How to choose the right LMS

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So many choices out there. Should we spend our hard earned salary going to Disneyland? Or will putting up an air mattress with some stick figures suffice?  Should we have a company picnic at a park or will the work cafeteria do the trick? Should we demand that the vending machines charge only 50 cents for a candy bar or do we run over to 7-11 and stock up for rainy day?

Yep, lots of choices in the world today.

The same thing applies to the learning management system market.  The difference though is with so many choices (more than ever before), the one size fits all approach does not work. The “I’ll just look at a couple of systems, and decide from there” method doesn’t work either.

Selecting a system takes a lot of time, a lot of commitment on your part (and group, if applicable) and yes, even cost – the amount of time x productivity x your salary wage/time spent to find a system.  As such, people tend to go about it in a few ways to solve this dilemma. Some of these approaches work, others are just stop gaps.

Common Choices

  • Ask your fellow colleagues – via Linkedin, Quora, etc. – The plus – you hear from a lot of different folks. The minus: vendors come out of the woodwork to tell you their system meets those needs. But how do they really know?  I mean if you say you need “e-commerce for 500 users, certificates, ability to add users to groups for courses”, that would cover about 550 systems.  No vendor could say honestly that their system is the best for you, because they are missing a lot of information.

From the general populous – I’m a fan of that, but ask yourself again – the key questions.  They are giving you their opinion based on probably the system they currently use. I rarely see someone respond, “you don’t want ABC, because we have it and it stinks”.  That would be awesome, but you have a better chance of hearing someone tell you that Mars is a big planet.

The other issue is that the people providing the information are also limited to what you have stated. The majority of systems today, have those set features in my example.  You cannot in all honesty, base your decision on just these minimal details.  Nor can you base it only on cost – which we all do – despite our “we look at all the features for consideration” that we all love to preach to anyone who will listen.

If the system you want is not in your budget, no matter how much you love it, you are not going to buy it.  Unless you are willing to go to the blood bank every day for some quick cash.

  • Hire a consultant who knows the LMS industry.  Simply put, why spend the time yourself, if you don’t have to?
  • Research on your own. Check various sites and read their reports. Scope out Linkedin, and other social media channels. Go to trade shows to check out systems and follow up with them (always a positive to do anyway).  Then spend the time to identify the right system for you and your business.  Nothing wrong with this approach, and I’d surmise over 90% of folks do it.  But, remember there are 580 systems in the market, and on average, I am seeing about five new ones show up each quarter.
  • Write vendors’ names on pencils and throw them at the ceiling. Whichever sticks – is your vendor.

Better, Best, Perfect

There is no one size fits all vendor. I will repeat. There is “no one size fits all” LMS vendor. My rankings for the best LMSs are based on numerous criteria, but that criteria may not be suited for your specific needs.

Case in point:

  • You want a system for 500 users, then Expertus for example is not the right fit – they prefer a minimum of 1,000
  • You want a system that has a robust social capability – many systems do not have this
  • You want a system with on/off synch – a lot of systems do not have this – in fact you are more likely to find one that doesn’t than does – but it is slowly changing
  • You want a system that costs 15K USD for 1,000 users – You can take off a lot of systems right away – many of which are in my top ten
  • You want a system that is HQ in Europe – choices drop
  • You want a system that has talent management as a component, that is included in the system and not a module – huge drop in choices
  • You want a system that comes with courses at no additional charge – drop city!
  • You want a system that has e-commerce that accepts PayPal, can generate invoices and track sales –  pickings are limited – specifically because of the “generate invoices” and “track sales”
  • You desire a system that offers PENS –  Choices are dropping like flies after you whack them with your fly swatter or newspaper
  • You want a system with a modern UI, easy to use interface – around 50% offer it – we have a long way to go!


  • You want a system that can interface/integrate with your ERP (SAP, Peoplesoft, Oracle, Workday, etc.), or with your payroll (ADP), or HRIS platform, or Skillsoft or whatever – 95% can do it – but it will cost you
  • You want a system that will be skinned and branded with your logo – Over 95% can – a few charge you for it — but the super vast majority do not
  • You want a system that users can be placed into groups and see only X courses, while the other group sees only Y courses – 99% can do it
  • You want a system that has a built in assessment tool – Over 90% offer that – now how good it is – another story
  • You want a system that accepts third party authoring tools that are SCORM compliant – unless the system is one of those hybrid platforms or doesn’t accept standards (and a few do), no problem. I’d put the numbers at 90% or thereabouts.
  • You want a system that can generate canned reports – 100% do it
  • You want a system that shows the catalog on the home page – Congrats – 90% plus do


One the latest terms I constantly hear is the pitch that “consolidation” is happening in the marketplace, which obviously would send shivers down anyone’s back when it comes to selecting a LMS.

You want the actual numbers of consolidation in the past twelve months? 0.0137 — Wow. Yowsers!  Call in the reinforcements, these numbers are massive.  Did I mention that one vendor acquired three other LMS vendors?  So, if you remove them out of the picture – 0.008 – Holy Moly! 

Yep, huge consolidation numbers in the LMS market for the past 12 months. 

Now, vendors leaving the space and never returning is another story. But, the number of vendors coming into the space exceeds that. 

As a result – what do you get? More Choices!

The consolidation fear factor reminds me of two other fear factors still zinging around the space. One of which is making the rounds at a nice pace:

  • Talent/Performance management systems are overtaking OR are the route people are going rather than LMSs – Poppycock (another “who says” this word anymore”? Hello Mary Poppins!)

Right now, TM/PM are not overtaking the number of LMS vendors in the market. Not even close. Nor are they leading in preference for folks in HR & L/D.  Anyone who says that is not reading the appropriate data. 

You have to remember that there are a new breed of LMS vendors who are doing everything they can to not call themselves a LMS. 

This is especially true with the hybrid platforms and learning platforms whose features are a couple of analytics, create a course and send someone a link to take the course. 

Do I think TM/PM systems will overtake LMSs? No. 

  • More people want talent/performance management in their LMS – again, where is this coming from?  There is a big reason why vendors who offer TM/PM have them listed as modules – you can buy or have as a standalone. 

True, there are vendors and it is increasing who offer a basic talent management function into their LMS, but I’d argue because they are trying to be a one stop shop. 

I can’t blame them for that.   However, it doesn’t mean you have to use the TM component, nor does it mean that more people want it than just what currently exists in a LMS.

I still can’t understand why people cannot just say that learning management systems are here to stay. It is as if, the naysayers need something else to tout because they can’t accept the real data, the real numbers in the market. 

It is easier to say “so long LMSs”, hello XYZ than just admit otherwise.  Remember a year ago, when the “LMS is dead” garbage was showing up all over the place?

I can’t tell you the number of articles in well established publications and sites were stating this was going to happen or was happening.  Nor can I tell you the number of publications,sites, etc. who said a few years ago that e-learning was a fad. 

Look, HCMs are hitting the space, but these are not robust human capital management systems – they are as one HR executive told me, “a soft” version of a true HCM. 

Yes, talent management systems are gaining popularity, but HR folks are still the drivers on a TM/PM and not the folks in training or in many cases learning/development.

HRIS modules are showing up in LMSs, but so are benefits and payroll. Does that mean that these features are in huge demand and will be the must “features” that everyone wants?  I seriously doubt it. 

Finally, ILT is still in demand – but I believe that by 2020, 95% of learning will be online and not instructor/classroom based. And yeah, you can quote me on that.

Bottom Line

There are more LMSs than ever before, which means there are more choices.  But selecting the right choice is no easy task.  It takes time. It takes commitment and it takes patience.

Patience is seems has lost it’s way in today’s society.  We want it done now and we want it done quickly.  If it doesn’t happen, we get irritated. 

When you toss in lots of possibilities, capabilities and products (in this case LMSs),  the selection is extensive. 

As a result, we see the one size fits all approach the right way to go when choosing a LMS. 

After all, it saves time – and time is something that is a luxury.

But I ask you – for whom?

You or the people who will be using the system – you know the learners.

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