Just as the 99% of the systems, include batch upload via a .csv or .txt file.  Again, people inquire though.

  My personal rule of thumb for qualifiers, is to focus on features that are unique to your situation – for some people if they classroom management, for others they do not. Or they need certificates and specifically systems that have templates built into them for it.  

The goal of qualifiers is to toss out systems that do not meet your needs. For the question above, you will find out quickly via the demo – on whether you like the way the vendor’s system handles this or not.

Questions I often hear people ask (and you can save money)

3rd party content – off the shelf courses

The vendor either mentions it on their web site, or in their pitch or people inquire – if they can get Excel or How do to Sales, etc., with the system.

If the vendor offers it, they say yes – but here is the twist

  • Only a tiny tiny percentile include it at no charge. Rather the masses who offer it, charge an additional cost for it – thus it is not included in your system (ironically, they fail to mention this tidbit on their web sites, when they list they have courses)
  • You are paying for convenience, not a better rate – even if the vendor says you receive a better deal with them (I have never found that to be the case)
  • If you decide to leave the vendor and go to another system, you can face challenges when moving those 3rd party courses (if you so choose to) into the other systems, some vendors use it as a ploy to keep you “if you leave, you can’t take these with you”

Save Money

  • Go directly to the 3rd party vendor whose courses they are
  • If you can, go with the price the LMS vendor offered you. In this case, I have always scored a better deal with the 3rd party vendor directly, then the LMS vendor. Why?

LMS vendor and content provider have a business relationship deal – so LMS vendor takes X percent and the remaining goes to the content vendor.  If you could get 100% rather than a split, wouldn’t you want to deal?

  • Your content provider will deal directly with the LMS vendor to integrate the courses, so convenience still exists. You never want to get in the middle of this, and I always clearly tell the content provider that they need to talk to xyz (whoever your sales person is) and work together. Typically I am on the first call, but after that – they take care of it.
  • With the above, you do not pay – and state it as such – until the course or courses work with the system – 100%. Thus you have your LMS vendor test it, and you test as well – Q/A, as we say. 
  • If you decide to bolt from your current LMS vendor, you are not “hijacked” when it comes to your 3rd party. You just let the content vendor know of the switch and they can handle it from there – including working with your new vendor – to integrate the courses (assuming you still want the courses)

Content Authoring Tool

  • Most systems that offer a CAT, include it at no charge, but sadly there is an increase of vendors who charge an extra cost for it.
  • The cost again is about convenience and I have yet to see a built-in authoring tool that beats a robust 3rd party authoring tool. In many cases some uber features that a RCAT offers – such as peer review, is not available in a built in CAT

Save Money

  • Select and use a 3rd party authoring tool
  • Additional benefit – if you leave and go to another LMS vendor, the courses you created are still on your server or the RCAT’s server and thus you can move them quickly and easily, rather than having your former LMS vendor involved, which sometimes can be painful 

Bottom Line

Asking the right questions will help you enormously when it comes to finding the right system, before you go into the demo.

Having a list of questions prepared ahead of time, is a good way to go. It is easy to get overwhelmed with the information going back and forth, and thus it is common to forget some questions you were going to ask.

As for customization, always be a tad concerned.

Branded, Skinned as they say – is offered with 90% systems at no charge, although for some reason, they love to tell you that is this a special. It isn’t. Just make sure though that they are in the 90 percent and not 10 percent. If they say it costs extra, walk away or tell them you are not paying for it.

Some systems will do some customization at no additional charge.   But when the system offers to to a full customization of everything you want, then ask yourself is this really the system for me?  I’d say no.

One reason, is when it comes to major customization or some beyond the norm customization, their updates to their systems are for those who haven’t customized.  So how does that play with your major customization system?

A know of a couple of vendors who have had big issues when it comes to updates and clients who have had customization jobs.

The clients report problems and then you – as the client – has to notify the vendor and have them Q/A it, to find it and fix it.

Customization can be a godsend or a headache.

Typically for both parties it becomes a headache.

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