As a child you may have decided that the cookies were a must.  There you are, grabbing them, hiding and munching away (I still do this as an adult).   Anyway, a voice calls out, “Ahem. Where are the cookies?”.  Your caught, but not before you shove more into your mouth.  Welcome to the world of “do not do this”.

Adult Stage

Your boss tells you that their boss will be making the rounds today and whatever you do, do not surf the net and such and such time.  Your significant other says that it is okay if you go out with your friends.  You smile with glee.

Point

Throughout your life, you will be learn what you can do and cannot do.  For some of us, the do and do not do approach doesn’t apply, we do it anyway (no matter what).

On the other side, “do not do” is written in stone.  And that stone cannot be broken.

LMS Items

This isn’t about not doing something in comparison with doing something, rather it is about making the smart choice, the right choice. There is way too much misinformation in this industry.  I see it daily. I read it weekly on various sites and postings.  Hey you should do this. Whoa, don’t do that.

If you want to save money, have an awesome system and deal with minimum to near zero headaches, follow the “Do’s” and recognize the “Do not’s”.  

I can attest that I see a lot of people – and I say this with all honesty – a lot of people make monumental mistakes when picking a system – then it is too late.

Out of the Gate – Vendor Experience and Expectancy

DO

Realize that in the LMS space, as mentioned before, the average time in the market is two to four years.  That’s it.  Sure there are plenty who have been around a lot longer, but on average two to four years.

DON’T

Make the error that if the system hasn’t been around since Mother Goose was Sister Chicken, than the system is way better than the relative newbie.

Nor make the assumption that a brand new system in the space (less than a year) is not as strong as the one who has been around for a long time.   This is an industry where assumption should be tossed in the trash, along with that old posted from the 80’s – sorry RATT is not making a comeback.

DO

Recognize that the “traditional” versus “non-traditional” terms are just marketing spin to try to influence one system (the one making that pitch) over another.  When most folks think of traditional – old and stuffy comes to mind. The term does not exude “fresh or hip”.

DON’T

Fall into the trap.  Marketing spin is about getting you to buy one product versus another.

DO

Understand that this is an industry where spin dominates.  We are talking way more than 650 systems, with more coming out each month than leaving.  That is a huge crowded market.  Standing out is a necessity, just watch out for certain traps.

In just the past week, I have seen

  • Our technology is patent pending
  • Our award winning blah blah (with no identification on who bestowed the “Award win”)
  • We were the first to blah blah (the vast majority who pitch that, I can state were not the first. Sure someone had to be the first and they should consider stating that in their marketing, but how is it possible that there were several first to launch a LMS targeting the B2B space?)
  • We have lots of shiny awards from places you never heard of.  I’m still searching their site for the Ocean Magazine Widget Winner of 85 – People’s Choice!

DON’T

Fall into that trap.  It’s too easy to do, and at some point, we all fall into an advertising or marketing spin, that’s just reality.  But it doesn’t have to be the case with your LMS selection.

DO

Feel confident that any LMS vendor who was won an award from E-Learning 24/7, was selected based upon a multi-set of criteria without any sway by one vendor versus another.

A vendor who wins an award from E-Learning 24/7 is rated high and recognized as a top tier system. The selections are 100% independent and fair. A vendor never pays a fee.

To find out if a vendor is in the top 50 LMS rankings (either from 2014 or this year 2015), look for the award icon on their web site.

DON’T

Speculate.  Speculation didn’t turn out so well for those folks who bought swamp land in Florida.  I’m just saying.

Beauty and the Beast

DO

Realize that there are plenty of systems that are dated and yucky and not even Picasso could make them beautified.

However, just because a system make look “vanilla”, that doesn’t mean it will end up that way. 

With some exceptions, vendors will customize the skin of your LMS without additional fee.

LMS vendors will add your logo and depending on the vendor make some cool tweaks for you – for free.

Yes UI is absolutely important, but I know of systems whose UI is average and still people buy them – why? You have to look at the whole entity and not just the skin they initially show you – via the demo or on their web site or even in their sandbox.

As the saying goes, this isn’t your granddad’s Oldsmobile.  Which is good, because my granddad never owned one. Actually, he never owned a car, so there’s that.

DON’T

Always believe that every customization is free. 

As noted, skinning with some tweaks are free and there are vendors who go beyond that.  However, if the vendor is telling you stuff that you think to yourselves “ooh, that must cost xxxxx”, it is likely going to cost xxxx.

One time a vendor showed me a LMS that had lots of video on the home page, with cool design and enhancements that I said to myself, this couldn’t be out of the box, it has to be customized at a fee.

It was, for $50,000 USD.

DO

Focus on the navigation.  I always look at the navigation and ease of use not only for learners (top priority) but also my administrator(s).

If people can’t figure out how to use it, I don’t care if it is the next Sistine Chapel, no one is going to use it.

DON’T

Buy into the hype that if the system is poor, then your learners will complain.

They will to their friends, but in the whole large scheme of things, you tend to find the usual suspects who are known to gripe – griping.  Unless of course, the system doesn’t work for them and they have a due date on something that haven’t completed yet.

Then all bets are off.

DO

Understand that a “Self-Service” system means you buy today and you could go live today.  They often include “themes”, or a color picker or HEX picker, plus the ability for you to upload your own logo.  They may enable you to add your own graphics, including your own CSS and HTML code.

A self-service system is a “hands-off” approach, thus the vendor themselves do not play any type of role in your training or support (you get videos and other items instead). 

There are some exceptions to the hands-off mantra, but if you think about it, why go self-service in that case?

How to spot a self-service system?  Check out the pricing and the “BUY Now” or some place on the site, where you can buy it right now.

A self-service system does not mean the system is poor or featureless or garbage. Rather it is a sales approach the vendor chooses.

Think of it is this way.  How many restaurants have you been to, where there is no waiter service? Instead you go up and order it and they bring the food to you.

It’s all about saving costs.

DON’T

Forget that as noted above, the self-service approach usually means a “hands-off” experience. Thus if you want hand holding and someone to help you with everything, it may not exist.

Actually it usually does not exist, uh, unless you want to pay extra for it.  And as with anything there are exceptions.

Within today’s market there are LMS vendors who offer self-service either as a standalone or as an additional option; just as there are learning platforms who follow the same suit.  That said, I tend to find more learning platforms going the “self-service” route than not.

 Meet my friend, the RFP

DO

If you are going to use an RFP, I recommend using the one I created for each and everyone.  It contains everything you need to find the right system for you.  Best of all, you can add additional items to it, if you need be.   LMS RFP Template (click the link)

Part of the problem with today’s RFPs, usually the ones created by folks, is that it contains too much stuff.  Too many requirement requests. Too many technical inquiries, especially since most vendors use Rackspace or Amazon

The security info and technical data they will provide comes directly from those individual sites.  There isn’t any hidden server secrets here.

For the majority of technical questions/requirements I see on RFPs are those whose experience are with systems behind the company’s firewall, or ERP platforms or HRIS systems and so forth.

Regarding tech specs BTW, if you are going to list any – list your tech specs as in at your company.  If you are using Windows 2000, mention that. If you only have IE7 state that.  If no one can access the internet, report that.

If you have a firewall blocking social media, mention that.  If you have employees using a Windows mobile device (from you) state that.  Majority of vendors do not offer a native app for Windows or Blackberry.

Thus the tech should be what exists at your company.

Other issues that I see with RFPs sent in by people include

  • Committee overload – Allowing each committee member to add whatever they want to it, and whoever is running the whole thing (it should be you as the person who runs L&D or T&D) should remove items unwarranted or needed.  If you are unsure, then recognize they won’t be either. 
  • Failure to realize that the majority of people who access a LMS (with exceptions being retail, hourly, union) will do so out of the workplace.  Thus, if you require your employees to go through a VPN, then yes, that should be on the RFP.  But asking about load balance? Really?
  • Security inquiries. Again, most vendors use Rackspace or Amazon.  And you can find all the security information you need there. If you are unsure where the vendor hosts their LMS, ask them. 
  • Too many requirements.  I usually see the same requirements over and over again. Sure, there will always be variances or unique ones, but “we need a course catalog that allows user X to see some courses, and user Y to see other courses”, – uh, this exists in nearly every system on the market.   Best way to identify your requirements – list them all out and then rate them OR have a brainstorm/mind mapping session with all parties involved.  Narrowing down is not an easy task, which is why so many decline to do so.  

DON’T

Submit the next War and Peace. One was more than enough.   As mentioned in previous posts, if you have to submit a RFP, then it shouldn’t be longer than 10 pages.  If it is longer than that, take out the red marker and start removing items. 

DO

Contact the vendor to inquire about more information and see a demo, before you do anything else – which means BEFORE YOU SEND OUT YOUR RFPs. 

How do you achieve this process?

1. Seek out recommendations, use this blog for assistance, search around on your own – its okay, the search engine will not attack you – oh and go more than the first two pages.

2. List a top 15, then narrow it down to top 10, next to top five to consider.  10 is a good number to start to whittle down from. In the 10 scenario, these are the vendors you reach out to.  After talking to them, you should have an idea on if you want to see their demo. 

Schedule the demo.  From there you will end up with either five or three (I go three, but some love five). 

Then if you must, send out the RFP.

3.  In the find, demo, then send RFP scenario (regardless if you want to rank or not), the vendor has to show you a demo.  If they are wishy-washy about it, or want you to sign a NDA or they want more info – move on.   Your time is limited, so next!

4.  After scheduling the demo, the vendor’s salesperson should contact you to ask you what you want to see.  If they don’t – either view the demo or walk away.  To me, a red flag is when they don’t follow up to ask me about what I want to see.

5. Some vendors show you a “vanilla” demo, which means it is not with your skin or brand or void of any colors.  An ideal vendor will skin it with some colors. Sadly, too many vendors show “vanilla” and I hate that.  It happens to me, way too many times – and if I am getting it – trust me, you will too.

6. Request estimate pricing in your initial talk.  What’s the point of seeing the product if you can’t afford it?  A vendor should be able to give you a ballpark price.  When I hear vendors say, well we need to talk to you more or find out more or we can’t estimate a ballpark at this time, I say to myself, “what are they new at this?”

How is it I can get an estimate with every other service out there on the planet, but not with my prospective LMS vendor?  Think about that the next time, one pulls the “I can’t give you a ballpark estimate”.

DON’T

Just blast away. There are vendors today who will not respond and I suspect that down the road more vendors will follow suit.  Vendors can tell when someone is sending out lots of RFPs.  So don’t do it, because guess what, they might neither (complete it)

Bottom Line

DO

Recognize that there is someone here to help you – okay via the blog – answer the questions and point you in the right direction.

Despite what you may think you can find a LMS within 45 days that you will love.  You can have an enjoyable experience.

Finding a system should not be an agonizing and awful experience.  Going to the dentist?  Well, yeah, that should be.

DON’T

Fall pray to futility. 

It’s going to be okay.

You can have another cookie.

E-Learning 24/7