How to Implement an LMS, Part 4: The Vendor Search
If you’ve been following this series on How to Implement and LMS, you’ll be relieved to know that we’re done with the analysis phase! Yes, it was painful, but now you know what you need from an LMS and what your organization can handle technologically, which means you’re ready to start looking at actual LMS vendor options. There are literally hundreds of LMS options out there, and sifting through them will take some time and effort. We obviously believe our eLeaP LMS solution is superior and priced to fit your budget. Ask our LMS experts for a free demo. Get a free consultation on how to implement a learning management system.
Take a little time to go over your list of what an LMS needs to be able to do for you and pick out the half-dozen or so most important items. As you look at various options, you’ll be able to quickly cross the ones off the list that can’t meet one of your priority requirements. Some that might help you quickly eliminate many platforms: Multilingual capability; meeting specific security standards; scalability for potential rapid growth in users; and so on.
So where do you start in terms of looking up LMS vendors? If you want to take a very methodical and comprehensive approach – especially if you several employees who can devote themselves to this – the most complete listing of LMS system available comes from Don McIntosh of Trimeritus eLearning Solutions. It includes links to 600+ LMS options for you to consider. The list is updated on a regular and ongoing basis at http://www.trimeritus.com/vendors.pdf. Grab a cup of coffee and start sifting!
If the thought of going through a list like that fills you with dread, there are other starting points. I write a lot of software reviews, and I’ve gotten to know various sites that offer user reviews and ratings of different systems. The great thing about these sites is that you’re going to get the opinions of real people in real companies who are using the product. The not-so-great thing is that you still need to take what you read with a grain of salt and a shrewd eye. When you’ve read enough of these user reviews (say a thousand or more), you start to develop an eye for good solid opinions versus “fluff.” Here are the sites I use on a regular basis:
SoftwareAdvice.com: The last time I checked they listed 67 different systems. You can sort the listing by how many reviews the system has received (the top two by this filter had 22 and 20 reviews respectively, then it drops off to less than 10 for the next several systems). The site takes the user ratings and converts them into an overall out-of-five stars rating system, and you can filter the listing by average rating.
Capterra.com: Although you can’t sort its listing of nearly 400 options by number of reviews or average rating (another 5-star system), you can quickly filter the list by various features that may help you quickly narrow your search, and once again you can read real user reviews and ratings if they’re available. You can also just click on the “most popular” tab, which will take you to the site’s latest listing as measured by a combination of their total number of customers, active users, and online presence.
G2Crowd.com: The LMS category at G2Crows is specifically for educational institutions, so you need to get into its Training eLearning category for organizational LMS options. It lists 83 different systems, and you can sort the list by “popularity,” rating (another 5-star system), or alphabetically. G2Crowd also offers some product comparison features the other sites lack.
TrustRadius.com: This is one I only recently became aware of, but it’s a pretty good one. Their Learning Management category contains 117 systems, initially listed by number of reviews, but which can also be viewed by Highest Rated or alphabetically. Although their rating system displays graphically as a 5-Star rating, it’s scores are actually on a 10-point scale.
WhataSoftware.com: The WhataSoftware.com site provides a clearing house of reviews and recommendations. You can view their “WAR Score” which gives you an industry-wide rating for individual softwares. The rating system is based on the 5-Star rating option. The site also offers some Editor Reviews of some softwares as well as a ‘look-see’ option to check out what systems other companies use.
GetApp.com: This website is also very new to me but seems to follow suit with the others. It lists 63 LMS systems, which can be sorted by average customer review (another 5-Star system) or relevance to any number of filtering checkboxes (features, pricing model, devices supported).
Those are five go-to sites for business software reviews and ratings. There are others. I hear some people mention sites like Credii.com and ITCentralStation.com, but you have to sign up to access their content, which is always a turn-off for me.
Using these sites and your crackerjack team of staff members willing to sift through all these listings, come up with a short-list of about a dozen LMS options that you will then put through a more rigorous due diligence process consisting of the following six steps:
- Request for Information. In the RFI you present all your requirements with a few questions you have related to each (questions that make them have to articulate real answers, not just yes/no questions). You contact the vendor and find out if they’re willing to respond to your RFI. If so, you send it to them with a due date for responding (say five business days or something). The kinds of responses you get from this will be very telling. Plan on scoring how well each question was answered and then aggregating those into an overall score. A five-point scale can work well for scoring the vendors’ answers (poor, fair, good, very good, excellent). Weight the scores by adding in your previous requirement prioritizations so that the scoring reflects how well the LMS meets your requirements based on your prioritized needs. This will allow you to rule out those on the lower end and continue to pursue those on the high end.
- Demonstration with Use Cases. The next phase would be to schedule the vendor to spend half a day at your organization demonstrating how the software works, but not just your average everyday demo. You will have provided the vendor with several different use cases or scenarios that pertain to your organization so you can see how their software will meet them. For example, say your organization uses a learning path approach wherein someone learns all about a particular function in their domain by going through a series of learning requirements that can involve a variety of types of learning and engagement with a broad range of materials. You would ask the vendor to demonstrate how their LMS could be used to create a learning path for a particular role or function.
- Trial/Sandbox. If you continue to like what you see, then see about a full trial or sandbox installation that would really show you exactly how it could work in your company because you get to use it for some period of time.
- Referrals. Get the names of real customers who use the product so you can talk to them. Of course they’ll give you their most satisfied customers. Go back to the review sites to dig up some of the more common complaints or problems and ask about those as specifically as possible.
- Vendor Stability Check. Try to form a good assessment of the company’s overall health financially and otherwise. You don’t want to sign on a product from a dying company.
- Product Selection RFP. In this final step, you’re down to a few finalists. This is where you find out what they’re willing to do to get your business. Send out an RFP that once again lists all your requirements along with such additional data as how many learners will need to be accommodated, what integrations with other systems you need, and if data needs to be migrated from a prior LMS. This is where you also want to very specifically find out what the system will cost in the finest detail possible – licensing, hosting, subscriptions, support, customizations, and any other fees that may apply.
Reaching the end of this process means you’re ready to select your new LMS. Congratulations! However, this is still only the beginning of your journey through an LMS implementation. In the next article, I’ll start tackling what comes next.