I’m sure you have heard the saying, “Features are like ____, everyone has one”.  You know like a nose. (You thought of something else, didn’t you?)

Anyway, next to user interface and support, features can make or break your system.

The problem though is that many systems fail to recognize the difference makers.

Not an Option

In the wee old days, you could buy gas for a nickel. You could also find some standards in every LMS (uh, not at the same time of getting gas for a nickel).  These standards included such favorites as

  • Analytics
  • Learning environment
  • Assign x users to one group, assign “y” to another group – with each group having different courses, learning content, etc.
  • A single catalog

Other standard favorites included some type of “event management” albeit the term wasn’t necessarily used.  The problem though is what should be universal standards – and for the vast majority are – there are still learning management systems that just fail to grasp that concept.

Features that are as necessary as breathing air (please not the sections listed below are not all of them, rather just a select few. If I went through all areas, this would become a report – and I would have to charge you ) hee hee – who does that btw? It is like “har har”.

Event Management

Minimal

  • Waitlist

Power to Success

  • Automatically add next person in line if the person above drops out or decides not to attend the event (seminar, webinar, meeting, whatever), plus auto notification via e-mail

Minimal

  • Calendar on the home page – and not just under your “event management area”
  • Ability to hover over calendar and see events person has signed up for or can sign up for

Power to Success

  • Mouse hovers over calendar and it expands, OR end user has option to zoom OR end user clicks on calendar and it goes to another page where calendar is larger; basically a small calender alone doesn’t cut it
  • Difference maker – dates that an event is listed on or the person has signed up for is color coded – end user hovers over it and sees the information and can click for more information OR even sign up for some type of event if they are enabled to do so, example: instructor led sessions are color coded light purple, webinars: orange, etc. – VALUE: End users can quickly identify based on colors what types of sessions

Minimal

  • End user registers for event (ILT, webinar, whatever) and receives an auto e-mail notification, then as event gets closer receives reminders (as set by the administrator)

Power to Success

  • Not only do they receive an auto notification, but the event now appears on their Outlook or Gmail or Internet e-mail calendar – HOW to do it? Use iCal
  • Difference maker – Enable the ability for end users to receive SMS notifications (i.e. text via mobile device)
  • Super Bonus – Great for retail locations where stores may not have e-mail, SMS removes that

Fact

  • Research is now showing that students prefer text over e-mail, but if you think about it – how many times do you get the infamous, “I never saw that in my e-mail” quip? I used to get it a lot because many people either never open up their e-mail or worse – skim based on the header.   SMS brings another tier to notifications – and honestly, how can that be bad?

A few more

  • Notification reminders – ability to set reminders (administrator)
  • Scheduling simplicity – it shouldn’t take someone with a doctorate in genetics to figure out how to sign up for a seminar or whatever
  • If you have e-commerce tied to it, easy to select to a shopping cart or whatever you use AND ability to add more sessions if you want, before you check out

Okay you are breathing air…

Minimal

  • Classroom management – the capabilities within this feature set are gaining steam, part is due to the fact that many more people who have always used ILT are now zinging over to e-learning either by choice or force. They can’t give up the classroom option.

Another reason for more capabilities in classroom management – I have heard quite a bit from HR people that F2F (face to face) is the only way to go – so having some stronger capabilities should help – then again, I have also heard from quite a few folks that they will never go to e-learning (I also hear this from some training folks too).

Optional Power to Success

  • If your system’s target markets or audience are massive users of classroom management, then having some type of facilities management with resources makes sense, but I know plenty of end users that couldn’t care less. 
  • Rather, I would tie classroom management capabilities with some event management components

Learning Environment

Let’s skip right to the Power to Success

  • Search function. Systems that bring up courses, content whatever the moment a person types a letter are smooth. Thus if you have several courses that begin with “m” and then person types “m” they start to appear. As the end user adds letters it adds clarity.
  • Bonus: Some type of wildcard – i.e. *PDF (assuming you have lots of PDF materials)
  • Nice Bonus – Tags (but to achieve success with tags, you as the administrator need to put them in and a few at that per course/content. Just putting one tag really doesn’t achieve optimum results

Features that break the bank

So you have your nice little system, you have lots of clients and you think to yourself “what a wonderful world”.

You would be so wrong.

Mobile

Minimal

  • Mobile ready – this means that an end user can take courses, etc. through their mobile device browser and it has to be connected to the internet
  • Works with tablets including Apple

Power to Success

  • Mobile specific – online/offline synchronization with native app – enabling the end user to be truly offline take the courses and then when they get back on the net, it pushes data into the LMS. The native app removes the access via browser thing
  • Tin Can API
  • Works on any mobile device – you never know what is coming down the pike, but when it does be ready

Social

Power to Success

  • Social tied to specific content (course or courses for example), to a group or groups, to a community (in some ways reminds me of the old COP – community of practice)
  • Ability to add your own social media, but not just Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. Rather go one more step and include new popular ones such as Pinterest, Reddit, Google+
  • Allow end users to upload their own video (you can tie it to a course or topic). Basically you are having the learners get more involved. They can also share content, files, etc. – maybe video. Administrator controls what end users can do.

Other Powers to Success

E-Commerce

  • Multi-Currency
  • Accepts promos codes, discount codes, incentive points (if you are using gamification)
  • Generate invoices – don’t laugh, I hear from numerous clients even those who focus only on employees, this feature request
  • VAT (ties to some countries outside of the U.S.)
  • If you are targeting training providers, offer the ability for them to include product items – they may be selling more than just courses
  • Accept credit cards – not only Visa, MasterCard but also AMEX, possibly Discover and if you have clients outside of the states, some of the popular credit card companies in other countries (based on your audience that is)
  • If you do credit cards than include PayPal and maybe Google wallet
  • Tie into some of the better known processing gateways like Authorize.net (you can charge an additional fee to set this up for your clients)

But wait, there’s more! (not tied to e-commerce, rather in general)

  • Custom domains
  • API marketplace – you have a nice set of APIs that an end user can add – again, the one click and it goes into your system is the best way to do this – examples: Slideshare, Skype, Dropbox, BUT WAIT – Why not Gotomeeting, Webex and another web conferencing tools.

Maybe I don’t use the WebEx that comes with your system and use someone else. Whalla, now I can.  The sky is the limit and an API marketplace – you call it an “app store” – but in reality they are APIs

  • Modern user interface. I know your current clients are fine with your UI, but your job is to get new clients. Plus, every vendor I know who has changed their UI to a more modern look, constantly tell me that their current customers love the new look.

And More!

  • 24/7 Support.  People who select SaaS systems may not be in your country.  Even in the U.S. if your support is 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET and you are on the west coast, that means your support is 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET (assuming you arrive at work at 8 a.m. PT).
  • Support is included – and not just that crummy e-mail support. People are spending $$$, don’t make them pay more for the privilege of premium support.  Sometimes I wonder if the people that pull this BS, have ever been on the other side as a consumer for some other product.
  • Extended Enterprise aka multi-tenant. This is on a super fast track – and it is not a place you want to be behind the rest (there is a reason behind this, but that is for another time).
  • Training included – and not just a knowledge base

Who has ever found a knowledge base to be a simple task in finding anything. This includes people who include help guides aka manuals on their site which are massive in size. I ask you, “Do you read the manual that came with your software? What about that new video game?”

Bottom Line

I didn’t mention TM or PM, because they are not deal busters. There are still mass amounts of customers who don’t want it, do not seek it out and even will avoid systems that offer it (whether it is included or not).

Nor did I mention features that are just plain common sense.

Because, if you can’t figure that out, then you shouldn’t be selling a LMS.

You should be selling Fool’s Gold.

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