Step right up to the LMS Sideshow

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Hello, hello, hello!  Come over and see the show.  You kid, you in the back, there are scary things in this show, come on over.  (in my carnie voice)

Step right up and get ready to be dazzled.  This show isn’t for the faint of heart or for those who realize they overspent on their LMS, no siree. This is the show that answers the most common questions and even uncommon ones out there.

Best of all, its free.  So, come on in, and find a seat, plenty of room for the show is about to begin.

Act 1 –  A good LMS is one that costs a lot of money

I am passing around my hat, feel free to drop tens and twenties in.  Why do you ask? Because I’m ripping you off, just like those systems that tell you it will cost 750 thousand dollars for 1000 users.

That’s right, the days of having to drop a huge chunk of cash or come in with your wheelbarrow of cash is long and gone.  There are plenty of fantastic systems out there that will cost you anywhere from 20 thousand dollars to 65 thousand dollars for 1,000 users, minus the one time setup fee.

Act 2 – Select only a vendor who is well known (name recognized)

Behold the bearded dog who eats rocks for breakfast.  He isn’t that well known in the land of (enter your location here). For if they were, everyone would want to buy him.

The reality is that having a name that is recognized by everyone doesn’t mean it is the best system on the market.  What it does mean, is that the vendor is strong in marketing and getting their name out to the general public.

This idea that unless you have heard of them, they are not a good product or rather they are a lesser product just isn’t true.  Right off the top of my head, after I remove my top hat, I can think of fifty systems that have an outstanding product.

This ‘only a well known’ argument is similar to one I hear in regards to buying a system that doesn’t have any customers in XTZ, so therefore it can’t be good.  Let me ask you a question or two

  • Did they hold off sending up the space shuttle because there wasn’t one up there before?
  • You know that car you have in your driveway, the microwave oven you have in your kitchen, the golf club or basketball that you own, the authoring tool you are using, the cookies you are eating? Well, there was a “first person” to own it, use it, try it.
  • Have you ever had broccoli and pepperoni pizza? If not, try it.. it is good

The point is, someone has to be the first one out there to try it.  Trust me when I say this, someone out there was the first to use Cornerstone OnDemand.  The first to use SumTotal. The first to use Articulate.  The first to use WebEx.

So why not be the first to buy ABC?  I know plenty of people who buy systems whose clients are plus 500 and whose system is poor, so the logic off holding off because they are new to your vertical or new to your country or town or whatever, doesn’t fly with me.

But, if you want to see a horse fly (you knew this was coming), then go to that tent there.

Act 3 – You only need certain features to have a good LMS

One of the most distributing things I see these days is the amount of popcorn left over on this stage floor. I mean, really people.  The second most disturbing thing are articles that are on the web telling folks that they only need this or that and they are ready to go. 

Unless this is a LMS and that is an authoring tool and you need both, then they are on to something.  Otherwise that information is beneficial only to the dog who eats rocks.  And no, he is not for sale.

If you are interested in seeing the basics, then check out my LMS RFP template.  In the template, the following are every LMS should offer

  • With the exception of the “search bar”, everything else should be in the LMS.  For me, a system that says yes to everything in the learning environment section including the “search bar” is ideal.
  • Classroom management is a mix bag, since some folks want features within it, some don’t want or need the classroom management, which is ideal for ILT.  I mean facilities management? It is for classroom based. 

Anyway,  the better systems have either all those features within my LMS RFP template or nearly all – with print out sheets, define capacity, auto perform conflict checking as the most common ones, vendors may not have in their system. 

Which BTW, doesn’t mean it is not a good system.  Nor does it mean that a LMS which does not offer classroom management is a bad system.  Rather, you have to look at the whole scheme of things.

  • Course upload content –  Any system in the market should enable you to upload courses via a 3rd party authoring tool, via a 3rd party course provider, PowerPoint, PDFs/Docs., videos – .MP4, some accept .AVI, audio – .mp3 and some accept .ePub.  Now here comes the kicker:

There are learning platforms out there, even those who state themselves as a LMS who do not accept courses via a 3rd party authoring tool (you can only use their own or they do not have the feature to upload courses via an authoring tool) and/or accept courses purchased via another content provider and which you want loaded into your system.

IMO, this stretches the LMS angle a bit.  Perhaps I am a purist, but I believe that in order to have a “LMS” or “learning platform” you must be able to do the following (without exception):

  • Add courses via a 3rd party authoring tool
  • Have at least one compliance standard
  • Enable the ability for a person (admin) to add courses via a 3rd party course/content provider into the system OR the provider loads the courses into the system
  • Track/Analytics – At the minimum how many times has X seen the content/course, how often, how long did they stay in there, are they taking it/did they complete it or something similar and one I always loved- where did they go in the course. 

Other minimums – course analytics – which courses are viewed the most, stuff like that.  Scoring results if you do assessments should be in the analytics too – some vendors have it as a transcript, but you should ideally want to have – the score out of whatever, what they missed – the questions and not just the number,  when did they take it, how often did they take it (if you offer that capability)

  • Reporting – You should have at least five canned reports. Canned means they came with the system.

So if your system doesn’t have all these things, and the analytics could be just real basics ones – but at least it is something, then your system  IMO is not a LMS or learning platform.  But you can call it whatever you want, just as I call one of my dogs – “Mr. Vice President” – no, I’m kidding. I call him “King”.

Some people will argue that creating courses within the LMS’s authoring tool (not universal, nor should it be) should fit into the above window and it does, but only if the system in question can accept courses uploaded via another authoring tool that is not their own – which in this case means, a 3rd party authoring tool.

Regarding the other minimums a LMS should have

  • Event management – Calendar, ability to send email notifications including auto notification, waitlist, e-mail template(s).  But ideal would be what is on the template, excluding mail merge and e-mail within the system – I mean if your audience is B2B, e-mail within the system might or might not be used – I never used it, and mail merge – uh pass. 

What I would use is the ability to send e-mail pushed to the outside – in other words an “inbox, like Gmail” is within the LMS, so it goes beyond just notifications and such.  If your LMS vendor does not offer it and you want it, go API.

  • Administrator – nearly all.  The ones that are mixed – i.e. some vendors have it, some don’t are: batch upload of courses, admin home dashboard, capture multiple user attributes, learning plan can be assigned by job role, region/location, department. 

I’ve seen the “multiple catalogs” feature equally not universal.  If you don’t have it as a vendor, you should.

  • Personalization – which means skinning/branding, your own logo – are minimums and should be free.  Some vendors are now tossing in a free custom domain – which rocks, but does not slide under my minimums.
  • Multilingual – The system should offer at least two languages. Ideally a minimum of six languages.
  • Certificates and assessment tool should be in your LMS.  A few vendors have “assessment” but it is under their “survey” tool, so always ask if you don’t see it.
  • Others – such as manager, instructor, gamification, social, competency management, integrations, mobile and so on.. extended enterprise aka portal and sub-portal aka multi-tenant – vary, except to say the last one EE should have e-commerce as a component and you shouldn’t have to pay extra for e-commerce.
  • E-commerce – again varies, but the basics include accepting credit cards, PayPal (ideal but not universal), some analytics tied to e-commerce, customers/learners can buy content, courses; can offer subscription bundles – again ideal.

Bottom Line

Thank you for coming to our LMS Sideshow where the information is free and the jokes are as bad as that corn dog you just ate. Trust me, in six hours you will wish you didn’t ask for extra mustard. 

Anyway, the show has come to the end.  It’s been wild folks. Just wild.  I hope you had a good time and if not, still say you did on the feedback form as you leave.

Remember, a LMS is only as good as you want it to be.  Price doesn’t always mean better and knowing the minimums can make all the difference in the world.

A difference that can create your own carnival. 

With your LMS as the star of the show.

Not the bearded dog who eats rocks.

He’s mine.

E-Learning 24/7

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