How many of you have posted questions regarding LMSs on Quora, Linkedin or the various other social media sites available on the net?

How many of you have had hundreds of comments as a result of these questions, and than rather than solve it, create only more confusion?

How many of you have seen vendors respond to your questions?  How many times have you wished they didn’t?

I need a LMS

Q: I’m looking for a LMS that has classroom mgt, can have abc learners see only one course or a set of courses, while another group sees a different set of courses and I need to batch upload my learners.

A: Virtually every LMS vendor out there in the marketplace provides these features. The ones who may not are those who identify themselves as “Training mgt systems and alike” – because they are really focused on the course authoring tool and are not a LMS in the true sense of the word.

Use my 90/10 rule

Rather than focus on the most common features, focus on the 10% that are different and thus may not be in every system – because guess what? They won’t be.

Examples:

  • E-mail notification via SMS
  • Mobile learning – it might surprise you to know that 75-80% of all systems in the space, currently do not offer any type of mobile learning, the number goes up even higher for online/offline synch.  Want a native app? Congrats, you are probably looking at less than 10 (based on my LMS directory which contains 475 vendors)
  • Custom domains – rather than have yourcompany.vendorname.com, some systems are now offering custom domains so that your learners see whatever name you create.com and remove the vendor name.  If you are seeking this route, some vendors include it at no charge, the others who offer it – charge extra
  • Streaming video – low number of systems
  • Widgets – low, but growing (future blog on trends)
  • ePub publishing 
  • Compliance/Regulatory, work audits
  • Task management
  • Integrates with Workday
  • Smart App for TV – One LMS vendor

If you want to dive deeper into the standards – for example, e-commerce – don’t ask – do you offer e-commerce? Instead be specific:

  • Can end users change the currency when they checkout?
  • Can I add discounts, promo codes?
  • If I am based in Europe – does your system include VAT?
  • Is e-commerce included at no charge – You would be surprised how many will say no
  • Do you accept Paypal?

When do I find out if they offer my standard features?

Let them tell you. This typically occurs at the beginning of the conversation with the sales person.  Then when you see the demo you can see them firsthand.

Just a quick overview of common features folks ask and virtually all systems offer (this is by no means an entire list)

  • E-mail notification, automatic
  • SaaS – becoming extremely common. What I’m seeing is over 90% of the systems in this space are either “100% in the cloud” OR offer a system that can be in the cloud
  • Calendar, schedule events where end users can see the events
  • Learning paths or curriculum paths
  • Groups – can be assigned a package of courses or a course, another group can be assigned different courses or course
  • Administrator can put learners into various groups based on department, region, job role
  • Self – registration
  • Curriculum management
  • Assessment/survey
  • Schedule ILT courses – typically appears in the event mgt section
  • Certificates – becoming extremely common, what may not be: ability to upload your own templates or significant customization of certificates
  • Batch upload of learners
  • Canned reports – often the most common ones people seek
  • Ability to see how many learners viewed or completed the courses
  • Ability to upload documents, files

Mixed Bag – High level but not universal

  • Virtual classrooms, which is the same as virtual meetings or webinars – often seen with an integrated platform such as WebEx, GoTo Meeting or their own proprietary one
  • M/C, T/F, Matching questions – many now offer question banks
  • Built in course authoring tool – gaining steam – some are now moving to a partnership with a 3rd party course authoring tool – Personally, I’d rather use my own 3rd party authoring tool than one built in
  • Facility management
  • SCORM/AICC/PENS/IMS
  • Can integrate with various HRIS or ERP systems including Oracle, SAP, Lawson
  • Ad-hoc reporting – i.e. you create your own custom reports
  • Collaboration, create learner groups for social, some type of chat function
  • File repository – gaining steam

Price Point Systems

Q: Are there any systems that are less than 50K that are very good/contain the standard features?

A: Yes. In fact there are systems that cost less than 25K that are excellent. Even systems that are less than 15K who will do a solid job, albeit they typically have some drawbacks – often seen in feature sets. Under 10K – Mixed bag. Feature sets are often not as robust as the more expensive ones, but UI can be quite good OR really bad.

Q: Do expensive systems have a better UI (user interface)?

A: Absolutely not. Bad UI is across the board in terms of price point.

Case in point: IMO one of the worst UI’s I have ever seen comes from Cornerstone OnDemand, which is quite popular. I wouldn’t recommend this system to anyone, okay maybe my worst enemy or someone who deserves no mercy.

Well Known Systems

Q: Saba, SumTotal, Cornerstone, Taleo, SuccessFactors must be the best because a lot of people buy these systems.

A: I think a lot of people purchase these systems because they

  • Market themselves effectively
  • High brand recognition
  • Have no idea on the number of systems in the market (I estimate there is somewhere in the neighborhood of 500-510 systems – many who do not promote themselves in any shape or form)
  • Word of mouth from others who have bought the system 

What is interesting is that not every one of these behemoths have every Fortune 500 vendor out there or even some of the most well known brands.

Speaking of well known brands

Q: When I take a look at some systems I see that they have as customers very well known tech companies, thus they must be awesome systems.

A: Some of these well known tech vendors have multiple LMSs. This is due to some of these companies allowing various business units to purchase their own system OR they have one system for employees and one system for customers.

I know of companies who allow various departments to have different systems and rather than consolidate to one system, allow these to continue.

The advantage of course, is that the LMS vendor can state they have big name tech company or big name financial company for example and then you notice that another LMS vendor says the same thing. 

If you see multiple (as in two or more vendors) list the same company this is a clear sign that the company has multiple systems. 

While I know many LMS vendors and their customer base, I won’t say who they are in this blog, but trust me, big names abound.

Rather than be swayed by the big names, I’d focus on vendors who are like you, whether it is via your vertical or business type or even your size of business.

I think you will be surprised at the number of vendors who will not match.

Talent and Performance Mgt

Q: Do all systems offer these features?

A: No. Many companies do not want these features, hence many vendors do not offer them. Those that do may not offer leadership development or 360 feedback (most common requested by folks). Succession planning is becoming more common. 

If the system you are looking at includes some type of career placement, compensation/payroll, benefits and in many cases ability to post jobs via job sites, than you need to realize they are HCM (as in Human Capital Mgt) systems. Learning is really becoming secondary, even if these vendors offer a LMS. 

Many of the vendors offer the LMS and these items such as compensation, benefits and alike are additional costs.  Others focus on the talent management with these features either included or an additional cost.

Authoring Tools

Q: I use Articulate, Rapid Intake and other 3rd party authoring tools, will they work in any LMS?

A: Nearly all. Those that don’t are due to:

  • Your tool works only with SCORM 2004 3rd edition, and your LMS only accepts AICC
  • The LMS uses a proprietary based tool – as in you must use it – so your 3rd party won’t work
  • The system only accepts PowerPoint, Word – so your 3rd party authoring tool cannot work with it

Macs

Q: I use only Macs. Will every LMS work with it?

A: If the LMS is available only as a hosted solution – as on your company’s own servers – it may not. I have seen systems that say they are browser agnostic but when you look at them via Safari, it shows up funky.

There are tools out there that you can test LMSs via different browsers without you having that browser.

Some systems will say they only work with IE. This can be questionable.

I recall one vendor whose site and their salespeople stated the IE thing, but the vendor told me that it would work with FireFox. 

Now there are vendors who say it won’t work with Chrome. When they state this – it is often true.

Even vendors who say their are browser agnostic, if you are using not a common browser – say Maxthon or Avant, check first. Just because the LMS looks good on the main page, some will have issues when you are taking the courses.

Minimum Specs

Q: We are using Windows XP, IE 7 and Flash 6 at our company. Will the LMS work?

A: Depends on the vendor. Any vendor worth their weight will tell you minimum requirements. Do not assume that your vendor or potential vendor will work with an earlier version of Flash, Windows or even IE. 

There are some systems that will not work with older versions of Flash. Even if you are using the system out of the workplace, but the majority of folks are using it in-house, than these specs are crucial.

I know of one huge healthcare insurance company whose computer specs inside the company are outdated. Many systems will not work with them.

Location

Q: We are based in the U.S., should we only look at vendors in the states?

A: If the system is “in the cloud” and has the feature sets you need, than the only thing you need to look at is support times. There are vendors around the world who do not offer 24/7 support, so you are stuck with their time or set hours.

The same issue happens in the states. The number of vendors in the U.S. who offer 24/7 is quite low. Many have a set time based on their time zone.

The worst culprits of this are vendors on the east coast, who will have times like 8 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m. ET. So, if you are based in the west coast (3 hr time difference) and you have issues, than unless you call them by 1 or 2 p.m. PST, you are in deep doo doo.

Same with weekends. A large swath of vendors do not offer weekend support, regardless if it is via the phone or e-mail.

Bottom Line

Before you post questions on various social media sites or at conferences, ask yourself what are the most important items you need to know. Focus on potential negatives.

I’d want to know if a LMS vendor has had issues with support, updates, etc. rather than if they offer curriculum paths.

Because if they have an issue with the former who cares if they offer the latter?

Ask people at conferences or when you are sitting around a table at a show about their specific system. 

This will remove the surprise factor.

If you love surprises than ask for one on your birthday.

Not with your LMS.

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