How To Choose A Learning Management System

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by Jordan Barrish, Market Analyst, Capterra

The term “software” is typically interchangeable with the word “solution.” Software is designed to solve the problems in your organization by eliminating monotonous tasks and streamlining processes to help you get back to what really matters.

As such, choosing the right software for your organization is vital if you’re looking for a “solution” to a problem. But making the wrong software choice can set you back months or even years (not to mention all the monetary sunk costs).

If you’re searching for a Learning Management System (LMS)– whether it’s the first time you’ve bought one or the 50th time– don’t waste your time trying to explore all 300+ options on the market and their countless features. To find the best learning management software for your needs, make sure you’ve considered these four most important factors:

1. Know Your Audience

With hundreds of LMS solutions to choose from, it’s important to keep your audience in mind as you’re going through the research process. Many LMS solutions are created for either corporate or academic institutions, and sometimes both. If you’re searching for an LMS to cater specifically to teachers and students, you can automatically eliminate nearly half of your options (which leaves you with a much more manageable list to work with). Based on the thousands of LMS buyers we’ve assisted over the years, we’ve found that teachers are typically all about the nuts and bolts. They want a user-friendly system that has functionality for grading, tracking assignments, and monitoring student progress. Students also want something that’s user friendly, allows them to interact with teachers and fellow students, and lets them keep track of their own progress.

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2. Prepare Your Budget

It can be difficult to figure out exactly how much to spend on an LMS. Some solutions charge per seat, some per user, and others by usage. Some are a flat monthly or yearly fee, while others have add-ons available at an additional cost to help improve your system. Set two price points for yourself: your ideal price and the maximum price you’d be able to pay. To set your maximum price limit, consider whether you charge students for courses and the ROI you could expect relative to the expense of the system. You don’t want to be a few months into implementing your new LMS only to realize you’re burning a hole in your pocket.

3. Prioritize Your Requirements

In addition to the features listed above, there are numerous other LMS features to choose from, so it’s best to create a list of the most important features for your organization. Try to keep this list relatively short- 10 features or less.

Does the system have built-in quiz and test creation? What about online-proctoring? Is there a functional gradebook embedded in the system? If you have too few requirements, then every LMS will look like a good choice. But if you have too many, then you probably won’t be able to find an LMS that fits all your criteria.

After defining the features and functionality you’ll absolutely need, consider these other potential requirements and evaluate how important they are to your organization:

Implementation -  How easy will this learning management system be to implement? Will your teachers and students be able to quickly adapt to the new software? What kind of resources will it take to train all those involved with the system?

Support – What kind of support will the vendor provide? Check out user reviews, either on the vendors’ sites or other third party sites, like Capterra’s LMS directory. Also, test the LMS companies’ commitment to service by calling their support lines. By doing so, you’ll know that if something goes wrong after purchasing their software, they’ll be able to help you out effectively and efficiently.

3rd party content – At an educational institution, it’s likely the teachers and administration will be able to handle all of your content creation, but depending on the size of your organization, determine whether you need to outsource some of your content creation.

Customization – Will you be able to customize the system to work the way you want? If so, how often and easily can you make updates? Does it require extra input from your technology team? What about branding skins or templates? Some organizations want their LMS to be integrated and branded to look like just another page on their website, while others don’t care if it looks completely separate. How important is this to you?

4. Plan For Growth

A learning management system gives you the ability to reach new audiences and expand your pool of learners. Thus, you’ll want to choose a solution that can grow with you. How do they price the system as your number of learners (and administrators) increases? Will you have all the functionality you need a year from now if your school grows? If you anticipate that you’ll have to upgrade to an entirely new system in a couple years, is it worth investing the time and resources into a more basic LMS now? These questions are difficult to answer since nobody can predict the future. But think about your growth plans as you embark on your LMS search so that you’re not held back by shortsightedness.

Time Wasting Be Gone 

Your organization deserves the best learning management system for your needs. It takes time to find the right one, and you want to be certain that you aren’t wasting time. Take these factors into consideration, and you can shave hours off the long LMS search process.

Now, we’d love to hear from you. What roadblocks have you hit that are causing your search to feel like it’s going on far too long? Or for those who have already been through the process, what did you find to be helpful to cut down wasted time during your search?

Jordan Barrish is a Market Analyst for Capterra. She researches and writes about trends in a variety of software verticals, with a particular focus on learning management software. You can follow Jordan on Twitter -@jordan_barrish; image attribution flickr users davidortez and digitalharborfoundation

  • Pat Helmers

    There is a nice write up showing the process of picking a system at http://learningmanagementsystemk12.com Districts picking by committee may find it of value. Especially schools stressing collaboration where every one gets a vote