Looking for an LMS at #ATD2018

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The show is nearly here. I’m talking about ATD’s International show and expo in San Diego.  It is the 75th year of ATD (not shows) and besides Obama speaking, I’ll be too (how exciting).

My topic for those curious, deals with the after – you buy your LMS/Learning System. I promise to thrill, not dance, though – those days are gone.

Anyway, if you are attending #ATD2018 and planning on hitting the expo floor looking for your next learning system (including LMS), it seems appropriate to offer some tips, to help you on your journey.

These tips are “DO NOT DO“.

This list is long because I’d say that folks who end up hating their LMS, often start the cycle right here – on the trade show floor. 

This is due to “the never do this”, that folks end up doing.

So, to ensure you do not fall down the rabbit hole early in the process, never do the following (no matter how tempting it is).


  • Be oohed and aww just by the user interface. The latest trend and it is a hot one is showing off a slick UI, with in the latest cases gives off an “NetFlix” like appearance.

The problem with being swayed only by the UI is two-fold.

a. It may not have the functionality you need in a system.  We all get “wow’d” when seeing something shiny, this is why when you go to look for a new car, the cars are washed and looking amazing at the dealership.   The “Wow” factor is essential.

The same applies to the slick UI.  Now, I am a believer that every system should have a very modern UI, but they should also have a very good UX for learners and administrators AND have the functionality that systems should have, along with NexGen components.  

It is easy to be swayed by slickness. 

b. It may not be universal.   I’ve seen systems where some of it are modern and where other sections are not.  If you are focusing only on the slick angle, then make sure it across the system.  Look especially on the administration side and all screens contained within.  Another hot trend, early forecasted by the way, is data visualization.

Data visualization shows very slick and eye catching analytical data, but that is not the only component of data visualization.  The other (and very important part) is providing a wealth of data with drill-down instant clicking off each screen, heat maps or similar with comparison data at your finger tips and I’d note, that that last statement of comparison data – to see if A is due to B, is very important.

Now, lately what I’ve seen are some vendors hitting the mark, but others showing off very slick graphs via circle donuts as we say, or compass looking things. Fine, but the data isn’t stuff you should care about.

How many overall logins isn’t relevant.  What is – how many times did Carolyn look into the system, what courses/content did she go into, how long and how many times, what pieces of content did she consume -i.e. types,  if the course has chapters, what chapters did she enter or pages, and so forth.   Details, crunching numbers are the keys here.

Book Example

Otherwise, what’s the point?  I mean how many times you open a book isn’t important is it? I’d think the more relevant factor is where did you go in the book? How often did you go to that page or chapter? How long did you spend there? 

From there I can deduce that this is your area to focus upon, knowing you are seeking that information and repeating at it – a key in skill gap analysis by the way.

Back to point (b)

If your system doesn’t provide details of that nature, than data visualization isn’t really there.  Shiny compass looking things are.

  • Base your system selection just on the booth.  Where a booth is located on the floor, what it appears like including color selection, chairs/couches and this and that, are all part of the game of getting you into the booth.  A “showroom” experience – and you will see it with some of the booths (vendors pay for that size of space and it is expensive), is part of this approach.  Warm and inviting.  Look – we are your friends.  Which is why there are a dozen of us swarming around you like vultures at a desert fiesta.

I know of folks who are so swayed at the booth, or worst, a vendor who wins best booth, that they think this is a system I should buy.  Best booth or best product, means ZERO except a way for the vendor to show off this award.  Best product doesn’t mean it is the best product in the way you think it means. 

There isn’t someone using an extensive criteria, testing out the product, scoring each piece of it and so on.  If they did, they might have an issue, because there are a lot of vendors who do not show their system off at the show, or are running repetitive screens and demos.

  • Assume that the salesperson you are talking to, actually uh, works for the vendor. I know it is shocking, but there are people you can hire to work your booth as salespeople or standing around showing you the system.  
  • Assume that the salesperson, who works at the company, knows the e-learning space, let alone why WBT was created in the first place.  I can tell you from experience, that the latter factor of why e-learning was created and including the content (i.e. originally just the courses) is poor. I’d honestly say, that less than 30% of those folks know the original reasons on why an LMS was created and e-learning at that.  E-Learning by the way, was originally the umbrella term, not specifically saying online course.
  • Assume the salesperson knows their entire product inside and out.

I see this a lot at shows and find it disturbing.  How can you work for the vendor and not know all the functionality or features you even have in your system?  It is like you going into a car dealership and the person says, “yeah we have that,” only to find out they do not.

Here are some items you can do to test whether or not the salesperson actually knows what they are talking about and their product at that.

1. Do you have xAPI?  I find folks say yes, when they have zero clue. If someone says to you, what is that, that should be an indicator.  You may say back to them, “TinCan” and see if that triggers a response, but the actual term is xAPI.  

If they do not know if they do, they should say to you, “let me find our technical person or whoever is technical and in their booth”.   Otherwise, you might as well be talking to the floor. “Hey floor, do you have xAPI?”

2. What NexGen functionality do you have in your system?  I always ask this question, because a) If the vendor is forward thinking, this is a key component, b) to see if the salesperson even knows the term (which they should), and c) to identify what they see as that functionality.

I’ve heard folks say “we have social and mobile”. My inner head response, big deal.  Everyone has some form of social, and unless I hear we have APIs for Instagram, or are system has social pieces like Instagram, then you can assume that their social is a big whippee of usual.   

Mobile, everyone will say they are mobile responsive.  I want to hear them say, we offer or have, on/off synchronization – and explain in detail how it works with their system, what native apps do they offer (some do not have Android – which only has about 75% of the market share for mobile OS), what other functions does their mobile app include.   The days of viewing and taking content, and assessments – are standard affair. 

However, manager or instructor functions, some form of social, P2P (peer to peer), video management pieces, including capturing/recording videos, pics and pushing them into the system on admin side, are “new and relevant”. 

I’ve identified in the past, some NexGen functionality – a link to my 2017 NexGen LMS grid, and a link to other NexGen essentials (it expands and evolves).

Oh, latest forecasts – which ties into NexGen.

A really cool and latest NexGen feature – on the trend cycle – bookmarklet capability, where the vendor either achieves this thru an extension or from adding it bia the system to your bookmark bar on your browser. 

At the minimum it should enable you to capture the screen or page and bring it back into the LMS, with the images included.  At the maximum, it should allow you to leave notes on the page – think like a notebook, or extract pieces of the core items of information on that screen. 

3. What do you include in your support? Do you provide free administrator training? How does your support work, i.e. when there is an issue or problem? What is your QA approach?  (Quality Assurance).   The salesperson should know this.  If not, they should have someone on the floor – booth that does.   The number one reason people leave their systems or are unhappy is due to support.   Do not forget that.   Support!  Find out early on, how their support is, before you end up kicking yourself, when they ignore your calls.

Now, part of the problem is that every vendor will tell you their support is great, high numbers of satisfaction. Never an issue.  I mean why expect anything different.

So – what can you do to really find out?

1. Ask the questions on my LMS RFP Template. Download here

That is all you will need.

  • Don’t buy at the show. NEVER. NEVER. NEVER.  You want to see a full demo, not just a quick or short one.  You want them to pay attention only to you and answer every question you have.  Don’t forget that it is not uncommon at any trade show floor to have awful internet connections, this is true with vendors too.   

There is also the loud noise factor.  When I want to see a system in more detail, I always ask for them to schedule a demo for me when they get back from the show.  If they say yes and forget, I move on. 

I mean if they can’t remember to call you, what does that say about their commitment to you and their passion of the product? You want people who love their system and express that.   The should woo you, like back in the day or currently you being wooed by your partner, spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend and so forth. 

  • Be swayed at their customer list.  They are going to tell you or show you the big names.  I see “Google” all the time.  Google has a lot of learning systems.   How can you find out if big name has only that vendor’s system?  Ask them.  “Are you the exclusive vendor i.e. as an LMS with that customer?”  I do find salespeople who have no idea on what “exclusive means”, so you may need to say, “are you the only LMS with that customer?”   They either are or they are not.    Vendors love to tell me they are transparent at a show when it comes to showing or telling folks who are some of their clients.  But that transparency isn’t forthcoming. You have to ask.

If they do not know, then why are you showing me a list of your clients?  In that case, I am going to list all the famous people I know – even if I only have seen them on TV, because that is how irrelevant that information is to you.  Seriously, do not get swept in by the “who’s who” on their list.  

If you are a SMB company in the manufacturing space, so if they have customers like you. Similar to me (i.e. your business) is more relevant than being YouTube and you are a small business selling grapes.

More Do NOT

  • Give them you budget.  NEVER. First off any pricing they give you is a street price – you negotiate later on.  Secondly, their are unscrupulous folks out there, whose pricing will be nearly your entire budget. The shock of it all.
  • Forget you are the customer.  I see this a lot.  Vendors who turn it into you wanting them and appearing aloof in the process.  You want me.  I am your “10/10”.
  • Compare a Learning Engagement Platform to an LMS.  They are not the same thing.  Degreed is not an LMS nor should you compare them to one.

One of the biggest trends are folks comparing an LMS to an LEP.  This is like comparing an apple to an orange.  Yes, both are delicious and fruits but that’s it. 

Here are the standard features of an LEP.   On a side note, I’ll be presenting a webinar in early June on the differences between an LEP and LMS.  Details to be posted later on, but it is something I highly recommend.  Until then remember do not compare the two.

An LEP is best used as an add-on or bolt-on to your learning system (including LMS).  OR can be a standalone, however, they will admit, that they are best suited as a bolt-on or complimentary to your LMS.

  • Buy into the hype of we are not an LMS.  If you offer either 100% or at a min. 80% of the standards, you are.   Here are my essential standards of an LMS (and yes, it evolves as years go by, but these are the basics).  

Vendors love to pitch the we are not an LMS angle, but as once noted, I found one vendor who loves to make this statement, have in their keywords for search engines the term “LMS”.  I guess it is fine when you are searching for one in Google.

Want to really know if they meet your needs and requirements?

Give them my latest LMS RFP template  (click to download).  This is not for an LEP (I promise one is forthcoming).  But it is for any learning system, even those who say we are not an LMS, okay but you are a learning system.

Have them complete the template back at their workplace.  Give them three weeks to do so.  If you think “wow this is a lot, they won’t do it,” trust me if they want your business they will.

You of course, complete yours at your workplace.  Then when they send theirs back, you can compare.  Of course, please, schedule a demo.  

I normally would say = view demo first, then if you like, send RFP, but you are at a trade show, and with net challenges and my recommendation of not seeing a demo on the floor, you are reversing the process.

Only give the template to those you are really interested in.  This isn’t like handing out flyers to your garage sale.  

Lastly, if you are wondering if the vendors you are exploring are on my Top 50 Learning Systems for 2018 – download here.

Bottom Line

Want to avoid being unhappy down the road with your system?

Then do not ignore the information presented above.

Do not ignore that you are on a fact finding mission, not a mission to MARS.

And do not forget to ask why ATD never has soy or almond milk for their coffee?

Especially if you can’t have dairy.

It has been a repeated request for nine years now.

I hope it won’t take 75 years,

to get it.

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