The argument that you have to spend over 50K to find a sweet LMS is totally bogus.  What is true is that there are plenty of awesome systems for less than 25K and even sweet systems with very nice feature sets for under 10K.

I’m not talking about freebies such as Moodle or Sakai, but actually commercial systems.

Number of Users

These are folks who are going to use your system. In my experience, small businesses (500 or less users) are the ideal audience for a low cost system.

This does not mean that anyone who has more than 5,000 users should be a system in the low cost mode, but rather these systems are definitely suited to this business size.  Do these systems have customers with more than 10,000 users?

For many the answer is yes – however in general these systems will go above the 10K price point, with most falling in the 12-18K range.

Are there low cost systems for the education market? Absolutely. 

User Interface

The variance of UIs from slick to yucky exist in this market, but don’t despair – awful UIs can be had in systems that run over 100K.  The LMS market as a whole, has some serious issues when it comes to “ease of use” and “sweet” user interfaces – on both the end user and admin side.

This is not to say that the systems on my top 10 (announced in a bit) have bleech user interfaces. Rather they run the gambit from fair to excellent.

But please be aware that as a whole, you are talking about a very clean interface without not a lot of “pop” and “sizzle”. When I think low cost, I think streamlined which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Simple is common – again, not a bad thing – depending on what you are seeking in a system.  Navigation can run the gambit – as it does on any system regardless of price point in the market.

In the cloud or on your own servers

Low cost systems are typically SaaS based (then again, the LMS industry as a whole is more SaaS based than hosted on your servers). There are exceptions to the rule (as u will soon see).

Get your features here, red hot features

The low cost market in general offers a solid set of features. At one time these systems were extremely streamlined and contained just the basics, but that is starting to disappear. Some systems in this space include e-commerce at no additional charge.

The standards – curriculum paths, reports, calendar, batch uploads, assign users to one group and they see X courses, while another group sees Y courses will appear in these systems, along with the most common features in any system.

Skinning

Common in low cost systems are templates from which to choose from for your background. The templates are built into the system, you select one, add your logo and whalla – you now are ready to go.

If you want a more robust front end, it may not be possible.  Many low cost systems do not offer this capability and those that do (a small percentile) will charge similar to more expensive systems.

Live in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

Going live with a low cost system takes about as long as you adding your logo, turning on and off some features and selecting your template. On the SaaS side the time ranges from five minutes to several hours. If the system offers a robust customization front, then expect implementation time to be aligned to systems that cost more – i.e. depends on what is needed to be done and specs.

Mobile and Social

Mobile as a whole in the LMS space is still extremely low, but there are low cost systems that offer it. 

Social on the other hand is a hit or miss.

Pluses and Minuses

  • Best prices will be found in the 500 or less number of learners
  • Some systems charge on a per course uploaded or viewed, on a set number of users – with a maximum for example of 250, on credits – which I hate -but that is another story; on storage – you receive X amount, if you go over you pay extra.
  • For those who charge with storage – storage includes all courses, files – including your audio, video, images and documents. Thus if you have a lot of video, expect that 2GB of storage to get whacked fast, especially with more than 10 courses. Any vendor, who includes a set storage fee, should be able to provide you a range of number of courses – with examples and video/audio files – if you plan to use them.
  • Simple look and feel is the standard. If you think your 3K system is going to match the look and feel of a top notch 45K system, be prepared to be massively disappointed.
  • Tech Support and Service – may or may not be included – always ask. Many vendors’ sites do not state this information in their pricing.
  • Training – more and more of these systems provide tutorials online and help guides. They tend to be more self service than the market in general. 
  • So-called training management systems are not LMSs nor should be confused as such – these systems are often very low cost, but their main component is an authoring tool or in one case of a vendor – their assessment tool
  • Talent management features – for those who seek it – are extremely extremely rare. I know of one system that offers 360 feedback and performance reviews. 
  • The adage you pay for what you get – no longer applies, as a whole in this price point. Some 50K or more systems could learn from the top low cost systems on some things.  That said you should temper your expectations with these systems, generally speaking. 

Are there systems in this price point you have recommended to your clients?

Yes

My List of Top Low Cost Systems

  • Systems are based on UI and in many cases feature sets. Some of the UIs are average, a couple are significantly more than that.
  • My under 10K is based on a whole of 500 or less users; although there are systems below that far exceed that number and still slide under 10K
  • Two of the systems are clients, however not all of my clients who fall in the low cost market are listed. Systems who are clients are identified with the word “client” next to their name.

Rankings as of July 23, 2012 – as noted this list can change – and updates will be presented monthly on my Linkedin Group, E-Learning 24/7, with final rankings in November and the announcement of Low Cost (under 10K) LMS of the year

1. BizLibrary - BL is coming out with a new user interface – projected for August release that just fires off a WOWSA. Beyond containing the standard LMS feature sets, what makes this system standout is the UI is geared for those folks who want to have videos as their courses, incl. video tutorials (using Camtasia, BlueBerry, DemoCreator, etc.).  To view this new UI, you need to schedule a demo.

2. Docebo “client” – What I love about this streamlined system is the immediacy of going live in a simple turnkey box. The big win for me is the language personalization, whereas each end user can view their home page and other screens in their native language with a simple click of the countries’ flag.

Thus if you have learners who prefer Spanish they can view their pages in Spanish, while others can view it in English, German, etc. With over a dozen languages to choose from – set up by the administrator, it adds a nice touch.  I liked this system before they were a client and now with some new enhancements they still deliver.

Oh, and they work with mobile devices – a huge plus.

3. Litmos - At one time my favorite Lite LMS on the market. UI is very good, but I’m expecting more from this system since they seem to be stuck in a perpetual mode

4. Totara - While I’m not overly impressed with its UI, the system has an uber set of features

5. VkClass - System is for the education market and is built similar to Facebook, as a result the UI is crisp and clean. Feature sets include IDP, mentor page, class side view, parent portal, file repository, blog for each student, event mgt and lots lots more. The site is in Swedish, but you can change the language by selecting country flags or by using Google Translate.

Others in no particular order

  • Thinking Cap UI is average, but feature set includes customizing labels, masthead among others, nice social set including live chat, forums, streaming, web conferencing via WebEx, integrated e-mail
  • Inquisiq R3- At one time in my top five up and coming systems (2010), solid performer – Mobile capability
  • Edu 2.0  – UI needs to improve as its on the border of average to below average, but this systems’ feature sets is outstanding
  • AJ LMS - UI is average. Feature set includes SCORM 2004, chat, assessment tool among others. Major downer: available only as hosted on your own servers
  • eFront Learning – UI is average, feature set is nice – The system to look at is their enterprise edition 
  • Feathercap - UI is very streamlined nothing that will wow you, but this is a solid performer
  • Likno - UI is a tad on the weak side, but feature set is extensive especially when you use their enterprise edition
  • Anewspring – UI is solid not spectacular, but feature set is quite robust but the key to that robustness is their add ons (some of which are free, some are fee based). My favs:  ReadSpeaker – Text to Speech, Micros -office administration, Slideshare, issuu – free online service create online magazines from PDF files can embed magazines into system. The system also offers gamification.
  • Accord LMS - User interface has gotten better than year’s past -it’s now average and from a feature standpoint quite robust. Available as hosted or on your own servers.

Bottom Line

The days of having to drop serious cash flow on a LMS are long gone. Low Cost LMSs meet a need and are necessary as the market expands. While most of the systems have nice feature sets, from a UI standpoint they are everywhere on the board from awful to excellent.

Are systems that run over 20K better than low cost systems? It depends on what you are looking for – from a feature to a design standpoint and robustness in general.

If a streamlined system with the standard features are what you are seeking then my top 15 list will help you along the way.

E-Learning 24/7

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